The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience



 [originally written 1988?]
        The Service of Women on the Institutions of the Baha'i Faith
        Anthony A. Lee, Peggy Caton, Richard Hollinger, Marjan Nirou, Nader
        Saiedi, Shahin Carrigan, Jackson Armstong-Ingram, and Juan R. I. Cole.
        From 1844, the year of the founding of the Babi religion, to the 
        present day, women have played important roles in Baha'i history. 
        Babi and Baha'i women have often acted as leaders in the community, 
        holding its highest positions and participating in its most 
        important decisions. In the first days of His Revelation, the Bab 
        Himself appointed Qurratu'l-'Ayn, Tahirih, as one of His chief 
        disciples - one of the nineteen Letters of the Living who were the 
        first to believe in Him and were entrusted by Him with the mission 
        of spreading His Faith and shepherding its believers. This 
        remarkable woman would soon become one of the most radical and 
        influential of the Bab's disciples and the leader of the Babis of 
        Karbala. Her vision and achievement have become legend. [1]
           In later periods of Baha'i history, women have acted in central 
        roles of leadership within the community. Bahiyyih Khanum, the 
        Greatest Holy Leaf, the sister of 'Abdul-Baha, several times in 
        her lifetime was called upon to act as the de facto head of the 
        Baha'i Faith. When 'Abdul-Baha left the Holy Land to travel to 
        the West, for example, He chose to leave the affairs of the Cause 
        in the hands of His sister. Likewise, immediately after the 
        ascension of 'Abdul-Baha - before Shoghi Effendi, the new 
        Guardian, could arrive in Palestine to assume control of the Faith, 
        the Greatest Holy Leaf assumed leadership. The Baha'is in the Holy 
        Land instinctively turned to her as their guide and protector. And 
        again, during the Guardian's absences from his duties during the 
        early years of his ministry, he repeatedly entrusted the affairs of 
        the Cause to the Greatest Holy Leaf. [2]
           After the passing of Shoghi Effendi, women were once more called
        upon to serve the Baha'i Faith at its highest levels. The 
        international leadership of the religion fell to the Hands of the 
        Cause, the chief stewards of the Faith who had been appointed by 
        the Guardian during his lifetime. The women Hands served along with 
        the men to guide the Baha'i community through the turbulent years 
        preceding the election of the Universal House of Justice. Once 
        again, Baha'i women demonstrated their capacity to administer the 
        affairs of the Faith at its highest levels.
        Nonetheless, the service of women on the elected institutions of 
        the Baha'i Faith has emerged only gradually. Although a few 
        exceptional Baha'i women have always set the example for their sex, 
        the role of women on Baha'i institutions in the community as a 
        whole has not been comparable to that of men. Traditional notions 
        of inequality, as well as the restrictions of a hostile 
        environment, have caused the participation of women to lag behind. 
        Even to the present day, the participation of women on National 
        Spiritual Assemblies, Boards of Counsellors, and Auxiliary Boards 
        is not equal to that of men, as the charts show. A long road has 
        yet to be travelled.
        Participation of Women in Baha'i Institutions
        "The equality of men and women is not, at the present time, 
        universally applied. In those areas where traditional inequality 
        still hampers its progress we must take the lead in practicing this 
        Baha'i principle. Baha'i women and girls must be encouraged to take 
        part in the social, spiritual and administrative activities of 
        their communities." The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1984.
         Numbers of women members of National Spiritual Assemblies
                           1953  1963  1973  1979  1985
              Africa         0    4    58     53   103
              Americas     18    82    86    106   131
              Asia           0   11    35     33    39
              Australasia   5     8    26     24    33
              Europe       11    44    40     44    48
              World         34   149   245   260   354
        The following table shows, by continent, the numbers of National
        Assemblies with their corresponding numbers of women members 
        indicated by the column headings. For example, column 1, line 1, 
        there are 4 Assemblies in Africa with no women members.
                      0     1     2     3     4     5    6     7     8     9
        Africa        4     9    13     6     6     4    1     0     0     0
        Americas      1     4     8    10    12     4    1     1     0     0
        Asia          5    14     3     3     0     2    0     0     0     0
        Australasia   2     6     4     2     2     1    0     0     0     0
        Europe        1     4     6     7     1     0    0     1     0     0
        World        13    37    34    28    21    11    2     2     0     0
        Percentage of Women members of Institutions
        <here there was a rather nice graph: see dialogue vol 1 no 3>
        (Information provided by the Department of Statistics at the Baha'i 
        World Centre, and reprinted from dialogue, volume 1, no. 3 
        (Summer/Fall 1986), p 31.)
              The gradual emergence of women on the institutions of the 
        Faith should not come as a surprise, however. Virtually all Baha'i 
        laws and practices have gone through a gradual evolution in Baha'i 
        history. The recognition of the principle of the equality of men 
        and women, and its gradual application in the development of Baha'i 
        Administration is no exception. 
              The principle of progressive revelation, the concept of the 
        gradual emergence of divine purpose, is a universal principle which 
        applies within the dispensation of each Manifestation, as well as 
        between dispensations. Baha'u'llah Himself has explained:
            Know of a certainty that in every Dispensation the light of 
            Divine Revelation hath been vouchsafed to men in direct 
            proportion to their spiritual capacity. Consider the sun. How 
            feeble its rays the moment it appeareth above the horizon. How 
            gradually its warmth and potency increase as it approacheth its 
            zenith, enabling meanwhile all created things to adapt 
            themselves to the growing intensity of its light. How steadily 
            it declineth until it reacheth its setting point. Were it all 
            of a sudden to manifest the energies latent within it, it would 
            no doubt cause injury to all created things....
             In like manner, if the Sun of Truth were suddenly to reveal, 
             at the earliest stages of its manifestation, the full measure 
             of the potencies which the providence of the Almighty hath 
             bestowed upon it, the earth of human understanding would waste 
             away and be consumed; for men's hearts would neither sustain 
             the intensity of its revelation, nor be able to mirror forth 
             the radiance of its light. Dismayed and overpowered, they 
             would cease to exist. [3]
             The Universal House of Justice has demonstrated how this 
        principle of progressive revelation has applied, and continues to 
        apply, to the implementation of Baha'i law, particularly to the 
        laws of the Kitab-i Aqdas. The Central Figures of the Faith have 
        promulgated these laws only gradually as the condition of the 
        Baha'i community would allow. [4]
             Similarly, 'Abdul-Baha recognised that women could not take 
        their rightful place in the affairs of the world all at once. 
        Throughout history women have been deprived of education and 
        opportunity. Therefore, it was impossible that they would be able 
        to immediately play an equal role in Baha'i life. But 'Abdul-Baha 
        has insisted that all distinctions of sex will be erased once 
        women attain proper education and experience. He says:
              Woman's lack of progress and proficiency has been due to her 
              need for equal education and opportunity. Had she been 
              allowed this equality, there is no doubt she would be the 
              counterpart of man in ability and capacity. [5]
              In a talk given in New York, 'Abdul-Baha again pinpoints 
        education as the key to women's equality:
            ...if woman be fully educated and granted her rights, she will 
               attain the capacity for wonderful accomplishments and prove 
               herself the equal of man. She is the coadjutor of man; his 
               complement and helpmeet. Both are human, both are endowed 
               with potentialities of intelligence and embody the virtues 
               of humanity. In all human powers and functions they are 
               partners and co-equals. At present in spheres of human 
               activity woman does not manifest her natal prerogatives 
               owing to lack of education and opportunity.[6]
        In Paris He said:
              ...the female sex is treated as though inferior, and is not 
              allowed equal rights and privileges. This condition is not 
              due to nature, but to education. In the Divine Creation 
              there is no such distinction. Neither sex is superior to the 
              other in the sight of God. Why then should one sex assert the 
              inferiority of the other...If women received the same 
              educational advantages as those of men, the result would 
              demonstrate the equality of capacity of both for scholarship.
