Election of Universal House of Justice 2013

A few days ago National Spiritual Assembly members from around the world gathered in Haifa at the 11th International Baha’i Convention to elect the members of the Universal House of Justice. The occassion also marked the 50th anniversary of the first election of the institution in 1963.

The new members of the Universal House of Justice are (in order of votes):

Paul Lample, Firaydoun Javaheri, Payman Mohajer, Gustavo Correa, Shahriar Razavi, Stephen Birkland, Stephen Hall, Chuungu Malitonga, and Ayman Rouhani.

Universal House of Justice 2013 election

The two vacancies made available due to the retirement of Dr. Farzam Arbab and Kiser Barnes were filled by Chuungu Malitonga and Ayman Rouhani. Not surprisingly, the new kids on the block were International Teaching Center Counsellors and they got the least votes. The other seven incumbents were easily re-elected as has been the trend since the creation of the institution.

See below for an updated historical membership infographic for the Universal House of Justice.

Chuungu Malitonga Previously Mr. Malitonga was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Zambia. He served on the NSA until November 2008 when he was appointed a Continental Counsellor and subsequently promoted on March 2010 to the ITC. He was appointed to the International Teaching Center (along with Praveen Mallik from India) to replace the vacancies created in that institution by the election of Stephan Birkland and Stephen Hall to the UHJ in the 2010 by-election.

Ayman Rouhani Previously Dr. Ayman Rouhani was a Continental Counsellor for Asia (since 2005). In 2008 he was appointed to the ITC along with eight other Bahai’s – see full list below.

Due to several factors, the Universal House of Justice that we have today is one which we haven’t seen before. It is both young and blindered.

I say a ‘young’ Universal House of Justice both in the sense of age as well as in the degree of seniority in membership. The member with the most seniority is Javaheri with 10 years (having been elected in 2003). In aggregate, the current membership of the Universal House of Justice has been in that post for only 3.4 years.

Compare this incarnation to the 1983 one. Back then the membership of the Universal House of Justice was not only much older in age but they also had on average been members of the institution for 17.9 years.

And I say blindered because they are an extremely homogeneous bunch. The nine men are the second iteration ITC members. That is to say, the nine members were appointed by a Universal House of Justice which (for the most part) itself was comprised of members who were themselves appointed to the ITC. The trend began in 1987 with Peter Khan and has only accelerated since.

To those fellow Baha’is new to this realization allow me to explain. The appointment of male Counsellors to the International Teaching Center has come to act as a de facto nomination. Since Baha’is elections are devoid of campaigning or official nominations, such tacit nudges have an asymmetrical effect. As a result, the highest institution of the Baha’i Faith is now populated by a tiny subset rather than being drawn from the wider population. Whereas before they were elected from the large membership pool comprised of the worldwide National Assembly members, it is now exclusively drawn from the ITC. When these individuals are elected to the UHJ, they in turn appoint a fresh batch of nominees for the next round in 5 years time. And we go around in a closed loop once more.

To see this closed loop take shape before our eyes we need not look further than the other two newest members of the UHJ: Stephan Birkland and Stephen Hall who were elected in a by-election in 2010 when two other members retired.

It was only 5 years ago, in 2008, that a new batch of ITC members were appointed by the UHJ: Uransaikhan Baatar, Stephen Birkland, Stephen Hall, Joan Lincoln, Juan Francisco Mora, Rachel Ndegwa, Zenaida Ramirez, Ayman Rouhani, and Penelope Walker. To fellow Baha’is who have not awakened to this phenomena this is not the only shocking element. It is the speed of this process that one marvels at.

Of the nine, four were men (and therefore eligible for membership to the UHJ) and five were women (ineligible for membership to the UHJ). Of the four eligible, only Juan Francisco Mora has not been elected.

And that isn’t due to any fault of Juan’s. There has simply not been an opportunity for a third member to be elected! But he’s an obvious choice for the next opening and would perhaps had beaten out his peers had he combed some talcum powder into that youthful and thick crop of hair.

The consequence is a self-reinforcing process which is only gaining speed. Only those who have bought in to the Ruhi program and are ready to double-down have a prayer of being appointed/nominated. Anyone else who does not share this viewpoint is marginalized. This is the essence of the group-think strangling the current Baha’i Administration.

