Church and State in the World Order of Bahá'u'llah
First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #4
November 4–6, 1994
(see list of papers from #4)
Because the Baháíí Faith offers a definite model for both the political and spiritual transformation of the human world, it is liable to be criticized and even feared on the sensitive issue of the ideal relation which it proposes between religious and political institutions. The question is made even more current by the republication, in the framework of the Aqdas, of Bahá'u'lláhís statement that: "All matters of State should be referred to the House of Justice . . . `
Will the Bahá'ís eventually set up a church state? The widespread fear of any political system run on religious principles, combined with a less widespread identification (among certain fundamentalist Christian groups) of the idea of world unity with the antichrist, creates a dangerous mix. It is therefore essential that the Baháíí teachings on this be better understood. We also need to understand the theory behind our relationship with the state in general. Is the civil state no more than a temporary, perhaps necessary evil? Or is it an institution mandated by God? Is the principle of obedience to civil authorities which at present governs our behavior a short-term tactic adopted during the period in which we have no political power, or a permanent principle?
This paper will approach these questions not through a direct textual and contextual analysis, but rather by making a broad survey of the principles involved as we find them in the Baháíí writings. I have selected "landmarks" which are easily memorable and which seem to me to sum up the fundamental principles involved.
1) Shoghi Effendi said that the Baháíís should not allow their Baháíí administration to supersede national governments.'
2) Bahá'u'lláh says that God has given the task of government to kings and rulers, while the cities of men's hearts are reserved for GoV
3) The civil and religious administrations of a Baháíí social order are distinct but not separate: they are organs of one body, whose distinct natures are required so that they can work together in a "harmony of forces."'
In trying to understand what constitutional relations might flow out of these principles, I start not with the government and the House of Justice, but with the Baháíí administrative order which is the "pattern of a New World Order."' The administrative order is an organic system, characterized by division into separate organs, each with its own intrinsic nature and mode of operation, and each organ requiring the others.
It will then be possible to apply this conception of organic unity to the government institutions of the World Order, and to the relationships between these institutions and the Bahá'í Administrative Order.
- Aqdas: Other Sections, page 91, also in the "Eighth Ishraq," Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 128.
- World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 66: "Theirs is not the purpose . . . to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country's constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries."
- Gleanings, CXV: "The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath bestowed the government of the earth upon the kings . . . that which He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men's hearts . . . ."
- Will and Testament of 'Abdul-Bahá, pp. 14-15: "This House of Justice enacteth the laws and the government enforceth them. The legislative body must reinforce the executive, the executive must aid and assist the legislative body so that through die close union and harmony of these two forces, the foundation of fairness and justice may become firm and strong . . . ."
- World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 144.
- 1. INTRODUCTION
- 2. THREE LANDMARKS
- 3. THE REASON OF THE MATTER
- 3.1 The Meaning of Organic Unity.
- 3.2 Bahá'u'lláh and the Kings
- 4. THE CONSTITUTION OF THE WORLD GOVERNMENT
- 4.1 The Legislature
- 4.2 The World Tribunal
Because the Bahá'í Faith offers a definite model for both the political and
spiritual transformation of the human world, it is liable to be criticized and
even feared on the sensitive issue of the relation which it proposes between
the religious and political institutions. The question is made even more
current by the republication, in the framework of the Aqdas, of Bahá'u'lláh's
statement that: "All matters of State should be referred to the House of
Justice ... " This was already published in Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, page 27
(the thirteenth Glad-tidings) and page 129 (the Eighth Ishraq), but is now
printed with the Aqdas, in Other Sections, page 91. Its position in the Kitab-i
Aqdas, "the Charter of the future world civilization",  "this Most Holy
Book, whose provisions must remain inviolate for no less than a thousand years,
and whose system will embrace the entire planet"  gives it a new importance.
It doesn't help that some published Bahá'í books  say that our aim is to
establish a church state. For instance, John Robarts, in The Vision of Shoghi
Effendi, writes that "the Bahá'í spiritual assemblies will be the local
government and the national spiritual assemblies the national government." Jeff
Simmonds, who is in other respects a very sympathetic non-Bahá'í commentator on
the Faith, said:
While it is often down-played by Bahá'ís, the fact is that the
ultimate goal of the Bahá'í Faith is the establishment of a completely Bahá'í
society which means a Bahá'í State or a theocracy where religion and politics,
or "church" and state are not separate. The Universal House of Justice will be
the governing body of the world or of those states which become Bahá'í. This
goal is not incidental, but is central to the teachings of the Faith.
Denis MacEoin writes that "the Bahá'ís are actively working to establish
religious states in which the functions of government will be taken over by
Bahá'í institutions". 
One does not have to desire the distinction of persecution to see the potential
danger here. There are now a number of countries in which the Bahá'í community
represents a significant portion of the population, and the question of what
the Bahá'ís intend eventually to create in those countries and in the world
will be asked. One book has already referred to "a disturbing scenario for a
science fiction film. Imagine a religious group ruling the entire earth,
imposing its shalls and shall nots, and the frightening possibility of its
getting out of control."  These fears could not only draw fire from the
right where (among certain fundamentalist Christian groups) the idea of world
unity is identified with the anti-christ - they could also deprive us of
support from the left. With separation of church and state being subjected to
quite creative reinterpretations from the religious right in North America, and
being considered an alien concept in much of the Moslem world,  it may be
difficult for the progressive elements in society to distinguish between the
threat of an old-style church state and the new Bahá'í version.
To return to the Aqdas texts: "All matters of State should be referred to the
House of Justice ... " This doesn't in fact give us much to go on: it is open
to a range of interpretations from theocracy to something approximating the
present situation, in which Bahá'í institutions may only participate in
politics - in the sense of acting in the world of public politics - with the
permission of the Universal House of Justice. There is a self-interpretation in
the Lawh- i-Dunya:
According to the fundamental laws which We have formerly revealed in
the Kitab-i-Aqdas and other Tablets, all affairs are committed to the care of
just kings and presidents and of the Trustees of the House of Justice (Tablets
of Bahá'u'lláh, page 93).
This doesn't help in narrowing the possible interpretations of our original
text - quite the opposite. There is also a passage at paragraph 95 of the
None must contend with those who wield authority over the people;
leave unto them that which is theirs, and direct your attention to men's hearts
This might be interpreted as advocating political quietism, in which the
religious institutions try to ignore the existence of civil authorities.
Another Aqdas passage speaks of a ruler who will "rule with justice, who will
gather together the flock of God which the wolves have scattered" (Para 91). In
a similar passage at paragraph 84, the King who aids the cause is called "the
very eye of mankind" and "the fountainhead of blessings unto the whole world".
This looks rather like the model of the prince as God's vicar and
paterfamilias, looking after the moral and religious life of the people, that
we find in Erasmus.  This line of thought, in the Erastian theologians and
jurist who led the Reformation, led to the emergence of territorial churches
(Landeskirchen), in which the prince had virtually the position of a Pope in
the Roman Catholic Church. At the other extreme, at paragraph 82 Bahá'u'lláh
"Ye are but vassals, O kings of the earth! He Who is the King of
Kings hath appeared..."
but then goes on to say:
It is not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms. Our mission is to
seize and possess the hearts of men.." (para 83)
In other words we find grounds in the Aqdas itself for every position from
Erastianism, through formal separation, to a theocracy. As with many other
thorny issues in Aqdas, I think the text can best be approached by going around
it: that is, by looking in the Bahá'í Writings generally for an understanding
and a set of principles which can provide a context for the interpretation of
the Aqdas text.
