i. Nineteen Day Feast
ii. The Local and National Spiritual Assemblies
iii. The Universal House of Justice
iv. The Appointed Institutions of the Bahá'í Faith
iv. The Bahá'í World Centre
v. The Bahá'í Calendar
vi. The House of Worship (Mashriqu'l-Adhkár)
The Bahá'í teachings contain many high principles and ideals. The Bahá'í community is the attempt to put these principles into action. The principles of Bahá'í community life were laid down by Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá, but it was left to the time of Shoghi Effendi before most of its structure was actualized. This structure consists of a number of institutions which administer the Bahá'í community.
These Bahá'í institutions are necessary because the Bahá'í Faith has no clergy and no professional learned class. Bahá'u'lláh asserted that priests and other religious professionals had their role in former times when the majority of people were illiterate and needed guidance. Today, however, humanity has the ability to bring education and literacy to all. Therefore it is possible for all to read the scriptures themselves and come to their own understanding of them. Bahá'u'lláh has therefore abolished the priesthood and the professional religious class. It is still necessary, however, to fill the other function of religious professionals, the organization and administration of the Bahá'í community. The Bahá'í administrative order fulfils this function.
The next level up in the Bahá'í administrative hierarchy is the National Spiritual Assembly. This is formed in any country where there are sufficient Local Spiritual Assemblies. Delegates are elected to a National Convention, at which the National Spiritual Assembly is elected. In some parts of the world however, there is not a sufficiently strong foundation of Local Spiritual Assemblies. Here, several countries may be grouped together under one Assembly, which is then often called a Regional Spiritual Assembly. Alternatively, some countries are divided into more than one "National" Spiritual Assembly (the United States of America, for example, has one assembly for the continental USA, and one each for Hawaii and Alaska). Some colonies and dependent territories also have their own "National" Spiritual Assemblies.
Within its area of jurisdiction, each National Spiritual Assembly is responsible for stimulating and coordinating the activities of Local Spiritual Assemblies and individual Bahá'ís. It is also the main channel of communication between the Bahá'ís in its area and the Bahá'í World Centre.
|DUTIES OF THE MEMBERS OF
Concerning the duties laid upon the members of Local and National Spiritual Assemblies, Shoghi Effendi writes:
Let it be made clear to every inquiring reader that among the most outstanding and sacred duties incumbent upon those who have been called upon to initiate, direct and coordinate the affairs of the Cause, are those that require them to win by every means in their power the confidence and affection of those whom it is their privilege to serve.
Within its area of jurisdiction, each Spiritual Assembly, whether local or national, is responsible for a wide range of functions such as:
Many of the responsibilities and duties of the Universal House of Justice mirror on a global scale the general duties of the Local and National Spiritual Assemblies which are outlined in the previous section. Other specific responsibilities include:The men of God's House of Justice have been charged with the affairs of the people. They, in truth, are the Trustees of God among His servants and the daysprings of authority in His countries . . . Inasmuch as 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 . . . It is incumbent upon all to be obedient unto them. (Bahá'u'lláh)(2)
This appointed arm of the Bahá'í administration has no administrative powers or authority. It functions to stimulate and encourage the individual Bahá'ís and in a consultative capacity with the elected institutions.
Adjacent to the shrine of the Báb in Haifa is a semicircular pathway, known as "the arc", on which are the main administrative buildings of the world centre. When completed these will include:
Most of the holy places of the Bahá'í world are at the Bahá'í world centre in the Haifa-Akka area and in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. These are places linked to the lives of the central figures of the religion. Those Bahá'ís who can afford to do so without difficulty are encouraged to perform a pilgrimage to them. The holy places in Iran and Iraq, however, cannot at present be visited due to persecutions of the Bahá'í Faith in those countries.
The Bahá'í calendar was called by Bahá'u'lláh the Badí` (wondrous) calendar. Each year consists of nineteen months of nineteen days each. The year begins with the spring equinox on 21st March. The Bahá'í months are named after various spiritual qualities or divine attributes.
|MONTHS OF THE BAHÁ'Í YEAR|
There are four additional (intercalary) days before the last month of the year (`Alá') which make the number of days up to 365. They are increased to five days in a leap year. These days are called the Ayyám-i-Há and are specially set aside for hospitality and the giving of presents.
