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Too tender for the house – the prequel

In following up on ‘Too tender for the house’ I discovered I’d responded at least once before to the suggestion that women are excluded from the Universal House of Justice because they are too kind-hearted to make war and administer capital punishment. The poster I was responding to then was called Ruhi: no relation to the current users of that name.

Date: Sat, 23 Mar 1996 15:14:20 +0100 (MET)
Subject: women & UHJ

Ruhi’s projection of dominating-father stereotypes onto the
House of Justice raises an interesting thought. In
Maastricht [where I lived in 1996], as in Walla Walla, mommy is the discipline
side of the equation, and papa is the old softy. Is there a
correlation between family structures and willingness to
contemplate the membership of women on the Universal
House of Justice? Straw poll please.

If we are just projecting our upbringing and deepest desires
around, I can at least say that my Universal House of
Justice consisting of beautiful young women under the age
of 19 has a certain aesthetic advantage over Ruhi’s
Universal House of Justice consisting of men of the sort
who know that children need punishing. (Ruhi, would my
tongue-in-cheek vision be more acceptable if the maidens in
question were all dominatrix types?)

Accepting the men=discipline women=forgiveness&mercy
equation for the moment, my model might also fit the role
of the Universal House of Justice better, since Baha’u’llah
gives the role of admininistering punishment to
the kings and rulers, not to the Universal House of Justice.
A Universal House of Justice consisting of marshmallow
mommies? A world government of stern fathers? But oddly
enough, it is in the political realm, where governments are
asked to reduce any recalcitrant member to submission
using military force [1], that women are guaranteed a role:

In this Revelation of Baha’u’llah, the women go
neck and neck with the men. In no movement will
they be left behind. Their rights with men are equal
in degree. They will enter all the administrative
branches of politics. They will attain in all such a
degree as will be considered the very highest station
of the world of humanity and will take part in all
affairs. [2]

My theory is that this is because women are tougher and
better at discipline (just kidding).

Fortunately we are not condemned to endlessly projecting
our most freudian selves onto the white marble of Haifa.
We have some texts to help us. I enclose a compilation of
relevant texts derived almost entirely from the Service of
Women paper as an aid to more substantial discussion.

A: from Baha’u’llah we have:
O ye Men (rijal) of Justice! Be ye in the realm of
God shepherds unto His sheep… [3]
We have decreed that a third part of all fines shall
go to the Seat of Justice [maqarr al-‘adl], and We
admonish its men [rijal] to observe pure justice, [4]

Today the handmaidens of God are regarded as
gentlemen (rijal). Blessed are they! Blessed are they!

Today whoever among the handmaidens attains the
knowledge of the Desire of the World is considered
a gentleman (rajul) in the Divine Book. [6]
Whosoever from amongst the handmaidens hath
recognized the Lord of all Names is recorded in the
Book as one of those men (rijal) by the Pen of the
Most High. [7]

B: From `Abdu’l-Baha we have the following:
The House of Justice, however, according to the
explicit text of the Law of God, is confined to men;
this for a wisdom of the Lord God’s, which will ere
long be made manifest as clearly as the sun at high
noon. [8]
According to the ordinances of the Faith of God, women are
the equals of men in all rights save only that of membership on
the Universal House of Justice [bayt al-‘adl ‘umumi], for, as
hath been stated in the text of the Book, both the head and the
members of the House of Justice are men… [9]
But He knew that rijal is not exclusively masculine in the writings of
Verily, according to Baha’u’llah, women are judged as gentlemen
(rijal). [10]
and an indication of his gradualist strategy may be found here:
In America, the cradle of women’s liberation, women are still
debarred from political institutions because they squabble.
(Also, the Blessed Beauty has said, “O ye Men [rijal] of the
House of Justice.”) Ye need to be calm and composed, so that
the work will proceed with wisdom, otherwise there will be
such chaos that ye will leave everything and run away. … In
brief, ye should now engage in matters of pure spirituality and
not contend with men. ‘Abdu’l-Baha will tactfully take
appropriate steps. Be assured. In the end thou wilt thyself
exclaim, “This was indeed supreme wisdom!” [11]

