GraceWatcher's World Religion Studies
The Baha'i Faith
Religions are many, but the reality of religion is one. The days are many, but the sun is one. The fountains are many, but the fountainhead is one. The branches are many, but the tree is one.
The foundation of the divine religions is reality; were there no reality, there would be no religions. Abraham heralded reality. Moses promulgated reality. Christ established reality. Muhammad was the Messenger of reality. The Báb was the door of reality. Bahá'u'lláh was the splendor of reality. Reality is one; it does not admit multiplicity or division. Reality is as the sun, which shines forth from different dawning points; it is as the light, which has illumined many lanterns.
Below is an extensive introduction to the Bahá'í Faith. If you have any questions, please feel free to email us. We appreciate your interest in learning more about the Faith we love.
The worldwide Bahá'í community is among the most diverse and widespread organizations on earth. Comprising individuals from virtually every nation, ethnic group, trade, profession, and social or economic class, over 7 million followers of the Bahá'í Faith reside in some 214 countries and territories. They represent more than 2,100 different ethnic groups. Bahá'í literature is printed in over 800 languages.
Bahá'ís are from every religious background: Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Sikh, Jain, animist, and non-religious. Yet as Bahá'ís, they study a common set of sacred writings, observe universal religious laws, and look to a single international governing system for guidance. This blend of unity and diversity within a supportive, voluntary administrative structure is perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the worldwide Bahá'í community.
Although Bahá'ís reside in more than 132,000 localities worldwide, they are connected through an international network of freely elected local and national governing councils. Elected annually, these councils operate under the guidance of an international governing body, known as the Universal House of Justice, which is based in Haifa, Israel. There is no clergy in the Bahá'í Faith. Every individual Bahá'í has the opportunity to serve the community as part of Bahá'í administration.
At the national level there are some 182 elected nine-member Bahá'í governing bodies, called National Spiritual Assemblies. About 12,000 nine-member Local Spiritual Assemblies guide and coordinate the work of local Bahá'í communities in localities around the world.
A WAY OF LIFE
For Bahá'ís, the purpose of life is to know and to worship God, and to contribute to an ever-advancing civilization. Bahá'ís seek to fulfill this in a variety of personal, family, and community activities. On a personal level, the Bahá'í teachings stress the importance of daily prayer and meditation. "Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship," the Bahá'í writings state. The use of alcoholic drinks or narcotic drugs is prohibited. Drugs prescribed by a physician are permitted.
Bahá'í writings also attach great importance to the institution of the family as the foundation of society. The sanctity of marriage, the recognition of the equality of men and women, and the responsibility for raising children and seeing to their education are emphasized. Divorce is discouraged but not forbidden.
Bahá'í community life is rich. The local Spiritual Assembly plans activities, including spiritual and moral education for the community, devotional services, study classes, social events, and the observance of Bahá'í holy days.
Both men and women are encouraged to share in all aspects of Bahá'í community life, vote in Bahá'í elections, and serve as members of Bahá'í institutions. At all levels, Bahá'ís use Bahá'u'lláh's unique method of non-adversarial decision-making and conflict resolution, known as "consultation." This method requires respect for diverse views, encourages the broadest possible participation, and emphasizes the primacy of the common good over individual interests.
Projects of social and economic development are an important part of Bahá'í activities. Many local Spiritual Assemblies promote small-scale educational, health, or environmental development efforts. Over the last decade, Bahá'í communities have started more than 1,500 development projects. These range from simple tutorial schools to college-level institutions; from village-level agricultural or health education projects to participation in major reforestation programs. The majority of these programs are initiated at the grassroots level and rely on local resources and decision-making.
In all their activities, Bahá'ís are enjoined to uphold the highest standards of honesty, trustworthiness, compassion, and justice. Bahá'u'lláh's teachings also stress the importance of loyalty to government and obedience to law. Although Bahá'ís may accept nonpartisan government posts or appointments and vote in elections, they must refrain from partisan political activity.
The activities of the Bahá'í Faith are supported by voluntary contributions from its members only.
Collectively, Bahá'ís participate in a wide range of activities including efforts in peace-building, human rights, women's affairs, education, health, the environment, and sustainable development.