I propose to examine the Bahá'í teachings on the relations between church and
state, looking in two directions at once: on one hand we need to have a few
clear and memorable landmarks that can be used to refute criticisms on this
point, on the other hand, we need to have answers for ourselves about our
ultimate aims, about the ultimate shape of a Bahá'í state, about the theory
behind our relationship with the state in general. Is the civil state no more
than a temporary, perhaps necessary evil? Or is it an institution mandated by
God, whose essence corresponds to one of the attributes of God, so that the
state's continued existence has its roots in the fundamental metaphysical
beliefs of our Faith? Is the principle of obedience to the civil authorities
which at present governs our behaviour a short-term tactic adopted during the
period in which we have no political power, or a permanent principle as
unchangeable as other basic principles such as the equality of men and women,
the oneness of the human race, etc.? Our understandings here will have an
immediate effect on our relationships with others as we seek to "attract people
of capacity", and as the community is "drawn more deeply into dealing with
world issues".  If we harbour the idea that there is a fundamental
hostility between the Bahá'í idea and political processes, our present
relationships with those involved in those processes cannot be entirely
There is a great deal in the Bahá'í writings relevant to this question, but
the material is by no means clear. There are problems of terminology, so that
the word 'legislature', for instance, may mean different things in different
parts of the Bahá'í Writings, or it may have a meaning in the Bahá'í writings
which is slightly different to that which we find in the dictionary. There are
problems of translation, particularly where the talks of 'Abdu'l-Bahá have been
translated ad hoc by a translator whose grasp of the subject, or of English,
were limited. We have pilgrim's notes of sayings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá or Shoghi
Effendi which may directly contradict their authentic texts, but which cannot
be discarded without asking whether there may be some truth behind them. And we
have to bear in mind the possibility - but only the possibility - that any
contradictions which we find may be due not to our lack of understanding, but
to the fact that we are trying to bring together texts which refer to different
periods in the evolution of the World Order structure.
2. THREE LANDMARKS
I have made a preliminary survey of the territory, and selected three
'landmarks' which are easily memorable and which seem to me to sum up the
fundamental principles which can be called on for apologetic purposes:
1) Bahá'u'lláh says:
The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath bestowed the
government of the earth upon the kings ... That which He hath reserved for
Himself are the cities of men's hearts..." (Gleanings, CXV).
But this does not mean that the kings and governments have a divine right to do
as they please. Bahá'u'lláh wrote to the kings and rulers of the world. He did
not tell them to stop governing, but rather to govern according to the laws of
God, to be just, to root out corruption and to moderate taxation. But when he
wrote to Pope Pius IX he told him to give up the power he had as ruler of the
papal states.  In other words, I will argue that the separation of church
and state, in a certain sense, is a Bahá'í principle.
2) The civil and religious administrations of a Bahá'í social order are
distinct but not separate: they are organs of one body, whose distinct natures
are required so that they can work together. In his Will and Testament,
This House of Justice enacteth the laws and the government
enforceth them. The legislative body must reinforce the executive, the
executive must aid and assist the legislative body so that through the close
union and harmony of these two forces, the foundation of fairness and justice
may become firm and strong ..." [pp 14 - 15].
I will argue that the separation of church and state in the Bahá'í conception
is the separation of two distinct organs of one body: it is not a balance of
powers in the Burkean style, and it is not the exclusion of religious
institutions and personal religious convictions from the public sphere which
some separationists have argued for.  I will use the term 'differentiation'
rather than 'separation' to denote the difference.
3) Shoghi Effendi wrote, in World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 66:
Theirs is not the purpose, . . . to violate, under any
circumstances, the provisions of their country's constitution, much less to
allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of
their respective countries.
Thus the differentiation between Bahá'í Church and Bahá'í state, while it is
justified on the basis of quite abstract theological principles, must have a
permanent concrete expression in two orders - the machinery of Bahá'í
administration and the governments of countries.
These are my three landmarks: points that I think we should be teaching at
summer-schools and including in deepening materials, so that ultimately every
Bahá'í would be prepared to at least deflect the accusation that the Bahá'ís
intend to establish a theonomic state or theocracy. The reasons for selecting
these points, and their more detailed implications, will I hope be clear from
what follows, in which I will try to dive deeper into the theological
justification for these teachings.
THE REASON OF THE MATTER
My selection of these landmarks is an interpretation which is based not only on
my reading in the Writings on this question, but also on my whole understanding
of the Bahá'í teachings. What do we mean by 'unity', as Bahá'ís? The passage in
the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to a 'close union' between the
legislative body (apparently the House of Justice) and the executive
(apparently the civil government). But if we say 'the union of church and
state' in a Bahá'í context this, as is often the case, may mean something
rather different than what the same words would mean in a western, or Islamic,
or Jewish, context. Equally, the separation of church and state in the World
Order of Bahá'u'lláh may mean something rather new.
So in justifying my selection and interpretation, I have to start not with the
government and the house of justice, but with the Bahá'í administrative order
which is the "pattern of the New World Order."  The administrative order is
a unified system, but it has an ORGANIC unity, characterised by division into
separate organs, each with its own intrinsic nature and mode of operation, and
each organ requiring the others. I think if we really grasp how fundamental
this pattern of organic differentiation is to the Bahá'í structure, and how it
is based on Bahá'í teachings about the attributes of God and the metaphysical
nature of the creation, questions about the particular constitutional
relationship which may be desirable in a particular nation at a particular
time, and the rather more interesting question about the moral relationships
between being religious and being a citizen, will fall into place.
The Meaning of Organic Unity.
The third of my landmarks was Shoghi Effendi's statement that the machinery of
Bahá'í administration is not, under any circumstances, to supersede national
governments.  This holds out the prospect of two distinct systems of
government: the Bahá'í administration and the civil administration, 
functioning at local, national, and international levels. So we need a model of
the relationship between these systems, which I propose to derive from the
relationships between institutions within the Bahá'í administrative order.
When we look at the unity of the Bahá'í administrative order we find that it
is, paradoxically, characterised by divisions. There seems to be a consistent
pattern in which institutions are differentiated from a partner institution
which operates on a radically different basis. I will go further and say they
operate on metaphysically different bases, because they embody different
The most obvious of these differentiations is between the twin institutions of
the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice, the one hereditary, the
other elected, the one focused on one individual who holds the office for life,
the other an institutional form with the minimum possible emphasis on the
individuals who, for their elected terms, comprise it. The one devoted to the
interpretation of the sacred texts, the other to legislation for matters not
contained in those texts. The one making interpretations which become part of
the sacred text and may never be altered, the other applying principle to the
needs of the time, and revoking its own legislation as required. Each requires
the other,  `Neither can, nor will ever, infringe upon the sacred domain of
the other'. 
I would suggest that these differences are not just incidental peculiarities,
but rather evidence that there is in each institution something like a hidden
genetic code, what Plato would have called its idea,  which determines its
own nature and development. All of the details of its operation are the
necessary outcome of its own inherent nature.
These differences between the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice
are reflected systematically in the differences between the elected and
appointed institutions: each arm developing according to its own idea. If we
understand these ideas, if we form some picture of the inner nature which
drives the operation of each kind of organ, then the details of their
operations and of how they are to work together should pose no difficulties. In
the Universal House of Justice's recent letter to the NSA of the USA,  they
refer, in fact, to the need for the NSA "to obtain an integrated understanding
of the Counsellors' responsibilities and sphere of action in relation to your
own." and provide an outline of the different operational principles of the two
kinds of institution. It is important to note here that the two organs are not
separated according to spheres of operations, they "share in the functions of
propagation and protection", but rather differentiated by different manners of
operation, derived from their distinct charters in the writings of
There is a parallel differentiation between the fund and the Huququ'llah, the
one based on the voluntary principle, the other an obligation, the one given to
and administered by elected institutions, the other in the hands of appointed
trustees. The money of the funds flows from the bottom up, with the donors
participating in the institutions which decide on the use of the funds, or even
specifying the use to which their own donation is to be put, while the
Huququ'llah is passed directly to the top and disbursed downwards. One could
say that the idea animating the institution of the fund is 'participation',
while the idea of the Huququ'llah is 'surrender'. And that is why, when we are
giving to the fund, the right of the individual to specify the use to which a
donation is put, and the duty of the institutions to respect that wish, is a
fundamental Bahá'í principle, but when we give to the custodian of the
Huququ'llah that right and principle do not exist!
