Bahá’u’lláh has called for two branches of the Bahá’í Administrative Order in the Kitáb-i-‘Ahdí (Book of My Covenant): the Rulers (Umará) and the Learned (‘Ulamá). The Universal House of Justice has stated that the “distinction is that whereas the ‘rulers’ function as corporate bodies, the ‘learned’ operate primarily as individuals.”
The administrative functions of both branches are clearly defined and delineated in the Bahá’í Writings as well as in the writings of the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice. Both branches are integral to the theory and practice of Bahá’í spirituality. The members of the Local Spiritual Assembly for example “should consider themselves as entering the Court of the Presence of God, the Exalted, the most High, and as beholding Him Who is the Unseen” as ordained by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. They are to serve both the individual Bahá’í and the community at large as “channels of divine guidance.” This branch of the Bahá’í administration is unique in terms of mystical guidance compared to other schools of mystical thought, with respect to even though one finds parallels between the “rulers ” and the function of the spiritual master in general.
It is the “learned” arm of the Bahá’í administration, however, that parallels the function of the Sufi master most closely, and as such it is also integral to the Bahá’í mystical experience. This arm consists of the Hands of the Cause, the Continental Board of Counselors and the Auxiliary Board. The functions of the Hands of the Cause as delineated in the Will and Testament are:
The obligations of the Hands of the Cause of God are to diffuse the Divine Fragrances, to edify the souls of men, to promote learning, to improve the character of all men and to be, at all times and under all conditions, sanctified and detached from earthly things. They must manifest the fear of God by their conduct, their manners, their deeds and their words.
The functions of the “Hands” as expounded above are clearly similar to that of the Sufi master as examined earlier. These same functions of the Hands of the Cause are carried into the future by the Continental Board of Counselors, and their Auxiliary Board. Therefore the term “learned” has been applied to the Hands of the Cause, Counselors, and Auxiliary Board members.
The Hands of the Cause of God, the Counselors and the members of the Auxiliary Board fall within the definition of the “learned” given by the beloved Guardian. Thus they are all intimately interrelated and it is not incorrect to refer to the three ranks collectively as one institution.
By Ayat'u'l Baha Hadrat Kavian S. Milani
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