The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

From: <>
Subject: Re: Houses of Justice
Date: Friday, February 05, 1999 11:06 AM
Dear Michael:
Specialists in the `Abdul-Baha period who have actually read a lot of
`Abdul-Baha's letters in the original (unlike those here) note that his
vocabulary in referring to various 'institutions' was quite fluid and
inconsistent.  Sometimes a 'mahfil' or assembly meant a house of justice,
sometimes it meant all the believers in a community.  At one point he refers
to a women's committee as a mahfil-i rawhani, which sounds like an LSA today,
but wasn't what he meant.  I have been told by one Iranian scholar that
`Abdul-Baha referred to the LSA of Tehran as a mahfil-i `umumi or 'general
assembly,' the sort of phrase he uses in the 1909 letter to Corinne True
about the Chicago assembly, which had the same position in the US as Tehran
had in Iran.  I admit that it is possible that the 1909 letter referred to
the universal house of justice, but it is not a foregone conclusion and the
matter needs more contextual study; if that were the reference it would be
odd, since Corinne was only corresponding with him about the Chicago
In any case, the reason `Abdul-Baha had given for women not serving on the
Chicago LSA in the 1902 letter that Shoghi Effendi mistakenly thought
concerned the universal house of justice, was that Baha'u'llah refers to
members of such houses of justice as 'rijal' which literally means 'men' but
can also mean 'notables' (of any gender). Baha'u'llah demonstrably refers to
members of *both* local houses of justice and the universal house of justice
as rijal, and in 1902 `Abdul-Baha felt that this phraseology excluded women
from membership in any kind of house of justice.  In 1912 he allowed women
onto the Chicago LSA, which he repeatedly said was a house of justice in all
but name, demonstrating that he completely rethought the basis of his earlier
jurisprudential ruling and decided that the phrase 'rijal' was no bar to
women's membership in houses of justice. By simple syllogism there is no
logical way to avoid the conclusion that this 1912 change of mind is
dispositive for women's service on all sorts of house of justice, including
the universal house of justice, since the rijal argument thereby fell. 
Moreover, it is not at all clear that even if `Abdul-Baha did want to
exclude women from the UHJ in 1909, that he thought they should be forever
These are historical issues.  They can be addressed by analysis of historical
texts.	There is no reason for them not to be discussed.  Since `Abdul-Baha
clearly finally decided that the issue was *not* in fact addressed in
Baha'u'llah's own revelation (`ibadat), then this issue clearly falls into
the area of leadership (siyasat) which is given to the universal house of
justice by Ishraq 8.  Given the tangled judicial history, the house of
justice would be perfectly within its prerogatives to rule that this is an
obscure matter that comes under its jurisdiction and that women can serve on
the universal house of justice because of the principle of equality between
the sexes and mutatis mutandis (which they admitted in the notes to the
Aqdas). They don't have to.  But they could.  Discussing the historical
record is not a challenge to them that needs to be silenced.
cheers   Juan
In article <79enn0$>,
  bn872@FreeNet.Carleton.CA (McKenny Michael) wrote:
>     Corinne True wrote to Abdu'l Baha asking why only men were allowed on
> the Chicago House of Justice. This was in the very early years of this
> century (1906?). The reply reads something like, "Women may serve on the
> teaching committee, this committee and that committee, but..." The Chicago
> House of Justice continued to exclude women as ineligible until it was
> dissolved in 1912.
Juan Cole
History, U of Michigan
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