2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Religious movements, traditions and organizations
| Kitáb-i-Aqdas · Kitáb-i-Íqán
The Hidden Words
Bahá'í history · Timeline
Unity of humanity
Symbols · Laws
The Bahá'í Faith is a religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh in 19th century Persia. Bahá'ís number around 6 million in more than 200 countries around the world.
According to Bahá'í teachings, religious history is seen as an evolving educational process for mankind, through God's messengers, which are termed Manifestations of God. Bahá'u'lláh is seen as the most recent, pivotal, but not final of these individuals. He claimed to be the expected redeemer and teacher prophesied in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions, and that his mission was to establish a firm basis for unity throughout the world, and inaugurate an age of peace and justice, which Bahá'ís expect will inevitably arise.
"Bahá'í" (Ba-haa-ee or /baˈhaːʔiː/) is either an adjective referring to this religion or the term for a follower of Bahá'u'lláh, and not a noun referring to the religion as a whole. The term comes from the Arabic word Bahá’ (بهاء), meaning "glory" or "splendor".
Three underlying core assertions are often simply referred to as the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of mankind. This formulation is often helpful in understanding Bahá'í approaches to a variety of religious topics, though it belies much of the complexity found in the hundreds of books and letters that form the Bahá'í texts. Much of Bahá'í practice and social teachings are rooted in these priorities.
Bahá'ís believe in a single, imperishable God, the creator of all things, including all the creatures and forces in the universe. The existence of God is thought to be eternal, without a beginning or end, and is described as "a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty." Though inaccessible directly, God is nevertheless seen as conscious of his creation, with a will and purpose. Bahá'ís believe that God expresses this will in many ways, including through a series of divine messengers referred to as Manifestations of God or sometimes divine educators. In expressing God's intent, these manifestations are seen to establish religion in the world.
Bahá'í teachings state that God is too great for humans to fully comprehend, or to create a complete and accurate image. In the Bahá'í religion God is often referred to by titles (e.g. the All-Powerful, or the All-Loving), and there is a substantial emphasis on monotheism, rejecting such doctrines as the Trinity.
Bahá'í notions of progressive religious revelation result in their accepting the validity of most of the worlds' religions, whose founders and central figures are seen as Manifestations of God. These include, but are not limited to Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, and Buddha. Bahá'ís also believe that other religious figures, such as Adam, Noah, and Hud historically existed and were prophets of God. Religious history is interpreted as a series of dispensations, where each manifestation brings a somewhat broader and more advanced revelation, suited for the time and place in which it was expressed. Specific religious social teachings (e.g. the direction of prayer, or dietary restrictions) may be revoked by a subsequent manifestation so that a more appropriate requirement for the time and place may be established. Conversely, certain general principles (e.g. neighbourliness, or charity) are seen to be universal and consistent. Bahá'ís do not believe that this process of progressive revelation will end. They do, however, believe that it is cyclical. Bahá'ís do not expect a new manifestation of god to appear prior to 1000 years after Bahá'u'lláh's revelation.
Bahá'í beliefs are sometimes described as syncretic combinations of earlier religions' beliefs. Bahá'ís, however, assert that their religion is a distinct tradition with its own scriptures, teachings, laws, and history. Its cultural and religious debt to the Shi'a Islamic matrix in which it was founded is seen as analogous to the Jewish socio-religious context in which Christianity was established. Bahá'ís describe their faith as an independent world religion, differing from the other traditions only in its relative newness and in the appropriateness of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings to the modern context. Bahá'u'lláh is believed to fulfill the messianic expectations of these precursor faiths.
Bahá'ís believe that human beings have a "rational soul", and that this provides the species with a unique capacity to recognize God's station and humanity's relationship with its creator. Every human is seen to have a duty to recognize God and his manifestations, and to conform to their teachings. Through recognition and obedience, service to fellow humans and regular prayer and spiritual practice, Bahá'ís believe that the soul becomes closer to God, the spiritual ideal in Bahá'í belief. When a human dies, the soul passes into the next world, where its spiritual development in the physical world becomes a basis for judgment and advancement in the spiritual world. Heaven and Hell are taught to be spiritual states of nearness or distance from God that describe relationships in this world and the next, and not physical places of reward and punishment achieved after death.
The Bahá'í writings emphasize the essential equality of human beings, and the abolition of prejudice. Humanity is seen as essentially one, though highly varied; its diversity of race and culture are seen as worthy of appreciation and tolerance. Doctrines of racism, nationalism, caste, and social class are seen as artificial impediments to unity. The Bahá'í teachings state that the unification of mankind is the paramount issue in the religious and political conditions of the present world.
