Eighth International Convention a showcase for diversity

An electoral process that stands as a "functioning model of global governance."

HAIFA - More than 1,100 Bahá'ís from around the world gathered here at the end of April to choose the membership of the international governing council of the worldwide Bahá'í community, the Universal House of Justice.

Delegates came from 161 countries for the four-day gathering, which was held 29 April-2 May 1998. The council is elected every five years and this year's International Convention was the eighth since 1963, when the Universal House of Justice was first elected.

Composed of nine individuals, the Universal House of Justice guides the activities and institutions of the worldwide Bahá'í community, which consists of more than five million people in over 230 countries and territories. According to the 1998 Encyclopedia Britannica yearbook, the Bahá'í Faith is the second-most widespread religion in the world, after Christianity.

"The International Convention is the culmination of a distinctive electoral process that combines administrative and religious elements," said Albert Lincoln, Secretary-General of the Bahá'í International Community. "Since there is no clergy in the Bahá'í Faith, the community is governed by elected councils composed of ordinary believers. These bodies function primarily by consensus, reaching their decisions through a combination of consultation and prayer.

"The Universal House of Justice, which oversees the entire world community, is the keystone of this administrative structure. In addition to administrative and judicial functions, it has the power to supplement the religious laws laid down by Bahá'u'lláh, the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, through new legislation, allowing the religion to evolve and adapt to new circumstances. Since all the Bahá'ís of the world look to this body for guidance and leadership, the selection of its membership is a matter of great importance to us."

"The electoral process itself has some unusual features, and it stands as a functioning model of global governance," said Mr. Lincoln. "The electors are the members of the 175 national bodies, who have themselves been elected by delegates from all parts of their respective countries in national conventions held a year earlier. They have twelve months to prepare themselves for the heavy responsibility of voting for the individuals indicated by their own conscience alone, without any electioneering or even a slate of candidates. Not only is the vote cast by secret ballot, but the electors are forbidden to discuss their choices among themselves or with any other person. The only assistance is the serene and prayerful atmosphere which prevails during the balloting."

Elected were Ali Nakhjavani, Peter Khan, Adib Taherzadeh, Glenford Mitchell, Ian Semple, Hooper Dunbar, Farzam Arbab, Douglas Martin, and Hushmand Fatheazam.

In addition to the election, which was the opening event on 29 April, the Convention included consultation on major issues facing the Bahá'í community, such as the promotion of integrated patterns of community development, the education of children, moral development, elevating the status of women, and relations with non-governmental organizations and national and international institutions, as well as those issues of concern to individual Bahá'ís such as the importance of personal responsibility and the impact of prayer.

The Haifa-Acre region of Israel is the administrative and spiritual centre of the worldwide Bahá'í community. The Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, the final resting place of the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, is located near Acre, and the Shrine of the Báb, Forerunner of Bahá'u'lláh, is located on Mount Carmel in Haifa. The Universal House of Justice has its Seat in Haifa.