'Abdu'l-Bahá, the eldest son of Bahá'u'lláh, became the "Center of the Covenant" following Bahá'u'lláh's death. He is, to Bahá'ís, the perfect exemplar of human perfection: he was human, unlike his father who held the dual station of Manifestation of God and human, but he was the embodiment of all human perfections. His writings, though not divinely revealed, are considered sacred scripture.
Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 278-81 (Book of the Covenant, Tablet to the Land of Bá, also in Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (henceforth "Tablets") 219-223 and 227-228). 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá gives some idea of the suffering he endured as a result of the plots of his brothers. Shoghi Effendi's section on 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh, in World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, 131-39, is the authoritative statement of the station of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Lights of Guidance provides a variety of notes on 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 484-88.
Esslemont, 51-70; 243-51 Huddleston, 204-14 Faizi, 18-22 Momen 126-7 Ferraby, 224-38 Smith 1987, 69-71, 73-4 Hatcher and Martin, 50-60 Smith 1996, 64-83
The life of 'Abdu'l-Bahá has been the focus of one biography, Balyuzi's 'Abdu'l-Bahá: Centre of the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, a work that makes little effort to set 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the context of his times or to assess the role he played in developing the Bahá'í community. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's station is most clearly defined by Shoghi Effendi in World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, 131-39. Numerous pilgrims' notes describe what it was like to meet 'Abdu'l-Bahá, what he talked about, and how he lived his life. Thornton Chase's In Galilee is perhaps the most analytical and literate example of pilgrim's notes, but Julia M. Grundy's Ten Days in the Light of 'Akká and Helen Goodall and Ella Goodall Cooper's Daily Lessons received at 'Akká, January 1908 are also interesting and useful. Myron Phelps' The Master in 'Akká (originally published as The Life and Teachings of Abbas Effendi) offers a sympathetic description of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and his teachings by a non-Bahá'í. Juliet Thompson's Diary of Juliet Thompson offers a glimpse not only of 'Abdu'l-Bahá but especially of the devotion the Bahá'ís felt toward him, particularly the love and devotion of Juliet Thompson. Memoirs of meeting 'Abdu'l-Bahá by Thornton Chase and Juanita Storch have been published in World Order, 25.1 (Fall 1993). Other relevant pilgrim's notes are listed in section ¶43. Pilgrimage.
A detailed account of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's passing, by two Americans present, is found in Florian and Grace Krug's "Accounts of the Passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá," in World Order, 7.2 (Winter 1972-73). The entire Fall 1971 issue of World Order (6.1) was devoted to articles on 'Abdu'l-Bahá's life as a commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of his passing.
¶1.1. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Journeys in America and Europe
The 1909 overthrow of the Turkish government by the Young Turks ended the reign of those responsible for the exile of Bahá'u'lláh's family to 'Akká, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá was for the first time free to leave Palestine. He quickly embarked on what would be a three-year voyage to many Western countries, visiting Bahá'í communities and delivering talks in numerous cities. In 1910 he set sail for Egypt, where he remained for a year before traveling on to Europe. In 1912 he traveled across America, and finally spent almost a year in Europe before returning to Egypt in June 1913 and Haifa in December 1913.
Esslemont, 60-1 Momen, 126-7 Ferraby, 232-36 Smith 1987, 103-4 Hatcher and Martin, 56-8 Smith 1996, 79-82 Huddleston, 211-12
Several volumes collect some of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's talks in Europe, namely Paris Talks and 'Abdu'l-Bahá in London. Most of his talks in North America were collected and published as a single book titled The Promulgation of Universal Peace.
Though much has been written on 'Abdu'l-Bahá's visits to America little has addressed his travel in Europe, save pilgrim's notes such as The Diary of Juliet Thompson. The most complete study of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's visit to North America, Allan L. Ward's Two Hundred Thirty-Nine Days: 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Journey in America, is a chronicle of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's trip, but it makes little effort to analyze the trip's impact on the Bahá'í community or on American culture. A shorter summary of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's visit may be found in Hasan Balyuzi's 'Abdu'l-Bahá, chapters 12-18. Gary L. Morrison's "'Abdu'l-Bahá and the Early American Bahá'ís," in World Order, 6.3 (Spring 1972), though short, is a good analytical piece on 'Abdu'l-Bahá's visit, though it was written before the first critical works on American Bahá'í history had been published, and thus inevitably suffers from lack of context.
