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COLLECTIONEssays and short articles
TITLEWhy There are No Women in the Universal House of Justice
AUTHOR 1Vladimir Chupin
ABSTRACTUpon learning that it is forbidden to elect women to the Universal House of Justice, many people become puzzled, given the Faith's strong emphasis on the equality of the sexes. This essay offers some perspectives.
NOTES Mirrored from
TAGSEquality; Gender; Universal House of Justice; Universal House of Justice, Membership on; Women
CONTENT Many people who hear, for the first time, that it is forbidden to elect women to the Universal House of Justice, become really puzzled and confused, given such a strong emphasis of the Bahá'í Faith on the equality of the sexes. Bahá’ís usually answer that it is the matter of faith: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said there is a wisdom in it, and we believe that it is so, even though no one knows why this ordinance was made:
In a Tablet to an early woman believer 'Abdu’l-Bahá stated: 'O maidservant of God! Know thou that in the sight of God, the conduct of women is the same as that of men… From the spiritual point of view… there is no difference between women and men…' He added, however: 'As to the House of Justice: according to the explicit text of the Law of God, its membership is exclusively reserved to men. There is divine wisdom in this which will presently be made manifest even as the mid-day sun.'

The beloved Guardian in reply to the same query from a believer pointed out in a letter written on his behalf on July 15th 1947: '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; but not able to give an explanation calculated to silence an ardent feminist!'

We must have faith in the Supreme Manifestation of God and His Exemplar, Whose prescience is revealed in such provisions which will one day 'be made manifest even as the mid-day sun.’ [1]

I believe (although please don’t think that I pretend to be any authority on this subject), that I discovered the real cause of this provision, the one which is able to “silence an ardent feminist.” The reasoning is a bit complex, so please don’t despair to find a logic here before you read to the final paragraph. There are few seemingly unrelated issues, which combine, in the end, to give quite an impressive answer.

Lemma 1: Women are Better than Men

The “Stronger Wing”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, while being in London, had one quite interesting conversation on this subject:
A spirited conversation due to the visit of an ardent suffragist will be long remembered by those who had the privilege of being present. The room was full of men and women, many Persians being seated in their familiar respectful attitude on the floor.

After contrasting the general position of the Eastern and the Western women, and then describing how in many respects the Eastern woman has the advantage of her Western sister, 'Abdu’l-Bahá turned and said to the visitor: "Give me your reasons for believing that woman today should have the vote?"

Answer: "I believe that humanity is a divine humanity and that it must rise higher and higher; but it cannot soar with only one wing." 'Abdu’l-Bahá expressed his pleasure at this answer, and smiling, replied: "But what will you do if one wing is stronger than the other?"

Answer: "Then we must strengthen the weaker wing, otherwise the flight will always be hampered."

'Abdu’l-Bahá smiled and asked: "What will you say if I prove to you that the woman is the stronger wing?"

The answer came in the same bright vein: "You will earn my eternal gratitude!" at which all the company made merry.

'Abdu’l-Bahá then continued more seriously: "The woman is indeed of the greater importance to the race. She has the greater burden and the greater work. Look at the vegetable and the animal worlds. The palm which carries the fruit is the tree most prized by the date grower. The Arab knows that for a long journey the mare has the longest wind. For her greater strength and fierceness, the lioness is more feared by the hunter than the lion.

"The mere size of the brain has been proved to be no measure of superiority. The woman has greater moral courage than the man; she has also special gifts which enable her to govern in moments of danger and crisis. If necessary she can become a warrior." [2]

Women Better Understand Religion

According to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, women are also more receptive to the Divine Teachings than men:
Taken in general, women today have a stronger sense of religion than men. The woman's intuition is more correct; she is more receptive and her intelligence is quicker. The day is coming when woman will claim her superiority to man.[3]
Please note His statement that “The day is coming when woman will claim her superiority to man,” it is important for our future reasoning.

“Twigs” and “Leaves” (upon the “Pre-Existent Root”)

Also, we may recall that Bahá’u’lláh has called women “leaves,” and men “branches” (or “twigs”). [In original Arabic, it would be Varagheh for women, and Ghuṣn (plural Aghṣán) for men.] What could these terms mean?