        On another occasion he made the same point:
              The only difference between them [ie: men and women] now is 
        due to lack of education and training. If woman is given equal 
        opportunity of education, distinction and estimate of inferiority 
        will disappear. [8]
        And again:
              Therefore, woman must receive the same education as man and 
        all inequality be adjusted. Thus, imbued with the same virtues as 
        man, rising through all the degrees of human attainment, women will
        become the peers of men, and until this equality is established, 
        true progress and attainment for the human race will not be 
        facilitated. [9]
              It was clearly 'Abdul-Baha's position that lack of education 
        and opportunity had relegated woman to an inferior position in 
        society, and that through education and experience all inequalities 
        of sex would be gradually removed. His own policies and actions 
        concerning the service of women on the institutions of the Faith 
        reflected this belief in gradualism.
              Any investigation of the history of the development of the 
        Baha'i Administrative Order will reveal that Baha'i women only 
        gradually took their place beside the men in this area of service 
        - and not without struggle. This has been especially true in the 
        East, where women were most heavily restricted. But lack of 
        education and other cultural circumstances have affected the 
        participation of women on Baha'i institutions all over the world.
              The first Hands of the Cause appointed by Baha'u'llah were, 
        for example, all males. 'Abdul-Baha appointed no additional Hands, 
        and it was only during the ministry of Shoghi Effendi that women 
        were appointed to this rank. Even so, it has been only Western 
        Baha'i women who have been found qualified for this distinction.
              At later times, when the first Auxiliary Boards to the Hands 
        of the Cause were appointed, and then the first contingents of 
        Boards of Counsellors, women were included. But circumstances 
        dictated that it be mostly Western women who were appointed, and 
        that their numbers were far fewer than those of men. As the above 
        chart shows, that situation remains the same today. This is not due 
        to any policy of discrimination on the part of the institutions of 
        the Faith, but simply due to historical circumstances. As the 
        position of women improves - especially in Asia and Africa - with
        respect to education and experience, we can expect that the current 
        situation will change in favour of more participation of women.
        The House of Justice of Tehran
        The struggle for the equal participation of women in Baha'i 
        Administration has been played out most dramatically, however, in 
        the arena of the development of local institutions. The first of 
        these bodies was formed in Tehran, Iran, at the initiative of 
        individual believers.
              In 1873, Baha'u'llah revealed the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most 
        Holy Book, His book of laws. Here He established the institution of 
        the House of Justice (bayt al-'adl). The Kitab-i-Aqdas states:
              The Lord hath ordained that in every city a House of Justice 
              (bayt al-'adl) be established wherein shall gather 
              counsellors to the number of Baha [i.e., nine], and should it 
              exceed this number it does not matter ... 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 on 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.[10]
        In the same book it is written:
              O ye Men of Justice! (rijal al-'adl) Be ye in the realm of 
              God shepherds unto His sheep and guard them from the ravening 
              wolves that have appeared in disguise, even as ye would guard 
              your own sons. Thus exhorteth you the Counsellor, the 
        There are other references in the Kitab-i-Aqdas to the House of 
        Justice (bayt al-'adl) or the Place of Justice (maqarr al-'adl) 
        which define its function and fix some of its revenues. In most 
        cases, these references are not specific but refer to the general 
        concept of a House of Justice rather than a particular institution. 
        The Universal House of Justice has explained:
              In the Kitab-i-Aqdas Baha'u'llah ordains both the Universal 
              House of Justice and the Local Houses of Justice. In many of 
              His laws He refers simply to "the House of Justice" leaving 
              open for later decision which level or levels of the whole 
              institution each law would apply to.[12]
              Although the Kitab-i-Aqdas was revealed in 'Akka in 1873, it 
        was withheld for some time by Baha'u'llah before it was distributed 
        to the Baha'is of Iran.[13] It appears that it was not until around 
        1878 that the Baha'is of Tehran received copies of the book and began 
        to implement some of its laws in their personal lives.
              Upon reading the Kitab-i Aqdas, Mirza Asadu'llah Isfahani, a
        prominent Baha'i teacher living in Tehran, was particularly struck 
        by the command of Baha'u'llah that a House of Justice should be 
        established by the Baha'is in every city. Mirza Asadu'llah is an 
        important figure in Baha'i history: he eventually married the 
        sister of 'Abdul-Baha's wife; he was (as we shall see) one of the 
        earliest Baha'i teachers sent to America by 'Abdul-Baha to 
        instruct the new Western believers and he later accompanied
        'Abdul-Baha on his travels in Europe. In any case, in 1878 he was 
        the first to undertake the organization of a local House of Justice 
        in Iran. He took the initiative to invite eight other prominent 
        believers to form a body, responding to the laws of the Kitab-i 
        Aqdas, which they referred to as bayt al-'adl (House of Justice) or 
        bayt al-a'zam ( the Most Great House).
              The organization of this first House of Justice was kept a 
        secret, even from the believers. However, it met sporadically in 
        the home of Mirza Asadu'llah for a couple of years. After consulting 
        with this body, the prominent Baha'i men who had been invited to 
        attend its meetings would seek to take action as individual Baha'i 
        teachers that would implement its decisions.
              Around 1881, the Tehran House of Justice was reorganized and 
        more members were added. The House adopted a written constitution 
        and pursued its activities with more organization and vigour than 
        before. The constitution mandated, however, that the meetings 
        remain strictly confidential, hidden from the body of the believers. 
        This constitution also assumes that the members of the House would 
        all be men (aqayan). Naturally, considering the social conditions 
        in Iran at the time, no other arrangement was possible.
              Some of the minutes of this early House of Justice survive 
        today. It was a gathering of the older and more prominent Baha'i 
        men of Tehran. Meetings were attended by invitation only, and at 
        times included fourteen members or more. Eventually, this meeting 
        came to be called the Consultative Gathering (majlis-i shur), 
        while the house where the body met was referred to as the House of 
        Justice (bayt al-'adl). These meetings sought to assist and 
        protect the Baha'is through consultation on various problems.
        The House in Tehran sent Baha'i teachers to other cities in Iran 
        to organize Houses of Justice there. Again, the decisions of the 
        House were always carried out by individuals, and the consultations 
        remained secret.
              The organization of this body eventually met with some 
        controversy. One important Baha'i teacher, Jamal-i Burujurdi, who 
        later - in the time of 'Abdul-Baha - would become a notorious 
        Covenant-breaker, objected strongly to the organization of a House 
        of Justice in Tehran. Because of these objections, the Baha'is 
        involved on the House appealed to Baha'u'llah for guidance. 
        Baha'u'llah replied with a Tablet in which He approved of the
        House of Justice and strongly upheld the principle of 
        consultation in the Baha'i Faith. [14]
        Early Organisation in America
              When the first rudimentary local Baha'i institutions were 
        organized in the United States, their membership was also confined 
        to men. Later, as various forms of Baha'i organization at the local 
        level became more common, men and women served together. But it was 
        the understanding of the Baha'is at the turn of the century that 
        consultative bodies in the Baha'i community should be composed of 
        men. This understanding became firmly institutionalized in the 
        largest Baha'i communities of New York, Chicago, and Kenosha, 
        Wisconsin, and was sanctioned by 'Abdul-Baha.