Another differentiation can be found between the Feast and the Spiritual
Assembly: the one comprising all believers who can be there on the day, the
other with a fixed membership. The one acting as an accumulator for the power
which resides in the individual, the other exercising institutional authority
over its expression. The first being most valuable, often, for the minority or
purely personal opinions expressed there, the latter functioning on the
principle of majority vote, its decisions announced without reference to the
divergent or minority views which may have been expressed in the
One could go on: the national convention and the National Spiritual Assembly,
the international convention and the Universal House of Justice, the local or
regional convention and the delegate to the national convention, the House of
Justice and the House of Worship, and so on.
On the basis of these differentiations I think we can venture a definition of
'organic unity', the structural principle underlying the Bahá'í administrative
order, as a unity based on a differentiation into pairs of distinct organs,
each of which needs the other in order to fully express its own nature, and
each developing freely according to its own distinctive principle. It is
interesting to ask why we seem always to find pairs of institutions, and never
triplets or foursomes. 'Abdu'l-Bahá notes the same pattern recurring even in
...the union of created things doth ever yield most laudable
results. From the pairing of even the smallest particles in the world of being
are the grace and bounty of God made manifest; and the higher the degree, the
more momentous is the union. 'Glory be to Him Who hath created all the pairs,
of such things as earth produceth, and out of men themselves, and of things
beyond their ken.' 
Dhikrul'llah Khadem, in The Vision of Shoghi Effendi recalls;
"I remember the time I was in the presence of Shoghi Effendi when he
spoke about the significance of twin things in the Cause. In fact, he sent a
cable about this to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the
British Isles. In this cable, he told us about the significance of twin
occurrences in this Cause. He told the Assembly that we have twin cities - holy
cities - `Akka and Haifa; twin houses - the House of Shiraz and the House of
Baghdad; twin Manifestations - the Manifestation of the Bab and that of
Bahá'u'lláh. He continued, telling us everything is twin: twin festivals - the
birthday of the Bab and that of Bahá'u'lláh; twin monuments - of the brother
and mother of `Abdu'l-Bahá .... After explaining these things, he paused and
looked at me deeply and said, "In the Cause of God everything is twin."
Another passage which comes to mind is in the 'marriage tablet':
... that from the union of these two seas of love a wave of
tenderness may surge and cast the pearls of pure and goodly issue on the shore
of life. "He hath let loose the two seas, that they meet each other: Between
them is a barrier which they overpass not. Which then of the bounties of your
Lord will ye deny? From each He bringeth up greater and lesser pearls." (Bahá'í
Prayers (US edition), page 106. The citation is from Quran 55:
This suggests that the reason for the consistent pattern of two-ness which we
find in the Bahá'í pattern of order may have some relation to love. We do not
find threesomes or foursomes because love is most perfectly expressable between
two, but the two must never become one - crossing the barrier between them and
losing their individual identities - although, in the nature of love, they
forever long to do so. In the course of the gradual development of distinct
church and state institutions, many theoretical and practical justifications
for their separation have been proposed. But so far as I know, nobody has
previously suggested that one reason for keeping the identites of church and
state distinct is so that they can love one-another! But this takes us beyond
the metaphor of organic unity, and into higher and speculative realms. Let us
return to organic unity, defined as 'unity based on differentiation into pairs
of distinct organs, each of which needs the other in order to fully express its
own nature, and each developing freely according to its own distinctive
Such an organic unity, I would suggest, also characterises the relationship
between the religious and civil organs of the Bahá'í commonwealth. And might it
not apply, in a truly integrated society, to the relations between the
religious, political, commercial, scientific, and cultural enterprises, and the
world of nature? Bahá'u'lláh explicitly applies the organic metaphor to the
Regard ye the world as a man's body, which is afflicted with
divers ailments, and the recovery of which dependeth upon the harmonizing of
all of its component elements.  Each of the principle organs of
the world body is itself, necessarily, internally differentiated. Each is vital
to the whole. None, of course, can take the place of another. While the
religious order is the world of ultimate value for humans, and in this sense
the Universal House of Justice can be seen as the supreme institution, it
cannot, and cannot wish to, absorb to itself the functions or intrinsic
principles properly belonging to the other organs - just as the brain cannot
become a circulatory system, or instruct the liver to grow according to any
pattern other than that 'idea' of a liver which is coded into every cell. It
would be unhealthy even to try. As `Abdu'l-Bahá says:
Glory be unto Him who hath produced growth in the adjoining fields
of various natures! Glory be unto Him who irrigated them with the same waters
gushing forth from that Fountain!  Shoghi Effendi has said that
the "formal and complete separation of Church and State" will be part of the
process of regeneration in Persia,  and history gives us some reason to
think that some separation may be essential for the health of any society. It
may even be unavoidable. Those societies in which the religious institutions
have tried to absorb the whole of the legislative, executive, and judicial
functions have not been successful, and all have developed de jure or de facto
civil institutions. 
We also see that progress from primitive social organisations at the level of
the kinship group through successive levels of urbanisation and nation-building
has been accompanied by a progressive differentiation of social functions: the
priest, the warrior, the king, the blacksmith, and the herbalist leading to the
marvellously differentiated interdependent structures of a nation. There is no
apparent reason to suppose that the unity which is the goal of the Bahá'í
movement should require the reversal of this trend.
The principle of organic unity gives us the key to understanding the
constitutional relationship between civil and religious authorities.
Bahá'u'lláh and the Kings
Before we try to apply this principle to make a model of the global
constitutional law which includes both the Universal House of Justice, and a
world legislature, a world executive, and a world tribunal,  I would like
to look at some passages in the writings regarding monarchy and kings and
rulers in general. It is primarily in these passages that we find the religious
dimension of civil government. Government is not a regrettable necessity, or an
economic and administrative arrangement, it has a religious dimension as an
institution ordained by God. Its justification lies not in some supposed 'civil
contract' between the citizens, but rather in the very nature of the Kingdom of
I believe that the position of the kings in Bahá'u'lláh's thinking gives us a
glimpse of the metaphysical roots of the relation between the religious and
civil orders. Bahá'u'lláh does not write as a political scientist or
philosopher, proposing a workable structure for human society on the basis of
his experience of human nature and knowledge of political history. He writes as
the Manifestation of the Logos, which is the underlying metaphysical rationale
of the universe.  of God, and the 'universal mind' (see note 26). See
Bahá'u'lláh's Lawh-i-Hikmat, in Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, pp 140-141, also Juan
Cole, The Concept of Manifestation in the Bahá'í Writings, Bahá'í Studies, vol
IX, and Julio Savi, The Eternal Quest for God, pp. 34-40.] Where the political
scientist examines how things are, and how people behave, Bahá'u'lláh looks
into the heart of the universe  and tells us how the world is to be ordered
if it is to conform to the fundamental patterns which He finds there. These
fundamental patterns, collectively known as the Kingdom of God, correspond to
the attributes of God.  One of these attributes is sovereignty or kingship.
 The kings are called "manifestations of the power, and the daysprings of
the might and riches, of God."  The rulers and kings of the earth,
together, are called "the symbols of the power of God",  "the mirrors of
the gracious and almighty name of God." 
Very often in Bahá'u'lláh's writings we find the phrase 'kings and rulers',
and the 'kings' are usually clearly symbols of the power of civil government in
whatever form. But monarchs form a special case of the general principle that
the authority of government is a token of the authority of God. Bahá'u'lláh
wrote that "Although a republican form of government profiteth all the peoples
of the world, yet the majesty of kingship is one of the signs of God. We do not
wish that the countries of the world should remain deprived thereof. If the
sagacious combine the two forms into one, great will be their reward in the
presence of God." 
Incidentally, I find the word 'remain' in this citation interesting: does it
not imply the re-establishment or new establishment of monarchies in nations
which are at present republics? And since this is a teaching found in the
Bahá'í writings, would the Bahá'í institutions have any role in assisting this
"A just king," Bahá'u'lláh writes, "enjoyeth nearer access unto God than
anyone."  Thus when we come to look at the constitution of the civil order
we will have to ensure that our model has a place for monarchy, in organic
union with an elected government.