Memoirs by Thornton Chase and Juanita Storch about 'Abdu'l-Bahá's visit to North America, describing the impact he had on Bahá'ís, their friends, and journalists, have been published in World Order, 25.1 (Fall, 1993). A series of short works on 'Abdu'l-Bahá's visits to specific sites, containing newspaper articles, itineraries, and photographs as well as transcriptions of his talks, include 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Canada, Hussein Ahdieh and Eliane A. Hopson's 'Abdu'l-Bahá in New York: The City of the Covenant, and the article "'Abdu'l-Bahá in Chicago" in Bahá'í News, 558 (September 1977). The Diary of Juliet Thompson also includes a wealth of information about his visits to America, especially pages 223-395, and some of his time in Europe, especially pages 147-222. Agnes Parsons' diary, edited by Richard Hollinger and published as 'Abdu'l-Bahá in America: Agnes Parsons' Diary, and the biography of Lua Getsinger, Lua Getsinger: Herald of the Covenant, also cover much of the same ground.
Mirza Ahmad Sohrab provided a detailed record of three months of Abdu'l-Bahá's time in Egypt in Abdul Baha in Egypt, in which he includes a historical presentation of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's activities while there as well as translations of his talks.
¶2. Administrative Order: History and Institutions
The Bahá'í Administrative Order is the organizational system of the Bahá'í religion. It is divided into two branches: "the Rulers" are legislative councils of nine members at local, regional/national, and international levels who are democratically elected by all believers; "the Learned" are individuals who function at local and regional/national levels as advisory and inspirational leaders, are appointed by "the Rulers," and have no individual executive authority. Bahá'ís believe that, on the one hand, this arrangement combines the best features of democratic, aristocratic, and monarchical institutions and that, on the other hand, its unique arrangement of checks-and-balances--such as consultation, prohibition on campaigning, and carefully-delineated jurisdiction of legislative authority--and the well-defined spheres of each branch preserves the administrative order from the potentially abusable features of common democratic and monarchical institutions. The entire administrative order derives directly from Bahá'u'lláh--Bahá'u'lláh appointed 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 'Abdu'l-Bahá appointed Shoghi Effendi, and Shoghi Effendi helped realize the establishment of the Universal House of Justice. Recognizing and obeying the Manifestation of God for this day is an aspect of the "Greater Covenant," and obedience to the institutions he inaugurated--seen as the only means by which a peaceful world order can be created--is an aspect of the "Lesser Covenant."
The Administrative Order evolved gradually. Bahá'u'lláh established it by defining two institutions: the house of justice, a council of nine or more individuals, in each locality and at the worldwide level; and the Hands of the Cause of God, individuals Bahá'u'lláh appointed to travel, teach the Bahá'í Faith, and deepen the understanding of the Bahá'ís. No houses of justice were established in Bahá'u'lláh's lifetime. 'Abdu'l-Bahá temporarily changed the name of the institution of the house of justice to spiritual assembly so as to avoid judicial or political implications, and oversaw the establishment of the first spiritual assemblies in Iran, the United States, Egypt, and India. He also defined the complete organizational system in his will and testament: local spiritual assemblies, national spiritual assemblies elected by delegates from local communities, and a Universal House of Justice elected by the members of the various National Spiritual Assemblies. Shoghi Effendi established this system between 1921 and 1957, making it possible to elect the Universal House of Justice in 1963.
Shoghi Effendi appointed additional Hands of the Cause of God and authorized the Hands to select Auxiliary Board members to serve them regionally. The House of Justice cannot appoint Hands of the Cause and thus has replaced that institution with another that carries out some of the same functions, called the Counselors. The Counselors are appointed to five-year terms, whereas the Hands were appointed for life. Most Counselors serve in large jurisdictional areas--the world is divided into five of these regions, called "continents." These Continental Counselors appoint Auxiliary Board members, who in turn appoint assistants, who work with individual local Bahá'í communities. There are also nine "International Counselors" who serve at the Bahá'í World Centre in a body called the International Teaching Centre.
In 1997 the Universal House of Justice added a fourth governing body of the "Institution of the Rulers," called regional councils. The regional council lies between the local and the national spiritual assemblies; the members of the former elect its members though secret ballot, while the latter institution determines the boundaries of its jurisdiction. Regional councils report to and are subordinate to the national spiritual assembly. Since the insitution is new, its authority and repsonsibility are still being defined.
Shoghi Effendi, Call to the Nations, 36-44, provides a detailed discussion of the differences between the Bahá'í administrative order and the organizational systems of secular governments and previous religions. Shoghi Effendi wrote a series of books that describe the features of Bahá'í administration, among them Bahá'í Administration, Advent of Divine Justice, and World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. Pages 143-57 of the latter work provide an essential description of the Administrative Order. The guidance of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice about Bahá'í organization, especially at the local level, has been compiled into a single work titled Developing Distinctive Bahá'í Communities. A compilation of Bahá'í scriptures called The Continental Board of Counselors provides a clear picture of this branch of the administrative order. 'Abdu'l-Bahá discusses it in Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 77-89. Lights of Guidance includes comments on a variety of administrative topics, 1-94, 164-75, 309-38.