Bahá'í sources usually estimate the worldwide Bahá'í population to be above 5 million. Encyclopedias and similar sources estimate from 2 to 8 million Bahá'ís in the world in the early twenty-first century, with most estimates between 5 and 6 million.
From its origins in the Persian and Ottoman Empires, the Bahá'í Faith acquired a number of Western converts by World War I. Fifty years later its population was distributed much more towards the Third World as a result of Bahá'í pioneering efforts.
According to The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2004:
|The majority of Bahá'ís live in Asia (3.6 million), Africa (1.8 million), and Latin America (900,000). According to some estimates, the largest Bahá'í community in the world is in India, with 2.2 million Bahá'ís, next is Iran, with 350,000, and the USA, with 150,000. Aside from these countries, numbers vary greatly. Currently, no country has a Bahá'í majority. Guyana is the country with the largest percentage of Bahá'ís (7%).|
The Bahá'í religion was listed in The Britannica Book of the Year (1992–present) as the second most widespread of the world's independent religions in terms of the number of countries represented. Britannica claims that it is established in 247 countries and territories; represents over 2,100 ethnic, racial, and tribal groups; has scriptures translated into over 800 languages; and has seven million adherents worldwide .
|From The Báb|
| Persian Bayán · Arabic Bayán
Writings of the Báb
| Hidden Words · Seven Valleys
Gems of Divine Mysteries
Kitáb-i-Íqán · Gleanings
Summons of the Lord of Hosts
Tabernacle of Unity
Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh
Epistle to the Son of the Wolf
| Secret of Divine Civilization
Some Answered Questions
Tablets of the Divine Plan
Will and Testament
|From Shoghi Effendi|
| World Order of Bahá'u'lláh
Advent of Divine Justice
God Passes By
Shoghi Effendi, the appointed head of the religion from 1921 to 1957, wrote the following summary of what he considered to be the distinguishing principles of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings, which, he said, together with the laws and ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas constitute the bed-rock of the Bahá'í Faith:
|The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind—these stand out as the essential elements [which Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed].|
The following 12 principles are frequently listed as a quick summary of the Bahá'í teachings. They are derived from transcripts of speeches given by `Abdu'l-Bahá during his tour of Europe and North America in 1912. The list is not authoritative and a variety of such lists circulate.
- Unity of God
- Unity of religion
- Unity of mankind
- Gender Equality
- Elimination of all forms of prejudice
- World peace
- Harmony of religion and science
- Independent investigation of truth
- Universal compulsory education
- Universal auxiliary language
- Obedience to government and non-involvement in partisan politics
- Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty
Although it concentrates on social and ethical issues as well, some of the Bahá'í Faith's foundational texts might be described as mystical. Shoghi Effendi has called the Seven Valleys Bahá'u'lláh's "greatest mystical composition." It was written to a follower of Sufism, a mystic and esoterical tradition of Islam. It was first translated into English in 1906, becoming one of the earliest available books of Bahá'u'lláh to the West. The Hidden Words is another book written by Bahá'u'lláh during the same period, containing 153 short passages described by `Abdu'l-Bahá as "a treasury of divine mysteries".
Bahá'ís have high regard for what is termed the "Greater Covenant", which they see as universal in nature, and from "time immemorial" has been carried through by the Manifestations of God of all ages. They also regard highly the "Lesser Covenant", which is viewed as an agreement between a Messenger of God and his followers, unique to each revelation, and includes social practices and the continuation of authority in the religion. At this time Bahá'ís view Bahá'u'lláh's revelation as a binding lesser covenant for his followers; in the Bahá'í writings being firm in the covenant is considered as one of the main religious virtues a person can work toward.
With unity as an essential teaching of the religion, Bahá'ís follow an administration that they believe is divinely ordained, and therefore see attempts to create schisms and divisions as insignificant, doomed efforts which are contrary to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. Throughout Bahá'í history schisms have occurred over the succession of authority. The followers of the various Bahá'í divisions, who in total, number in the low thousands, are regarded as Covenant-breakers and shunned, essentially excommunicated.
Bahá'í history is often traced through a sequence of leaders, beginning with the Báb's May 23, 1844 declaration in Shiraz, and ultimately resting on an administrative order established by the central figures of the religion. The tradition was mostly isolated to the Persian and Ottoman empires until after the death of Bahá'u'lláh in 1892, at which time he had followers in thirteen countries of Asia and Africa. Under the leadership of his son, `Abdu'l-Bahá, the religion gained a footing in Europe and America, and was consolidated in Iran, where it still suffered intense persecution. After the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1921, the leadership of the Bahá'í community entered a new phase, evolving from that of a single individual to an administrative order with a system of both elected bodies and appointed individuals.
