The Universal House of Justice – An official website of the Bahá’í Faith
The Universal House of Justice is the international governing council of the Bahá’í Faith. Its creation was ordained by Bahá’u’lláh.
Bahá’u’lláh conferred authority upon the Universal House of Justice to exert a positive influence on the welfare of humankind, to promote education, peace and global prosperity, and to safeguard human honour and the position of religion. It is charged with applying the Bahá’í teachings to the requirements of an ever-evolving society and is thus empowered to legislate on matters not explicitly covered in the Faith’s Sacred Texts.
The guidance provided by the Universal House of Justice ensures unity of thought and action in the Bahá’í community as it learns to translate into reality Bahá’u’lláh’s vision for a spiritually and materially prosperous global civilization.
A Unique Institution
The Universal House of Justice is unique in religious history. Never before has a Manifestation of God explicitly ordained the establishment of an institution with the mandate to maintain the integrity and flexibility of His religion, safeguard the unity and guide the activities of His followers, and exert a beneficial influence on the life of society.
By virtue of the authority invested in it by Baha’ullah, the Universal House of Justice sits as the head of an administrative order whose features, authority and mode of functioning are clearly enunciated in the Sacred Writings. The work of the institutions of this administrative order is characterized by an ethos of loving service, focused as it is on the development of human potential and the advancement of civilization.
Powers and Duties
The elected members of the Universal House of Justice are described in the Bahá’í Sacred Writings as the “Trustees of God among His servants and the daysprings of authority in His countries”,1 as the “Men of Justice”,2 the “Deputies of God”,3 the “Trustees of the All-Merciful”.4 They must be “shepherds unto His sheep”,5 protecting and preserving the unity and well-being of Bahá’u’lláh’s followers, as well as “manifestations of the fear of God and daysprings of knowledge and understanding”,6 “steadfast in God’s faith and the well-wishers of all mankind”.7
The Universal House of Justice is charged with the affairs of the people. It must apply the Bahá’í teachings to “the training of peoples, the upbuilding of nations, the protection of man and the safeguarding of his honour.”8 It must have the utmost regard for the interests of the people at all times and under all conditions, and ensure the protection and safeguarding of men, women and children.
The promotion of peace in the world is also among the responsibilities of the Universal House of Justice, “so that the people of the earth may be relieved from the burden of exorbitant expenditures.”9 Its members must additionally “endeavour to the utmost of their power to safeguard”10 the position of religion, “promote its interests” and “exalt its station in the eyes of the world.”11
Since “change is a necessary quality and an essential attribute of this world, and of time and place”,12 Bahá’u’lláh has invested the members of the Universal House of Justice with the authority to consider matters that He did not specifically deal with in His own Writings and “enforce that which is agreeable to them.”13
“Inasmuch as for each day there is a new problem and for every problem an expedient solution,”14 wrote Bahá’u’lláh, “such affairs should be referred to the Ministers of the House of Justice that they may act according to the needs and requirements of the time.”15
Bahá’í Sacred Writings give the guarantee that the Universal House of Justice would take decisions and establish laws through the “inspiration and confirmation of the Holy Spirit”.16 For Bahá’ís, “obedience to its decisions is a bounden and essential duty and an absolute obligation”.17
Origins of the Universal House of Justice
The institution of the Universal House of Justice was ordained by Bahá’u’lláh in His Most Holy Book, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Its responsibilities were also expanded upon in a number of His other Writings. Abdu’l-Baha confirmed the authority of the Universal House of Justice in His Will and Testament and provided specific details regarding its establishment and functioning.
In the early years of the 20th century, during a period when His life was in particular danger, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took measures to arrange for the election of the Universal House of Justice should something happen to Him. This precaution did not turn out to be necessary.
After ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing, Shoghi Effendi—the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith—placed the greatest importance on the establishment of the Universal House of Justice. He devoted more than three decades to preparing the Bahá’í world community for its election, repeatedly looking ahead to that auspicious occasion in glowing terms. It was first necessary, however, to raise up and strengthen the global network of Local and National Bahá’í Assemblies to provide a strong basis for such an entity. Every new National Spiritual Assembly that was formed became one more pillar to “share in sustaining the weight and in broadening the foundation of the Universal House of Justice.”1
In 1951, Shoghi Effendi appointed a number of individuals to an International Bahá’í Council, a forerunner to the Universal House of Justice. In 1961, this appointed Council was reformed as a body elected by all the National and Regional Assemblies then established in the world.