However, to return to more general considerations, applicable to kings and
rulers in general: In Bahá'u'lláh's time the proper relationship between
religious authorities and the Shah, and the role, if any, of elected government
was a hot potato. The shahs claimed divine sanction, and even a religious role
as 'defender of the faith', but were often of rather heterodox religious
opinions. The traditions of Shi'ih Islam ran counter to a strong state
authority,  since they rejected the authority of the Caliphs and blamed the
Caliph Yazid for the martyrdom of the third Imam. Only the hidden Imam could
therefore claim full legitimacy. Some Shi'ihs said that all rulers were in
essence usurpers and should be shunned, others accepted the state grudgingly as
better than anarchy, and some - especially after the establishment of a Shi'ih
dynasty in Iran in 1501 - held a doctrine of divine right, in which the shahs
were 'shadows of God on earth' and the kings and clerics were complementary
pillars of the state. Given the lack of consensus, it is not surprising that
the clergy would sometimes enter the political arena. 
Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsa'i took a stance rather similar to the Christian approach
based on `Render unto Caesar..':  civil government is seen as a necessary
evil, with at least the implication that when the Promised One came and the
world was put in order government would become unnecessary. Ahsa'i wrote to
Fath 'Ali Shah that "all kings and governments enforce their edicts and orders
by means of oppression"  but that there was no alternative:
My intervention with the King can have only one of two results:
either he will accept it, and thus his rule will be suspended; or he will
reject it, and I will be humiliated.
What is interesting here is not only the conclusion, that religion and state
must remain separate, but also the assumption that the full recognition of the
claims of religion would lead to the abolition of the state.
The Bab set out a two-fold structure within the Babi community, of leaders
 who would be responsible for worldly affairs and 'nobles'  who would
be appointed, and whose function is not clear.  The first two chapters of
the Qayyumu'l-Asma are devoted to the two sources of authority, the state and
the 'ulama. The authority of the king is maintained, provided he obeys the
ordinance of God: "for in this world you have been mercifully granted dominion
..." (ch 1). In fact the Bab addresses the 'assembly of the rulers of the earth
and descendants of rulers', which would appear to foreshadow the assembly of
kings and rulers foreseen by Bahá'u'lláh. 
But many of the early Babis understood their new faith in politically
revolutionary terms. During the two years in which the Bab was imprisoned in
Mah-ku and Chihriq we know that they manufactured and distributed weapons and
arranged military training.  When in 1848 the Bab called for them to
"proceed towards the land of Kha" [Khurasan], many assumed that they were to
take part in the cataclysmic battle prophesied to occur when the Mahdi
returned. Mulla Husayn was apparently delegated authority to lead whatever
action was intended. At about the same time, however, the Bab sent letters to
the Shah and his chief minister in which he denies having any interest in the
mundane possession of worldly trifles, while threatening the Shah with divine
punishment. In other words he stands over against the state in prophetic
denunciation, while recognizing the separation of the religious and political
spheres.  This is in marked contrast to the Islamic, and particularly
Shi'ih, concept of the totality of prophetic authority. Shoghi Effendi says in
this respect that "the sovereignty of the Promised Qa'im was purely a spiritual
one, and not a material or political one". 
Bahá'u'lláh also had no interest in worldly power, even as a boy.  He was
destined for 'higher things'. In one of his Prayers and Meditations he writes
that if God were to establish Him as king and deliver the reins of the entire
creation into His hands, His soul would still remain unsatisfied, and the pangs
of His heart unstilled, if this earthly sovereignty were to separate him from
"the wondrous memories associated with Thy most mighty, most perfect, and most
exalted Name."  Having no desire for authority Himself, He delegates
authority to the Kings, and, as we shall see, those exercising civil authority
... your Lord hath committed the world and the cities
thereof to the care of the kings of the earth, and made them the emblems of His
own power, by virtue of the sovereignty He hath chosen to bestow upon them. He
hath refused to reserve for Himself any share whatever of this world's
dominion. To this He Who is Himself the Eternal Truth will testify. The things
He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men's hearts ... 
In accordance with this principle He told the Pope to abandon his kingdom TO
THE KINGS. What is fitting for a spiritual leader is to praise God and exhort
the Kings to deal equitably with the people and govern according to the Book.
He should not become a king himself. 
The authority which God gives to the kings is a power to act within the law of
God, and in a manner fitting the 'essence' of that authority, its reflection of
God's ultimate sovereignty. Bahá'u'lláh writes to Sultan 'Abdu'l-'Aziz:
Thou art God's shadow on earth. Strive, therefore, to act in such a
manner as befitteth so eminent, so august a station. If thou dost depart from
following the things We have caused to descend upon thee and taught thee, thou
wilt, assuredly, be derogating from that great and priceless honour.
 and again
It behoveth every king to be as bountiful
as the sun, ... whose benefits are not inherent in itself, but are ordained by
Him Who is the Most Powerful, the Almighty.  Although the king
should be generous and merciful, one of his duties is to punish the wrong-doer:
For is it not your clear duty to restrain the tyranny of the
oppressor, and to deal equitably with your subjects, that your high sense of
justice may be fully demonstrated to all mankind? God hath committed into your
hands the reins of the government of the people, that ye may rule with justice
over them, safeguard the rights of the down-trodden, and punish the
It is indeed striking how often the passages which refer to the authority which
God has given to kings are followed by a declarations concerning reward and
punishment. It may be that the need for punishments if society is to be ordered
is one of the reasons why we need a civil order which is distinct from the
religious order. I haven't found any explicitly statement to this effect ;
nothing that would indicate that the governments are to be the manifestations
of the name of God 'the avenger'.  I can only report that references to the
authority of kings and rulers are often found alongside references to
punishment and the restraint of wrong-doers. This duty of executing punishment
is also carried out by the kings and rulers collectively:
king take up arms against another, all should unitedly arise and prevent him. .
. . We fain would hope that the kings and rulers of the earth, the mirrors of
the gracious and almighty name of God, may attain unto this station, and shield
mankind from the onslaught of tyranny.  This is not the way we
would expect a National Spiritual Assembly to behave! The Kings, and the civil
government generally, are manifestations of the Power of God,  while the
Administrative Order is called on to manifest other attributes. This is perhaps
also why the task of establishing a world federal system - the Lesser Peace -
is given to the governments, particularly those of the great powers,  and
not to the Bahá'ís:
If the rulers and kings of the earth, the symbols
of the power of God, exalted be His glory, arise and resolve to dedicate
themselves to whatever will promote the highest interests of the whole of
humanity, the reign of justice will assuredly be established amongst the
children of men, and the effulgence of its light will envelop the whole earth.
The mirror-image of the authority which is granted to the kings and rulers is
the obedience which is expected from the believers:
needeth in this day is obedience unto them that are in authority, and a
faithful adherence to the cord of wisdom. The instruments which are essential
to the immediate protection, the security and assurance of the human race have
been entrusted to the hands, and lie in the grasp, of the governors of human
society. This is the wish of God and His decree....  This duty
of obedience is particularly strong as regards a King who acts in support of
the Faith.  Such a king will be "numbered with the monarchs of the realms
of the Kingdom."  But it is not conditional on the ruler's being a Bahá'í
or even acting justly. In an extraordinary passage in Epistle to the Son of the
Wolf, Bahá'u'lláh even praises Mirza Husayn Khan, the Persian ambassador in
Constantinople, who had made false accusations against Bahá'u'lláh. Yet
Bahá'u'lláh praises him because he was honest and conscientious in discharging
his duties to the Persian government, even if this did lead to Bahá'u'lláh's
imprisonment in 'Akka. 
Obedience to government is not a principle unique to the Bahá'í Faith. We find
it also in the teachings of Christ  and in a passage by Paul which
In the Epistle to the Romans Saint Paul hath written: "Let every
soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the
powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power,
resisteth the ordinance of God. 
"For he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him
that doeth evil." He saith that the appearance of the kings, and their majesty
and power are of God. 
