SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLY is a term given by `Abdu\'l-Bahá to refer to elected councils that govern the Bahá\'í Faith . Because the Bahá'í Faith has no clergy, they carry out the affairs of the community. In addition to existing at the local level, there are national Spiritual Assemblies (although "national" in some cases refers to a portion of a country or to a group of countries).
* 1 Nature and purpose * 2 Local Spiritual Assemblies * 3 National Spiritual Assemblies * 4 See also * 5 Notes * 6 References * 7 External links
NATURE AND PURPOSE
Bahá\'u\'lláh , `Abdu\'l-Bahá , and Shoghi Effendi stated how Spiritual Assemblies should be elected by the Bahá'ís, defined their nature and purposes, and described in considerable detail how they should function. Since these institutions are grounded in the Bahá'í authoritative texts, Bahá'ís regard them as divine in nature, and contrast the wealth of scriptural guidance with the paucity of scriptural texts on which Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religious institutions are based.
The Universal House of Justice has added that among the responsibilities of Local Spiritual Assemblies are to be “channels of divine guidance, planners of the teaching work, developers of human resources, builders of communities, and loving shepherds of the multitudes.” On a practical level, they organize local Bahá'í communities by maintaining a local Bahá'í Fund, owning the local Bahá\'í center (if one exists), organizing Bahá'í events, counseling Bahá'ís about personal difficulties, assisting with Bahá\'í marriages and funerals, providing educational programs to adults and children, publicizing the Bahá'í Faith locally, fostering projects for the social and economic development of the region, and enrolling new members of the religion. Spiritual Assemblies appoint individuals, task forces, and committees to carry out many of their functions. National Spiritual Assemblies have a similar mandate at the national level: they coordinate publishing and distribution of Bahá\'í literature , direct relations with national organizations and governmental agencies, oversee the work of local spiritual assemblies, and (in some countries) Regional Councils, set local Bahá'í jurisdictional boundaries, provide various educational services and programs, and set the overall tone and direction of the national community.
LOCAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLIES
The origin of the institution of the local Spiritual Assembly originates from Bahá\'u\'lláh ’s book of laws, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas : The Lord hath ordained that in every city a House of Justice be established wherein shall gather counsellors to the number of Baha, and should it exceed this number it doth not matter. They should consider themselves as entering the Court of the presence of God, the Exalted, the Most High, and as beholding Him Who is the Unseen. It behoveth them to be the trusted ones of the Merciful among men and to regard themselves as the guardians appointed of God for all that dwell on earth. It is incumbent upon them to take counsel together and to have regard for the interests of the servants of God, for His sake, even as they regard their own interests, and to choose that which is meet and seemly.
The passage gives the institution a name, a minimum number (nine, for
“the number of Baha ” refers to the numerical value of the letters
of that word, which is nine), and a general responsibility to take
care of the welfare of others even as they would take care of their
own. While the resulting institution is local, in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas
Bahá'u'lláh also spoke about the responsibilities of the supreme or
Universal House of Justice . In response to the passage, Mírzá
Asadu'lláh Isfahání, a prominent Bahá'í teacher, organized an
unofficial Bahá'í consultative body in Tehran, Iran, about 1878.
The first official Bahá'í consultative body was organized under
`Abdu'l-Bahá’s direction by
Hand of the Cause
Hají Ákhúnd in
The development of a Bahá'í community in the
In 1902 `Abdu'l-Bahá sent a very important tablet to the Chicago governing body where he said “let the designation of that body be ‘Spiritual Assembly’—this for the reason that, were it to use the term ‘House of Justice’, the government might hereafter come to suppose that it was acting as a court of law, or concerning itself in political matters, or that, at some indeterminate future time, it would involve itself in the affairs of government.... This same designation hath been universally adopted throughout Iran.” For this reason, Bahá'í local and national governing bodies are designated “Spiritual Assemblies” to this day.
The first decade of the twentieth century saw the proliferation of
local Bahá'í governing bodies. Often unaware of `Abdu'l-Bahá’s
guidance, they had a variety of titles in English and Persian , such
as “Council Board, “Board of Consultation,” “House of
Spirituality,” and "Executive Committee." Unaware
Because efforts to organize local Bahá'í consultative bodies
remained informal, few additional ones had formed by 1921 (notable
Cleveland, Ohio , and
The result was a rapid proliferation of local Spiritual Assemblies; a 1928 list had the following: Australia, 6; Brazil, 1; Burma, 3; Canada, 2; China, 1; Egypt, 1; England, 4; France, 1; India, 4; Japan, 1; Korea, 1; Lebanon, 1; New Zealand, 1; Palestine, 1; Iran, 5; Russia, 1; South Africa, 1; Switzerland, 1; Syria, 1; Turkey, 1; and the United States, 47, for a total of 85 local Spiritual Assemblies worldwide.
The number has grown ever since; in 2001 there were 11,740 local Spiritual Assemblies worldwide.
NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLIES
National Spiritual Assemblies are first mentioned in `Abdu'l-Bahá's
Will and Testament , but the fact that they would be established
circulated for years before the contents of the Will became publicly
available in early 1922. In 1909, Hippolyte Dreyfus (fr) wrote
extensively about the role of the national House of Justice (as it
would have been known then) in his The Universal Religion: Bahaism,
Its Rise and Social Import. In that year, also, the Bahá'ís of the
In the same March 5, 1922 letter to the Bahá'ís of the world that
called for the election of local Spiritual Assemblies, Shoghi Effendi
called on them to “indirectly” elect National Spiritual
Assemblies. He also enumerated committees that a National Spiritual
Assembly should have in order to carry out its responsibilities.
“Indirect” election referred to the process, mentioned in the Will
and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá, of the Bahá'ís electing one or more
delegates from each locality, who would represent them at a national
convention and would vote for the nine members of the National
Spiritual Assembly. The 1928 issue of The Bahá'í World listed nine
National Spiritual Assemblies: Persia (
An important part of the process was the establishment of
“regional” National Spiritual Assemblies; thus in 1951 all of
Like local Spiritual Assemblies, all National Spiritual Assemblies have nine members and are elected annually, usually during the Ridván Festival (April 21-May 2). All Bahá'í elections occur in an atmosphere of prayer where nominations, campaigning, and all discussion of persons is forbidden.
The members of the National Spiritual Assemblies collectively serve as the electoral college for electing the Universal House of Justice , the supreme governing body of the Bahá'í Faith, which was first formed in 1963. See also: Statistics on National Spiritual Assemblies
* Bahá\'í administration * Democratic confederalism
Shoghi Effendi (1974) . The World Order of Baha\'u\'llah.
Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, USA. pp. 144.
Universal House of Justice (1996). Message to the Bahá\'ís of
the World, Ridvan 153.
* ^ The best general source of information about local spiritual
assemblies and their functioning is National
Spiritual Assembly of the
Bahá'ís of the
* Effendi, Shoghi (1974). Bahá\'í Administration. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-87743-166-3 .
* Effendi, Shoghi (1976). Principles of Bahá\'í Administration (4th ed.). London, UK: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0-900125-13-6 .
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