Universal House of Justice

Last updated
Seat of the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel. Seat of the House of Justice.jpg
Seat of the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel.

The Universal House of Justice (Persian : بیت‌العدل اعظم) is the nine-member supreme ruling body of the Baháʼí Faith. It was envisioned by Baháʼu'lláh, the founder of the Baháʼí Faith, as an institution that could legislate on issues not already addressed in the Baháʼí writings, providing flexibility for the Baháʼí Faith to adapt to changing conditions. [1] It was first elected in 1963, and subsequently every five years, by delegates consisting of the members of Baháʼí National Spiritual Assemblies throughout the world.


The Universal House of Justice, as the head of the religion, has provided direction to the worldwide Baháʼí community primarily through a series of multi-year plans, as well as through annual messages delivered during the Ridván festival. The messages have focused on increasing the number of Local Spiritual Assemblies, translating Baháʼí literature, establishing Baháʼí Centres, completing Baháʼí Houses of Worship, holding international conferences, and developing educational systems to enhance literacy, the role of women, spirituality for children and youth, family life, social and economic development, and communal worship. [2] The Universal House of Justice has also played a role in responding to systemic persecution of Baháʼís in Iran by garnering worldwide media attention.

The books and documents published by the Universal House of Justice are considered authoritative and its legislative decisions are considered infallible by Baháʼís. [3] [4] While empowered to legislate on matters that are not explicitly stated in the Baha'i holy writings, the Universal House of Justice has, since its inception, limited its exercise of this function.

The Seat of the Universal House of Justice and its members reside in Haifa, Israel, on the slope of Mount Carmel. [1] The most recent election was 29 April 2018. [5] Although all other elected and appointed roles in the Baháʼí Faith are open to men and women, membership on the Universal House of Justice is male-only, providing an exception to the basic Baháʼí principle of the equality of men and women. The Baháʼí writings do not give a reason for this exception, but that the reason will become clear with time. [6]


Baháʼu'lláh, the founder of the Baháʼí Faith, in his book the Kitáb-i-Aqdas first ordains the institution of the House of Justice and defines its functions. The institution's responsibilities are also expanded on and referred to in several other of Baháʼu'lláh's writings including in his Tablets of Baháʼu'lláh . In those writings Baháʼu'lláh writes that the Universal House of Justice would assume authority over the religion, and would consider matters that had not been covered by himself; he stated that the members of the institution would be assured of divine inspiration, and have the regard for all peoples and safe-guard their honour. [1]

Later, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, Baháʼu'lláh's son and successor, in his Will and Testament, elaborated on its functioning, its composition and outlined the method for its election. He wrote that the Universal House of Justice would be under Baháʼu'lláh's protection, that it would be freed of error, and that obedience to it would be obligatory. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá first used the term "Universal House of Justice" to distinguish the supreme body from those local 'Houses of Justice' to be established in each community, and the secondary 'Houses of Justice' (current Baháʼí national spiritual assemblies). He also stated that the institution's decisions could be by majority vote, but that unanimous decisions were preferred, and that it would be elected by the members of the secondary Houses of Justice. He also confirmed Baháʼu'lláh's statements that its membership would be confined to men, and that the reason behind this decision would become apparent in the future. [1]

While both ʻAbdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, heads of the religion after Baháʼu'lláh, considered establishing the Universal House of Justice, they both declined to do so. Shoghi Effendi's reason was due to his belief in the weakness of the existing Baháʼí institutions — there were a very limited number of national spiritual assemblies and local spiritual assemblies. Thus during his lifetime, Shoghi Effendi prepared for the election of the Universal House of Justice, by establishing a strong administrative structure at the local and national levels. In 1951 when there were 9 National Spiritual Assemblies, Shoghi Effendi appointed members to the International Baháʼí Council, and described it as an embryonic international House of Justice. After Shoghi Effendi's unexpected death in 1957, the Hands of the Cause directed the affairs of the religion and announced that the election of the Universal House of Justice would occur in 1963 at the end of the Ten Year Crusade, an international teaching plan instituted by Shoghi Effendi. [1]

