The meaning of the verse in Abdu’l-Baha’s Will that the “Executive” must aid and assist the “Legislative” body – by Brent Poirier

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The Seat of the Universal House of Justice, Mount Carmel, Haifa, Israel. Date taken: 24 March 2005 Reproduced with its permission. “Copyright © Bahá’í International Community

Does the verse in Abdu’l-Baha’s Will stating that the “Executive” must aid and assist the “Legislative” body, mean that the Universal House of Justice can only function with the presence of the Guardian? This passage from Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament contains the verse in question:

“And now, concerning the House of Justice which God hath ordained as the source of all good and freed from all error, it must be elected by universal suffrage, that is, by the believers. Its members must be manifestations of the fear of God and daysprings of knowledge and understanding, must be steadfast in God’s faith and the well-wishers of all mankind. By this House is meant the Universal House of Justice, that is, in all countries a secondary House of Justice must be instituted, and these secondary Houses of Justice must elect the members of the Universal one. Unto this body all things must be referred. It enacteth all ordinances and regulations that are not to be found in the explicit Holy Text. By this body all the difficult problems are to be resolved and the Guardian of the Cause of God is its sacred head and the distinguished member for life of that body. Should he not attend in person its deliberations, he must appoint one to represent him. Should any of the members commit a sin, injurious to the common weal, the Guardian of the Cause of God hath at his own discretion the right to expel him, whereupon the people must elect another one in his stead. 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, that all the regions of the world may become even as Paradise itself.”
(The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 14-15)

What does Abdu’l-Baha mean by the following portion of that passage:

“This House of Justice enacteth the laws and the government enforceth them. The legislative body must reinvorce 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, that all the regions of the world may become even as Paradise itself.”

Shoghi Effendi has interpreted this same passage:

“Regarding your questions: By ‘Government’, on page 210 of the ‘Bahá’í World’ Vol. VI, is meant the executive body which will enforce the laws when the Bahá’í Faith has reached the point when it is recognized and accepted entirely by any particular nation.” (From a letter dated April 18, 1941 written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer; Lights of Guidance, 2nd edition, p. 483, #1604)

The average reader, since Abdu’l-Baha has just been speaking about the relationship between the Guardian and the House of Justice, might assume that the subject of the relationship between the “executive” and the “legislative” concerns these same two institutions. However, the infallible interpreter of the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha has explained otherwise; he has, in the above letter, explained that the “executive” mentioned in the Will is an entirely different institution from the institution of the Guardianship. He does so in another passage as well:

“As regards the International Executive referred to by the Guardian in his ‘Goal of a New World Order’ 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, and hence should not be identified with either the institution of the Guardianship or that of the International House of Justice.” (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to two believers dated March 17, 1934; Lights of Guidance, p. 320, #1077; also published in the Compilation on Peace, The Compilation of Compilations Volume II, p. 193, #1621)

That is, although Abdu’l-Baha was earlier in the paragraph speaking of the relationship between two Baha’i institutions—the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice—in the passage in question He was speaking of the relationship between the Universal House of Justice and the national and international civil institutions that will come into being in the future. Shoghi Effendi mentions the international institutions—a legislative body, an tribunal, and an executive—in his letter, “The Goal of a New World Order,” found at page 40 of The World Order of Baha’u’llah. Shoghi Effendi, in the March 1934 letter quoted above, explains that the international executive is not the Baha’i institution of the Guardianship. In the 1941 letter quoted above, he states that the passage from the Will and Testament is addressing the relationship between the Universal House of Justice and the national executive that will also be established in every country, and again we can see now that in the Will, Abdu’l-Baha was not referring to the institution of Guardianship as the “executive.”

In the light of these letters from Shoghi Effendi, we can see that the passage in the Will about the executive and the legislative is not stating that the Universal House of Justice can only function when the Guardian or his representative is present. As explained here and here, the Universal House of Justice is fully empowered in the Baha’i Writings to function with only its elected membership, and it receives its promised divine guidance as it so functions.

The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha is not only concerned with internal matters in the Baha’i Faith; it addresses the needs of the outer world, and as Shoghi Effendi has explained, adumbrates the relationship between the Universal House of Justice and the international institutions of a gradually-unifying world society that will precede the final flowering of civilization—the World Order of Baha’u’llah, the Kingdom of God on earth. And as the divinely-guided Universal House of Justice has written, it “is in a position to do everything necessary to establish the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh on this earth.” (“Election and infallibility of the Universal House of Justice,” letter dated 9 March 1965, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, paragraph 23.20, p. 56)


“Copyright Brent Poirier, used with permission” bahai-covenant.blogspot.com