Abdu'l-Baha, The Master
Shoghi Effendi, The Guardian
Universal House of Justice

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The Universal House of Justice

Bahá'ís believe that the "Administrative Order" created by Bahá'u'lláh, and built up by His successors `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, defines a pattern of cooperative decision-making and social interaction that cultivates the moral and creative capacities latent in human nature. It provides a model of the institutional structures necessary for global community life--a pattern of living that embraces diversity and fosters mutuality of purpose, compassion, and rectitude of conduct. A singular feature of this administrative system is the balance it strikes between preserving individual freedom and promoting the collective good. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, wrote:

...this Administrative Order is fundamentally different from anything that any Prophet has previously established, inasmuch as Bahá'u'lláh Himself revealed its principles, established its institutions, appointed the person to interpret His Word, and conferred the necessary authority on the body [the Universal House of Justice] designed to supplement and apply His legislative ordinances.

Founded on a set of unique electoral and consultative principles that are democratic in spirit and method, the Bahá'í administrative order is organized around freely elected governing councils which operate at the local, national, and international levels. This hierarchy devolves decision-making to the lowest practicable level--thereby instituting a unique vehicle for grassroots participation in governance--while at the same time providing a level of coordination and authority that makes possible cooperation on a global scale. Bahá'u'lláh called these governing councils "Houses of Justice."

The Universal House of Justice today guides the activities of the global Bahá'í community. This body was instituted by Bahá'u'lláh Himself as the supreme legislative organ of the Bahá'í administrative order. Its members, Bahá'u'lláh wrote, are "the Trustees of God among His servants." The Universal House of Justice itself states that "The provenance, the authority, the duties, the sphere of action of the Universal House of Justice all derive from the revealed Word of Bahá'u'lláh which, together with the interpretations and expositions of the Centre of the Covenant and of the Guardian of the Cause -- who, after `Abdu'l-Bahá, is the sole authority in the interpretation of Bahá'í Scripture -- constitute the binding terms of reference of the Universal House of Justice and are its bedrock foundation."

According to the explicit texts of Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá, the legislative enactments of the Universal House of Justice have the same authority for Bahá'ís as do the sacred texts themselves. The difference is that the House of Justice has the right to repeal and alter any of its enactments as the Bahá'í community evolves and new conditions emerge, whereas the laws enshrined in the Bahá'í texts will remain unchanged. `Abdu'l-Bahá states that all questions and issues not explicitly addressed in the Bahá'í sacred writings "must be referred to the Universal House of Justice. That which this body, whether unanimously or by a majority doth carry, that is verily the truth and the purpose of God Himself."

The administration of the Bahá'í Faith on the national and local levels is presently carried out by national and local "Spiritual Assemblies." These elected institutions function in accordance with the same consultative principles as the Universal House of Justice and will eventually be called "Houses of Justice." Bahá'ís believe that, while local and national Houses of Justice will be the instruments for ensuring human well-being, the decisions of the Universal House of Justice are uniquely inspired and authoritative. Bahá'u'lláh stated that God Himself has made this possible and will preserve the enactments of the Universal House of Justice from error: "It is incumbent upon the Trustees of the House of Justice to take counsel together regarding those things which have not outwardly been revealed in the Book, and to enforce that which is agreeable to them. God will verily inspire them with whatsoever He willeth, and He, verily, is the Provider, the Omniscient." Bahá'u'lláh wrote that since for "each day there is a new problem and for every problem an expedient solution, 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. They...are the recipients of divine inspiration from the unseen kingdom."

Thus, the Universal House of Justice has been ordained by Bahá'u'lláh as an instrument of divine guidance and is not to be considered as merely the international administrative body of the Bahá'í Faith. `Abdu'l-Bahá confirms that the Universal House of Justice is "under the protection and the unerring guidance of God." However, it is only the corporate body itself that has been endowed with such guidance and not the individual members.

With the coming into being of the Universal House of Justice a new era opened in the history of the Bahá'í Faith. Authoritative direction flowed to the Bahá'í community first through the Manifestation of God (Bahá'u'lláh), then through the chosen Center of the Faith (`Abdu'l-Bahá) and the Guardian of the Faith (Shoghi Effendi). But with the passing of Shoghi Effendi and the establishment of the Universal House of Justice, guidance for the Bahá'í community no longer came from a personal channel, organically linked to the Manifestation of God, but from an elected body chosen by the Bahá'í membership itself.

As stipulated by Bahá'u'lláh, the Seat of the Universal House of Justice is located on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, in close proximity to the resting places of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh.

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