In 1961 the International Baháʼí Council was changed to an elected body, with members of all National Spiritual Assemblies voting for its members. Then in April 1963, the first Universal House of Justice was elected, six years after the passing of Shoghi Effendi, by 56 National Spiritual Assemblies. The date of the election coincided with the completion of the Ten Year Crusade and also with the first centenary anniversary of the public declaration of Baháʼu'lláh in the Garden of Ridván in April 1863. Since then the Universal House of Justice has acted as the head of the religion -- individual members have no authority, only as an assembly do they have authority. In 1972 it published its constitution. [1] [7]

Election process

The Universal House of Justice is elected through secret ballot and plurality vote in a three-stage election by adult Baháʼís throughout the world. The House of Justice is elected without nominations or campaigning and all adult male members of the Baháʼí Faith are eligible for election to the House. [8] The body is elected every five years during a convention of the members of the various National or Regional Spiritual Assemblies (NSAs) across the world. Each member of the various NSAs, who were themselves elected by the Baháʼís of their country, votes for nine adult male Baháʼís. Absentee ballots are mailed or carried by delegates. The nine people who have the most votes are elected onto the Universal House of Justice. Women are not eligible for election to the Universal House of Justice. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá stated that the wisdom for this will become clear in the future, and that women and men are spiritually equal. [1] For more on this issue see Baháʼí Faith and gender equality.

The most recent full election was on 29 April 2018. [5] .


Seat of the Universal House of Justice Baha'i arc from archives.jpg
Seat of the Universal House of Justice

The Universal House of Justice today guides the growth and development of the global Baháʼí community. The general functions of the Universal House of Justice, as stated by Baháʼu'lláh, include to promulgate the cause of God, to preserve the law, to administer social affairs, to educate the people's souls, to guarantee the education of children, to make the entire world prosperous (eliminate extremes of wealth and poverty), and to care for the elderly and the ill who are in poverty. [9] According to its constitution, 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 Baháʼu'lláh which, together with the interpretations and expositions of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá and of Shoghi Effendi ... constitute the binding terms of reference of the Universal House of Justice and are its bedrock foundation." [7] Some of the powers and duties according to the constitution include: [9]

Furthermore, the Universal House of Justice is instructed by Baháʼu'lláh to exert a positive influence on the general welfare of humankind, to promote a permanent peace among the nations of the world, ensure the "training of peoples, the up building of nations, the protection of man and the safeguarding of his honour". [9] [10] The Universal House of Justice is supported by the elected national and local governing bodies of the Baháʼí Faith, (the National Spiritual Assemblies and Local Spiritual Assemblies respectively). It has, furthermore, created several appointed institutions to support its work around the world; among these are the Continental Board of Counsellors and the International Teaching Centre.


Seat of the Universal House of Justice Seat of the Universal House of Justice IMG 0888.JPG
Seat of the Universal House of Justice

The Universal House of Justice is also given the responsibility of adapting the Baháʼí Faith as society progresses, and is thus given the power to legislate on matters not explicitly covered in the Baháʼí sacred texts. While the Universal House of Justice is authorized to change or repeal its own legislation as conditions change, it cannot dissolve or change any of the laws which are explicitly written in the sacred texts. [1] [9] Shoghi Effendi has written:

... the Universal House of Justice has been invested with the function of legislating on matters not expressly revealed in the teachings.... whose exclusive right and prerogative is to pronounce upon and deliver the final judgement on such laws and ordinances as Baháʼu'lláh has not expressly revealed.... Neither the Guardian of the Faith nor any institution apart from the International House of Justice can ever usurp this vital and essential power or encroach upon that sacred right. [11]

In the same book, Shoghi Effendi mentions that certain issues were left intentionally for the House of Justice to apply and legislate on as time progressed:

Severed from the no less essential institution of the Universal House of Justice this same System of the Will of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá would be paralyzed in its action and would be powerless to fill in those gaps which the Author of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas has deliberately left in the body of His legislative and administrative ordinances. [12]


