Nine or Nineteen Members on Universal House of Justice?
A Baha’i Debate
By Michael Zargarov
When someone joins a religion, it will always be riddled with uncertainty for him (her) rather than filled with faith. Even if one was born into the faith or grew up among the most devoted friends and relatives. A religious journey is usually distinguished by great joy, astonishment, and exquisite camaraderie, as well as a great deal of doubt, difficulty, and grief.
Okay, it’s acknowledged that doubts are a natural component of religious beliefs, and when people have concerns, they strive to work through them, investigate them, and emerge stronger and more confident in their views. Perhaps there are good answers to your doubts, and as a result, your faith will be stronger and more solid. On the other hand, if you don’t get any positive reply, you’ll be forced to choose between sticking with a religion you know isn’t logical and abandon it in favor of ideas that are.
Now, imagine there are contradictions that one perceives to be true, only to discover later that it was all untrue and based on selfish gain? There is a laundry list of such items forced down Baha’is’ throats that are not supported by the Baha’i Scriptures and are not founded in Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s teachings. Today, I want to look at one of the items on that list and compare it to the teachings of the Baha’i Faith’s founders.
Among the many incompatibilities and inconsistencies in the Baha’i Faith’s beliefs, practices, and governance, such as the continuation of Guardianship, the authenticity of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Will and Testament, the validity of the current Universal House of Justice, and the non-election of women to the UHJ, to which the current Administration has provided no satisfactory answer, a new controversy is arising that will strike the foundations of the UHJ, and it is the number of members. For these integers that are diagonally opposite each other, we discover various references. Some sources claim 19, while others say between 9 and 19, and some state things that aren’t specifically referenced in the Holy Scriptures.
The Baha’i Faith is unable to make decisions on a number of contentious problems, one of which being where nine should be used and where nineteen should be applied. There is a clear reference from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stating that the UHJ will have 19 members.
1- We can see that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá clearly said that the UHJ will have 19 members.
The King and Rulers of the world will find their true authority under the ruling of House of Justice. The Laws of God will be vested in nineteen men who will compose the House of Justice and render decisions…. The House of Justice will decide between kings and kings. All judgment will be from the standpoint of God’s law.
(Ten days in the light of Acca by Juliet M. Grundy, Printed in Chicago December 1907. Published by Baha’i Publishing Society Chicago, Illionis, U.S.A. Words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
2-The Present universal House of justice is advocating for membership between 9 and 19.
The number of members of the Universal House of Justice is not explicitly fixed at nine,[a} and in a Tablet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stated that the Universal House of Justice may function with up to nineteen members at its discretion.(b)
According to Ali Nakhjavani, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá claimed that the number “might be 19,” and that he justifies this by stating, “We had a meeting of UHJ with members of ITC, and the members were 18 and manageable.”
A member of the Universal House of Justice incorrectly attributes this to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. ‘Nineteen’ is plainly referenced in the previous passage.
(a) 1998 letter by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice
(b) Ali Nakhjavani, Shoghi Effendi: The Range and Power of his Pen, Casa Editrice Baha’i publishing, 2006, p 251.
3- The number of members is not specifically specified in Holy Text, according to Shoghi Effendi’s secretary. This is also incorrect
“The membership of the Universal House of Justice is confined to men. Fixing the number of the members, the procedures for election and the term of membership will be known later, as these are not explicitly revealed in the Holy Text.” (27 May 1940)
(Women on the Universal House of Justice: by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice, 1988-05-31, date of original: 1998)
4- Another study argues that the UHJ should be made up of 19 people. The Local Spiritual Assembly was most likely formerly known as the Local House of Justice, and the House of Justice had 19 members in 1905.
“There are three meetings held in Bombay, on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings at six o clock. The Tuesday meeting is reserved for house of justice composed on 19 members”
(A year with the Baha’is of India and Burma by Sydney Sprague second edition pa 15 The Priory Press High Street, Hampstead, London, N.W.)
Whatever the cause, the change from nineteen to nine was not a divine decree; rather, it was the kind of deception for which the Baha’i Faith is notorious. The Baha’i Administration is now attempting to justify its nine members. This, along with several other flaws in the Baha’i Faith, will cause Baha’is to doubt the faith’s authenticity. Without a doubt, the Baha’i Faith is a man-made religion that evolves through time. Downsizing became necessary because the Baha’i Administration believed that supervising and controlling 9 members would be simpler.
What is the importance of the UHJ in the Baha’i Faith?
As per the teachings Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the UHJ plays a very important role especially because it enacts laws “that are not expressly recorded in the Book,” according to the Baha’i writings, legislating on issues not covered in the original writings of Bahá’u’lláh:
Those matters of major importance which constitute the foundation of the Law of God are explicitly recorded in the Text, but subsidiary laws are left to the House of Justice. The wisdom of this is that the times never remain the same, for change is a necessary quality and an essential attribute of this world, and of time and place. – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, cited in Wellsprings of Guidance, pp. 84-86.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá also promised that the Universal House of Justice is “the source of all good and freed from all error.” (Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 19.)
To summarize, the UHJ is a group of people who are responsible for looking after the whole Baha’i community and for putting the teachings into practice as well as developing laws from Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings. They are, in a sense, acting as a Guardian who has assumed control of the faith today. Imagine a team that has a big role to play in the Baha’i world, but its basis is built on lies?! Also, if a 19-member team can become infallible when they work together, can we be confident that reducing the number to 9 will have the same outcome? Is it really possible to consider them infallible? Is it possible to trust their acts and statements at face value? Perhaps this is why, from the inception of this complete system of existing form of UHJ, the team has strayed so far from the faith. All of their choices have been discovered to have faults and weaknesses.
The big question!
Now comes the big question that every Baha’i should consider: Do we still believe in a system despite its numerous flaws? If one is unable to discover solutions to his (her) problems and questions, it may be time to change one’s path. It doesn’t have to be atheism or a different theological perspective; it only has to be one that is based on truth and is rational and clear. You should not be ashamed of seeking to discover your own path in a way that makes sense to you; you are not required to follow the same faith as your family just because you have done so previously.
Source: The Caravan, Vol.6, No.3, Aug 2022