Bahá'ís have nine holy days, most of which commemorate significant events in Bahá'í history. (For historical information on these events, see )
|BAHÁ'Í HOLY DAYS|
|Naw-Rúz (New year)||21 March|
|Ridván - first day||21 April|
|Ridván - ninth day||29 April|
|Ridván - twelfth day||2 May|
|The Báb's declaration of his mission||23 May|
|Passing of Bahá'u'lláh||29 May|
|Martyrdom of the Báb||9 July|
|Birth of the Báb||20 October|
|Birth of Bahá'u'lláh||12 November|
The Bahá'í house of worship is open to peoples of all backgrounds, not just Bahá'ís, in accordance with the Bahá'í aim of fostering unity. In his speech at the laying of the cornerstone of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár in Wilmette, `Abdu'l-Bahá stated that:
At present Bahá'ís prefer to use their money on other projects and, therefore, there are only seven of these Houses of Worship around the world as a symbol of future intentions. These seven are: near Chicago, USA; near Kampala, Uganda; near Sydney, Australia; near Frankfurt, Germany; near Panama City, Panama; near Apia, Samoa; and in New Delhi, India.. . . the original purpose of temples and houses of worship is simply that of unity--places of meeting where various peoples, different races and souls of every capacity may come together in order that love and agreement should be manifest between them . . . that all religions, races and sects may come together within its universal shelter . . .(4)
|MERE PLANS ARE NOT SUFFICIENT|
The Bahá'í administration is the agency through which Bahá'ís believe that the Bahá'í teachings can been put into effect in the world. `Abdu'l-Bahá spoke of the fact that mere good intentions and ideas are not enough, there is also the need for some way to put these into effect in the world
. . . mere knowledge is not sufficient for complete human attainment . . . A house is not built by mere acquaintance with the plans. Money must be forthcoming; volition is necessary to construct it; a carpenter must be employed in its erection. It is not enough to say, "The plan and purpose of this house are very good; I will live in it." There are no walls of protection, there is no roof of shelter in this mere statement; the house must be actually built before we can live in it . . .
Bahá'u'lláh not only proclaimed this unity and love; He established it. As a heavenly Physician He not only gave prescriptions for these ailments of discord and hatred but accomplished the actual healing. We may read in a medical book that a certain form of illness requires such and such a remedy. While this may be absolutely true, the remedy is useless unless there be volition and executive force to apply it . . .
It is, therefore, evident and proved that an effort must be put forward to complete the purpose and plan of the teachings of God in order that in this great Day of days the world may be reformed, souls resuscitated, a new spirit of life found, hearts become illumined, mankind rescued from the bondage of nature, saved from the baseness of materialism and attain spirituality and radiance in attraction toward the divine Kingdom. This is necessary; this is needful. Mere reading of the Holy Books and texts will not suffice.
Many years ago in Baghdad I saw a certain officer sitting upon the ground. Before him a large paper was placed into which he was sticking needles tipped with small red and white flags. First he would stick them into the paper, then thoughtfully pull them out and change their position. I watched him with curious interest for a long time, then asked, "What are you doing?" He replied, "I have in mind something which is historically related of Napoleon I during his war against Austria. One day, it is said, his secretary found him sitting upon the ground as I am now doing, sticking needles into a paper before him. His secretary inquired what it meant. Napoleon answered, `I am on the battlefield figuring out my next victory. You see, Italy and Austria are defeated, and France is triumphant.' In the great campaign which followed, everything came out just as he said. His army carried his plans to a complete success. Now, I am doing the same as Napoleon, figuring out a great campaign of military conquest." I said, "Where is your army? Napoleon had an army already equipped when he figured out his victory. You have no army. Your forces exist only on paper. You have no power to conquer countries. First get ready your army, then sit upon the ground with your needles." We need an army to attain victory in the spiritual world; mere plans are not sufficient; ideas and principles are helpless without a divine power to put them into effect. (`Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 249-50
The structure of the Bahá'í administrative institutions, as described above, is quite unlike those of other religions. There are some principles governing their functioning which also make them unlike other comparable institutions.