Once again we see that the delegation of God's authority to 'the powers that
be' is linked to their duty to judge and inflict punishment. But in
Bahá'u'lláh's thought they do not just possess a delegated authority and a role
in the order of the world, they also manifest one of the attributes of God and
have a metaphysical function. There are even monarchs in 'the realms of the
Kingdom'.  Although Bahá'u'lláh speaks sometimes just of Kings and at other
times of 'kings and rulers, it is the property of manifesting God's sovereignty
which is important, and not the particular form of government which is
involved. In one place Bahá'u'lláh names those who manifest authority and power
as "the kings, the sovereigns, the presidents, the rulers, the divines and the
wise,"  which would seem to cover every conceivable form of state
This 'higher' doctrine of the state, to the extent that one must obey the
authorities even if it means harming the Manifestation (as we saw above),
explains the difference between the Christian teaching that church and state,
or God and Caesar, have separate spheres and the Bahá'í model of a close
harmony between the civil and religious authorities. We are not just to obey
the authorities, but also to pray for them  and support them.  Under a
democratic form of government this principle means that we are required to vote
and take part in 'political' affairs where this can be done without engaging in
party political struggles. If the Bahá'ís refused to do so they would in effect
be undermining their country's form of government. 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes:
O thou servant of Baha! Thou hast asked regarding the political
affairs. In the United States it is necessary that the citizens shall take part
in elections. This is a necessary matter and no excuse from it is possible. My
object in telling the believers that they should not interfere in the affairs
of government is this: That they should not make any trouble and that they
should not move against the opinion of the government, but obedience to the
laws and the administration of the commonwealth is necessary. Now, as the
government of America is a republican form of government, it is necessary that
all the citizens shall take part in the elections of officers and take part in
the affairs of the republic. 
The authorities in their turn must support religion:
It behoveth the
chiefs and rulers of the world, and in particular the Trustees of God's House
of Justice, to endeavour to the utmost of their power to safeguard [religion's]
position, promote its interests and exalt its station in the eyes of the world.
 Religion is thus not only the concern of the Houses of
Justice, and the 'development of nations' and the 'tranquillity of peoples' are
not reserved for the 'kings and rulers of the world.' The world is not strictly
divided into separate religious and secular spheres, but the total body of
mankind has separate organs which function in different ways because their
essential ideas manifest different attributes of God. This means that the civil
organs, the 'Kings and rulers' are primarily responsible for the 'immediate
protection, the security and assurance of the human race',  while the
religious institutions are primarily responsible for the affairs of their own
religious communities, for 'speaking forth the praises of the Lord', 'to reform
the morals and beautify the conduct of the human race'  and generally for
assisting the whole of humanity to fulfil the purposes for which it was
created. Neither responsibility is exclusive. Religious teachings give guidance
in political matters,  and the support of the religious authorities can
make the difference between mere obedience to government and wholehearted
support from the population:
Certain laws and principles are
necessary and indispensable for Persia. However, it is fitting that these
measures should be adopted in conformity with the considered views of His
Majesty -- may God aid him through His grace -- and of the learned divines and
of the high-ranking rulers. Subject to their approval a place should be fixed
where they would meet. There they should hold fast to the cord of consultation
and adopt and enforce that which is conducive to the security, prosperity,
wealth and tranquillity of the people. For were any measure other than this to
be adopted, it could not but result in chaos and commotion. According to the
fundamental laws which We have formerly revealed in the Kitab-i-Aqdas and other
Tablets, all affairs are committed to the care of just kings and presidents and
of the Trustees of the House of Justice. ... In formulating the principles and
laws a part hath been devoted to penalties which form an effective instrument
for the security and protection of men. However, dread of the penalties maketh
people desist only outwardly from committing vile and contemptible deeds, while
that which guardeth and restraineth man both outwardly and inwardly hath been
and still is the fear of God.  These underlying principles
which govern the relationship between religious and civil authorities can be
applied at all levels, from the local to the international, and could be
adapted to suit many kinds of civil government from absolute monarchy to canton
democracy. At the international level, however, there is a great deal of
detailed prescription in the Bahá'í writings as to the constitution of the
civil government and the various organs - the world legislature, executive, and
tribunal  - which comprise it.
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE WORLD GOVERNMENT
would like to look now at some of the details of the functioning of the civil
government and the parallel details in the Bahá'í administrative order. The
comparison will, on the one hand, show that the 'union' of the two bodies can
never become a merger or takeover, and, on the other hand, give us some further
clues as to their different natures.
The key elements have been set out by Shoghi Effendi in two well-known
passages. The first appears in World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, pages 40 to 41. 
and then by a general gathering of governments with the support of all the
peoples of the world. The present structure of the United Nations must be
approaching the stage of development indicated by the phrase 'international
executive', in that with the end of the cold war it is now possible that "the
Great Powers should resolve . . . to be fully reconciled among themselves,"
[ibid] and if they were to do so they would be able to transform the Security
Council into "an international executive adequate to enforce supreme and
unchallengeable authority on every recalcitrant member of the commonwealth."
Anno 1994 it is clear that the UN does not yet have that power, and that even
if it did the world's problems would not be over. Coercive power applied to
states cannot solve problems which are the expression of hatred and prejudices
in the hearts of the people. An effective international executive could
guarantee the borders, but it could not guarantee the internal peace and order
To make the transition to a world executive a number of changes are required.
First, an international body represents a number of nations, whereas a world
body must include every nation. There are a small number of existing states
which are not members of the United Nations, and a larger number of nations
which do not exist as states, or not as independent states. In a letter of July
7 1976 on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, the secretariat writes:
You have asked whether it is possible to have a World Federation
when not all countries have attained their independence. The answer is in the
negative. Both 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi likened the emergence of the
American Republic and the unification of the "diversified and loosely related
elements" of its "divided" community into one national entity, to the unity of
the world and the incorporation of its federated units into "one coherent
system." Just as the American Constitution does not allow one state to be more
autonomous than another, so must the nations of the world enjoy equal status in
any form of World Federation. Indeed one of the "candles" of unity anticipated
by 'Abdu'l-Bahá is "unity in freedom." Thus the requirements for a
world executive must include the adhesion of the remaining nations which are
not members, the independence of the remaining colonies and annexed
territories, and, if "the nations of the world [must] enjoy equal status", the
end of the prerogatives of the permanent members of the Security Council.
What is the difference then between the international executive and the world
executive, which, as we have seen, is to be established 'once for all'? They
would appear to be different stages of the growth of the one organism. The
effective peace-keeping role of the world government is to be established first
by the great powers [Gleanings, CXVII p. 249]
The second, and more complete description appears in pages 203 to 204 of the
This Commonwealth must ... consist of a world
legislature, whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of mankind,
ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations, and will
enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the life, satisfy the needs
and adjust the relationships of all races and peoples. A world executive,
backed by an international Force, will carry out the decisions arrived at, and
apply the laws enacted by, this world legislature, and will safeguard the
organic unity of the whole commonwealth. A world tribunal will adjudicate and
deliver its compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise
between the various elements constituting this universal system. A mechanism of
world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed
from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvellous
swiftness and perfect regularity. A world metropolis will act as the nerve
center of a world civilization, the locus towards which the unifying forces of
life will converge and from which its energizing influences will radiate. A
world language will either be invented or chosen from among the existing
languages and will be taught in the schools of all the federated nations as an
auxiliary to their mother tongue. A world script, a world literature, a uniform
and universal system of currency, of weights and measures, will simplify and
facilitate intercourse and understanding among the nations and races of
mankind. In such a world society, science and religion, the two most potent
forces in human life, will be reconciled, will cooperate, and will harmoniously
develop. The press will, under such a system, while giving full scope to the
expression of the diversified views and convictions of mankind, cease to be
mischievously manipulated by vested interests, whether private or public, and
will be liberated from the influence of contending governments and peoples. The
economic resources of the world will be organized, its markets will be
coordinated and developed, and the distribution of its products will be
National rivalries, hatreds, and intrigues will cease, and racial animosity
and prejudice will be replaced by racial amity, understanding and cooperation.
