Abdu’l-Baha on religious law and the House of Justice

{josquote}...in principle, the Baha’i Faith is similar to Christianity, whose scriptures also specify only a few laws.{/josquote}

This tablet by Abdu’l-Baha, dated around 1899, responds to detailed questions, “concerning the wisdom of referring some important laws to the House of Justice.” Abdu’l-Baha replies that, in principle, the Baha’i Faith is similar to Christianity, whose scriptures also specify only a few laws.

The Bahai Faith, he says, has little connection to worldly concerns. Religion’s primary function is to refine characters and bring light in darkness. However the Bahai scriptures do specify some foundations of our religious law, leaving subsidiary matters to the divinely-inspired House of Justice, which can make ‘cultural laws,’ (ahkaam madaniyyih) in accordance with time and circumstance. In Islam, this power was in the hands of diverse divines, resulting in conflicting rules. In the Bahai Faith, only the rulings of the Houses of Justice are binding, and the Houses of Justice change their rulings from time to time. This principle applies to a local, national or international House of Justice.

Abdu’l-Baha gives two examples of the advantage of flexibility in religious law: the forbidden degrees of marriage and the punishments for breaches of the religious law. The first should be decided by the House of Justice according to social customs and medical requirements, wisdom, and suitability for human nature (the first three of which are specific to a time and place). Punishments likewise cannot remain the same forever, as can be seen in Judaism and Islam, where the punishments specified in scripture are no longer socially acceptable.

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