‘Abdu’l-Bahá was the son of Bahá'u'lláh and the perfect exemplar of the Bahá'í Faith’s spirit and teachings. A champion of social justice and an ambassador for international peace, He devoted His life to furthering His Father’s cause
and to promoting its ideals.
The role ‘Abdul-Bahá played as spiritual leader, authoritative interpreter, and role model is unique in all of religious history. Bahá'u'lláh called His son “the Centre of My Covenant” and identified ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as His successor in His written will, thereby ensuring the unity of the Faith after His passing.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, whose name means “Servant of Bahá,” was born in Tehran, Persia, at midnight on May 22, 1844, the very day on which the Báb declared that humanity was entering a new religious cycle.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá was His Father’s aide and closest companion. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s innate qualities of generosity, intelligence, and humility won Him Bahá'u'lláh’s admiration and the title, “The Master.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá made His life one of selfless service to others. He often literally gave away the coat off His back. When the early Bahá'ís were banished to the bleak prison-city of ‘Akká, many became ill with typhoid fever, malaria, and dysentery. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá washed, fed, and comforted them.
Through His travels and many talks and writings, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá played a key role in elucidating Bahá'u'lláh’s global vision. He had a deep understanding of the spiritual essence of His Father’s teachings, and was able to lovingly mirror forth these principles in His own life.
The many stories of His courtesy, kindness, humility, and devotion to God are sources of great inspiration. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life exemplified how devotion to God finds expression in practical, selfless service.
When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá passed away in 1921, Shoghi Effendi, His 24-year-old grandson, was a student at Oxford. Shaken by the news, he returned to Palestine to find that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had, in His Will and Testament, appointed him as the Guardian
and world head of the Bahá'í Faith. This appointment conferred on him sole authority to interpret and explain the Faith’s sacred writings and teachings. He was also charged with furthering the growth of the Bahá'í world community,
which he did through a series of progressively more complex plans, each several years in duration. He elaborated on matters such as the organization, election, and functioning of Bahá'í institutions.
Born in 1897 in ‘Akká, Shoghi Effendi’s thorough education in the Bahá'í teachings was supervised from earliest childhood by his grandfather, with Whom he enjoyed a close relationship. Having acquired a mastery of English, he served for a time as one of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s secretaries.
Through the voluminous guidance they received from Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'ís were able to expand their community to worldwide proportions. By the time of his passing in 1957, nearly 400,000 Bahá'ís resided in more than 200 countries, territories, and colonies. Moreover, the local and national institutional structure of the Faith had been sufficiently developed to enable the first election of the worldwide governing body of the Faith to take place six years later.
The Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Bahá'í Faith, was first elected in 1963.
Bahá'u'lláh ordained this institution in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book, the repository of the laws and ordinances of the Bahá'í Faith. Bahá'u'lláh invested the Universal House of Justice with the authority to legislate on all matters not specifically laid down in the Bahá'í scriptures, and promised that the institution would be inspired by God in its decisions.
The Universal House of Justice is without precedent in religious history. Never before had a Manifestation of God explicitly ordained the establishment of an institution with the mandate to maintain the integrity and flexibility of His religion, safeguard the unity and guide the activities of His followers, and exert a beneficial influence on the life of society.
There is no priesthood within the Bahá'í Faith and none of the members of the Universal House of Justice may claim a special station or authority. Authority is vested in the institution and its collective decision making, not in the
The Universal House of Justice directs the growth and development of the worldwide Bahá'í community through a series of plans that outline goals, approaches, and methods for systematic progress during specific periods of time. Its loving guidance ensures unity of thought and action as the Bahá'í community develops its capacity to participate in the building of a peaceful, just, and prosperous global civilization.
The responsibility of fostering the vibrancy of Bahá'í communities at the national level lies with more than 180 National Spiritual Assemblies around the world. These nine-member councils lovingly guide the activities of Bahá'í communities
to strengthen their participation in the life of society.
At the local level, the affairs of the Bahá'í community are administered by the elected nine-member Local Spiritual Assembly. In any town or city where at least nine adult Bahá'ís reside, a Local Assembly may be formed. The Assembly works to promote the spiritual education of children and youth. It safeguards the resources of the community and lovingly encourages the talents and energies of community members.
The elected Assembly functions as a body and makes decisions through consultation. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes: “The first condition is absolute love and harmony amongst the members of the assembly. They must be wholly free from estrangement and must manifest in themselves the Unity of God.”