Well, let’s just recall what the functions of the leaves and branches are. Leaves absorb the carbon dioxide from the air, and, using the solar energy, produce food for the tree upon which they grow. The branches support the leaves, transport to them the water from the roots, and take back the food which the leaves have produced, so that the roots may store it and re-distribute. Thinking of this analogy as applied to the men and women, it seems we may infer the following:

Women are braver, their intelligence is clearer, and they more receptive to the Divine Light. Their intuition is stronger, which means that they better understand what they should do in order for the society to prosper. God has given them these powers, obviously, because they are the first educators of the next generation, and have more vital responsibilities.

Men, on the other hand, are charged with providing the money for the family, which very much resembles the water-transporting function of the tree twigs. Also, they have a responsibility to educate children when they get older:

Unto every father hath been enjoined the instruction of his son and daughter in the art of reading and writing and in all that hath been laid down in the Holy Tablet. [4]
We all know that it is men who love philosophical speculations. Women usually consider such exercises a waste of time. However, many complex ideas both in the Writings and in science require precisely this: an abstract thought, seemingly giving no practical outcome, but in fact laying foundation for the future progress. It is unimaginable to me how could a woman write a book on the hermeneutics of the Báb, dedicating a few hundred pages to triangles and squares which are reflected in the names ‘Álí and Muhammad, etc.—it was a man, Nader Saiedi, who wrote The Gate of the Heart, and dedicated years of his life to studying these unimaginably difficult concepts. However irrelevant these concepts may seem to a practical mind, it was the Báb who decided to speak about these things; therefore, it is our responsibility to understand what He wants from us when expressing these ideas.

Take an example from science. Have you heard about a Schrödinger's cat? It is a cat which is a mixture of a living creature and a dead body—until you open the box and see it. This mental experiment really fascinates me, but there are not very many women who take the same interest in the quantum mechanics (despite the fact that it was a woman who introduced me to the Schrödinger's cat itself :-).

So, you see, maybe I overgeneralize here—I feel, myself, that this point needs more thinking. I just try to understand why Bahá’u’lláh has given this particular educational task to the men, to instruct “his son and daughter in the art of reading and writing and in all that hath been laid down in the Holy Tablet.” It is possible that one function of the twigs (i.e., the men) is to read the complex metaphysical ideas in the Writings (to take, so to say, the sustenance directly from the Pre-Existing Root), discuss them in a scholarly environment, and then provide them, in a digested form, to the women, who then apply them to the down-to-earth problems of the everyday life.

Lemma 2: Peace on Earth will be Established by the Women

Another important fact we find in the Utterances of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is the role which the women are destined to play in the establishment of the universal peace:
The most momentous question of this day is international peace and arbitration, and universal peace is impossible without universal suffrage. … the mothers will not sanction war nor be satisfied with it. So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease; for woman will be the obstacle and hindrance to it. This is true and without doubt.[5]
I believe it is rather a distortion of men’s nature, but we have to recognize that all the wars were always started by men. Thus, men are aggressive and prone to violence, while women are tender-hearted and caring. I would say that the military exercises are just a sublimation of male instincts: see the military uniforms, the parades, the mighty machines of destruction—you would be keenly reminded of two roosters fighting, with their bright red crests and imposing tales, or two male red deers with their huge horns, clashing with one another (and a female deer looking from a distance). Yes, women love the conquerors, but they hate losing their sons in battles for no obvious reason. They hear all this male talk about patriotism and stuff, but if a woman would sit in the President’s chair, she would hardly consent to spend $700,000 per day (as was the case in Iraq, for instance) in a hopeless battle on the other side of the globe, with thousands of human casualties, and no clear outcome, except a ruin to that country’s economy and people.

God Always Chooses the Weakest People for His Plans

Also, let us recall that it was always God's method to choose as His instruments the weakest and most incapable individuals, and the most degraded nations:
…it should always be borne in mind, nor can it be sufficiently emphasized, that the primary reason why the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh chose to appear in Persia, and to make it the first repository of their Revelation, was because, of all the peoples and nations of the civilized world, that race and nation had, as so often depicted by 'Abdu’l-Bahá, sunk to such ignominious depths, and manifested so great a perversity, as to find no parallel among its contemporaries. For no more convincing proof could be adduced demonstrating the regenerating spirit animating the Revelations proclaimed by the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh than their power to transform what can be truly regarded as one of the most backward, the most cowardly, and perverse of peoples into a race of heroes, fit to effect in turn a similar revolution in the life of mankind. To have appeared among a race or nation which by its intrinsic worth and high attainments seemed to warrant the inestimable privilege of being made the receptacle of such a Revelation would in the eyes of an unbelieving world greatly reduce the efficacy of that Message, and detract from the self-sufficiency of its omnipotent power.[6]
We may confidently broaden, I believe, the application of this same principle also to the relationship of the sexes. That is, men are the weaker wing, and therefore God may well choose them for the demonstration of His might and glory.