After Shoghi Effendi’s sudden passing in 1957, his work was faithfully carried on by the group of distinguished Bahá’ís he had appointed as Hands of the Cause of God. These individuals arranged for the first election of the Universal House of Justice.
In April 1963—the centenary of the public declaration of Bahá’u’lláh—the Universal House of Justice was elected by all 56 National Spiritual Assemblies that were by then established in the world. The International Bahá’í Council ceased to exist with the election of the Universal House of Justice.
The coming into being of the Universal House of Justice was a tremendously significant event. After more than a century of expansion and consolidation—and through a democratic global electoral process—the Bahá’ís of the world were able to bring into existence the permanent international institution, ordained by Bahá’u’lláh, to guide its affairs.
Since its formation, the Universal House of Justice has devoted more than half a century to building and consolidating a Bahá’í community which has the resources and capabilities to participate in the establishment of the global civilization envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, through a process of applying His teachings to the betterment of the world.
To support it in its work, the Universal House of Justice has, furthermore, created a number of appointed institutions; among these are the Continental Boards of Counsellors and the International Teaching Centre.
As stipulated by Bahá’u’lláh, the Seat of the Universal House of Justice is located on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land, in close proximity to the Shrine of the Báb.
The Universal House of Justice is elected through a three-stage process.
In every national Bahá’í community, all adult Bahá’ís in good standing, 21 years of age or older, are eligible to take part in elections at the grassroots level—known as unit conventions—held once a year throughout their country. At these conventions, the Bahá’ís vote by secret ballot for delegates who are duly responsible to elect the nine persons to serve on the National Spiritual Assembly for the term of one administrative year. The National Spiritual Assembly is then elected at the National Convention.
The members of all National Spiritual Assemblies elect, in turn, the nine members to serve on the Universal House of Justice. The election of the Universal House of Justice is conducted once every five years at the International Bahá’í Convention. Of several days’ duration, the Convention is held at the World Centre of the Bahá’í Faith in Haifa, Israel, where the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies are able to visit the Holy Shrines in preparation for the duty they are called upon to discharge. Foremost in their minds as they cast their ballots are passages from the Bahá’í Writings which describe those whom they choose to serve on such an august body as “daysprings of knowledge and understanding”, “steadfast in God’s faith”, and the “well-wishers of all mankind”.1 In common with the procedure of electing all Bahá’í institutions, the election of the Universal House of Justice is devoid of any system of nomination, electioneering, canvassing or propaganda.
The membership of the Universal House of Justice is confined to men. While this may be surprising, it is a provision that was ordained by Bahá’u’lláh Himself. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has stated that its wisdom will be clearly understood in the future. Because the Bahá’í Writings are filled with unequivocal statements about the equality of men and women, however, the question of male membership of the Universal House of Justice can in no way be regarded as a sign of the superiority of men over women. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes that the equality of men and women is an “established fact.”2 The Universal House of Justice is fully committed to advancing this principle—in its guidance to Bahá’í communities worldwide, through the resources allocated to the development and education of women and girl children in particular, through statements presented by the Bahá’í International Community at the United Nations, and by Bahá’í participation in conferences, seminars and other arenas.
Development of the Bahá’í Community since 1963
In April 1963, the centenary of Bahá’u’lláh’s public declaration was marked by two auspicious events: the first election of the Universal House of Justice—the highest institution of Bahá’u’lláh’s Administrative Order; and, a few days afterward, the holding of the first Bahá’í World Congress in London, at which its 7,000 participants demonstrated by their very presence just how dramatically the Bahá’í world community had grown during the preceding decade.
The community that the Universal House of Justice inherited had expanded rapidly as a result of Shoghi Effendi’s first global plan for the growth and consolidation of the Bahá’í Faith. Bahá’ís now resided in more than 14,000 localities in some 259 sovereign states, dependencies and major islands. Some 56 countries had National Spiritual Assemblies. Though still relatively small, the Bahá’í Faith was assuming the characteristics of a world religion. The cultural adaptability of the Faith and its potential to attract a wide diversity of peoples were increasingly visible; its collective life was also beginning to manifest some of the society-building potentialities enshrined in Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation.
Shortly after its establishment, the Universal House of Justice continued the pattern set by Shoghi Effendi of developing the Bahá’í Faith within the framework of a series of global plans, each lasting several years. As a result, the worldwide Bahá’í community has grown significantly—to more than 5 million members today residing in over 100,000 localities.
Between 1963 and 1973, there was a notable shift in the composition of Bahá’í membership internationally as large numbers of people from Africa, Asia and Latin America joined the Faith. Tribes and minority groups represented in the community more than doubled during that decade and the number of National Spiritual Assemblies grew from the 56 that first elected the Universal House of Justice to 113. Today there are more than 170 such Assemblies.