While being empowered to legislate on matters, the Universal House of Justice has, since its inception in 1963, limited its exercise of this function. Instead, it has provided general guidance to Baháʼís around the world, and not specific laws; this guidance has generally been through the form of letters and messages, much like Shoghi Effendi's communications. Many of these letters have been published in compilations and are regarded as divinely empowered and authoritative; its legislative decisions are considered infallible to Baháʼís. [13] [4] The letters cover a range of subjects including teaching, prayer, family life, education and Baháʼí administration. [13] Each year on the first day of Ridván (which may be on April 20 or 21 depending on the dating of Naw-Rúz), the Universal House of Justice addresses a message to the worldwide Baháʼí community, known as Ridván messages. [14]

The institution has also collected and published extracts from the writings of the Báb, Baháʼu'lláh and ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. In 1992 they published the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Baháʼu'lláh's book of laws in English, and further translations have since been published. [13] During these endeavours, they established departments of research and archives at the Baháʼí World Centre, and, as of 1983, have collected over 60,000 letters of Baháʼu'lláh, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi. These collected works have been used as a base in the deliberations of the Universal House of Justice. [13]

Statement addressed "To the Peoples of the World", presented to over 160 heads of state and government. It outlines the major prerequisites for, as well as the obstacles working against, the establishment of world peace.
Marking the centenary of the passing of Baháʼu'lláh, this statement is a review of his life and work.
A statement on the concept of global prosperity in the context of the Baháʼí Teachings.
Review of the 20th century, focusing on dramatic changes and the emergence of the Baha'i Faith from obscurity.
Letter addressing the disease of sectarian hatreds. Calling on all religious movements to "rise above fixed conceptions inherited from a distant past."
Document primarily intended for a Baháʼí audience, in which it identifies as a major challenge for the Baháʼí community the inculcation of the principle of the oneness of religion and the overcoming of religious prejudices.

Current members

All of the current members of the Universal House of Justice previously served as members of the International Teaching Centre. They are: [15]

Past members

The initial election in 1963 drew five members from the International Baháʼí Council, two from the National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) of the United States, one from the NSA of Britain, and one from the NSA of India. [16]

Members are entered in the table under the year when they were first elected. Starting with the first election in 1963, regular elections of the entire membership have occurred every five years, and there have been five by-elections, noted in the table with italics, in 1982, 1987, 2000, 2005 and 2010. All members have continued to serve after re-election in subsequent conventions. Amoz Gibson, Charles Wolcott, and Adib Taherzadeh died while in office while the other former members were allowed to retire.

Luṭfu'lláh Ḥakím David Ruhe Farzam Arbab Ayman Rouhani
Amoz GibsonGlenford Mitchell Gustavo Correa Praveen Mallik
Charles Wolcott Peter Khan Stephen Hall
David Hofman Hooper Dunbar Stephen Birkland
Borrah Kavelin Adib Taherzadeh Kiser BarnesChuungu Malitonga
Hugh ChanceDouglas Martin Paul Lample
Hushmand FatheazamHartmut GrossmannShahriar Razavi
Alí Nakhjavání Firaydoun JavaheriJuan Francisco Mora
Ian Semple Payman Mohajer


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Smith 2000, pp. 346-350.
  2. Smith 2000, p. 348.
  3. UHJ 1996, p. 84.
  4. 1 2 Schaefer 2000.
  5. 1 2 Baháʼí International Community 2018.
  6. Smith 2000, p. 359.
  7. 1 2 UHJ 1972.
  8. World 1995.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Momen 1989.
  10. Baháʼu'lláh 1994, p. 125.
  11. Effendi 1938, pp. 150-153.
  12. Effendi 1938, p. 148.
  13. 1 2 3 4 Smith 2000, pp. 350.
  14. "Ridván Messages". Baháʼí International Community. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
  15. Baháʼí International Community 2013b.
  16. Smith 2000, p. 347.

Related Research Articles

Covenant-breaker is a term used by Baháʼís to refer to a person who has been excommunicated from the Baháʼí community for the act of covenant-breaking, roughly defined as active opposition to the Baháʼí Faith from a current member. According to Baháʼí law, only the head of the religion, currently the Universal House of Justice, has the authority to declare a person a covenant-breaker.

