Bahá’í governing institutions are elected at the local, national, and international levels, and are complemented by an appointed body of advisors. Bahá’ís believe that their administrative order provides a model for the effective functioning of a unified global civilization, one which recognizes the distinctiveness of both the spiritual and material dimensions of reality, and seeks to nurture equally the evolution of each.
The head of the Bahá’í Faith is the Universal House of Justice, an elected body of nine members that has its permanent seat at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel. The Universal House of Justice is elected every five years by the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies (nine-member bodies that oversee the affairs of the Faith in their respective countries). The first election of the Universal House of Justice was in 1963.
Endowed by Bahá’u’lláh with the authority to legislate on matters not specifically laid down in the Bahá’í scriptures, the Universal House of Justice keeps the Bahá’í community unified and responsive to the needs and conditions of an evolving world.
Although it is an international institution, the Universal House of Justice is nevertheless surprisingly close to the grassroots. The final election of the Universal House of Justice is just three steps away from the local level: every adult Bahá’í is eligible to participate at the local level in the election of a delegate from his/her voting district; delegates in turn elect the members of their respective National Spiritual Assemblies; and the members of all National Spiritual Assemblies around the world in turn elect the Universal House of Justice.
The Bahá’í Faith operates in more than 181 countries under elected bodies of nine individuals known as a National Spiritual Assemblies. Most of these assemblies have their seat in the capital city of their country. They are elected annually through a delegate system representing the Bahá’ís in their country.
To facilitate the expansion of the Bahá'í Faith, Regional Bahá'í Councils have been established in many countries. In some countries, Council members are appointed by the National Spiritual Assembly; in others they are elected by the members of the local Spiritual Assemblies in their respective regions, which is the case in the United States. Members of Regional Councils generally serve for one year terms. There are ten Regional Bahá'í Councils in the United States.
A local Spiritual Assembly of nine persons is elected to oversee the affairs of the Bahá’í community in a city or town. These assemblies also advise and assist individuals and administer a number of functions at the community level, including the Nineteen Day Feast. The spiritual Feast is a means for the Assembly to hear directly from the community to make its decisions. In this way, governance in Bahá’í communities springs from the grassroots.
Institution of the Counselors
In addition, the Bahá’í Faith has Counsellors, appointed to five-year terms by the Universal House of Justice, who serve as advisers in countries and regions around the world. Currently there are 81 such Continental Counsellors assigned to specific countries or regions, and an additional nine Counsellors who constitute the membership of the International Teaching Centre at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa. Also a part of the Institution of the Counselors are Auxiliary Board members, who serve primarily at the local and regional levels to guide and inspire the members under their jurisdiction.
“It is incumbent upon the chosen delegates to consider without the least trace of passion and prejudice, and irrespective of any material consideration, the names of only those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience.”— Shoghi Effendi