And there is historical evidence which indicates (not conclusively) that
`Abdu’l-Baha, in the letter saying that the membership on the bayt al-
‘adl ‘umumi, was probably referring here to the House of Justice in
Chicago and not that in Haifa. If so he later changed that ruling to
permit the service of women on such assemblies, in various
The Spiritual Assemblies which are organized for the sake of
teaching the Truth, whether assemblies for men, assemblies for
women or mixed assemblies, are all accepted and are conducive
to the spreading of the Fragrances of God. This is essential.
It is permissible to elect the members of the Spiritual Assembly
from among the men and women; nay, rather, it is better, so
that perfect union may result. [13]
you have a spiritual Assembly of men and you can establish a
spiritual Assembly for women. Both Assemblies must be
engaged in diffusing the fragrances of God and be occupied
with the service of the Kingdom. The above is the best solution
for this problem… [14]

C: And from Shoghi Effendi we have
four letters from secretaries saying that women cannot serve on the
Universal House of Justice or International House of Justice [15], and
one from Shoghi Effendi himself:
He [the Guardian] is debarred from laying down independently
the constitution [of the Universal House of Justice] … and from
exercising his influence in a manner that would encroach upon
the liberty of those whose sacred right is to elect the body of
his collaborators. [16]
Which would seem to mean that his (secretary’s) letters on this topic
do not prevent the Universal House of Justice altering its constitution,
or the delegates to the International Convention from voting, so as to
admit women.

In short there are grounds enough to argue the point on the basis of
texts and historical evidence, on either side. Reasoning by analogy
from family structures is unnecessary and, given that family structures
vary, will only be convincing for people within the same cultural


1: Gleanings, p. 249; Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 115; Gleanings, p.
2: Quoted in Paris Talks (London: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1912) pp
3: Kitab-i-Aqdas para. 54
4: ibid
5: Quoted in Ahmad Yazdani, Mabadiy-i Ruhani, Tehran: Baha’i
Publishing Trust, 104 Badi’, p 109.
6: ibid
7: Women: Extracts from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha,
Shoghi Effendi,and the Universal House of Justice, comp. by The
Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, Thornhill,
Ont.: Baha’i Canada Publications, 1986, #7, p 3.
8: Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Haifa: Baha’i World
Centre, 1978, pp 79-80.
9: ‘Abdu’l-Baha to Corinne True, 24/7/09, microfilm, National Baha’i
10: Quoted in Ahmad Yazdani, Maqam va Huquq-i Zan dar Diyanat-i
Baha’i, vol. 1, Tehran: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 107 Badi’.
11: Women, #11, pp 6-7.
12: House of Spirituality (Albert R. Windust, Librarian) to Board of
Consultation, Kenosha, Wis., 23/7/10, House of Spirituality Papers,
National Baha’i Archives.
13: ibid
14: ‘Abdu’l-Baha to the members of the Spiritual Assembly and Mr.
Bernard M. Jacobsen, Kenosha, Wis., 4/5/11, House of Spirituality
Papers, National Baha’i Archives.
15: a) Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated July 28, 1936,
Baha’i News, No. 105 (February 1937) p 2.
b) Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated December 14,
1940, quoted in Dawn of a New Day (New Delhi: Baha’i Publishing
Trust, n.d.) p 86.
c) Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated September 17,
1952, Baha’i News, No 267 (May 1953) p 10.
d) Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated July 15, 1947,
quoted in “Extracts on Membership of the Universal House of Justice”
(an unpublished compilation of the Universal House of Justice).
16: Dispensation of Baha’u’llah p 58 (USA booklet format); World
Order of Baha’u’llah p 150

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One Response to “Too tender for the house – the prequel”

  1. Winnie said

    As a woman I am not “prevented” from being on the UHJ. I am “excused or “exempt””. Big difference. What is hard for many people to understand is that if one truly follows the spirit of the teachings, there is no desire or ambition to serve on any of the administrative bodies. To have such ambition would be to fall into the same problems we see in partisan politics today. If one is elected, service is given humbly, not with an attitude of being any more “worthy” than those not elected.
    As to the reason,all that can be said at this time is pure speculation. The writings say the reason will be made apparant in the future. That’s enough for me. I have examined the writings and claims of Baha’u’llah and find them to be true, so I have no problem ccepting those I may not, at my stage of spiritual development, may not yet thoroughly comprehend or understand.

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