Women on the UHJ

Mar 2015
Bend area, Oregon

Thank you for those explanations. Not wanting to highjack the focus of this thread (women on the Universal House of Justice) to further discuss the institution of the Guardianship and its occupant(s) i.e. the Guardian(s), I will communicate my response, related to the Guardianship, to you through another channel. In this thread, my intent in bringing up the Guardianship was relevant to more fully understanding in the future Bahá’u'lláh’s exemption of women from the Universal House of Justice and the “wisdom of the Lord God's which will erelong be made manifest as the sun at high noon" (Selections from the Writings of 'Abdul-Bahá, 79-80). When I mentioned “progressively understanding” that “wisdom”, I had in mind the Guardian's "function" of progressive interpretation and Shoghi Effendi’s words referring to the Guardianship and its Guardians as being the “the means required to enable it (the Faith) to take a long, an uninterrupted view over a series of generations”. Another quote that may help explain more completely my thought is found in a letter written on Shoghi Effendi’s behalf “regarding future Guardians: they cannot ‘abrogate’ the interpretations of former Guardians, as this would imply not only lack of guidance but mistakes in making them; however, they can elaborate and elucidate former interpretations, and can certainly abrogate some former ruling laid down as a temporary necessity by a former Guardian.” (Letter dated February 19, 1947; also Bahá'í News #197, p. 6)

Thank you again and I look forward to your future posts, to reading your completed papers, portions of which are provided in draft form above, and your “projected paper on the Writings and feminist theory.”

Aug 2015
Abbotsfordm British Columbia, Canada
Hello ams. I will be firm and clear with my observations.

The provided link is not good material to read, I see it contains misinformation and it was not approved.

As a Baha'i, there is only one position on this subject and that is now what is offered by the elected body of the Universal House of Justice.

There is ample advice on this topic from the authorised sources.

Regards Tony
This paper will not speculate about the underlying reason(s) for this exemption. However, declining to hypothesize about the motive for Bahá'u'lláh’s directive does not mean we should not examine the logical validity of the aforementioned criticisms of the Bahá’í Faith on this matter. Indeed, Shoghi Effendi lauds Bahá’ís for “defending its verities, unveiling its truths, demonstrating the character of its institutions and advertising its aims and purposes.”[1] An explication of the logical errors made by the critics is not an alternative explanation of Bahá'u'lláh’s directive. Instead it is a demonstration of how the critics have gone wrong insofar as their reasoning is based on a false premise that leads to making a false equivalence and from there to an improbable and false conclusion. From this we can deduce that whatever the reasons for Bahá'u'lláh’s directive may be, they are not what the critics have claimed. As a result, a different understanding of the Writings is logically possible and, indeed, more probable because it takes into account the Writings as a whole instead of ‘cherry-picking’ a single part out of context. To understand and judge the Bahá’í teachings fairly, it is important to comprehend why these critiques are not relevant.

The Universal House of Justice identifies the false premise in a statement about a controversy regarding scholarship. Speaking of some critics of the Bahá’í model of scholarship, it declares

[t]hese [critical] efforts have been accompanied by a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the institutions of the Faith as repressive of learning and to introduce into a Bahá'í discourse a fevered debate on individual rights, borrowed from the political environment.

Similarly, the critics of the exemption of women work from the unspoken premise that it is logically possible to import concepts about rights and equality from the “political environment” and impose them on the Bahá’í Faith. The differences between a free civil society and a purposive organization based on revelation are enormous. Transferring and imposing such concepts is akin to comparing apples to horseshoes. The reason is obvious: concepts and standards “borrowed from the political environment” cannot simply be imposed on an organization that is intentionally and programmatically non-political and non-partisan; which has its own unique nature and goals; and has purposes and methods essentially different from those in civil society. While both are made up of human beings, the form into which they organize people is utterly different and, as we shall see below, is incompatible.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá refers to Bahá’ís as a “heavenly army”
[3] and as a spiritual “army of light,”[4] identifying thereby the essential and differentiating attributes of the Bahá’í Faith and other types of social groupings. Unlike secular civil societies, the Bahá’í Faith is foundationally religious and its teachings laws and practices demand religious justification. Its modus vivendi is expansion “through the love of God and the illumination of divine teachings”[5] as well as the care of souls for this earthly life and its immortality in the transcendent planes of being. All Bahá’ís are volunteers who knowingly and freely accept the terms of service. They all work for a common purpose for which they are willing to make meaningful sacrifices. The key principle is voluntary service, not individual advantage or ambition. Members expect themselves to put their own individual preferences, impulses and goals aside for the good of the whole Faith and its projects. Nor must personal goals conflict with the Faith’s goals, thereby disrupting its activities. In short, there is no room for atomic individualism. Moreover, there is an internal relation of friendship or even familial relationship among members all of whom are committed to recognizing Bahá’u’lláh as God’s latest – but not last – Manifestation and the Universal House of Justice as the only legitimate institution inspired by His will. Obedience to the Universal House of Justice is obligatory because it is tasked with guiding the global advancement of the Faith. Among Bahá’ís relationships are expected to be actively co-operative; they are encouraged, indeed, spiritually obligated to develop friendship – an internal relationship – with other Bahá’ís and people in general. All members work for the ultimate goal of unifying humanity into a federal global commonwealth embodying “eternal verities” from all previous dispensations. Hence, membership is not accidental but conditional.