<i>Kitáb-i-Aqdas</i> Primary Baháʼí text, book of laws, written by Baháʼulláh in 1873

The Kitáb-i-Aqdas or Aqdas is the central book of the Baháʼí Faith written by Baháʼu'lláh, the founder of the religion, in 1873. The work was written in Arabic under the Arabic title al-Kitābu l-Aqdas, but it is commonly referred to by its Persian title, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, which was given to the work by Baháʼu'lláh himself. It is sometimes also referred to as "the Most Holy Book", "the Book of Laws" or the Book of Aqdas. The word Aqdas has a significance in many languages as the superlative form of a word with its primary letters Q-D-Š.

Shoghi Effendi Appointed head of the Baháʼí Faith from 1921 until his death in 1957

Shoghí Effendí Rabbání, better known as Shoghi Effendi, was the Guardian and appointed head of the Baháʼí Faith from 1921 until his death in 1957. Shoghi Effendi spent his early life in ʻAkká (Acre). His education was directed to serving as secretary and translator to his grandfather, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, then leader of the Baháʼí Faith and son of the religion's founder, Baháʼu'lláh.

The Hands of the Cause of God, Hands of the Cause, or Hands (informally) were a select group of Baháʼís, appointed for life, whose main function was to propagate and protect the Baháʼí Faith. Unlike the members of the elected institutions and other appointed institutions in the Baháʼí Faith, who serve in those offices, Hands are considered to have achieved a distinguished rank in service to the religion.

The following is a basic timeline of the Bábí and Baháʼí religions emphasizing dates that are relatively well known. For a more comprehensive chronology of the timeline, see the references at the bottom.

The Baháʼí administration or Baháʼí administrative order is the administrative system of the Baháʼí Faith. It is split into two parts, the elected and the appointed. The supreme governing institution of the Baháʼí Faith is the Universal House of Justice, situated in Haifa, Israel.

Baháʼí World Centre buildings

The Baháʼí World Centre buildings are buildings that are part of the Baháʼí World Centre in Israel. The Baháʼí World Centre buildings include both the Baháʼí holy places used for pilgrimage and the international administrative bodies of the Baháʼí Faith; they comprise more than 20 different administrative offices, pilgrim buildings, libraries, archives, historical residences, and shrines. These structures are all set amidst more than 30 different gardens or individual terraces.

Spiritual Assembly is a term given by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá to refer to elected councils that govern the Baháʼí Faith. Because the Baháʼí Faith has no clergy, they carry out the affairs of the community. In addition to existing at the local level, there are national Spiritual Assemblies.

Progressive revelation is a core teaching in the Baháʼí Faith that suggests that religious truth is revealed by God progressively and cyclically over time through a series of divine Messengers, and that the teachings are tailored to suit the needs of the time and place of their appearance. Thus, the Baháʼí teachings recognize the divine origin of several world religions as different stages in the history of one religion, while believing that the revelation of Baháʼu'lláh is the most recent, and therefore the most relevant to modern society.

The Baháʼí Faith has had challenges to its leadership, usually at the death of the head of the religion. The vast majority of Baháʼís have followed a line of authority from Baháʼu'lláh to ʻAbdu'l-Bahá to Shoghi Effendi to the Custodians to the Universal House of Justice. Sects diverging from this line of leadership have failed to attract a sizeable following. In this sense, there is only one major branch of the Baháʼí Faith, represented by at least 5 million adherents, whereas the groups that have broken away have either become extinct with time, or have remained very small in number, representing far less than 0.1% of all Baháʼís. Globally the Baháʼí community has maintained its unity.

Baháʼí laws are laws and ordinances used in the Baháʼí Faith and are a fundamental part of Baháʼí practice. The laws are based on authenticated texts from Baháʼu'lláh, the founder of the Baháʼí Faith, and also includes subsequent interpretations from ʻAbdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and legislation by the Universal House of Justice. Baháʼí law is presented as a set of general principles and guidelines and individuals must apply them as they best seem fit. While some of the social laws are enforced by Baháʼí institutions, the emphasis is placed on individuals following the laws based on their conscience, understanding and reasoning, and Baháʼís are expected to follow the laws for the love of Baháʼu'lláh. The laws are seen as the method of the maintenance of order and security in the world.

