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Every five years since 1963, electors from Baha’i National Spiritual Assemblies representing the nations of the world gather in Haifa, Israel to cast their ballots for the Universal House of Justice.
The Universal House of Justice, the supreme administrative body of the Baha’i Faith, was ordained by Baha’u’llah, its prophet and founder. The first truly democratic global governing body, the Universal House of Justice is elected by the members of the national Baha’i bodies, which in turn are elected by delegates chosen by the world’s Baha’is in campaign-, political-, and electioneering-free balloting.
In his Most Holy Book, Baha’u’llah ordained this new democratically-elected institution and charged it with responding to humanity’s ever-changing problems:
The men of God’s House of Justice have been charged with the affairs of the people. They, in truth, are the Trustees of God among His servants and the daysprings of authority in His countries.
O people of God! That which traineth the world is Justice, for it is upheld by two pillars, reward and punishment. These two pillars are the sources of life to the world. Inasmuch as for each day there is a new problem and for every problem an expedient solution, such affairs should be referred to the House of Justice that the members thereof may act according to the needs and requirements of the time.
The first election of the Universal House of Justice, in 1963, took place in the House of Abdu’l-Baha in Haifa, Israel. That historic election occurred exactly a century after Baha’u’llah’s founding of the Baha’i Faith in 1863, establishing the Faith as the first global religion administered and run democratically.
In the two decades between April 1963 and January 1983 the nine members of the Universal House of Justice met at the Baha’i Western Pilgrim House, situated on the slopes of Mt. Carmel in Haifa, where the Baha’i World Centre is located.
Then, after 10 years of planning and construction, the members of the Universal House of Justice and their staffs were able to transfer their offices to a newly-constructed building, the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, during the last two weeks of January 1983.
At Ridvan 1983, during the 12-day period when Baha’is celebrate the 1863 declaration of their new Faith by Baha’u’llah, the Fifth International Convention to elect the Universal House of Justice was held in the Reception Concourse of that new building. The Seat’s large Reception Concourse was filled with chairs for the delegates. On the 29th of April, I was fortunate to be one of the electors sitting rather close to the front.
The established procedure for the election was to display on an easel the name of the National Spiritual Assembly that would be next to cast their ballots. The members of that Assembly would then stand in a line to await their turns to cast their ballots in person.
The room suddenly vibrated with excitement when the name “Iran” was placed on the easel. No Iranian members were lined up to cast ballots that day, because no members were present due to the persecution of the Faith in Iran. Instead, their ballots had been sent by trusted couriers.
Spontaneously we all stood and clapped noisily, for what seemed like ten minutes, recognizing the great sacrifices the persecuted Baha’is in Iran had made for so long. Tears streamed down the cheeks of those assembled. At that instant I visualized a host of the Supreme Concourse flying over us from the back of the room, washing holiness and ecstasy over everyone. It was a never-to-be-forgotten moment.
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Immediately following the election we walked to the Pilgrim House, where a microphone and folding chairs were arranged. After we were seated, Zikrullah Khadem arose and said, “You have today fulfilled the great prophecy of Isaiah:”
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
Again the emotions could barely be contained. We were thunderstruck! How could such ordinary souls be involved in a prophecy given more than 2,000 years ago?
We still marvel, those of us who were on God’s Holy Mountain on that day in 1983.