Esslemont, 131-32, 264-73 Momen, 68-73, 75-7, 80 Ferraby, 256-75 Smith 1987, 120-26 Hatcher and Martin, 133-36, 144-51 Smith 1996, 91-2, 94, 118 Huddleston, 110-14
One of the only general works on the administrative order is Eunice Braun's The March of the Institutions: A Commentary on the Interdependence of Rulers and Learned, which outlines the structure of the administrative order and details the interrelationships of its bodies. Adib Taherzadeh wrote an inspirational and historical work on the covenant and its relation to the administrative order, The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh. A shorter analysis comparing Western versus Bahá'í types of governance is Arash Abizadeh's "Liberal Democracy and the Bahá'í Administrative Order," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 2.3 (1990). Deepen magazine has begun a series of articles which will discuss the history and day-to-day functioning of the United States Bahá'í National Center; first is Deepen 10.4.1 (1996), "The Bahá'í National Center: part one: Forty-Nine Years, a personal perspective," followed by Deepen 11.4.2 (1996), "The Bahá'í National Center: part two: The Establishment of the Bahá'í Faith in America."
¶2.1. Establishment of the Administrative Order, 1921-37
A history of this period is largely identical to a history of the life and work of Shoghi Effendi. To him fell the responsibility of designing and implementing many of the fine details of the administrative organization and fine-tuning the Bahá'í world community and its understanding of the Faith.
Many of Shoghi Effendi's writings were letters to individual communities responding to their administrative concerns and guiding their development. Some of these have been collected in Bahá'í Administration: Selected Messages 1922-1932, and Principles of Bahá'í Administration: A Compilation. He also alludes to the administrative difficulties in the United States in World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, 3-5.
Esslemont, 179-81; 264-73 Huddleston, 214-19 Ferraby, 256-9 Smith 1987, 120-22 Hatcher and Martin, 66-68 Smith 1996, 107-9
Loni Bramson-Lerche has published on the period in "Some Aspects of the Development of Bahá'í Administration in America, 1922-1936," in Moojan Momen, Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History, volume 1, followed by her "Some Aspects of the Establishment of the Guardianship," in Studies in Honor of the Late Hasan M. Balyuzi: Studies in the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, volume 5.* The period is also outlined in Eunice Braun, From Strength to Strength, 5-8. One can also glean some information from Gayle Morrison's To Move the World: Louis Gregory and the Advancement of Racial Unity in America, 153-78. Adib Taherzadeh's The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh provides some information, especially in chapter 26. Many passing mentions of the establishing of the administrative order can be found in Richard Hollinger, ed., Community Histories: Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, volume 6.
* The inconsistency of the titles of this series is not an error. Volumes 1-4 of the series are titled Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History, and volumes 5-7 are titled Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í Religions.
¶2.2. The Guardianship
Bahá'u'lláh anticipated the institution of the Guardian in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, but it was left to 'Abdu'l-Bahá to clarify its nature and appoint Shoghi Effendi as the first Guardian. To the Guardianship was assigned the province of authoritatively interpreting the Bahá'í scriptures, appointing members of the branch of the Learned, and overseeing the promulgation and protection of the Faith. The Guardian had no legislative power.
Lights of Guidance includes a section explaining the institution of the Guardianship, pages 309-14.
Esslemont, 130, 261-3, 284-5 Huddleston, 214-15, 222 Ferraby, 256, 260-3 Smith 1987, 115, 130, 132, 134-5 Hatcher and Martin, 133-36 Smith 1996, 101, 106
Though much has been written on the first Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, almost no studies have been devoted to the institution itself. The Universal House of Justice has addressed certain aspects of the institution in "Comments on the Guardianship and The Universal House of Justice," in Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1968-1973. The decision that no additional Guardians can be appointed is also given by the Universal House of Justice in Wellspring of Guidance: Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1936-1968, 11, 81-91. Both of these letters have been reprinted in Adib Taherzadeh's The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, in an appendix called "The Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice." Brent Poirier has examined this issue in "The Flow of Divine Authority: Scriptural authority for the Universal House of Justice to function infallibly without the presence of a Guardian," in Deepen Magazine, No. 9 (1996), reprinted in The American Bahá'í, August 1, 1996, pull-out section. Mentions of the institution of the Guardianship, its founding by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and its ending with the death of Shoghi Effendi can be found scattered throughout The Ministry of the Custodians 1957-1963. The essays in Richard Hollinger, ed., Community Histories: Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History, volume 6, contain many passing references to the institution of the Guardian.
