Successors and Authority
In Bahá’u’lláh’s “Book of the Covenant”, He appointed his eldest son, `Abdu’l-Bahá, as his successor and interpreter. `Abdu’l-Bahá, freed by the Young Turk Revolution (1908), left the Holy Land (to which Bahá’u’lláh had been banished) and travelled through Europe and North America, speaking to the early Bahá’í groups there. According to Bahá’u’lláh’s specific instructions, `Abdu’l-Bahá’s Writings have the same authority as those of his father.
Succession of authority has always been a difficulty within religious movements, but the Bahá’í community has been virtually spared this problem. Having himself been appointed in writing, `Abdu’l-Bahá similarly appointed his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as “Guardian” of the Faith, in his “Will and Testament”. Shoghi Effendi’s writings, however, are not regarded as scripture. After the Guardian’s death, according to the explicit instructions of `Abdu’l-Bahá’s same “Will and Testament”, the Bahá’ís elected the Universal House of Justice, which sits in Haifa, in the Holy Land.
Authority within each Bahá’í community rests with the Local Spiritual Assembly, a body of nine people elected annually within the city, town or village. Theirs is not an authority to reveal or interpret scripture, but to oversee the needs of the local Bahá’í community. A similar body exists within each country (National Spiritual Assembly), and it is these which elect the Universal House of Justice.
The Bahá’í Faith has no priesthood, and no class of persons with any special roles in religious observance. Placing the “Greatest Name” symbol in a prominent place in the room, wearing one’s best clothing for a Bahá’í meeting, etc. are therefore symbols of respect for God, rather than indications of authority.