              A scholarly history of the beginnings of Baha'i organization 
        in America has yet to be written. Many of the details of these 
        events have yet to be uncovered. However, it appears that the 
        early American Baha'is were moved to form local councils for the 
        first time in 1900, as a consequence of the defection of Ibrahim 
        Kheiralla from the community. Kheiralla, a Lebanese Christian who 
        had been converted to the Baha'i Faith in Egypt by a Persian 
        Baha'i, 'Abdu'l-Karim Tihrani, had brought the Baha'i teachings to
        America and had acted as the head of the Faith in the West until 
        that point. His repudiation of 'Abdul-Baha as the rightful leader 
        of the Faith and chosen successor to his Father caused a temporary 
        rift among the Baha'is.
              In the fall of 1899, Edward Getsinger, a leading American 
        Baha'i, appointed five men as a "Board of Counsel" for the Baha'is 
        of northern New Jersey.[15] Isabella Brittingham was made the 
        honorary corresponding secretary, but was not a member of the body. 
        Later, in a letter dated March 21, 1900, Thornton Chase wrote from 
        Chicago: "We have formed a 'Board of Council' with 10 members." In 
        this letter, Chase lists the names of nine of these members, all of 
        whom were men. [16]
              In June of 1900, however, it appears that the Chicago Board 
        was reorganized. 'Abdu'l-Karim Tihrani had travelled to America at 
        the request of 'Abdul-Baha and had arrived in Chicago at the end 
        of May. The Baha'is of Chicago immediately asked him to draw up 
        rules and regulations that would govern the affairs of their 
        Board. As a result, the Board of Counsel was expanded to nineteen 
        members, some of whom were women. In a statement to the press the 
        Baha'is indicated that this Board was being organized to replace 
        Ibrahim Kheiralla, whom they repudiated as the leader of the Faith.
              Although 'Abdu'l-Karim remained in Chicago for only a short 
        time, his nineteen-member Board appears to have functioned for 
        about a year. However, on May 15, 1901, a nine-member, all-male 
        House of Justice was elected in Chicago to replace it. This was 
        done at the direction of Mirza Asadu'llah Isfahani, who had been 
        sent to America by 'Abdul-Baha. Writing to the House of Justice 
        in New York that had already been established, the Chicago House 
              Recently His Honor, Mirza Assad'Ullah, received a Tablet from 
              the Master, Abdul-Baha, in which He has positively declared 
              to be necessary the establishment here of the House of 
              Justice by election by the believers with order and just 
              dealing. According to this blessed Announcement, our 
              believers have elected those whom they deemed best fitted, 
              and thus The House of Justice was established. [19]
              It was Mirza Asadu'llah who instructed the Baha'is of Chicago 
        that the new House of Justice should be composed only of men. He and 
        his company appear to have regarded the nineteen-member Board as 
        illegitimate, possibly because women served as members.
              The change to an all-male institution was not accomplished 
        without anguish. Writing years later, Fannie Lesch, who had served 
        on the Board of Counsel, wrote:
              We had a Council Board of men and women after Dr. Kheiralla 
              left us... Mirza Assad'Ullah ignored us, although they were 
              all invited to meet with us, and he established a House of 
              Justice of men only...[20]
        Only days after the election of the Chicago House of Justice, a 
        Ladies' Auxilliary Board was organized at the suggestion of Mrs. 
        Ella Nash and Mrs. Corinne True. This Board was later to be known 
        as the Women's Assembly of Teaching. It appears that the Ladies' 
        Auxilliary was able to maintain control of the funds of the Chicago 
        Baha'i community despite the election of the House of Justice.[21]
        Men of Justice
              The belief that women were not eligible for service on local 
        Baha'i institutions was based on the language of certain passages 
        of the Kitab-i Aqdas which refer to the House of Justice. Of course, 
        as we have noted above, these passages do not make a distinction 
        between local, national, and international bodies. The institution 
        as a whole is addressed. Baha'u'llah twice uses the Arabic word 
        rijal (gentlemen) to refer to the members of the Houses of Justice. 
        He says:
              O ye Men (rijal) of Justice! Be ye in the realm of God 
              shepherds unto His sheep... [22]
              We have designated a third of all fines for the Place of 
              Justice (maqarr al-'adl), and exhort its members (rijal) to 
              show forth perfect equity...[23]
              The word rijal (plural; singular is rajul) is exclusively 
        masculine in Arabic. A dictionary would render an English 
        definition of rajul as: man, gentleman; important man, statesman, 
        nobleman. (A related form of the word, rujula or rujuliyya, would 
        be translated as: masculinity; virility.) Since Baha'u'llah 
        addressed the members of the Houses of Justice using this term,
        it appears that it was universally assumed that only men were 
        eligible for service on such institutions.
              The word rijal, meaning men, is used in the Qur'an and is 
        part of an important passage which establishes the relationship 
        between men and women in Islam (Qur'an 4:34):
              Men (rijal) are superior to women (nisa') on account of the 
        qualities with which God hath gifted the one above the other, and 
        on account of the outlay they make from their substance for them.
              However, Baha'u'llah has in His Writings clearly established 
        the principle of the equality of men and women. It is therefore 
        possible that when He used the word rijal He did not intend its 
        normal meaning.
              Although rijal is the normal Arabic word for men (as opposed 
        to women), there are passages in the Writings of Baha'u'llah that 
        indicate that He may have used the term in a special sense. Such 
        passages suggest that, in a Baha'i context, the word may be 
        understood to include women. Baha'u'llah has stated that women in 
        His Cause are all to be accorded the same station as men -  and He 
        has used the very term rijal to make this point. For example, He 
              Today the Baha'i women (lit., the leaves of the Holy Tree) 
              must guide the handmaidens of the earth to the Lofty Horizon 
              with the utmost purity and sanctity. Today the handmaidens of 
              God are regarded as gentlemen (rijal). Blessed are they! 
              Blessed are they! [24]
        And in another passage:
              Today whoever among the handmaidens attains the knowledge of 
              the Desire of the World [i.e., Baha'u'llah] is considered a 
              gentleman (rajul) in the Divine Book. [25]
        And in another place:
              ...many a man (rajul) hath waited expectant for God's 
              Revelation, and yet when the Light shone forth from the 
              horizon of the world, all but a few turned their faces away 
              from it. Whosoever from amongst the handmaidens hath 
              recognized the Lord of all Names is recorded in the Book as 
              one of those men (rijal) by the Pen of the Most High. [26]
        Likewise, 'Abdul-Baha in one of his Tablets has made the same 
              Verily, according to Baha'u'llah, women are judged as 
              gentlemen (rijal). [27]
              However, such passages were not raised as an issue at the 
        time, either because the believers were not aware of them, or 
        because they did not find them applicable. Certainly, the 
        American Baha'is had no access to these texts and had to rely on 
        the understandings of the Persian teachers who were sent by 
        'Abdul-Baha to guide them.
        Names and Terminology
        In any case, it was the goal of Mirza Asadu'llah to establish a 
        House of Justice among the believers in Chicago, as he indicated 
        to the Baha'is that 'Abdul-Baha had instructed him to do. He had 
        been at the centre of the organization of the first House of 
        Justice in Tehran, and he assumed a similar role in Chicago. At 
        his direction, the Baha'is in Chicago elected nine men by ballot 
        to a new institution. Those elected were: George Lesch, Charles H. 