In 1844 Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad of Shiraz, Iran proclaimed that he was "the Báb" ( Arabic: الباب "the Gate"), after a Shi`a religious concept. His followers were therefore known as Bábís. As the Báb's teachings spread, the Islamic clergy saw it as a threat, and Bábís came under increased persecution, at times being forced to choose between renouncing their beliefs or being killed. Several military confrontations took place between government and Bábí forces. The Báb himself was imprisoned and eventually executed in 1850.
Bahá'ís see the Báb as the forerunner of the Bahá'í Faith, because the Báb's writings introduced the concept of " He whom God shall make manifest", a Messianic figure whose coming, according to Bahá'ís, was announced in the scriptures of all of the world's great religions, and whom Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, claimed to be in 1863. The Báb's tomb is located in Haifa, Israel, and is an important place of pilgrimage for Bahá'ís. The remains of the Báb were brought secretly from Persia to the Holy Land and were eventually interred in the Shrine built for them in a spot specifically designated by Bahá'u'lláh.
Mírzá Husayn `Alí of Núr was one of the early followers of the Báb, who later took the title of Bahá'u'lláh. He was arrested and imprisoned for this involvement in 1852. He claimed that while incarcerated in the dungeon of the Síyáh-Chál in Tehran, he received the first intimations that he was the one anticipated by the Báb. He announced this in 1863.
Shortly thereafter he was expelled from Persia to Baghdad, in the Ottoman Empire; then to Constantinople; then to Adrianople. During this time tensions grew between Bahá'u'lláh and Subh-i-Azal, the appointed leader of the Bábís, culminating in Bahá'u'lláh's 1866 declaration. While in Adrianople, he wrote letters to several rulers of the world, including Sultan Abdülâziz, declaring his mission as a Messenger of God. As a result Bahá'u'lláh was banished a final time, to the penal colony of `Akká, in present-day Israel.
Towards the end of his life, the strict and harsh confinement was gradually relaxed, and he was allowed to live in a home near `Akká, while still officially a prisoner of that city. He died there in 1892. Bahá'ís regard his resting place at Bahjí as the Qiblih to which they turn in prayer each day. During his lifetime, Bahá'u'lláh left a large volume of writings; the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, and the Book of Certitude are recognized as primary Bahá'í theological works, and the Hidden Words and the Seven Valleys as primary mystical treatises.
`Abbás Effendi was Bahá'u'lláh's eldest son, known by the title of `Abdu'l-Bahá (Servant of Bahá). His father left a Will that appointed `Abdu'l-Bahá as the leader of the Bahá'í community, and designated him as the "Centre of the Covenant", "Head of the Faith", and the sole authoritative interpreter of Bahá'u'lláh's writings.
`Abdu'l-Bahá had shared his father's long exile and imprisonment, which continued until `Abdu'l-Bahá's own release as a result of the Young Turk Revolution in 1908. Following his release he led a life of travelling, speaking, teaching, and maintaining correspondence with communities of believers and individuals, expounding the principles of the Bahá'í Faith.
Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Aqdas and The Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá are foundation documents of the Bahá'í administrative order. Bahá'u'lláh established the elected Universal House of Justice, and `Abdu'l-Bahá established the appointed hereditary Guardianship and clarified the relationship between the two institutions. In his Will, `Abdu'l-Bahá appointed his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as the first Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith.
Shoghi Effendi throughout his lifetime translated Bahá'í literature; developed global plans for the expansion of the Bahá'í community; developed the Bahá'í World Centre; carried on a voluminous correspondence with communities and individuals around the world; and built the administrative structure of the religion, preparing the community for the election of the Universal House of Justice. He died in 1957 under conditions that didn't allow for a successor to be appointed.
At local, regional, and national levels, Bahá'ís elect members to nine-person Spiritual Assemblies, which run the affairs of the religion. There are also appointed individuals working at various levels, including locally and internationally which perform the function of propagating the faith and protecting the community. The latter do not serve as clergy, which the Bahá'í Faith does not have.
The Universal House of Justice, first elected in 1963, remains the supreme governing body of the Bahá'í Faith, and its 9 members are elected every five years by the members of all National Spiritual Assemblies. Any male Bahá'í, 21 years or older, is eligible to be elected to the Universal House of Justice; all other positions are open to male and female Bahá'ís.