Since 1988, the Bahá'ís of the US have been at the forefront of efforts to encourage US ratification of international human rights treaties, including the UN Genocide Convention, the Convention Against Torture, the Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Racial Discrimination. Lately, our efforts have focused on the Convention on the Elimation of Discrimination Against Women.
The worldwide Bahá'í community is recognized as a nongovernmental organization at the United Nations. Known as the Bahá'í International Community, it holds consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). It also has a working relationship with the World Health Organization (WHO) and is associated with the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and UNIFEM.
The worldwide Bahá'í community collaborates with other international nongovernmental organizations. It is a member of the World Wide Fund for Nature's Network on Conservation and Religion, the Center for Our Common Future in Geneva, the Education for All Network, and the Advocates for African Food Security.
THE BAHÁ'Í FAITH AND ITS TEACHINGS
If there is a single word that describes the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith, it is "unity." This emphasis on unity and oneness exists at all levels, from its teachings about God to its social principles. Indeed, even the practice and administration of the Bahá'í Faith reflect this emphasis on unity. Alone among the world's major independent religions, the Bahá'í Faith has preserved its essential unity.
Bahá'ís follow the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith. Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892) is regarded by Bahá'ís as the most recent in the line of Messengers from God, a line that stretches back beyond recorded time and includes Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, and the Báb.
Bahá'ís believe that there is only one God, and that the successive revelations of God's Will through His Messengers have been the chief civilizing forces in history.
The central theme of Bahá'u'lláh's message is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification into one global society. "The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens," wrote Bahá'u'lláh. Through an irresistible process, the traditional barriers of race, class, creed, and nation are breaking down, which will, in time, give birth to a universal civilization.
The principle challenge facing the people of the earth, Bahá'ís believe, is to accept as fact the oneness of the entire human race and work towards the creation of a unified world civilization.
Principles which the Bahá'í Faith promotes as vital to the achievement of this goal of world unity include the following:
- the abandonment of all forms of prejudice;
- the realization of equal rights and privileges for women and men;
- the elimination of the extremes of poverty and wealth;
- recognition of the common source and essential oneness of all the world's great religions;
- the value and necessity of universal education;
- the responsibility of each person to search independently for truth;
- the establishment of a federated system of world government, based on principles of collective security and international justice;
- the recognition that true religion is always in harmony with reason and with the pursuit of scientific knowledge;
- the need for every individual to adhere to high personal moral standards.
THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
The Bahá'í Faith had its beginnings in 1844. In that year, a young Iranian merchant, who became known as "the Báb," proclaimed the advent of a new religious revelation. Born on October 20, 1819, the Báb's given name was Siyyid 'Alí-Muhammad. "Báb" means "Gate" in Arabic. His followers were called Bábís. He declared that His purpose was to prepare humanity for the advent of a new Messenger from God, one promised to all the people of the world.
The Báb and His followers were brutally persecuted by the clergy and government of Iran, who viewed the Báb's claim as heretical. He was beaten, imprisoned, and, on July 9, 1850, executed in the city of Tabríz. Over the years, more than 20,000 Bábís perished in series of massacres throughout Iran when they refused to recant their faith.
Among the Báb's followers was a young man named Mírzá Husayn-Alí, who was born in Teheran on November 12, 1817. Known today as Bahá'u'lláh, which means "Glory of God," He was a member of one of the great patrician families of Iran.
In becoming a follower of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh turned His back on wealth and privilege, and, like other followers, became the victim of cruel persecution. In 1852, He was imprisoned and then banished, initially to Baghdad. There, in 1863, He announced that He was the Promised One foretold by the Báb.
In making this claim, Bahá'u'lláh explained that all of the world's great religions have foretold a day when peace and justice would be established worldwide. The past Messengers of God--such as Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, and the Báb--consciously prepared humanity for this day, much as educators prepare children for ever more complex studies. For Bahá'ís, Bahá'u'lláh's appearance fulfills the promise of all the world's scriptures. The followers of Bahá'u'lláh became known as Bahá'ís.