The Puzzle Put Together

So, now we may make a conclusion. It becomes quite obvious from the above remarks, that a time will come, when women will enter all the decision-making bodies in the world, and men will perhaps be blamed for all the past mistakes, like war, bad management of economy, violence, and so on. It will perhaps be recognized that men are not so keen intellectually, and tend to be absorbed rather with irrelevant abstract speculations, sacrificing millions of lives for the sake of their ideas of domination over other males, and winning women's attention. All the terrible ideologies of 20th century, like Communism and Nazism, will be remembered and explained by the males’ foolishness, and their violent nature.

In the light of the above, it will not be surprising if we see, in hundred years, that all the political bodies are entirely dominated by women. Men may come to be feared for the past political mistakes, and if anybody would want to vote for a man as a President, everyone else would shudder and say, “Do you want another war?”

However, the Manifestation of God for this age saw this possibility, and made a provision to restore the equilibrium. There will remain one institution in the world, which will be composed entirely of men—and not just a small and insignificant one, but the Universal House of Justice itself! The one and only infallible political body in the whole world. I think the Bahá’í Faith will be well-known to everybody by then, although we cannot estimate its numerical strength in this distant future. However, at one point, when everybody will already be a Bahá’í, the example of Universal House of Justice as entirely male body will certainly become a subject of heated disputes. How could it be, the people would ask themselves, that these rapacious, aggressive, violent males can make such a wonderful institution to function? Was it not proved by the thousands years of history that men are truly unable to manage the social affairs?

So, we can presume that at that distant moment, it will be the male-only membership of the Universal House of Justice, which will allow the world to return to the balance of men and women in politics.


Well, don’t take me wrong — it's not that men are worse, 'Abdu’l-Bahá did not say that. He said that women are better.

Now I think that perhaps I was not clear enough in my essay. The idea was to suggest a possible explanation for this puzzling question. Overall idea is not that any sex is better or worse than the other, far from it. They are equal, but since people are weak and tend to fall into extremes, it is not an easy task to achieve that equality. I tried to show that it is quite possible for the pendulum to swing in another direction—now women are considered inferior, but after certain advances in consciousness it is men who may suffer just the same. Indeed, it is very tempting to find a scapegoat, isn't it? Somebody has to be blamed for all the wars and violence in the world. I would put it this way: men are very peaceful by nature, indeed, quite fragile psychologically, and that is confirmed partially by 'Abdu’l-Bahá in that talk in London. However, the greater physical strength led them to believe that they are greater than women in all fields, and previously they could easily assert their dominance by the sheer force. Just beat your opponent with your fists, not your arguments, what could be easier?

However, men are "twigs" and "branches," they are intended by God to play a rather supportive role. It is women who are the primary recipients of Divine Bounties, which are likened unto the rays of the Sun—they are "leaves." They digest the Divine Food, the air in this example.

However, all these differences are intended by God, and should not lead to any injustice. Men do have an important function to fulfill, as well as women have the vital tasks of their own. None can function without the other. However, if the men will be blamed for the lamentable condition of the present day world (it is very likely that they will be, just remember 'Abdu’l-Bahá’s passage that "when women will enter the governments, the wars will cease"), then it may become a start for a prolonged period when they will not be admitted into governments at all, out of fear that their presence there will lead to more wars. Under these circumstances, the Universal House of Justice will become a good example of the fact that it is not the masculine nature which leads to violence, but everything depends on whether the governors are submissive to God or not.

Thus, to sum up, the final goal is that humanity must rise above any prejudices of sex (race, color, class, etc.), and recognize that only nearness to God matters. And surely, when the next Manifestation comes, She will abolish this prohibition :-)


    [1] From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, May 26, 1971. Quoted in the Lights of Guidance, #2073.

    [2] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 101.

    [3] Ibid, p. 104-105.

    [4] Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 37.

    [5] ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 134.

    [6] Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 17.

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