        Greenleaf, John A. Guilford, Dr. Rufus H. Bartlett, Thornton
        Chase, Charles Hessler, Arthur S. Agnew, Byron S. Lane and Henry L.
        Goodall. [28]
              At its first meeting, the House of Justice decided to raise 
        the number of its members to twelve. The body appointed three 
        additional Baha'i men to serve. The minutes of the meeting read:
              Motion made and seconded that Messrs. Ioas, Pursels and 
              Doney be selected as add'n [additional] members of this Board 
              of Council. Said motion approved by Board. Secretary 
              instructed to notify said members. [29]
        This action was taken, no doubt, in accordance with the statement 
        of Baha'u'llah in the Kitab-i Aqdas that the minimum number of 
        members for a House of Justice is nine, "and should it exceed this 
        number it does not matter." It is instructive to note that, in its 
        first minutes, the secretary of the House of Justice refers to it 
        as a "Board of Council." This illustrates the fluidity of 
        terminology that was used for Baha'i meetings and institutions at
        the time. Standard terms for the Baha'i institutions did not 
        become fixed and universal until well after the passing of 
        'Abdul-Baha. Today, the elected local and national Baha'i 
        institutions are known as "Spiritual Assemblies," while the term 
        "House of Justice" is reserved exclusively for the supreme,
        international institution. In the early years of this century, 
        however, though these same terms were in use among the Baha'is, 
        they were not used in the same ways.
              'Abdul-Baha himself confirmed the legitimacy of the 
        election of the first Chicago House of Justice. A Tablet, 
        probably received in September 1901, is addressed from 
        'Abdul-Baha "To the members of the House of Justice, the 
        servants of the Covenant, the faithful worshippers of the Holy
        Threshold of the Beauty of El-Abha." Two such Tablets addressed to 
        the House of Justice of Chicago are translated in the compilation 
        Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas. [31]
              Shoghi Effendi, writing much later in 1929, has discussed the
        significance of these Tablets. He says:
              That the Spiritual Assemblies of today will be replaced in 
              time by Houses of Justice, and are to all intents and purposes 
              identical and not separate bodies, is abundantly confirmed by 
              'Abdul-Baha Himself. He has in fact in a Tablet addressed to 
              the members of the first Chicago Spiritual Assembly, the first 
              elected Baha'i body instituted in the United States, referred 
              to them as members of the "House of Justice" for that city, 
              and has thus with His own pen established beyond any doubt the 
              identity of the present Baha'i Spiritual Assemblies with the
              House of Justice referred to by Baha'u'llah. For reasons which 
              are not difficult to discover, it has been found advisable to 
              bestow upon the elected representatives of Baha'i communities 
              throughout the world the temporary appellation of Spiritual 
              Assemblies, a term which, as the position and aims of the 
              Baha'i Faith are better understood and more fully recognised, 
              will gradually be superseded by the permanent and more 
              appropriate designation of House of Justice. [32]
        This "temporary appellation" was assumed at the instruction of 
        'Abdul-Baha about a year after the election of the Chicago House 
        of Justice. The minutes of the House of Justice for May 10, 1902, 
              Mr/ Greenleaf stated that he was instructed by Mirza Assad 
              Ullah to inform this Body that here after and until otherwise 
              informed it shall be known as the "House of Spirituality," in 
              accordance with a Tablet recently received from our Master.
                 Motion made and seconded that the command of Master changing
              name of this Body as transmitted by Mirza Assad Ullah be entered
              upon our records.
                 Approved by House.
                 Motion made and seconded that a copy (translation) of that 
              portion of tablet setting forth the change as above mentioned 
              be procured and placed on file.
                 Approved by House. [33]
        Extracts from this Tablet were indeed translated for the House of 
        Justice, now the House of Spirituality. The heading to the 
        translation indicates that the Tablet was received in Chicago by 
        Mirza Assadu'llah on May 3, 1902. One extract reads:
              The House of Justice of Chicago should be called "the House 
              of Spirituality" (or the Spiritual House).
                 In short, no one must hurt the weak ones, there, but must 
              treat them in kindness. Because now is the cycle of kindness 
              and forgiveness to all people. [34]
              In what is apparently a second Tablet on the subject, 
        'Abdul-Baha explained the reasons for the change. This Tablet was, 
        some time later, translated and published:
              The signature of that meeting should be the Spiritual 
              Gathering (House of Spirituality) and the wisdom therein is 
              that hereafter the government should not infer from the term 
              "House of Justice" that a court is signified, that it is 
              connected with political affairs, or that at any time it will 
              interfere with governmental affairs.
                 Hereafter, enemies will be many. They would use this 
              subject as a cause for disturbing the mind of the government 
              and confusing the thoughts of the public. The intention was 
              to make known that by the term Spiritual Gathering (House of 
              Spirituality), that Gathering has not the least connection  
              with material matters, and that its whole aim and 
              consultation is confined to matters connected with spiritual 
              affairs. This was also instructed (performed) in all Persia. 
        At the same time, and in the original Tablet received on May 3,
        'Abdul-Baha had instructed that the name of the Women's Assembly 
        of Teaching be changed to the "Spiritual Assembly." He instructed 
        that "Spiritual Assemblies" should be organized in every place. 
        However, although the change of name for the House of Justice was 
        effected immediately, the instruction to change the name of the 
        women's institution was ignored. This is probably because the 
        translation of this command into English was so poor as to render 
        it incomprehensible.
              And so we read the following in the minutes of the House of
        Spirituality three years later (July 29, 1905):
              Mr. Windust read portions of the Tablet received from the 
              Master in May, 1902 authorizing change of name of this body 
              from "House of Justice" to "House of Spirituality"; as it 
              also stated in said Tablet that the name of the Women's 
              "Assembly of Teaching" be changed to "Spiritual Assembly." 
              It was decided that this matter be spoken of at some future 
              joint meeting [with the women's group], as it had evidently 
              been overlooked. [37]
        As we have seen in the Tablets quoted above, in the first year 
        after the election of the Chicago House of Justice, 'Abdul-Baha 
        Himself used various terms to refer to that body. (Of course, we 
        have quoted His Tablets in translation - the translations available 
        to the Baha'is at the time.) These Tablets reflect the use of at 
        least three different designations during this period: House of 
        Justice (bayt al-'adl) in the earliest Tablets, House of 
        Spirituality (probably, bayt-i rawhani) in one Tablet, and 
        Spiritual Gathering (mahfil-i rawhani) in another.
              This last term, mahfil-i rawhani, can also be translated as 
        "Spiritual Assembly." However, it was usually translated as "House 
        of Spirituality" in the publications and translations made at this 
        time, even though this translation was in error. The Chicago body 
        came to be known as the House of Spirituality from 1902, and so the 
        translators rendered 'Abdul-Baha's references to it in these 
        words, even if the original Persian did not warrant such a 
        designation. This was because the term "Spiritual Assembly" had no
        fixed meaning in the early community and could refer to a number of
        different Baha'i meetings. 'Abdul-Baha had asked, for example, 
        that the term be used for the Ladies' Auxiliary. It was also used 
        by the Baha'is of this time to refer to any Baha'i community as a 
        whole, some weekly teaching meetings, any consultative body, or 
        any gathering of believers.
              Terms used to designate the local administrative body were 
        also fluid in 'Abdul-Baha's writings. In addition to the three 
        designations above, the following additional names can be found: 
        mahfil-i shur (Assembly of Consultation), mahfil-i shur rawhani 
        (Spiritual Assembly of Consultation), bayt al-'adl rawhani 
        (Spiritual House of Justice), anjuman (Council), anjuman-i adl 
        (Council of Justice), and marakiz-i 'adl (Centres of Justice).