¶2.3. Rulers and Learned
Bahá'u'lláh, in describing the organization of his religion, refers to the "rulers and learned" several times. This phrase has come to capture the two halves of Bahá'í organization: the elected governing bodies, which function as a collective and have the authority to make major decisions, and the appointed Counselors, their Auxiliary Board members and their assistants, who primarily advise, consult with, and encourage Bahá'í communities, and who act as individuals, not as collective groups. The application of Bahá'u'lláh's term to these two institutions was made by the Universal House of Justice.
Bahá'u'lláh refers to the Rulers and the Learned in Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 279 (Kitáb-i-Ahd in Tablets 219-223). The Universal House of Justice explained further in "Elucidation of the Nature of the Continental Boards of Counselors," in Messages of the Universal House of Justice, 1968-1973, 91-95.
Esslemont, 263, 285 Smith 1987, 134-5 Hatcher and Martin, 133 Smith 1996, 118 Momen, 71-2
Also useful is the compilation of Bahá'í scriptures called The Continental Board of Counselors. "The Continental Board of Counselors: Its Role and Station: A talk by the Hand of the Cause William Sears," transcribed and printed in Deepen, 9.3/4 (1996), describes some of the basic functions of the institution of the Counselors.
¶2.4. The Interregnum and Election of the Universal House of Justice (1957-63)
Shoghi Effendi's death on 4 November 1957 was completely unexpected and proved to be a great shock to the Bahá'í world. Bahá'ís had expected Shoghi Effendi to be only the first of a line of Guardians, but Shoghi Effendi had appointed no successor. He had appointed Hands of the Cause of God, however, and one month before his death he wrote a long letter about their importance, calling them the "chief stewards" of the Bahá'í administrative order. After Shoghi Effendi's passing, the Hands met and decided that the best course to pursue was to elect the Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing body of the Bahá'í Faith, in 1963, when the Ten Year Crusade--Shoghi Effendi's plan to take the Bahá'í Faith to most of the world--would end.
A full compilation of texts relating to this period, Establishment of the Universal House of Justice, has been included in Compilation of Compilations, volume I.
Ferraby, 261-3 Smith 1987, 128-32 Hatcher and Martin, 70-2 Smith 1996, 112-5 Huddleston, 221-23
No history of the period has yet been written, though many of the letters written by the Hands were published (see The Bahá'í World, vol. 13, 1954-1963, 333-78) and a comprehensive collection of their letters called The Ministry of the Custodians 1957-1963 is available. Adib Taherzadeh discusses concerns of this time period in The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, chapters 34-36.
¶2.5. Houses of Justice
Bahá'u'lláh described a system in which every community containing at least nine adult Bahá'ís would have a "House of Justice," an elected body of nine or more individuals who would exercise spiritual and administrative authority over their jurisdiction. While the Faith is still young and not always well known to the outside world, it has been deemed prudent to refer to the Houses of Justice instead as spiritual assemblies to help prevent possible assumptions about their having a political function: the local Houses of Justice are referred to as Local Spiritual Assemblies and the regional/national governing councils as National Spiritual Assemblies. The only level of governance which currently rules under its title of a House of Justice is the international one, the Universal House of Justice, the highest governing body in the Bahá'í world. As the only remaining recipient of conferred infallibility, it is the point of obedience of all Bahá'ís. Bahá'ís write to the Universal House of Justice when they wish guidance on certain matters or clarifications of Bahá'í teachings; though the Universal House of Justice does not have the authority to interpret the sacred writings, they do have the facilities to search the vast archives of the original writings to find guidance from one of the central figures* or Shoghi Effendi. The spiritual assemblies do not enjoy conferred infallibility, and this status will not change upon their eventually assuming the title "Houses of Justice."
Lights of Guidance, 314-19.
Esslemont, 129-30, 272-3 Huddleston, 114
Hatcher and Martin, 59, 144-51, 134-5 Smith 1996, 73
No significant scholarship has been produced on the institution of the Universal House of Justice. However, many of its writings have been published, either as the compilations of its letters Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1968-1973, Wellspring of Guidance: Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1968, A Wider Horizon: Selected Messages of the Universal House of Justice 1983-1992 and Third Epoch of the Formative Age: Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1963-86, or as excerpted in the many topical compilations of Bahá'í scripture. A significant document was the 1985 statement The Promise of World Peace. Eunice Braun has summarized the first ten years of the history of the Universal House of Justice in From Strength to Strength 55-64, and Adib Taherzadeh briefly discusses the institution in The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh, chapter 35.
* The term "central figures" is a standard Bahá'í term for the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, and <Abdu'l-Bahá. This is in contrast to the term "primary figures," which in this guide refers to the above three plus Shoghi Effendi.