Involvement in society
Monasticism is forbidden, and Bahá'ís attempt to ground their spirituality in ordinary daily life. Performing useful work, for example, is not only required but considered a form of worship. Bahá'u'lláh prohibited a mendicant and ascetic lifestyle, encouraging Bahá'ís to "Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in." The importance of self-exertion and service to humanity in man's spiritual life is emphasised further in Bahá'u'lláh's writings, where he states that work done in the spirit of service to humanity enjoys a rank equal to that of prayer and worship in the sight of God.
Bahá'u'lláh wrote of the need for world government in this age of humanity's collective life. Because of this emphasis many Bahá'ís have chosen to support efforts of improving international relations through organizations such as the League of Nations and the United Nations. The Bahá'í International Community is an agency under the direction of the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, and has consultative status with the following organizations:
- United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
- United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)
- United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
The Bahá'í International Community has offices at the United Nations in New York and Geneva and representations to United Nations regional commissions and other offices in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Nairobi, Rome, Santiago, and Vienna. In recent years an Office of the Environment and an Office for the Advancement of Women were established as part of its United Nations Office. The Bahá'í Faith has also undertaken joint development programs with various other United Nations agencies. In the 2000 Millennium Forum of the United Nations a Bahá'í was invited as the only non-governmental speaker during the summit. See this article for further information on the relationship between the Bahá'í International Community and the United Nations.
In 1939 Shoghi Effendi launched a seven year plan, followed by another in 1946. In 1953 he launched the Ten Year World Crusade, with extremely ambitious goals for the expansion of Bahá'í communities and institutions, the translation of Bahá'í literature into several new languages, and the sending of Bahá'í pioneers into previously unreached nations. He announced in letters during the Ten Year Crusade that it would be followed by other plans under the direction of the Universal House of Justice, which was elected in 1963 at the culmination of the Crusade. The House of Justice then launched a nine year plan in 1964, and a series of subsequent multi-year plans of varying length and goals followed, guiding the direction of the international Bahá'í community.
Current international plan
Since the late 1990's, the House of Justice has been directing communities to prepare for large-scale expansion, organizing localities into "clusters", creating new institutions such as Regional Councils and strengthening the various "training institutes". The recently completed five-year plan (2001-2006) focused on developing institutions and creating the means to "sustain large-scale expansion and consolidation" (Riḍván 158). Since 2001, the Bahá'ís around the world have been specifically encouraged to focus on children's classes, devotional gatherings, and a systematic study of the religion, known as study circles. A new focus was added in December 2005 with the addition of " junior youth" classes to the core activities, focusing on education for those between 11 and 14.
The second five-year plan (2006-2011) was launched by the Universal House of Justice in April of 2006; it calls upon the Bahá'ís of the world to establish advanced patterns of growth and community development in over 1,500 "clusters" around the world. It also alludes to a possible tier-election process for Local Spiritual Assemblies in localities with many Bahá'ís. The years from 2001 until 2021 represent four successive five-year plans, culminating in the centennial anniversary of the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá.
Along with a focus on consolidation has come a systematic approach to education and community development. The "study circles" are intended to be sustainable and self-perpetuating on a large scale. Participants complete a sequence of workbooks in small groups, facilitated by a tutor, and upon completion of the sequence a participant can then go on to facilitate study circles for others.
The most popular study program is the Ruhi Institute, a study course originally designed for use in Colombia, but which has received wide use. The first book studies three themes: the Bahá'í writings, prayer, and life and death. Subsequent themes include the education of children, the lives of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, service, and others.
The laws of the Bahá'í Faith primarily come from the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh's book of laws. While some of the laws from the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are applicable at the present time, Bahá'u'lláh has provided for the progressive application of other laws that are dependent upon the existence of a predominantly Bahá'í society, which is expected gradually to come into being. The laws, when not in direct conflict with the civil laws of the country of residence are binding on every Bahá'í. The observance of personal laws such as prayer or fasting, while a universal obligation, is the sole responsibility of the individual. Other laws may be enforced to a degree by the administrative order, while still others are dependent upon the existence of a predominantly Bahá'í society.
These are a few examples of laws and basic religious observances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas which have been codified by Shoghi Effendi, the appointed interpreter of the Bahá'í writings:
- Recite an obligatory prayer each day after reaching the age of maturity, deemed to be 15. There are three such prayers among which one can be chosen each day.
- Pray and meditate daily.
- Backbiting and gossip is prohibited and denounced.