            The Women's Struggle
              The election of an all-male House of Justice in Chicago was 
        a development to which some of the women in the Baha'i community 
        were never reconciled. It is Corinne True in particular who stands 
        out in the struggle to overturn the exclusion of women from that 
        body. After the election, she immediately helped to organize the 
        Women's Assembly of Teaching which worked side by side with the 
        House - and not always harmoniously - for over a decade. Beyond 
        this, she appealed directly to 'Abdul-Baha, asking that women be 
        elected to the House of Justice.
              Mrs. True's letter, which has recently come to light, 
        indicates clearly that the change to an all-male body was the cause 
        of some dispute. She writes to 'Abdul-Baha:
                 There has existed a difference of opinion in our Assembly 
              [that is, the Chicago community] as to how it should be 
              governed. Every believer desires to carry out the Commands of 
              the Blessed Perfection [Baha'u'llah] but we want to know from 
              our Lord himself [that is, 'Abdul-Baha] what these Commands 
              are, as they are written in Arabic and we do not know Arabic. 
              Will Our Lord write me direct from Acca and not have it go 
              through any Interpretor [sic] in America and thus grant me 
              the Authority to say the Master says thus & so, for he has
              written it to me...
                 Many in our Assembly feel that the Governing Board in 
              Chicago should be a mixed Board of both men & women. Woman 
              in America stands so conspicuously for all that is highest & 
              best in every department and for that reason it is contended 
              the affairs should be in the hands of both sexes. [39]
              She was, however, disappointed when the Master would not 
        support her point of view. He confirmed the practise of electing 
        only males to the Baha'i governing board of Chicago, admonishing 
        her to be patient. She appears to have received her reply from 
        'Abdul-Baha in June of 1902, but refrained from sharing this 
        Tablet with the Chicago House until the fall of that year.
              The Tablet is a famous one and reads in part (in modern 
              Know thou, O handmaid, that in the sight of Baha, women are
              accounted the same as men, and God hath created all humankind 
              in His own image, and after His own likeness. That is, men 
              and women alike are the revealers of His names and attributes, 
              and from the spiritual viewpoint there is no difference 
              between them. Whosoever draweth nearer to God, that one is the 
              most favoured, whether man or woman. How many a handmaid, 
              ardent and devoted, hath, within the sheltering shade of Baha, 
              proved superior to the men, and surpassed the famous of the 
                 The House of Justice, however, according to the explicit 
              text of the Law of God, is confined to men; this for a wisdom 
              of the Lord God's, which will ere long be made manifest as 
              clearly as the sun at high noon.
                 As to you, O ye other handmaids who are enamoured of the
              heavenly fragrances, arrange ye holy gatherings, and found 
              ye Spiritual Assemblies, for these are the basis for 
              spreading the sweet savours of God, exalting His Word, 
              uplifting the lamp of His grace, promulgating His religion 
              and promoting His Teachings, and what bounty is there
              greater than this? [40]
        Since 'Abdul-Baha had confirmed that women should be excluded 
        from the Chicago House of Justice (later, House of Spirituality), 
        this practice continued for some time, in Chicago and elsewhere. We 
        might assume that the belief that women were to be permanently 
        excluded from local Baha'i executive bodies was widespread, at 
        least amongst the men. Women were to be involved in forming women's 
        groups, which 'Abdul-Baha had named "Spiritual Assemblies" in one 
              That did not end the issue, of course. It appears that 
        American Baha'i women continued to discuss the possibility of 
        membership on governing boards, with Corinne True being prominent 
        among them. In 1909, Mrs. True received a Tablet from 'Abdul-Baha 
        in response to her insistent questioning. It reads, in part:
              According to the ordinances of the Faith of God, women are 
              the equals of men in all rights save only that of membership 
              on the Universal House of Justice [bayt al-'adl 'umumi], for, 
              as hath been stated in the text of the Book, both the head and 
              the members of the House of Justice are men. However, in all 
              other bodies, such as the Temple Construction Committee, the 
              Teaching Committee, the Spiritual Assembly, and in charitable 
              and scientific associations, women share equally in all rights 
              with men. [41]
              This new Tablet from 'Abdul-Baha to Corinne True appears to 
        have opened up a nationwide controversy over the rights of women to 
        serve on Baha'i institutions. The use of the term "Universal House 
        of Justice" in this Tablet caused some confusion. Corinne True and 
        others assumed that 'Abdul-Baha intended by this Tablet that 
        women were now to be admitted to membership on local Baha'i bodies, 
        and more particularly to membership on the Chicago House of 
              Thornton Chase related the controversy which erupted in 
        Chicago in a letter written a few months later (January 19, 1910):
              Several years ago, soon after the forming of the "House of 
              Justice" (name afterward changed by Abdul-Baha to House of 
              Spirituality on account of political reasons - as stated by 
              Him - and because also of certain jealousies) Mrs. True wrote 
              to Abdul-Baha and asked if women should not be members of 
              that House. He replied distinctly, that the House should be 
              composed of men only, and told her that there was a wisdom in 
              this. It was a difficult command for her to accept, and ever
              since (confidentially) there has been in that quarter and in 
              those influenced by her a feeling of antagonism to the House 
              of Spirituality, which has manifested itself in various 
              forms... ...Mrs True received a Tablet, in which it was stated 
              (in reply to her solicitation) that it was right for women to 
              be members of all "Spiritual Gatherings" except the "Universal 
              House of Justice", and she at once construed this to mean, 
              that women were to be members of the House of Spirituality and 
              the Council Boards, because in some of the Tablets for the 
              House, it had been addressed as the "Spiritual Assembly" or 
              "Spiritual Gathering".
                 But the House of Spirituality could not so interpret the 
              Master's meaning... [42]
              The difference of opinion was deep and serious. It took 
        place within a wider context of gender tensions within the American 
        Baha'i community at the time.  The Chicago House of Spirituality 
        consulted on the new Tablet to Corinne True at its meetings on 
        August 31, 1909, and September 7, 1909. While it seemed clear to 
        them that the Tablet did not admit women to membership on the House 
        of Spirituality, they decided to write to 'Abdul-Baha for a 
        clarification of His meaning. [43]
              It appears that no record of a reply to the House on this 
        point has survived. But, in the event, the practice of excluding 
        women from membership did not change. The men of Chicago assumed 
        that 'Abdul-Baha's reference to the "Universal House of Justice" 
        intended the local Chicago institution. This is a reasonable 
        assumption, given the lack of fixed terminology at the time.
              The word 'umumi, with which 'Abdul-Baha qualified His 
        reference to the House of Justice in Arabic, means public, general, 
        or universal. Since it was known that Corinne True had asked about 
        women's service on the Chicago House - which was understood to be a 
        House of Justice, even if designated a House of Spirituality for 
        various reasons - His reply seemed to indicate that only men could 
        serve on the general (or universal) body, while women could serve on 
        all subordinate bodies, such as the Assembly of Teaching, the 
        Philanthropic Association, and so forth. And this is the 
        interpretation of the Tablet that would stand for some years to 
              In May of 1910, Thornton Chase wrote to a believer about this
        question, which was still being debated:
              As to women being members of the House, there is no question 
              at all. Abdul-Baha's reply to Mrs True years ago, settled 
              that, viz, that the members of the House should be men, and 
              that the time would come when she would see the wisdom of 
              that. This was in direct answer to her question to Him as to 
              this matter. He has never changed that command, and He cannot, 
              because it is the command of Baha'o'llah also, as applied to 
              such bodies of business controllers.