Such interpretative freedom would inevitably lead to doctrinal chaos and the formation of numerous sects based on the interpretations of various individuals if it were not for the existence of a covenant or spiritual agreement into which each Bahá'í enters.Let us also remember that at the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views. (Shoghi Effendi)(5)
In brief this covenant states that, while each individual is free to interpret the Bahá'í scriptures, no one may claim that theirs is the only correct interpretation or that it is in any way authoritative. Only the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and of the two authorised interpreters of the Bahá'í scriptures, `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, are authoritative and binding.
Coupled with this agreement to refrain from claiming any authority for one's own views is an agreement to abide by the decisions and directives of the leader of the Bahá'í Faith, which, since its election in 1963, has been the Universal House of Justice. If any individual Bahá'í feels that any administrative decision made by either a Local Spiritual Assembly or a National Spiritual Assembly is wrong or unjust, he or she is free to appeal that decision all the way up to the Universal House of Justice. Once the Universal House of Justice has ruled on the issue, however, the matter is settled and there should be no further dissent. `Abdu'l-Bahá has put this very emphatically. Referring to Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, he states:
The concept of the Covenant is the focal centre of the Bahá'í Faith and the source of its unity:Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God . . . whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God.(6)
And since Bahá'ís believe that the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh are what will bring unity to the world, the Covenant, by maintaining the unity of the Bahá'í Faith, is "the axis of the oneness of the world of humanity." (8) Therefore, `Abdu'l-Bahá says that:. . . the power of the Covenant will protect the Cause of Bahá'u'lláh from the doubts of the people of error. It is the fortified fortress of the Cause of God and the firm pillar of the religion of God. Today no power can conserve the oneness of the Bahá'í world save the Covenant of God; otherwise differences like unto a most great tempest will encompass the Bahá'í world. (`Abdu'l-Bahá)(7)
Today the pulsating power in the arteries of the body of the world is the spirit of the Covenant--the spirit which is the cause of life. Whosoever is vivified with this spirit, the freshness and beauty of life become manifest in him, he is baptized with the Holy Spirit, he is born again, is freed from oppression and tyranny, from heedlessness and harshness which deaden the spirit, and attains to everlasting life.(9)
`Abdu'l-Bahá asserts that this result can only be achieved, however, if certain conditions are met:
The prime requisites for them that take counsel together are purity of motive, radiance of spirit, detachment from all else save God, attraction to His Divine Fragrances, humility and lowliness amongst His loved ones, patience and long-suffering in difficulties and servitude to His exalted Threshold. Should they be graciously aided to acquire these attributes, victory from the unseen Kingdom of Bahá shall be vouchsafed to them. . . The members [of a spiritual assembly] must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should any one oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. If after discussion, a decision be carried unanimously, well and good; but if the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail.(11)
|For more on the Bahá'í principle of consultation click here|
Nor is the tool of consultation only to be used in matters of Bahá'í administration. It is something that can be used whenever a decision has to be made:
Consultation is acceptable in the presence of the Almighty, and hath been enjoined upon the believers, so that they may confer upon ordinary and personal matters, as well as on affairs which are general in nature and universal. For instance, when a man hath a project to accomplish, should he consult with some of his brethren, that which is agreeable will of course be investigated and unveiled to his eyes, and the truth will be disclosed. Likewise on a higher level, should the people of a village consult one another about their affairs, the right solution will certainly be revealed. In like manner, the members of each profession, such as in industry, should consult , and those in commerce should similarly consult on business affairs. In short, consultation is desirable and acceptable in all things and on all issues. (`Abdu'l-Bahá)(12)
|`ABDU'L-BAHÁ ON CONSULTATION|
In this Cause consultation is of vital importance, but spiritual conference and not the mere voicing of personal views is intended. In France I was present at a session of the senate, but the experience was not impressive. Parliamentary procedure should have for its object the attainment of the light of truth upon questions presented and not furnish a battleground for opposition and self-opinion. Antagonism and contradiction are unfortunate and always destructive to truth. In the parliamentary meeting mentioned, altercation and useless quibbling were frequent; the result, mostly confusion and turmoil; even in one instance a physical encounter took place between two members. It was not consultation but comedy.