The causes of religious strife will be permanently removed, economic barriers
and restrictions will be completely abolished, and the inordinate distinction
between classes will be obliterated. Destitution on the one hand, and gross
accumulation of ownership on the other, will disappear. The enormous energy
dissipated and wasted on war, whether economic or political, will be
consecrated to such ends as will extend the range of human inventions and
technical development, to the increase of the productivity of mankind, to the
extermination of disease, to the extension of scientific research, to the
raising of the standard of physical health, to the sharpening and refinement of
the human brain, to the exploitation of the unused and unsuspected resources of
the planet, to the prolongation of human life, and to the furtherance of any
other agency that can stimulate the intellectual, the moral, and spiritual life
of the entire human race.
A world federal system, ruling the whole earth and exercising unchallengeable
authority over its unimaginably vast resources, blending and embodying the
ideals of both the East and the West, liberated from the curse of war and its
miseries, and bent on the exploitation of all the available sources of energy
on the surface of the planet, a system in which Force is made the servant of
Justice, whose life is sustained by its universal recognition of one God and by
its allegiance to one common Revelation - such is the goal towards which
humanity, impelled by the unifying forces of life, is moving.
One of the striking things about this model is the absence of the Universal
House of Justice, although this system's life is sustained "by its allegiance
to one common Revelation".  This is therefore not just a more developed
United Nations - another attempt to create peace without the power of the Word
of God  - but rather the mature form of the World Order  in which
religion is the central cohesive force. But this is a description from the
point of view of the civil government of the World Order, in which religion
appears as one of the auxiliary organs along with the media, literature,
science, and the market. One could equally well draw up a description of the
Bahá'í commonwealth with the central focus on the Universal House of Justice.
In that case the government and apparatus of the Bahá'í state would be one of
the peripheral organs, along with the arts, the market, science, and the media.
It is a question of focus. In this case the focus is on the internal
constitution of the Bahá'í civil government at the global level.
A second interesting feature is the clear differentiation of the three
principle organs of legislature, executive, and judiciary. The executive is
subordinate to the legislature, and Force - which must include military force
but might also include the personnel necessary to carry out sanctions such as
the freezing of a nation's assets or the severing of cultural, transportation,
trade, or communications links - is in turn subordinate to the executive. The
judiciary can act independently, in that it can decide to adjudicate on a case
without having to wait for one of the parties to the dispute or one of the
other organs of the commonwealth to refer a case to it.  It can also decide
on disputes between any of the elements of the system, so that it would
function as a constitutional court in the event of a dispute between the
executive and the legislature. We can picture the relationship thus:
| legislature |
| executive |
|force |other | |
| | executive |
| | depts| |
| | | |
This has some similarities to the differentiation of the rulers and the learned
in the Bahá'í Administrative Order, but the 'learned' - the Hands of the Cause,
Continental Boards of Counsellors, etc - may facilitate and mediate but
certainly cannot adjudicate. Moreover the Legislature of the world government
is the counterpart of the international convention in Bahá'í administration:
both are general gatherings of representatives of each nation. But the
international convention has a purely consultative role, in addition to its
function as an electoral college to choose the Universal House of Justice,
whereas in the world government the executive carries out decisions made by the
general gathering, the legislature or parliament. The power thus flows in
opposite directions in the civil and religious orders. This may relate to the
fact that the members of the House of Justice are the 'Trustees of the
Merciful' and are responsible to Him, whereas the legislators of the world
government are the 'trustees of the whole of mankind'. In fact we could redraw
the model of the civil government with 'the people(s)' in the top line, since
no act or programme by legislature, executive, or judiciary can in the long run
be effective unless they succeed in obtaining for it "the sanction of all the
human race." 
peoples of the world |
| legislature |
| executive |
|force |other | |
| | executive |
| | depts| |
| | | |
4.1 The Legislature
Shoghi Effendi has said that the members of the legislature should be 'elected
by the people in their respective countries and whose election shall be
confirmed by their respective governments'.  One way of putting this into
effect would be to have a two-chamber legislature, with one chamber being the
general assemblage of 'rulers and kings of the earth' mentioned by
'Abdu'l-Bahá,  and the second chamber consisting of 'the elected
representatives of the people in every land.'  The passage from Shoghi
Effendi cited above would seem to point to one set of representatives who are
first elected by the people and then confirmed by their governments. This could
be achieved by having popularly elected officials, such as ministers of foreign
affairs, also serve as the members of the world legislature. But there are
other reasons for thinking there might be two chambers in the legislature.
First, Bahá'u'lláh, in describing the gathering which is to establish the
lesser peace, says that it would be "preferable and more fitting that the
highly-honored kings themselves should attend such an assembly."  In the
case of countries which are literally monarchies this gives the people no say
in choosing their representatives. Where a country is represented by an elected
president, prime minister, or minister of foreign affairs the people's voice is
at least diminished since these representatives have been elected through the
dynamics of a national political system (which will be discussed later), to
positions within that system. If the people are given a chance to directly
elect representatives to a world parliament they may choose quite different
candidates. If the seats in the assembly of nations are allocated to countries
rather than individual elected representatives it is possible for 'Kings and
Rulers' to attend in person when the matter warrants it, and choose someone to
go in their stead on other occasions, which would have practical advantages.
The second reason for considering a two-chamber structure is that the European
Union has found it desirable: the Council of Ministers is gradually sharing its
powers with the European Parliament. Such experience is not lightly to be
disregarded. At the end of the long passage from The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh
page 204 with which I began, Shoghi Effendi refers to humanity being "impelled
by the unifying forces of life" in the direction of Bahá'u'lláh's vision. Where
we see a consistent and constructive force moving in the world we can at least
suspect that it may represent the workings of God's greater plan by which the
world spontaneously aligns itself with the pattern which God intends for it. In
this case the same general principle, of a two chamber legislature representing
both a commonwealth of nations and a union of the peoples of the world, is also
to be found in proposals for the strengthening of the United Nations which have
been put forward by the World Federalists. 
Whatever may be its form - and it may well change over time - it is clear that
the underlying principles applicable to the world legislature are quite
different to those applying in the Bahá'í Administrative Order. Its counterpart
institution, the Universal House of Justice, is responsible not to the people
but to God,  and its members represent no national constituency and must
NOT be elected directly. 
This legislature is to produce "a single code of international law - the
product of the considered judgment of the world's federated representatives
..."  When it reaches maturity it will legislate "in direct conformity with
the laws and principles of Bahá'u'lláh"  and in particular in accordance
with "the Laws and Ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas."  This limits its
legislative power in some respects, since the Aqdas and other Bahá'í writings
assign some decisions to the Universal House of Justice. It may choose to limit
itself in other respects, since we have seen that the institution of government
itself is associated with other elements and interests, such as the media, the
market, the arts, and so forth. If public and private communications
enterprises are able to reach agreement by contract and treaty - as is done now
- to ensure "a mechanism of world inter-communication ... freed from national
hindrances and restrictions" then there is no reason why the legislature should
act. Such treaties and international agreements, involving the establishment of
rules and of institutions to monitor them and adjudicate on disputes, create in
effect legislatures and judiciaries specialised in particular areas, and areas
in which the central institutions of government will not intervene provided
they continue to function satisfactorily.
This dissipation of power is a characteristic of modern societies. In
Machiavelli's time 'the prince' could be assumed to truly govern, but in modern
societies the government does not govern in any absolute sense. It is one of
many organs in the society, and it has to interact positively with the other
organs. And gradually the world is learning that one of the essential organs in
the body politic is a viable and healthy religious order, without which the
culture of trustworthiness required by the market-place and in political life
will gradually ebb away to the point that neither can function properly. 
The World Tribunal
When 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote to the Central Organization for a Durable Peace at The
Hague in 1919 he said:
... although the league of Nations has been
brought into existence, yet it is incapable of establishing universal peace.