                 But, in a Tablet to me, 'Abdul-Baha said "The House of 
              Spirituality must encourage the women as much as possible". 
              There is the whole procedure. "Encourage the women as much 
              as possible". That is what He does: that is what we should 
              do. Not to be members of the H. of S., but to all good 
              works in the Cause, which they can possibly accomplish. It 
              seems to me that the matter of membership in H. of S. should 
              be simply ignored, not talked about, but if it obtrudes 
              itself too strongly, just get out that Tablet to Mrs. True 
              and the one to me (just mentioned) and offer them as the 
              full and sufficient answer. [44]
              Chase's views are undoubtedly representative of the 
        understandings of the majority of Baha'is at the time. It was the 
        common understanding that the Chicago House of Spirituality was 
        properly composed of men only, and that ultimately all local 
        Baha'i boards should be similarly composed. This was a position 
        which was repeatedly sustained by 'Abdul-Baha, but which was 
        never fully accepted by some Baha'i women.
              In Kenosha, which had had an all-male "Board of Consultation" 
        for some years, the issue of women's service on the Board became a 
        matter of dispute in 1910, as a result of Corinne True's 1909 
        "Universal House of Justice" Tablet. On July 4, 1910, the Kenosha 
        Board wrote to the House of Spirituality in Chicago asking if they 
        had any Tablets from 'Abdul-Baha which instructed that women 
        should be elected to local institutions. They explained that two of 
        the Baha'i ladies in their community had insisted that such Tablets 
        existed. [45]
              The reply from the House of Spirituality, dated July 23, 1910, 
        is very instructive. [46] The House was able to find three Tablets 
        from 'Abdul-Baha which had bearing on the subject. One was the 
        1909 Tablet to Corinne True which had opened the controversy. Two 
        others had been received from 'Abdul-Baha in 1910, in reply to 
        more inquiries.
              In a Tablet to Louise Waite (April 20, 1910), 'Abdul-Baha had
              The Spiritual Assemblies which are organized for the sake 
              of teaching the Truth, whether assemblies for men, 
              assemblies for women or mixed assemblies, are all accepted 
              and are conducive to the spreading of the Fragrances of God. 
              This is essential. [47]
        'Abdul-Baha goes on to state that the time had not come for the
        establishment of the House of Justice, and he exhorts the men and 
        the women to produce harmony and conduct their affairs in unity. 
              In another Tablet directed to the Baha'is of Cincinnati, 
        where the question of women's participation in local organization 
        had also become an issue, 'Abdul-Baha wrote something similar:
              It is impossible to organize the House of Justice in these 
              days; it will be formed after the establishment of the Cause 
              of God. Now the Spiritual Assemblies are organized in most of 
              the cities, you must also organize a Spiritual Assembly in 
              Cincinnati. It is permissible to elect the members of the 
              Spiritual Assembly from among the men and women; nay, rather, 
              it is better, so that perfect union may result. [49]
        The House of Spirituality concluded from these Tablets that:
     organizing Spiritual Assemblies of Consultation now, it 
              is deemed advisable by Abdul-Baha to have them composed of 
              both men and women. The wisdom of this will become evident in 
              due time, no doubt. [50]
        By this time, Baha'is in different parts of the United States had 
        established a variety of boards and committees as a means of local 
        organization. Women had served on the Washington, D.C., "Working 
        Committee" since its formation in 1907. They had been a part of the 
        Boston "Executive Committee" from its beginning in 1908. Women also 
        acted as officers of communities in places where Baha'is had elected 
        no corporate body. But these were regarded, for the most part, as 
        temporary, ad-hoc organizations not official Baha'i institutions, 
        which were thought to be properly all male.
              'Abdul-Baha's Tablets recognized all of these local bodies as 
        "Spiritual Assemblies" (or Spiritual Gatherings, mahfil-i rawhani) 
        and by 1910, He was urging that these Assemblies consist of both men 
        and women. The House of Spirituality in Chicago was obviously 
        puzzled by this command, though it expressed confidence that the 
        wisdom of mixed Assemblies would "become evident in due time." 
        However, since it knew that the Kenosha Board of Consultation had 
        been established as an all-male body in accordance with earlier 
        instructions from 'Abdul-Baha, the House of Spirituality suggested
        that the Kenosha Baha'is might wish to take a vote to determine 
        whether a majority of believers would be in favour of a change. [51]
              Rather than do this, however, the Kenosha Board of 
        Consultation submitted the question to 'Abdul-Baha. The 
        "supplication" (as they termed it) was signed by all of the men of 
        the Board. It asked if the Board should be dissolved, to be 
        reelected with women as members. The Board members pledged to the 
        Master that if it was His wish they would dissolve, but they 
        stated that their intentions had been pure at the founding of the 
        Board and that it had been established in accordance with a Tablet 
        that had been revealed for the House of Spirituality some years 
        before. [52]
              'Abdul-Baha, however, would not support the idea of 
        dissolving the all-male Board. His reply, received March 4, 1911, 
              Now Spiritual Assemblies must be organized and that is for 
              teaching the Cause of God. In that city you have a spiritual 
              Assembly of men and you can establish a spiritual Assembly for 
              women. Both Assemblies must be engaged in diffusing the 
              fragrances of God and be occupied with the service of the 
                 The above is the best solution for this problem... [53]
        As in other Tablets, He stated that conditions for the 
        establishment of the House of Justice did not yet exist, and He 
        urged unity between the men and women of the Baha'i community.
              And so, through 1911, the status quo that had been 
        established by Mirza Assadu'llah in Chicago in 1901, with the 
        election of the first American House of Justice, held firm. 
        All-male institutions continued to function in the most important 
        Baha'i communities. These were supplemented by parallel women's 
        groups. A variety of committees and boards had been established in 
        smaller Baha'i communities that included women as members, but 
        these were regarded by most Baha'is as only informal groups. While 
        'Abdul-Baha was urging that new "Spiritual Assemblies" include 
        both men and women, He would not sanction the reorganization of the 
        longer-established male bodies. Baha'i women in various parts of 
        the country continued to discuss the need for change.
        The Change Comes
              It was not until 1912, during the visit of 'Abdul-Baha to 
        America, that a decisive change was finally made. While 
        'Abdul-Baha was in New York, He sent word to the Baha'is of 
        Chicago that the House of Spirituality should be reorganized and a 
        new election held. He chose Howard MacNutt, a prominent Baha'i from 
        Brooklyn, to travel to Chicago as His personal representative. 
        MacNutt was instructed to hold a new election for a "Spiritual 
        Meeting" (probably mahfil-i rawhani) of the Baha'is of Chicago. For 
        the first time, women were eligible for election to this body.
              MacNutt arrived in Chicago on August 8, 1912. At 
        'Abdul-Baha's instructions, a feast was held on August 10, at the 
        home of Mr. and Mrs. George Lesch, where the entire Chicago Baha'i 
        community was invited to be the guests of 'Abdul-Baha. MacNutt 
        delivered to the community 'Abdul-Baha's message of unity and love. 
        The election was held the following day on August 11.
              The Baha'i magazine, Star of the West, carried this account of 
        that historic election:
              On Sunday evening, the 11th, the Chicago Assembly [meaning 
              here, the whole Baha'i community] selected a "Spiritual 
              Meeting" of nine, composed of men and women, whose service - 
              according to the wish of Abdul-Baha - is, first, to 
              promulgate the teachings of the Revelation, and, second, to 
              attend to other matters necessary to the welfare of the 
              assembly. Mr. MacNutt was present and gave an inspiring 
        A long struggle had ended.