The purpose is to emphasize the statement that consultation must have for its object the investigation of truth. He who expresses an opinion should not voice it as correct and right but set it forth as a contribution to the consensus of opinion, for the light of reality becomes apparent when two opinions coincide. A spark is produced when flint and steel come together. Man should weigh his opinions with the utmost serenity, calmness and composure. Before expressing his own views he should carefully consider the views already advanced by others. If he finds that a previously expressed opinion is more true and worthy, he should accept it immediately and not wilfully hold to an opinion of his own. By this excellent method he endeavours to arrive at unity and truth. . . . Therefore, true consultation is spiritual conference in the attitude and atmosphere of love. Members must love each other in the spirit of fellowship in order that good results may be forthcoming. Love and fellowship are the foundation. (Promulgation of Universal Peace, pages 72- 73)
Within the Bahá'í administration, it is also a principle to decentralize as much as it is feasible to do. Thus, for example, as soon as the National Spiritual Assemblies had developed sufficiently for them to take over the planning of the expansion and development of the Bahá'í Faith in their areas, this responsibility was given to them by the Universal House of Justice. Each spiritual assembly has jurisdiction and authority over all Bahá'í activity in its area of jurisdiction. It is subject to the authority of the next higher level in the hierarchy of elected institutions only when the activities it undertakes have an impact beyond the boundaries of its area of jurisdiction.
This can be seen as being one aspect of the Bahá'í principles of the oneness of humanity and the need for the abolition of prejudices. The Bahá'í community goes further than merely acknowledging a position of equality for the members of minority groups, however. It encourages the positive participation of these minority groups in its affairs. Thus, for example, in the case of a tied vote in an election, priority should be accorded to the member of a minority group. Shoghi Effendi states:. . . every organized community enlisted under the banner of Bahá'u'lláh should feel it to be its first and inescapable obligation to nurture, encourage, and safeguard every minority belonging to any faith, race, class, or nation within it. (Shoghi Effendi)(13)
. . . bearing in mind the extreme desirability of having the minority elements participate and share responsibility in the conduct of Bahá'í activity, it should be the duty of every Bahá'í community so to arrange its affairs that in cases where individuals belonging to the divers minority elements within it are already qualified and fulfill the necessary requirements, Bahá'í representative institutions, be they Assemblies, conventions, conferences, or committees, may have represented on them as many of these divers elements, racial or otherwise, as possible. The adoption of such a course, and faithful adherence to it, would not only be a source of inspiration and encouragement to those elements that are numerically small and inadequately represented, but would demonstrate to the world at large the universality and representative character of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh, and the freedom of His followers from the taint of those prejudices which have already wrought such havoc in the domestic affairs, as well as the foreign relationships, of the nations.(14)
The process of election is considered to be a vehicle for choosing individuals who have the necessary moral, spiritual and administrative capabilities to consult together and cooperate to promote the common good. Those elected do not represent any particular interest or faction. They must see themselves as chosen for a service to the whole community, a service which they must perform prayerfully and conscientiously.
© Moojan Momen 1996. All Rights Reserved
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1. Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 14.
2. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, no. 3, pp. 26-27.
3. Constitution of the Universal House of Justice , pp. 5-6.
4. Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 65.
5. Bahá'í Administration, p. 63.
6. Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 11.
7. Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 49.
8. Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 49.
9. Compilation of Compilations, vol. 1, pp. 127.
10. Compilation of Compilations, vol. 1, no. 182, pp. 97.
11. Cited in Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'í Administration, pp. 21-22.
12. Compilation of Compilations, vol. 1, no. 182, pp. 97-8.
13. Advent of Divine Justice, p. 35.
14. Advent of Divine Justice, pp. 35-6.
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