The sad part of all this is that the current structure of the Baha’i Administrative order in no way resembles that which was laid down by Abdu’l-Baha. Instead of twin, parallel but distinct institutions at the top we have a melding of the two under the aegis of the Universal House of Justice.

What are your thoughts on this? I’m eager to hear the views of others, especially if they differ from mine.

Below you will find the updated historical membership infographic for the Universal House of Justice. Click on the square button on the bottom right hand corner to see a full screen version of the infographic:

  • Larry Anderson

    It’s hard not to contrast the current situation with the election of the first UHJ, when the Hands– the predecessors of the Counsellors– disqualified themselves.

    I suppose in retrospect, it would have been a good idea to make the ITC exclusively female.

  • Baquia

    Larry, yes, I’ve often thought the same. You’re referring to the ‘Custodians’, the 9 Hands of the Cause of God who were residing in Haifa and who were for a short time the head of the Baha’i Faith between the death of Shoghi Effendi and the election of the UHJ in 1963.

    Beyond simply recusing themselves, there is also the issue of the separation of the appointed arm and the elected arm. For example, if you are an ABM you can not also be an assembly member. While your suggestion of only appointing women to the ITC is a clever one, I’m not sure that it could be practically implemented. Having said that, I do believe that the UHJ does have the ability to resolve this matter in a heartbeat.

    The real issue is that they don’t see this as an issue.

  • Starr* Ayn Saffa

    The write up in the Baha’i World Vol. XIII outlines the quick changes from the (IBC) International Baha’i Council (set up by the Guardian with Women on it as the beginning of the Universal House of Justice). These quick changes are cause to ponder how it was possible to disband the IBC in its second term and replace it over-night with a Universal House of Justice (a new Institution) with only Men allowed membership. Seems like a step backwards in terms of universal participation and unity; as does forming membership on the Universal House today from the Appointed side of the Faith – it appears more like a Dictatorship of Group-Think.

  • What a great idea, Larry. Your suggestion would solve two problems: it would mean that the current members of the House couldn’t effectively appoint their successors, and it would create something like the complementary gender balance one would expect to see at the top of the Baha’i administration.

  • AndrewTurvey

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I think you’re seeing what can be described as the “Catholicisation” of the Baha’i Faith. That is, a community that started off, in Christian terms, as a liberal group perhaps like the Quakers has morphed into a conservative hierarchy like the Roman Catholic Church.

    The lifestyle promoted, particularly regarding family life, marriage, sexuality etc is almost indistinguishable from Catholic teachings, except that it doesn’t take as public an opposition to abortion as Catholics do. I put this difference down to the aversion to political controversy. Abstention from alcohol is another particularly Baha’i characteristic, although Methodists and other Christians have also been known for that. The Ruhi movement has certainly pushed the community in that direction.

    Organisationally, the “closed loop” you describe is quite similar to the closed loop in electing the Pope – who is elected by a group of Cardinals who were appointed by his predecessor(s). The appointed arm is supplanting the elected arm at the national and local level – whether it’s cancelling the election of NSAs as happened in Albania, organising secret committee activities without even informing the NSA, as happened in the UK, or supplanting the role of LSAs as happens with “cluster” structures.

    The “abolition of the clergy” hasn’t quite happened – full-time Baha’is now exist in plenty of ways and are indispensable to key religious events such as the Nineteen Day Feast and national conferences. The novel practice of “dis-enrolment” has significantly strengthened the role of the clergy vs the individual. Independent media have been hounded out of the community and academic diversity and dissent has been suppressed.

    All seems very Catholic to me!

  • I’ve been a Baha’i for over four decades and I find the guidance the House has given the Baha’i world community has been simply wonderful. If you want a glimpse into how that is unfolding you should look at one aspect of the UHJ’s guidance through the Ruhi process which is having a tremendous impact in Baha’i communities around the world. This film, Frontiers of Learning, will give you some insight into what us happening. It is about four Baha’i communities in Norte de Bolivar, Columbia; Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Toronto, Canada and Bihar Sharif, India. There are hundreds of communities like these around the world each with their own special and different kinds of “unity in diversity”. Note the comment of one of the Baha’is in Lubumbashi who mentions how it is as if the UHJ anticipates in its messages the challenges they face: http://www.bahai.org/frontiers/

  • AmadodeDios

    Just lovely: a bit of litter cleanup, consultation, protecting trees, improving health, overcoming gender, caste and inter-generational impasses – very heartening.