Baháʼí history is often traced through a sequence of leaders, beginning with the Báb's declaration in Shiraz on the evening of May 22, 1844, and ultimately resting on an Administrative Order established by the central figures of the religion. The religion had its background in two earlier movements in the nineteenth century, Shaykhism and Bábism. Shaykhism centred on theosophical doctrines and many Shaykhis expected the return of the hidden Twelfth Imam. Many Shaykhis joined the messianic Bábí movement in the 1840s where the Báb proclaimed himself to be the return of the hidden Imam. As the Bábí movement spread in Iran, violence broke out between the ruling Shiʻa Muslim government and the Bábís, and ebbed when government troops massacred them, and executed the Báb in 1850.

The Custodians is terminology in the Baháʼí Faith, which refers to nine Hands of the Cause assigned specifically to work at the Baháʼí World Centre to assist Shoghi Effendi as head of the religion, referred to as Guardian. After his death they were chosen by secret ballot, with all living Hands of the Cause voting.

<i>World Order of Baháʼulláh</i> collection of letters and messages from Shoghi Effendi

The World Order of Baháʼu'lláh is a collection of letters and messages from Shoghi Effendi, head of the Baháʼí Faith during the period, first published in 1938.

Baháʼí literature, like the literature of many religions, covers a variety of topics and forms, including scripture and inspiration, interpretation, history and biography, introduction and study materials, and apologia. Sometimes considerable overlap between these forms can be observed in a particular text.

The phrase "New world order" in the Baháʼí Faith refers to the replacement of the collective political norms and values of the 19th century with a new system of worldwide governance that incorporates the Baháʼí ideals of unity and justice for all nations, races, creeds, and classes. The idea of world unification, both politically and spiritually, is at the heart of Baháʼí teachings.

The Baháʼí Faith in Dominica begins with a mention by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, then head of the religion, in 1916 as Latin America being among the places Baháʼís should take the religion to. The island of Dominica was specifically listed as an objective for plans on spreading the religion in 1939 by Shoghi Effendi, who succeeded ʻAbdu'l-Baha as head of the religion. In 1983, William Nedden is credited with being the first pioneer to Dominica at the festivities associated with the inaugural election of the Dominican Baháʼís National Spiritual Assembly with Hand of the Cause, Dhikru'llah Khadem representing the Universal House of Justice. Later research records Ivor Ellard arrived two days before, April 17, 1966. The first Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly of Dominica was elected in 1976. Since then, Baháʼís have participated in several projects for the benefit of the wider community, and in 2001 various sources report between less than 1.4% and up to 1.7% of the island's approximately 70,000 citizens are Baháʼís.

The Baháʼí Faith in Angola begins after ʻAbdu'l-Bahá wrote letters encouraging taking the religion to Africa in 1916. The first Baháʼí pioneered to Angola about 1952. By 1963 there was a Baháʼí Local Spiritual Assembly in Luanda and smaller groups of Baháʼís in other cities. In 1992 the Baháʼís of Angola elected their first National Spiritual Assembly. The Association of Religion Data Archives estimated some 2,000 Baháʼís in 2005.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and a topical guide to the Baháʼí Faith.

The Guardian is a hereditary office of the Baháʼí Faith that is first mentioned in the Will and Testament of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. Shoghi Effendi was named as the first Guardian of the Baháʼí Faith, and future Guardians were to be appointed from among the male descendants of Baháʼu'lláh. However, since Shoghi Effendi died without having named a successor Guardian, no person could be named to fulfill the position after his death on November 4, 1957, and he remains the only individual acknowledged as Guardian of the Baháʼí Faith, but his guidance remains in the written record of his many writings.


Coordinates: 32°48′50″N34°59′12″E / 32.813779°N 34.986552°E / 32.813779; 34.986552