            Baha'i Institutions in the East
              From the time of the dissolution of the Chicago House of 
        Spirituality and its reelection, service on local Baha'i 
        institutions has always remained open to women in America. 
        'Abdul-Baha had made it perfectly clear that the restrictions 
        placed on women in this regard were intended to be only temporary 
        ones. From that point forward, women were fully integrated into the 
        emerging Baha'i Administration erected in the West.
              The same was not true in the East, however. In Iran and in 
        the rest of the Muslim world, social conditions made it impossible 
        for the restriction on women's participation on local institutions 
        to be lifted for some time. Local and National Spiritual Assemblies 
        in Iran were limited to male membership during the entire period of 
        the ministry of 'Abdul-Baha, and for most of the ministry of 
        Shoghi Effendi. Again, the principle of gradualism was at play.
              Of course, there were Baha'i women in Iran, as well in the 
        United States, who campaigned for a greater role for women in the 
        Baha'i community. Their concerns were not only with participation 
        on local Houses of Justice, but also with the elimination of other 
        social restrictions, such as the use of the veil in public. In a 
        Tablet to one such woman activist, 'Abdul-Baha urged restraint 
        and recommended a gradual approach:
              The establishment of a women's assemblage (mahfil) for the 
              promotion of knowledge is entirely acceptable, but 
              discussions must be confined to educational matters. It 
              should be done in such a way that differences will, day by 
              day, be entirely wiped out, not that, God forbid, it will 
              end in argumentation between man and women. As in the 
              question of the veil, nothing should be done contrary to 
                 Now the world of women should be a spiritual world, not a 
              political one, so that it will be radiant. The women of other 
              nations are all immersed in political matters. Of what benefit 
              is this, and what fruit doth it yield? To the extent that ye 
              can, ye should busy yourself with spiritual matters which will 
              be conducive to the exaltation of the Word of God and of the 
              diffusion of His fragrances. Your demeanour should lead to 
              harmony amongst all and to coalescence and the good-pleasure
              of all...
                 I am endeavouring, with Baha'u'llah's confirmations and 
              assistance, so to improve the world of the handmaidens [that 
              is, the world of women] that all will be astonished. This 
              progress is intended to be in spirituality, in virtues, in 
              human perfections and in divine knowledge. In America, the 
              cradle of women's liberation, women are still debarred from 
              political institutions because they squabble. (Also, the 
              Blessed Beauty has said, "O ye Men [rijal] of the House of 
              Justice.") Ye need to be calm and composed, so that the work 
              will proceed with wisdom, otherwise there will be such chaos 
              that ye will leave everything and run away. "This newly born 
              babe is traversing in one night the path that needeth a 
              hundred years to tread." In brief, ye should now engage
              in matters of pure spirituality and not contend with men. 
              'Abdul-Baha will tactfully take appropriate steps. Be 
              assured. In the end thou wilt thyself exclaim, "This was 
              indeed supreme wisdom!" [55]
              Baha'i women were not admitted to service on the institutions 
        of the Faith in Iran until 1954. But this restriction was understood 
        to be temporary, to be removed as soon as circumstances would 
        permit. As Iranian society allowed a greater role for women in 
        general, and as Baha'i women became more educated and more prepared 
        for administrative service, this restriction was lifted. The 
        Guardian eventually made women's participation on Baha'i 
        institutions in the East one of the goals of the Ten Year World 
        Crusade (1953-1963). His hopes were rewarded by the signal 
        distinction which some Baha'i women have achieved as administrators 
        on local Assemblies and on the National Assembly of Iran.
        The International House of Justice
              The only remaining body within the Baha'i Faith whose 
        membership continues to be limited to men is its supreme 
        institution, the Universal House of Justice. First established in 
        1963, the Universal House of Justice is elected by the members of 
        the National Spiritual Assemblies of the world. Naturally, the 
        electors include many women. But the members of the House of 
        Justice itself, from its inception, have all been male.
              Shoghi Effendi anticipated that the Universal House of 
        Justice would be established as an all-male body, even though he 
        passed away before he could see this implemented. He did not 
        comment generally on the subject, and he does not seem to have 
        devoted a great deal of time to the issue. But in answer to 
        questions from individual Baha'is, some letters were written on 
        the Guardian's behalf by his secretaries which comment on the 
        composition of the yet-to-be-formed House of Justice. For example, 
        his secretary writes:
                 As regards your question concerning the membership of the
              Universal House of Justice, there is a Tablet from 
              'Abdul-Baha in which He definitely states that the membership 
              of the Universal House of Justice is confined to men, and that 
              the wisdom of it will be fully revealed and appreciated in the 
              future. In the local, as well as national Houses of Justice, 
              however, women have the full right of membership. It is, 
              however, only to the International House that they cannot be
              elected. [56]
        And in another letter:
              As regards the membership of the International House of 
              Justice, 'Abdul-Baha states in a Tablet that it is confined 
              to men, and that the wisdom of it will be revealed as manifest 
              as the sun in the future. [57]
              Regarding your question, the Master said the wisdom of having 
              no women on the International House of Justice, would become 
              manifest in the future. We have no indication other than 
              this... [58]
              People must just accept the fact that women are not eligible 
              to the International House of Justice. As the Master says the 
              wisdom of this will be known in the future, we can only accept, 
              believing it is right...[59]
              The remarkable similarity of these letters to individual 
        believers should be noted. In each case, the Guardian directed his 
        secretary to refer to the Tablet of 'Abdul-Baha to Corinne True 
        which was written in reply to her petition that women be elected to 
        the Chicago House of Justice. This Tablet explains that the reason 
        for the exclusion of women will become manifest in the future. 
        Subsequent events demonstrated that 'Abdul-Baha had intended that 
        this exclusion be only temporary - an exclusion that would be 
        followed by the full participation of women on this body.
              The exclusion of women from the Universal House of Justice 
        today is observed by the Baha'i community primarily in obedience to 
        these letters of the Guardian. Most Baha'is assume that this 
        exclusion was intended to be a permanent one. However, since this 
        instruction of the Guardian is tied so closely to the meaning of the 
        one Tablet of 'Abdul-Baha which promises that the wisdom of the 
        exclusion of women will become manifest in the future, and since it 
        is known that the meaning of the Tablet was that women should be 
        excluded only temporarily from the Chicago House, the assumption 
        that women will be permanently excluded from the current Universal 
        House of Justice may be a faulty one. A temporary exclusion may
        be intended.
              The answer to this question, as with all other questions in 
        the Baha'i community, will have to be worked out over time. The 
        elements of dialogue, struggle, persistence and anguish which are 
        so evident in the history of the gradual participation of women on 
        local Baha'i administrative bodies will, no doubt, all attend the 
        working out of that answer in the future. These elements are all 
        present today.
        A Tablet of Assurance
        'Abdul-Baha repeatedly assured Baha'i women in His writings that 
        the women of the future would achieve full and complete equality 
        with men. In one of these Tablets He refers to the composition of 
        the House of Justice. The Tablet is dated August 28, 1913, and it 
        appears to have been written to a Baha'i woman in the East. In it, 
        'Abdul-Baha repeats His promise:
              In this Revelation of Baha'u'llah, the women go neck and neck 
              with the men. In no movement will they be left behind. Their 
              rights with men are equal in degree. They will enter all the 
              administrative branches of politics. They will attain in all 
              such a degree as will be considered the very highest station 
              of the world of humanity and will take part in all affairs. 