In contrast, crowds, free secular and civil societies and modern nations are, by nature and/or intention, far more compatible with ‘atomic individualism’ than any army – spiritual or not. As a social ethos, ‘atomic individualism’ puts enormous emphasis on individuality – as already seen in Nozick – and gives primacy to individuals who pursue their own purposes over the good of society as a whole. A society is in essence a crowd of people going in the same direction literally and/or figuratively. Therefore, citizens are related by external laws without any obligation to form inner spiritual and not merely outwardly conforming relationships set by law or social custom. In addition, competition plays a much greater role in society than service and free personal sacrifice which are among the underlying principles of action for Bahá’ís. This is because Bahá'u'lláh’s “heavenly army” – like any army – is meticulously focussed on its immediate and ultimate purpose than are crowds, free civil societies and even nations except in wartime. There can be no essential agreement between an organization like the Bahá’í Faith and secular societies which focus on equality almost entirely in terms of individual power and worldly success; which encourage atomic individualism and competition; which have no historical vision and goals; which view the world materialistically; which do not recognize spiritual values as valid justifications for civil laws and which but confines its scheme of values to the present world. Consequently, the values of one cannot be imported into and imposed on the other without serious lapses in logic.

Once this is understood, we can better understand why Shoghi Effendi says,

From the fact that there is no equality of functions between the sexes one should not, however, infer that either sex is inherently superior or inferior to the other, or that they are unequal in their rights.

As noted previously with the example of the brain and heart, difference in function does not necessarily mean inferiority or superiority in valuation. It may in some cases but any examination of the
[7]Writings as a whole and their statements about and provisions for women is enough to deprive the rational basis for conclusions about prejudice.

The issue of power as understood in civil societies is simply not relevant in the assessment of equality in the Bahá’í Faith. This is because in the civil and secular “political environment” equality and power are strictly correlated by virtue of partisan political parties struggling for the power to rule over others. Equality is defined in terms of rights and power. Individuals have equal power as expressed in rights which intrinsically obligate others to do or not do certain things. This ability to impose obligations is an exercise of power. Those who have no power cannot be equal and those who are not equal cannot have power.
[8] However, unlike politics and equality in the “political environment,” the Bahá’í Writings separate or distinguish between power and equality and do not measure one in terms of the other. Because the Bahá’í Faith is a spiritual organization, service not power is the standard for ‘measuring’ equality and success. Equality in the spiritual context is based on service, on contributing to the whole and its purpose and on internal states of being such as a willingness to sacrifice, purity of heart and reliance on God. Individuals understand themselves in terms of serving the purpose of the Faith not as individuals accumulating powers, rights and worldly success. Secular world-views and their emphasis on overt legalities, contractualism and the empirical measurement of values and success are intrinsically insensitive to spiritual judgments except in the most superficial way.

The essential and central nature of service is attested in numerous passages from the Writings and the Universal House of Justice. For example, Bahá'u'lláh teaches that “Man's merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches.”
[9] In other words, the value of service exceeds the value of worldly success and recognition. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states that “service to mankind is the paramount motive of all existence,”[10] More pointedly, he commands

Separate thyself from all thoughts, strip thyself from the unclean garment of attachment to this drossful (or earthly) world, arise for the service of thy Lord, the Clement, and be clothed with the robe of assurance (or certainty) so that thou mayest behold the hosts of confirmation from thy Lord arising from all sides.