But the Supreme Tribunal which Bahá'u'lláh has described will fulfil this
sacred task with the utmost might and power. And His plan is this: that the
national assemblies of each country and nation - that is to say parliaments -
should elect two or three persons who are the choicest men of that nation, and
are well informed concerning international laws and the relations between
governments and aware of the essential needs of the world of humanity in this
day. The number of these representatives should be in proportion to the number
of inhabitants of that country. The election of these souls who are chosen by
the national assembly, that is, the parliament, must be confirmed by the upper
house, the congress and the cabinet and also by the president or monarch so
these person may be the elected ones of all the nation and the government. From
among these people the members of the Supreme Tribunal will be elected, and all
mankind will thus have a share therein, for every one of these delegates is
fully representative of his nation. When the Supreme Tribunal gives a ruling on
any international question, either unanimously or by majority rule, there will
no longer be any pretext for the plaintiff or ground of objection for the
defendant. In case any of the governments or nations, in the execution of the
irrefutable decision of the Supreme Tribunal, be negligent or dilatory, the
rest of the nations will rise up against it ...  This is in
some respects similar to the description above of the election of the
legislature, and also indicates a construction by which members in one chamber
could be seen as both directly elected by the peoples of the world and as
representing the kings, rulers, and governments. However there are important
differences. First of all, the legislature will enact "a single code of
international law," the tribunal will adjudicate on particular cases. The
second is that this is a three-stage electoral process: the people elect their
parliaments, the parliaments each select two or three delegates in proportion
to the size of the population, and these delegates then elect the tribunal.
There is no indication of such a system applying to the legislature. Membership
of the tribunal is limited to those already selected as delegates, that is, as
experts in international law. This is appropriate to a judicial body but would
unduly limit the scope of representation of a legislature if the same system
were applied there. Once again we see the details of the constitutions of the
organs of the World Order correspond to the idea and purpose which animates
each individual organ. There would be no purpose in attempting to impose a
single electoral formula on every organ. The function of the world tribunal is
in some respects similar to the judicial function of the Universal House of
Justice, although the laws they administer differ (inter-national law on the
one hand, and the laws of the Aqdas and administrative requirements of the
Bahá'í community on the other hand). This perhaps explain why the Universal
House of Justice is also to be elected in three stages, but there are again
significant differences. On page 84 of Bahá'í Administration, Shoghi Effendi
Regarding the method to be adopted for the election of the National
Spiritual Assemblies .... In one of His earliest Tablets ... addressed to a
friend in Persia, the following is expressly recorded:- "At whatever time all
the beloved of God in each country appoint their delegates, and these in turn
elect their representatives, and these representatives elect a body, that body
shall be regarded as the Supreme Baytu'l-'Adl (Universal House of Justice)."
These words clearly indicate that a three-stage election has been provided by
'Abdu'l-Bahá for the formation of the International House of Justice, and as it
is explicitly provided in His Will and Testament that the "Secondary House of
Justice (i.e., National Assemblies) must elect the members of the Universal
One," it is obvious that the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies will
have to be indirectly elected by the body of the believers in their respective
The National Assemblies, which become the international electoral college, have
considerably more than "two or three persons" in their membership, are not
elected in proportion to the population of their countries, and are not
necessarily "well informed concerning international laws and the relations
between governments." Neither are the confirmed in their posts by the monarch,
president, congress and cabinet - fortunately. The National Assemblies also
have executive power in their own countries, whereas the delegates chosen to
elect the world tribunal appear to have no function except the election of the
world's judges. The inverse is also true: the local delegates chosen by Bahá'ís
to elect the National Spiritual Assemblies have no executive power, since the
national convention is only an advisory organ, whereas the local
representatives chosen in a parliamentary democracy constitute the legislature.
Although both the Universal House of Justice and the World Tribunal are elected
in a three-stage process, they are thus clearly different in essence.
From these few details of the nature of the legislature and judiciary, we can
see that the civil and religious institutions cannot be merged - it is legally
impossible. I think we can also see through these details, to intuit the
distinct ideas which these particulars manifest.
1. Introduction to the Kitab-i Aqdas, by the Universal House of Justice, p 1.
2. Shoghi Effendi, in God Passes By, cited in Kitab-i Aqdas, p. 12.
3. Hofman, D. A Commentary on the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, revised
edn., Oxford, George Ronald 1982, pp 10 - 11. Loni Bramson-Lerche, An analysis
of the Bahá'í World Order Model, in Emergence, Dimensions of a New World Order,
Charles Lerche, editor. London, BPT 1991 pp 1 - 70. Giuseppe Robiati, Faith and
World Economy, a Joint Venture, a Bahá'í perspective. Transl. Julio Savi,.
Gruppo Editoriale Insieme, Recco, Italy, 1991. The Covenant and Administration,
a compilation, Wilmette BPT, 1969 pp. 44-93. John Ferraby, All things made new,
London, BPT, 1987 pp. 262-90.
4. Unpublished paper, 'The relationship of the Laws [of the] Kitab-i Aqdas to
the Laws of the Bayan of the Bab'. Simmonds is a PhD student at the Dept. of
Religious studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
5. Daniel Easterman (pseud. for Denis MacEoin), New Jerusalems, Reflections on
Islam, fundamentalism and the Rushdie affair, London, Harper Collins, 1992, pp.
187-8. See also his 'The Shi'i establishment in Modern Iran', in Denis MacEoin
and Ahmed Al-Shah (eds), Islam in the Modern World, London etc. Croom Helm,
1983, where he asserts that the Bahá'í Faith has a "long-term aim of
establishing theocratic rule in Iran and throughout the world. From page 189 of
New Jerusalems, it would appear that MacEoin's belief is based on a pilgrim's
note of Shoghi Effendi's words, which was published in The Bahá'í World,
1934-1936 (p. 199).
6. Colette Gouvion & Philippe Jouvion, The Gardeners of God, Oxford,
Oneworld Publications, 1993 p 208. Original French title Les Jardiniers de
Dieu, Berg International & Tacor International, 1989.
7. But see Lapidus, I.M., A History Of Islamic Societies, NY, Cambridge
University Press, 1988. Lapidus argues that the separation of church and state
has been normative in Islam since the Abassid caliphate.
8. See esp. Institutio Principis Christiani, e.g. in Percy S. Allen et al.,
Opus epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami,, Amsterdam, 1969, 4.I: 150.451,
156.630; or J. LeClerc, (ed), Collected Works of Erasmus, Toronto 1974,
9. The development of Landkirchen actually preceded the Reformation by many
years: the reformation removed some inhibitions to the process. The influence
of Erasmus' thought was however felt equally before the Reformation. See J.E.
Estes, Christian Magistrate and State Church: the Reforming Career of Johannes
Brenz, Toronto, 1982, pp. 28-33.
10. The criticism is not hypothetical. Ficicchia writes: "Die geforderte
Treuegenuber dem Staat und die auferlegte Abstinenz von politischer Betatigung
durfen nicht vorschnell als pazifistische Garantien gewertet werden. Es handelt
sich hier vielmehr um opportunistische Erwagungen, die wohl so lange vertreten
werden, wie die im Wachstum befinliche Gemeinschaft ihre erklarten Ziele noch
nicht zu verwirklichen imstande ist. In diesem Zusammenhang ist auch die
Bahá'ístische Handhabung der taqiya zu erwahnen..." (Francesco Ficicchia, Der
Bahá'ísmus, Weltreligion der Zukunft?, Stuttgart, Quell Verklag, 1981 p.
11. Ridvan message, BE 150.
12. The Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, p 85: "Abandon thy kingdom unto the kings
13. J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press,
1971; Thomas Nagel, "Moral Conflict and Political Legitimacy", Philosophy and
Public Affairs, Vol. 16 (1987); B. Ackerman, Social Justice in the Liberal
State, New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 1980.
14. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p 144.
15. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 66.
16. Note that this is a civil administration, not a secular one. It governs
according to the laws of God, and has a particular role in carrying forward an
17. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 148 - 149.
18. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 147 - 150.
19. The term in the Bahá'í writings is usually 'essence', or 'innermost
essence', etc. 'Abdu'l-Bahá refers to the 'individuality' of things.
Selections, p. 147.
20. May 19, 1994.
21. Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 119. The quotation is from
the Qur'an 36:36. In Islamic doctrine all things have their pair, or
counterpart, or complement: God alone is One. A Bahá'í version of this doctrine
might have to be more complex, to allow for systems in which there is a dynamic
interrelation between several individuals, as in a family conceived of as a
single relationship rather than a grouping of pairs.
