At local, national, and international levels, Baha'is elect leadership councils worldwide

HAIFA, Israel -- Using a distinctive electoral process that extends from the grassroots to the international level, the worldwide Bahá'í community on 29 April 2003 elected its international governing council, the Universal House of Justice.

Altogether 1,544 electors, themselves having been elected by the Bahá'í membership in 178 national communities, chose nine people for a five-year term. Those nine come from seven different nations and reflect a diverse range of professional experiences and backgrounds.

In May, those same 178 national Bahá'í communities held elections to choose membership for national-level governing bodies, known as National Spiritual Assemblies. Also composed of nine members, National Spiritual Assemblies are elected annually.

As well, local Bahá'í communities around the world held their annual elections in mid-April, selecting nine-member governing councils known as Local Spiritual Assemblies. There are more than 11,700 Local Spiritual Assemblies worldwide.

At each level, the electoral process was marked by certain distinctive characteristics.

"The elections are conducted by secret ballot -- however, there is no nomination, campaigning, or discussion of candidates," said Douglas Moore, director of the Office of Public Information at the Bahá'í World Centre, in Haifa, Israel.

"Rather, each elector, in an atmosphere of prayer and meditation, chooses the names of those individuals he or she feels possess the best qualities to serve," he said.

"Delegates are guided by the criteria based on the writings of the Bahá'í Faith, which advise them to vote for individuals with selfless devotion, a well-trained mind, recognized ability, loyalty, and mature experience," he said.

Headquartered in Haifa, the Universal House of Justice guides and directs the activities of the five million members of the Bahá'í Faith, which has been identified in the Encyclopaedia Britannica as the second most widespread of the world's independent religions, after Christianity.

The electors of the Universal House of Justice consist of the members of the 178 National Spiritual Assemblies, who this year cast their votes by mail. Those electors, in turn, had been chosen in April 2002, through a system of delegates, by the entire adult membership of their respective national communities.

"This election is the only one in the world where the governing body of a major independent world religion is elected directly by delegates chosen by their respective national communities," said Mr. Moore.

The elections this year for the Universal House of Justice were marked by the retirement of two long-serving members: Ali Nakhjavani and Hushmand Fatheazam.

Both Mr. Nakhjavani, 83, and Mr. Fatheazam, 79, had served on the Universal House of Justice since it was first elected in 1963. They gave notice of their intention to resign earlier this year.

In the subsequent election on 29 April, two new members were chosen -- and the seven others were re-elected.

The two new members, Hartmut Grossmann and Firaydoun Javaheri, had been serving at the Bahá'í World Centre as Counsellor members of the International Teaching Centre.

Mr. Grossmann, born in Germany, has academic qualifications in the German and English languages. He served on the National Spiritual Assemblies of the Bahá'ís of Germany (1963 to 1969) and Finland (1977 to 1980). He was a university academic in Finland. In 1980, Mr. Grossmann was appointed a Continental Counsellor for Europe. A volunteer position, a Continental Counsellor advises and assists Bahá'í communities in a given region with their growth and development.

Dr. Javaheri, who was born in Iran, has a doctorate in agronomy. He lived for 27 years in Africa -- first the Gambia, then Zambia -- where he was chief technical adviser for the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. He served the Bahá'í communities there in the area of social and economic development. He was appointed a Continental Counsellor in 1995 after serving for 19 years as a member of its Auxiliary Board.

Other members of the Universal House of Justice, who were re-elected this year, are:

Farzam Arbab, born in Iran, who obtained his doctorate in physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He was the representative for the Rockefeller Foundation in Colombia (1974 to 1983) and the president of the FUNDAEC development foundation there. He was first elected to the Universal House of Justice in 1993.

Kiser Barnes, who was born in the United States, and holds degrees in political science and law. He practiced law and held senior positions in human rights organizations and in labor relations in the United States, before moving to Africa where he held senior academic posts at universities in Benin, Togo, and Nigeria. He was elected to the Universal House of Justice in 2000.

Hooper Dunbar, who was born in the United States, was a film actor in Hollywood before moving to Central and South America where he taught arts and English. An accomplished painter, he was first elected to the Universal House of Justice in 1988.

Peter Khan, born in Australia, held professorial posts in electrical engineering at universities in the United States and Australia. Dr. Khan was first elected to the Universal House of Justice in 1987.

Douglas Martin, who was born in Canada, holds degrees in business administration and in history, and is an author and editor. Mr. Martin was elected to the Universal House of Justice in 1993.

Glenford Mitchell, born in Jamaica, holds a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. An author, he has worked as a magazine editor and managing editor, and taught English and journalism at Howard University. He was elected to the Universal House of Justice in 1982.

Ian Semple, born in England, holds a Master of Arts degree in the German and French languages and literature from Oxford University. A chartered accountant, he was first elected to the Universal House of Justice in 1963.