The Bahá’í Covenant The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh

How the Covenant in the Bahá’í Faith creates and maintains a unified religious community.

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Can the Universal House of Justice function properly without a living Guardian?

After prayerful and careful study of the Holy Texts bearing upon the question of the appointment of the successor to Shoghi Effendi as Guardian of the Cause of God, and after prolonged consultation which included consideration of the views of the Hands of the Cause of God residing in the Holy Land, the Universal House of Justice finds that there is no way to appoint or to legislate to make it possible to appoint a second Guardian to succeed Shoghi Effendi.
The Universal House of Justice, 9 October 1963

It must be also clearly understood by every believer that the institution of Guardianship does not under any circumstances abrogate, or even in the slightest degree detract from, the powers granted to the Universal House of Justice by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, and repeatedly and solemnly confirmed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Will. It does not constitute in any manner a contradiction to the Will and Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, nor does it nullify any of His revealed instructions. It enhances the prestige of that exalted assembly, stabilizes its supreme position, safeguards its unity, assures the continuity of its labours, without presuming in the slightest to infringe upon the inviolability of its clearly defined sphere of jurisdiction. We stand indeed too close to so monumental a document to claim for ourselves a complete understanding of all its implications, or to presume to have grasped the manifold mysteries it undoubtedly contains. …
Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 8)

The infallibility of the Universal House of Justice, operating within its ordained sphere, has not been made dependent upon the presence in its membership of the Guardian of the Cause. Although in the realm of interpretation the Guardian’s pronouncements are always binding, in the area of the Guardian’s participation in legislation it is always the decision of the House itself which must prevail. This is supported by the words of the Guardian:

“The interpretation of the Guardian, functioning within his own sphere, is as authoritative and binding as the enactments of the International House of Justice, whose exclusive right and prerogative is to pronounce upon and deliver the final judgement on such laws and ordinances as Bahá’u’lláh has not expressly revealed. Neither can, nor will ever, infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain of the other. Neither will seek to curtail the specific and undoubted authority with which both have been divinely invested.

“Though the Guardian of the Faith has been made the permanent head of so august a body he can never, even temporarily, assume the right of exclusive legislation. He cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow-members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s revealed utterances.”
However, quite apart from his function as a member and sacred head for life of the Universal House of Justice, the Guardian, functioning within his own sphere, had the right and duty “to define the sphere of the legislative action” of the Universal House of Justice. In other words, he had the authority to state whether a matter was or was not already covered by the Sacred Texts and therefore whether it was within the authority of the Universal House of Justice to legislate upon it. No other person, apart from the Guardian, has the right or authority to make such definitions. The question therefore arises: In the absence of the Guardian, is the Universal House of Justice in danger of straying outside its proper sphere and thus falling into error? Here we must remember three things: First, Shoghi Effendi, during the thirty-six years of his Guardianship, has already made innumerable such definitions, supplementing those made by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and by Bahá’u’lláh Himself. As already announced to the friends, a careful study of the Writings and interpretations on any subject on which the House of Justice proposes to legislate always precedes its act of legislation. Second, the Universal House of Justice, itself assured of divine guidance, is well aware of the absence of the Guardian and will approach all matters of legislation only when certain of its sphere of jurisdiction, a sphere which the Guardian has confidently described as “clearly defined”. Third, we must not forget the Guardian’s written statement about these two Institutions: “Neither can, nor will ever, infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain of the other.”
The Universal House of Justice, 27 May 1966, paragraphs 7-10

Concerning the statement by Shoghi Effendi…: ‘Divorced from the institution of the Guardianship, the World Order of Bahá’u'lláh would be mutilated’, it must be emphasized that although there are no more Guardians after Shoghi Effendi, the institution of the Guardianship will always exist. Consider for example, that when the Prophet leaves this world, the position He occupies within His religion is not lost. For instance, Bahá’u'lláh is the Author of the Faith. Access to Him during His ministry was mainly through His Writings. It is the same after His ascension, He will always be the Author of the Faith, and the way to approach Him is through His Writings. Likewise, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá will always be the Centre of the Covenant of Bahá’u'lláh. The fact that He has ascended to the next world does not alter His position in the Faith. In order to turn to Him, one must turn to His Writings.

It is the same with the institution of the Guardianship. Shoghi Effendi is the Guardian of the Faith. During his ministry the believers received guidance through his writings and continue to do so after his passing. The institution of the Guardianship will always serve as a pillar supporting the mighty structure of the Administrative Order, regardless of whether the Guardian is living or not. The writings of Shoghi Effendi will continue to guide and sustain the ever-advancing community of the Most Great Name. Today, the Universal House of Justice, before taking decisions on various matters whether in the field of legislation or administration, consults the writings of Shoghi Effendi and is guided by the vast body of his letters, in which he has elucidated almost every conceivable subject. Thus, far from being divorced from the World Order of Bahá’u'lláh, the institution of the Guardianship plays a preponderating role now and for ever, in conjunction with the institution of the Universal House of Justice, in guiding and directing the Bahá’í community toward its ultimate goal — the establishment of the oneness of mankind on this planet.

…That ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Will and Testament makes provision for a successor to Shoghi Effendi does not necessarily mean that there will be one. …In this connection, the Universal House of Justice states:

Future Guardians are clearly envisaged and referred to in the Writings, but there is nowhere any promise or guarantee that the line of Guardians would endure forever; on the contrary there are clear indications that the line could be broken. Yet, in spite of this, there is a repeated insistance in the Writings on the indestructibility of the Covenant and the immutability of God’s Purpose for this Day. One of the most striking passages which envisage the possibility of such a break in the line of Guardians is in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas itself:

‘The endowments dedicated to charity revert to God, the Revealer of Signs. No one has the right to lay hold on them without leave from the Dawning-Place of Revelation. After Him the decision rests with the Aghsan (Branches), and after them with the House of Justice — should it be established in the world by then — so that they may use these endowments for the benefit of the Sites exalted in this Cause, and for that which they have been commanded by God, the Almighty, the All-Powerful. Otherwise the endowments should be referred to the people of Baha, who speak not without His leave and who pass no judgment but in accordance with that which God has ordained in this Tablet, they who are the champions of victory betwixt heaven and earth, so that they may spend them on that which has been decreed in the Holy Book by God, the Mighty, the Bountiful.’ [paragraph 42]

The passing of Shoghi Effendi in 1957 precipitated the very situation provided for in this passage, in that the line of Aghsan ended before the House of Justice had been elected. Although, as is seen, the ending of the line of Aghsan at some stage was provided for, we must never underestimate the grievous loss that the Faith has suffered. God’s purpose for mankind remains unchanged, however, and the mighty Covenant of Bahá’u'lláh remains impregnable.
[7 December 1969]

The above passage in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas was prophetic, in that a period of over five years separated the passing of Shoghi Effendi from the establishment of the Universal House of Justice, and the Hands of the Cause during this period — ‘the people of Baha who speak not without His leave’ — fulfilled the last provision stated in the above text.
Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 386-391

For more information please read the documents in the compilation “The Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice“. Also, to read a commentary on this topic, click here >