22 Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 22.
23. Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p 398.
24. Unfolding Destiny, p. 76 and Bahá'í Administration, p. 149.
25. The religion which apparently offers the purest theocratic model is Babism,
but Shoghi Effendi say that "the sovereignty of the Promised Qa'im was purely a
spiritual one, and not a material or political one". Unfolding Destiny, pp.
425-6. See also the Qayyumu'l-Asma, chapter 1, in which the Shah is assured
that his authority will be maintained, provided he obeys the ordinance of God:
"for in this world you have been mercifully granted dominion ...".
26. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 203.
27. Also called the world of the Kingdom, First Mind, First Will, Primal Will,
Word of God, Identity or Self [Persian nafs
28 "This universal mind is divine; it embraces existing realities . . . knows
them, understands them, is aware of mysteries, realities, and divine
significations . . . This divine intellectual power is the special attribute of
the Holy Manifestations." Some Answered Questions, p. 204.
29. "When . . . thou dost contemplate the innermost essence of all things, and
the individuality of each, thou wilt behold the signs of thy Lord's mercy in
every created thing, and see the spreading rays of His Names and Attributes
throughout all the realm of being ..." Selections from the Writings of
'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 41.
30. I am treating the terms as synonymous here. See The Promulgation of
Universal Peace, p. 272.
31. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 220.
32. Gleanings, p. 218.
33. Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 115, (also in Gleanings, p. 249, Tablets of
Bahá'u'lláh, p. 165).
34. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 28. Other passages referring to the desirability
of combining monarchy and more broadly-based systems of government can be found
in notes to the Kitab-i-Aqdas, p 251: "One of the signs of the maturity of the
world is that no one will accept to bear the weight of kingship. Kingship will
remain with none willing to bear alone its weight. That day will be the day
whereon wisdom will be manifested among mankind." See also Tablets of
Bahá'u'lláh, p. 93, where the British system, combining monarchy and
consultation by the people, is praised. This passage also modifies the
statements in the Kitab-i-Aqdas and the Tablet of Ishraqat, which had appeared
to give the Houses of Justice exclusive power in 'matters of state', so as to
include 'just kings and presidents.' These passages make it clear that
Bahá'u'lláh did not envision the government of the 'kings' as a temporary stage
pending the establishment of a theocracy.
35. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp. 91-92.
36. The Sunnis recognized reigning monarchs as lawful if they ruled in
conformity with Islamic norms, based on the Quranic text: "Obey God, His
Prophet, and those among you who have authority."
37. In Bahá'u'lláh's time tension focussed on the dependence of the Shah on
foreign support. In 1891 Mohammad Hasan Shirazi, one of the first clerics to be
generally recognized as a marja-i taqlid, issued a decree against the
government for selling the tobacco concession to a British entrepreneur.
38. Matt. 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17, Luke 20:20-26.
39. Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, p. 64.
40. Translated in Algar, Religion and State, p. 67.
43. Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, pp. 189-90.
44. The situation is somewhat confused because he goes on to speak of this
recognition as accorded to the Shah of Iran, who is to use his soul and sword
to "subdue the countries' and 'purify the Sacred Land from the people of
denial.' The 'Sacred Land' may refer to a Babi kingdom, but it might also be
used in its conventional sense as the region around Kufa and Karbila in Iraq,
containing shrines especially sacred to the Shi'is. If so, the Shah was being
called on to support a revolt by the Shi'is against the Ottomans, who had
bloodily put down such a rebellion in 1842.
45. Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, p. 350.
46. Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal, p. 383. The Bab's stance is similar to
the prophetic role as it was understood in the Hebrew tradition.
47. Unfolding Destiny, pp. 425-6.
48. Lawh-i Ra'is, see Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol 3, p.
49. Prayers and Meditations, p. 93.
50. Gleanings, p. 304. See also Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 13; Gleanings,
51. Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 85.
52. Gleanings, p. 237; Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 52.
53. Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 51.
54. Gleanings, p. 247; Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 11.
55. Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 75; Kitab-i-Iqan, pp. 89-90; Selections from the Writings
of the Bab, p. 22.
56. Gleanings, p. 249; Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 115; Gleanings, p.
57. See below. In the fifth Bisharat they are called the "exponents of the
power of God" (Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 22).
58. Gleanings, p. 249, Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 115.
59. Gleanings, pp. 218-219; Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 164.
60. Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 13-14, Gleanings, p. 207.
61. Gleanings, p. 207, Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 14, Tablets of
Bahá'u'lláh, p. 22.
62. Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 29-30, see also Gleanings, p. 212.
63. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp. 69-70. There is a parallel in Babi
history, where Sam Khan was unwilling to execute the Bab but was told by Him to
obey his orders.
64. Matt 22: 15-22, Mark 12: 13-17, Luke 20: 20-26.
65. Romans 13: 1-3.
66. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp. 91-92.
67. Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 30. See also note 3 above.
68. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 63.
69. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 220, Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 375.
70. Gleanings, pp. 94-95, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 87.
71. Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá Abbas, vol 2, pp. 342-343.
72. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 130, see also pp. 63-64.
73. Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 13-14; Gleanings, p. 207.
74. A Traveller's Narrative, p. 66.
75. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 151.
76. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 92-93. Note that the religious authorities
referred to do not have to be Bahá'í (see also Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, pp.
63-64, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp. 90-92 and 137). What is important is
the harmony of these two fundamental forces in society.
77. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 203.
78. This passage will not be dealt with here, because it appears to be both an
earlier formulation of the Guardian, and to relate to an earlier period in
history. The Guardian's secretary wrote: "As regards the International
Executive referred to by the Guardian in his "Goal of a New World Order" (World
Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 40), it should be noted that this statement refers by
no means to the Bahá'í Commonwealth of the future, but simply to that world
government which will herald the advent and lead to the final establishment of
the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. The formation of this International Executive,
which corresponds to the executive head or board in present-day national
governments, is but a step leading to the Bahá'í world government of the future
..." (March 17, 1934)
79. i.e., it is a civil government but not a secular government, and the world
order is theo-centric but evidently not theocratic in the sense we have
understood that term in the past.
80. For the insufficiency of such attempts see Selections from the Writings of
'Abdu'l-Bahá, pp. 295-6.
81. Earlier in the same passage (p. 202) Shoghi Effendi wrote that these
institutions are to be established "once for all." Their establishment thus
marks the formal maturity of the World Order system in the sense that they
cannot later be abolished or replaced by other institutions, at least during
the Bahá'í dispensation, but this does not exclude further evolution by the
addition of extra institutions or the better functioning of these
82. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 41.
83. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, cited in World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 192.
84. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 41.
85. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, cited in World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 192.
86. Proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 67.
87. Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 31.
88. Dieter Heinrich, The Case for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly,
World Federalist Movement, Amsterdam and New York, 1992.
89. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 153.
90. On page 84 of Bahá'í Administration, Shoghi Effendi writes: "Regarding the
method to be adopted for the election of the National Spiritual Assemblies ....
In one of His earliest Tablets ... addressed to a friend in Persia, the
following is expressly recorded:- "At whatever time all the beloved of God in
each country appoint their delegates, and these in turn elect their
representatives, and these representatives elect a body, that body shall be
regarded as the Supreme Baytu'l-'Adl (Universal House of Justice)." These words
clearly indicate that a three-stage election has been provided by 'Abdu'l-Bahá
for the formation of the International House of Justice . . ." 91. See also
Bahá'í Administration, p. 39.
92. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 41.
93. The Advent of Divine Justice, p.12.
94. Messages to the Bahá'í World 1950-1957, p. 155.
94. It could also be very beneficial, for both the Bahá'í community and the
world, if Bahá'ís could be found who would engage in political science and
study the processes at work and the relevant Bahá'í teachings in depth. "This
being a more intellectual and philosophical approach to the problem of world
political crisis, there is no objection if you wish to try such a method, which
immediately carries you from the field of practical politics to that of
political theory." (Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual
believer, dated March 2 1934)
95. Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 306.