Bahá’u’lláh mandated the Universal House of Justice to exert a positive influence on the general welfare of humankind, promoting education, peace and prosperity. For more than 50 years, the Universal House of Justice has devoted its energies and resources to raising up a global community whose members can apply the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh to the needs of their local populations.
To know about the Bahá’í teachings is one thing; applying them, however, to the life and needs of society is something that has to be learned. As a result of the spread of the Faith in new areas, Bahá’ís began to explore systematically how Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings for the development of communities could be practically applied—in the fields of education, health, literacy, agriculture and communications technology.
A period of widespread experimentation led to the emergence of processes that seek to raise capacity within a population to take charge of its own spiritual, social and intellectual development. Beginning in 1996, the Universal House of Justice launched the entire Bahá’í world community on a global programme that has seen it enter a new stage in its growth.
From being a small community mostly concerned with its own life and activities, the Bahá’ís of the world were guided to open such activities to the public at large that would exert an increasingly beneficial influence on the life of humanity. In order to assist the Bahá’ís to acquire the knowledge, skills and spiritual insights to carry out such activities, the Universal House of Justice promoted the establishment of training institute programmes in every country.
The core activities which Bahá’ís pursue in their neighbourhoods and villages around the world are: children’s classes, spiritual empowerment programmes for young people, devotional gatherings and circles of study that build capacity for service.
Systematic action and a culture of learning—a process of planning, action and reflection—has come to characterize the manner in which the worldwide Bahá’í community functions.
As the Bahá’í Faith and its work has expanded, so too has the development of its spiritual and administrative World Centre. The Universal House of Justice formulated and published its own Constitution (1972), extended into the future the functions of the Hands of the Cause of God through the appointment of Continental Boards of Counsellors (1968), and established the International Teaching Centre (1973) at the World Centre of the Faith. The Universal House of Justice moved into its permanent Seat on Mount Carmel in 1983. The complex of administrative buildings on either side of the Seat was completed in 2001, with the inauguration of the building of the International Teaching Centre.
The preservation and beautification of the Shrines of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb, along with other sites associated with the Faith’s history, has continued in the Holy Land. Nineteen beautiful garden terraces cascading above and below the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel, stretching from the bottom of the mountain to its summit, were also completed in 2001, enhancing the site’s beauty and demonstrating the Bahá’í vision of harmony and transformation.
Continental Bahá’í Houses of Worship were inaugurated in Panama City, Panama (1972), Tiapapata, Western Samoa (1984) and New Delhi, India (1986), and Santiago, Chile (2016).
From 1979 onwards, following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, its sorely-tried Bahá’í community has once again faced cruel persecution. The situation has contributed to the Bahá’í Faith’s emergence from obscurity. Today it is increasingly recognized by world leaders and governments, who, in some instances, have sought out Bahá’ís for their views on, and solutions to, various social and moral problems facing humanity.
The period between 21 April 1992 and 20 April 1993 was designated as a Holy Year in tribute to Bahá’u’lláh and in honour of the hundredth anniversary of His passing. A commemoration was held in the precincts of His Shrine attended by nearly 3,000 Bahá’ís representing every national community throughout the world. Later that same year, in New York City, the second Bahá’í World Congress was held. Some 27,000 Bahá’ís from every background, representing all strata of human society, celebrated in a jubilant spirit, as did thousands more gathered at nine regional conferences on five continents which were linked to the World Congress by satellite.
As a contribution to the international discourse on peace, the Universal House of Justice addressed a message in 1985 to the peoples of the world, outlining the essential prerequisites for the establishment of global peace and prosperity. Bahá’ís around the globe presented the message to heads of state and countless others, and—inspired by the message’s contents—continue to participate in discussions, seminars, conferences and peace initiatives.
In response to a rising tide of religious intolerance, in 2002 the Universal House of Justice addressed a letter to the world’s religious leaders calling for a new dialogue about the interfaith movement and the role of religion in society. It called upon them to give due regard to the principle of the oneness of religion as a prerequisite for establishing peace.
Since the formation of the Universal House of Justice, a wide range of initiatives have also been taken in areas such as human rights, global prosperity and the advancement of women. At the United Nations, in international fora, and in all manner of social spaces at the national and local levels, Bahá’ís are increasingly participating in discussions about matters of concern to society. Young people, with their abundant energy and relative freedom, play a leading role in Bahá’í activity.