Here, too, service is the standard for God’s confirmations, not worldly power, recognition or success. The Universal House of Justice points out that service brings “spiritual confirmation
[12] which enable a more spiritual and meaningful life. This helps to understand what Shoghi Effendi means in saying

From the fact that there is no equality of functions between the sexes one should not, however, infer that either sex is inherently superior or inferior to the other, or that they are unequal in their rights.

From the foregoing discussion we may conclude that in the Bahá’í context the issue of power as understood in the current “political environment” is simply not relevant in the assessment of equality when service is the primary goal and standard of valuation. What can any worldly sense of ‘getting ahead’ or ‘competing’ or ‘success’ or ‘being in charge’ mean in this religious context? Nor is there any deprivation of rights in regards to valuation; all have an equal right to serve and earn spiritual virtue and merit. In our understanding, Shoghi Effendi’s assertion of equal rights is made in a Bahá’í spiritual context and not in the context of power as in secular concepts of equality. Thereby, he confronts us with the challenge of choosing either the secular or a spiritual concept of equality and power. Choosing one or the other defines the nature of our engagement with society.

The “political environment” is constituted by civil society and its expression in strictly secular, partisan – or even hyper-partisan – political parties, institutions and their attendant controversies. However, just as a ship or ark exists in the sea but is not of it, the Bahá’í Faith exists in the “political environment” but is not of the “political environment. It is a distinct and unique entity – how much so shall become clear in greater detail below – and it is exceptional and sui generis. It is not just ‘another institution like all the others’ because, from a Bahá’í perspective, it is God’s instrument in guiding mankind through the next phase of spiritual and material evolution. Treating the Bahá’í Faith as if it were an institution ‘like the others’ is another logical error of making a false equivalence

The Bahá’í view is not as estranged from the world as it appears at first glance. Indeed, it operates in various degrees in any purpose-driven organization, as, for example on a sports team or even surgical team. On a sports team, a similar spirit of service is necessary as is implicit in the concept of a ‘team player.’ Putting personal ambitions and preferences ahead of the team’s goal – to win games – is inappropriate and unacceptable. The same may be said of surgical teams, alpine rescue groups and ambulance crews.

[1] Shoghi Effendi, The Citadel of Faith, p. 139.

[2] The Universal House of Justice, 1992, Dec. 10, “Issues related to Study Compilation;” emphasis added.

[3] ‘Abdu’l- Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 35.

[4] ‘Abdul-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 104.

[5] ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 35.

[6] From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer July 28, 1936. Also in “Women, A Compilation, p. 9 and Lights of Guidance, p. 613; emphasis added.


[8] No contemporary philosopher emphasises power in all human interactions as much as Michel Foucault, for whom even “all will to truth is already a will-to-power.”(J .G.Merquior, Foucault, p. 108.) Foucault claims that to know the truth is also, in effect, a claim to power, i.e. a claim to domination over others and competing truth claims. Foucault’s thought has been especially influential in feminism e.g. Judith Butler and post-colonial studies. See Ian Kluge, “Postmodernism and the Baha’i Writings” in Lights of Irfan, Vol. 9, 2008.

[9] Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 138; emphasis added.

[10] ‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 369.

[11] ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Vol. 3, p. 650; emphasis added.

[12] The Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, Messages 1963 – 1968, p. 19.

[13] From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer July 28, 1936. Also in “Women, A Compilation, p. 9 and Lights of Guidance, p. 613; emphasis added.



Nov 2019
The worst Argumentation is... that it is (supposedly) meant as a "test": If you failed this test, means: If you neither understand nor accept the no-women-in-UHJ-rule interpretation ... then you are a "Covenant Breaker"... because you failed this test.

Which is - imho - nothing else than a kind of psychological / spiritual blackmailing ... very common and used frequently by many sects... to force their members to obedient.


Mar 2013
Edwardsville, Illinois, USA
I think the business we should be focusing on is ensuring that women are represented in equal numbers in all areas of society, including business owners and leaders, engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, government officials at the local, national and international level, manufacturing, farming, skilled trades, etc, etc, etc. and also service in all aspects of Baha’i administration with the single exception being service on the Universal House of Justice. In the world as a whole, we are far from realizing full equality in all these areas, and also within the Baha’i community we have a long way to go.

Maybe part of the wisdom of creating that one exception, which represents 0.000001% of all opportunities for service in society is that we have a greater motivation to open up the other 99.999999% of opportunities for men and women to serve equally.
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