As a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire, He was sent from Baghdad to Constantinople (Istanbul), then to Adrianople (Edirne), and finally to the prison city of Acre, in the Holy Land, where He arrived in 1868. The Bahá'í World Center is situated in the twin cities of Haifa and Acre, in present-day Israel.
From His days in Baghdad until His passing near Acre in 1892, Bahá'u'lláh wrote hundreds of letters and books. These writings comprise the principal scriptures of the Bahá'í Faith. Within these texts are found the principles, teachings, prayers, and laws that guide the Bahá'í community.
The most distinctive feature of the worldwide Bahá'í community is its unity. Unlike virtually every other significant religious or social movement, the Bahá'í Faith has resisted division into factions or sects. This essential unity has been achieved in large part because detailed provisions for interpretation, succession and leadership have all been made in the Bahá'í writings.
Bahá'ís believe that Bahá'u'lláh established a new Covenant between God and humanity which befits the maturity of the human race. The most tangible evidence of this Covenant is the specific leadership succession outlined by Bahá'u'lláh, a development that is unique in religious history and which assures that the unity of the Bahá'í community will be preserved.
Before His passing, Bahá'u'lláh wrote His will and testament and appointed His eldest son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá (1844-1921), as the leader of the Bahá'í Faith. 'Abdu'l-Bahá's writings are also viewed as an authoritative source of Bahá'í teachings.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, in turn, appointed His eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), to be the "Guardian of the Faith" and His successor. He led the Bahá'í Faith from 1921 until 1957. With the passing of Shoghi Effendi, the line of hereditary leaders of the Bahá'í Faith ended. In 1963, following written instructions of Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi, an international convention was held at the Bahá'í World Center in Haifa to elect the first Universal House of Justice.
Elected every five years by the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies, the Universal House of Justice directs the spiritual and administrative affairs of the worldwide Bahá'í community. Endowed by Bahá'u'lláh with the authority to legislate matters not mentioned in the Bahá'í scriptures, the Universal House of Justice is the institution that keeps the Bahá'í community unified and flexible, able to respond to the needs and conditions of an ever-changing world.
The Bahá'í community is a single organism, which conducts its affairs through a system of commonly accepted consultative principles proclaimed by Bahá'u'lláh. Its existence demonstrates the practicality of its founder's vision of a united world of diverse elements.
Here are some hyperlinks to some of the best Bahá'í websites:
The Baha'i World -- Official Site of the Baha'i Faith (Bahá'í International Community website)
Bahá'ís of the United States: Welcome (US Bahá'í Community website)
Bahá'í World News Service (for the latest news of the Bahá'í world community)
Let Us Reason Together (an excellent free e-book for Christians and others concerning the nature of prophecy and its role in discovering truth)
Bahá'í: Prophecy Fulfilled (how the Bahá'í Faith fulfills prophecies of all the major world religions as well as Native American traditions)
Return of Christ (a must for any Christian who wishes to know more exactly the relationship between Jesus Christ and Bahá'u'lláh)
Baha'i books by Global Perspective (a great site with wonderful introductory books and pamphlets, many from a biblical standpoint)
The Bahá'í Study Center (a fantastic site with videos, audios, articles, all to help you study the Bahá'í teachings on just about everything)
Bahá'í Writings Search Engine (an online concordance of the writings of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, and The Universal House of Justice)
The Bahá'í Faith Index (a resource for finding any Bahá'í website)
ONE COUNTRY (a Bahá'í newsletter you can subscribe to for free) BahaiPictures.com - Pictures of the Bahá'í Holy Places in Israel (Gorgeous!)
Click on these and they will take you everywhere in the Bahá'í World you might want to go. :) By the way, we think the internet may have been predicted by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, in 1936 when he wrote:
"A mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the
whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and
functioning with marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity."
You can call 1-800-22-UNITE (1-800-228-6483) or log onto Bahá'ís of the United States - Contact Us , and they will send you some free literature and give you a number for Bahá'ís living near you.
The Bahá'í Distribution Service (Bahai Distribution) can be reached at 1-800-999-9019. They can discuss your interests and help you find a book that will meet your needs.
Return to our Home Page