              Rest ye assured. Do ye not look upon the present conditions; 
              in the not far distant future the world of women will become 
              all-refulgent and all-glorious, FOR HIS HOLINESS BAHA'U'LLAH 
              HATH WILLED IT SO! At the time of the elections the right to 
              vote is the inalienable right of women, and the entrance of
              women into all human departments is an irrefutable and
              incontravertible question. No soul can retard or prevent it...
                 As regards the constitution of the House of Justice, 
              Baha'u'llah addresses the men. He says: "O ye men of the 
              House of Justice!"
                 But when its members are to be elected, the right which 
              belongs to women, so far as their voting and their voice is 
              concerned, is indisputable. WHEN THE WOMEN ATTAIN TO THE 
              OBTAIN EXTRAORDINARY PRIVILEGES. Be ye confident on these 
              accounts. His Holiness Baha'u'llah has greatly strengthened 
              the cause of women, and the rights and privileges of women is 
              one of the greatest principles of 'Abdul-Baha. Rest ye 
              assured! [60] (Final emphasis added.)
        1. Nabil-i A'zam, The Dawn-Breakers, Wilmette, Ill.: Baha'i 
        Publishing Trust, 1932, pp 80-81, 270-71.
        2. See, for example, Ruhiyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl, 
        London: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1969, pp 39-42 and 57-58; Baha'i 
        Administration, Wilmette, Ill.: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1928, 
        pp 25-26.
        3. The Universal House of Justice, A Synopsis and Codification of 
        the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book of Baha'u'llah, Haifa: Baha'i 
        World Centre, 1973, p 5.
        4. Ibid., pp 3-7.
        5. 'Abdul-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Wilmette, 
        Ill.: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1922-25 (1982), pp 136-37.
        6. Ibid., pp 136-37.
        7. 'Abdul-Baha, Paris Talks, London: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 
        1912, p 161.
        8. Promulgation, p 174.
        9. Ibid., p 375.
        10. Synopsis, p 13.
        11. Ibid., p 16.
        12. Ibid., p 57.
        13. Ibid., pp 5-6.
        14. All information in this section concerning the first House of 
        Justice of Tehran is based on Ruhu'llah Mihrabkhani, Mahafil-i shur 
        dar 'ahd-i Jamal-i Aqdas-i Abha, (Assemblies of consultation at the 
        time of Baha'u'llah) in Payam-i Baha'i, nos. 28 and 29, pp 9-11 and 
        pp 8-9 respectively.
        15. Minutes of the North Hudson, N.J., Board of Counsel, National 
        Baha'i Archives, Wilmette, Ill.
        16. Chase to Blake, 21/3/00, Chase Papers, National Baha'i Archives.
        17. Regulations relating to the Chicago Board of Council (Abdel 
        Karim Effendi), Albert Windust Papers, National Baha'i Archives.
        18. Kenosha Evening News, 29/6//00, p 1.
        19. House of Justice in Chicago to House of Justice in New York, 
        23/5/01, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha'i Archives.
        20. Fannie Lesch, "Dr. C. I. Thatcher, Chicago, Illinois", (an 
        obituary), Albert Windust Papers, National Baha'i Archives.
        21. Minutes of the House of Justice (Chicago), 26/1/02 and 28/6/01. 
        House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha'i Archives.
        22. Marzieh Gail and Fadil-i Mazandarani (trans.), typescript 
        translation of the Kitab-i Aqdas.
        23. Ibid.
        24. Quoted in Ahmad Yazdani, Mabadiy-i Ruhani, Tehran: Baha'i 
        Publishing Trust, 104 Badi', p 109.
        25. Ibid
        26. Women: Extracts from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, 'Abdul-Baha, 
        Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice, comp. by The 
        Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, Thornhill, 
        Ont.: Baha'i Canada Publications, 1986, #7, p 3.
        27. Quoted in Ahmad Yazdani, Maqam va Huquq-i Zan dar Diyanat-i
        Baha'i, vol. 1, Tehran: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 107 Badi'.
        28. Minutes of the House of Spirituality, 24/5/01, House of 
        Spirituality Papers, National Baha'i Archives.
        29. Ibid., 20/5/01.
        30. Synopsis, p 13.
        31. Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas, Chicago: Baha'i Publishing 
        Society, 1909, vol 1, p 3.
        32. Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Baha'u'llah, Wilmette, Ill.: 
        Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1938, p 6.
        33. Minutes of 10/5/02, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha'i
        34. Extract from the Tablet of the Master, 'Abdul-Baha, to Mirza
        AssadUllah, received in Chicago on the 3rd of May, 1902. House of
        Spirituality Papers. National Baha'i Archives.
        35. Tablets of Abdul Baha Abbas, p 6.
        36. The translation reads "We named the assemblies of teaching in 
        Chicago the Spiritual Assemblies; you should organize spiritual 
        assemblies in every place"; ( extract from the Tablet from the 
        Master, se note 35 above). 
        37. Minutes, 29/7/05, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha'i 
        38. See various published Tablets and public talks of 'Abdul-Baha,
        including: Kitab-i baday 'u'l-athar, Bombay, 1921, vol.1, pp 65, 
        119, 120, 251; and 
        39. True to 'Abdul-Baha, 25/2/02, Document 11137, International 
        Baha'i Archives, Haifa, Israel.
        40.  Selections from the Writings of 'Abdul-Baha, Haifa: Baha'i 
        World Centre, 1978, pp 79-80.
        41. 'Abdul-Baha to Corinne True, 24/7/09, microfilm, National 
        Baha'i Archives.
        42. Chase to Remey, 19/1/10, Chase Papers, National Baha'i Archives.
        43. Minutes, 31/8/09 and 7/9/09, House of Spirituality Papers, 
        National Baha'i Archives.
        44. Chase to Scheffler, 10/5/10, Chase papers, National Baha'i 
        45. Bahai Assembly of Kenosha to House of Spirituality, 4/7/10, 
        House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha'i Archives.
        46. House of Spirituality (Albert R. Windust, LIbrarian) to Board 
        of Consultation, Kenosha, Wis., 23/7/10, House of Spirituality 
        Papers, National Baha'i Archives.
        47. Ibid.
        48. Ibid.
        49. Ibid.
        50. Ibid.
        51. Ibid.
        52. Kenosha Assembly to Albert Windust, 16/5/11, House of 
        Spirituality Papers, National Baha'i Archives.
        53. 'Abdul-Baha to the members of the Spiritual Assembly and Mr. 
        Bernard M. Jacobsen, Kenosha, Wis., 4/5/11, House of Spirituality 
        Papers, National Baha'i Archives.
        54. Star of the West, vol. 3, no. 10 (August 20, 1912) p 16. See 
        also, 'Abdul-Baha's instructions to Howard MacNutt, August 6, 1912, 
        microfilm collection, National Baha'i Archives.
        55. Women, #11, pp 6-7.
        56. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated July 28, 1936, 
        Baha'i News, No. 105 (February 1937) p 2.
        57. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated December 14, 
        1940, quoted in Dawn of a New Day (New Delhi: Baha'i Publishing 
        Trust, n.d.) p 86.
        58. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated September 17, 
        1952, Baha'i News, No 267 (May 1953) p 10.
        59. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated July 15, 1947, 
        quoted in "Extracts on Membership of the Universal House of Justice" 
        (an unpublished compilation of the Universal House of Justice).
        60. Quoted in Paris Talks (London: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1912) pp