    Lots of good music. And this offers hope. I know that, just as Bahais working on development projects have borne up under constant flak from their “leaders” (both appointed and elected), some of the prettiest, liveliest music we hear on this video was persecuted as “too lively” for Bahai songs. But now we are proud of this music, and it is mainstream.

    Perhaps the strong points will continue to overcome the feeble. The first few “junior youth” books, which are brilliant, will inform the increasingly duller ones churned out after them. As women and youth start getting their rights, we will learn not to oppress – and even partner with murderous fanatics – against sexual minorities.

    I find that the House used to have shorter, pithier messages, and they are now quite pedestrian and repetitive. Let’s hope that the vitality of the strong points can overcome the unquestionable strait-jacket boundaries of our increasingly stultified administration and approach to the Teachings, and ultimately make us a force for progress again!

  • Naamayn

    All the prophets of the Creator have been fallible. Not one
    ever declared openly and repeatedly the equality of men and women, let alone
    declaring that only monogamy whether gay or straight is the only just form of
    marriage. Yet they were still prophets of God and to be respected despite not
    declaring these eternal truths that the Creator always taught. Bahaullah being unique in that he declared the
    great spiritual teaching of today that was not possible before, that the world
    is one country and humankind its citizens – a teaching that believers and
    non-believers can embrace. Religion 1.0 has passed. Today the Creator expects
    humanity to use justice, kindness and common sense with a respect for science
    to evaluate all spiritual truth and revelations given to humanity. The building
    of institutions to uphold a notion of the infallibility of the various prophets
    has passed and will not endure. Like the US Constitution that was brought by
    fallible men, the spirituality of humanity requires both the interplay of the
    Founders and humanity. For example, the issue is not what Bahaullah taught
    about women being on the UHJ or not. This issue is to be decided by humanity
    from the grassroots using justice, kindness and common sense. Fortunately the
    Creator will inspire scientists (whether believers or not) to find that bridge
    between this life and the next so that spirituality will be less a matter of
    faith and more of first-hand experience. This will do far more to raise the
    consciousness of humanity and bring Heaven closer to Earth. The history of Near
    Death Experiences reveals that such a bridge exists to be discovered and
    explored where humanity will be able to pilgrimage to and unfold to them in the
    depths of their souls their true purpose in this life and the next. Many of the differences in the various spiritual
    paths will be resolved. Ordinary folks will not need priesthoods and theocracies
    since they will experience more directly the presence of the Creator and their
    oneness with all life. Bahaullah’s role and the Creator’s mission will converge
    as one. All the differences in the
    family of the Bab and Bahaullah will be resolved and humanity will respect and
    honor their various roles in the Passing of God through this age.

  • AndrewTurvey

    Sure. I find much of what the Pope says inspirational too.

  • Michael

    The implication in the post is that the selection of members of the Universal House of Justice is somehow demeaned or corrupted by the election of members of the ITC to the institution. However, the post does not indicate that there is detriment to the community of believers in this. Certainly, as the Faith evolves, there may be other patterns that can and will be discovered. If one accepts the validity of Baha’u’llah as the messenger of God, then there is, in His own writings, the assurance of His protection of the House of Justice. As to the pervasiveness of the Ruhi process, this again is just a tool that has been found to be effective. No one is obliged to participate if he or she does not desire. When I was on pilgrimage the members of the House of Justice that I met were all in agreement on this point., The purpose of the process is to develop capacity in individuals. However, the core activities have proven themselves to be effective when conscientiously carried out.

  • Baquia

    The incestuous relationship between the ITC and the UHJ is detrimental because it is the exact opposite of what Shoghi Effendi wrote about Baha’i elections and the need for ‘new blood’. If the only people elected are those that the previous people ‘preselected’ via a pseudo nomination, then it leads to a closed minded group-think.

    “As to the pervasiveness of the Ruhi process, this again is just a tool that has been found to be effective.”
    Can you please provide evidence to back up this assertion? There is ample, shall we say, lack of evidence. Look at Colombia where Ruhi originated and has been practiced for 40 years. Has the Baha’i community there grown faster?