- Adult Bahá'ís in good health observe a nineteen-day sunrise-to-sunset fast each year from March 2 through March 20.
- Bahá'ís are forbidden to drink alcohol or to take drugs, unless prescribed by doctors.
- Sexual relationships are permitted only between a husband and wife, and thus homosexual acts are not permitted. See Homosexuality and Bahá'í Faith.
- Gambling is strictly forbidden.
Places of worship
Most Bahá'í meetings occur in individuals' homes, local Bahá'í centers, or rented facilities. Worldwide, there are currently seven Bahá'í Houses of Worship, basically one per continent, with an eighth under construction in Chile. Bahá'í writings refer to an institution called a "Mashriqu'l-Adhkár" (Dawning-place of the Mention of God), which is to form the centre of a complex of institutions including a hospital, university, and so on. Only the first ever Mashriqu'l-Adhkár in `Ishqábád, Turkmenistan, was built to such a degree.
Bahá'í marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Its purpose is mainly to foster spiritual harmony, fellowship and unity between the two partners and the rearing of children. The Bahá'í teachings on marriage call it a fortress for well-being and salvation and place marriage and the family as the foundation of the structure of human society. Bahá'u'lláh highly praised marriage, declaring it an eternal command of God, also discouraging divorce, and requiring chastity outside of marriage; Bahá'u'lláh taught that a husband and wife should strive to improve the spiritual life of each other.
Bahá'ís intending to marry "should study each other's character and spend time getting to know each other before they decide to marry, and when they do marry it should be with the intention of establishing an eternal bond." Although parents should not choose partners for their children, once two individuals decide to marry, they must receive the consent of all living parents, even if one partner is not a Bahá'í. Interracial marriage is highly praised in the Bahá'í teachings. The Bahá'í marriage ceremony is simple; the only compulsory part of the wedding is the reading of the wedding vows prescribed by Bahá'u'lláh which both the groom and the bride read, in the presence of two witnesses. The vows are:
- "We will all, verily, abide by the Will of God."
The official symbol of the Bahá'í Faith is the five-pointed star, but a nine-pointed star is more frequently used. The ringstone symbol and calligraphy of the Greatest Name are also often encountered. The former consists of two stars interspersed with a stylized Bahá’ ( Arabic: بهاء "splendor" or "glory") whose shape is meant to recall the three onenesses. The Greatest Name is Yá Bahá'u'l-'Abhá ( Arabic: يا بهاء الأبهى "O Glory of the Most Glorious!")
The Bahá'í calendar is based upon the calendar established by the Báb. The year consists of 19 months of 19 days, with four or five intercalary days, to make a full solar year. The Bahá'í New Year corresponds to the traditional Persian New Year, called Naw Rúz, and occurs on the vernal equinox, March 21, at the end of the month of fasting. Bahá'í communities gather at the beginning of each month at a meeting called a Feast for worship, consultation and socializing.
Each of the 19 months is given a name which is an attribute of God; some examples include Bahá’ (Splendour), ‘Ilm (Knowledge), and Jamál (Beauty).The Bahá'í week is familiar in that it consists of seven days, with each day of the week also named after an attribute of God; some examples include Istiqlál (Independence), Kamál (Perfection) and ‘Idál (Justice). Bahá'ís observe 11 Holy Days throughout the year, with work suspended on 9 of these. These days commemorate important anniversaries in the history of the religion.
Bahá'ís continue to be persecuted in Islamist ruled countries, especially Iran, where over 200 believers were executed between 1978 and 1998. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iranian Bahá'ís have regularly had their homes ransacked or been banned from attending university or holding government jobs, and several hundred have received prison sentences for their religious beliefs, most recently for participating in study circles. Bahá'í cemeteries have been desecrated and property seized and occasionally demolished, including the House of Mírzá Buzurg, Bahá'u'lláh's father. The House of the Báb in Shiraz has been destroyed twice, and is one of three sites to which Bahá'ís perform pilgrimage.
Even more recently the situation of Bahá'ís has worsened; the United Nations Commission on Human Rights revealed an October 2005 confidential letter from Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces of Iran to identify Bahá'ís and to monitor their activities and in November 2005 the state-run and influential Kayhan newspaper, whose managing editor is appointed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, ran nearly three dozen articles defaming the Bahá'í Faith.
Due to these actions, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights stated on March 20, 2006 that she "also expresses concern that the information gained as a result of such monitoring will be used as a basis for the increased persecution of, and discrimination against, members of the Bahá'í faith, in violation of international standards. ... The Special Rapporteur is concerned that this latest development indicates that the situation with regard to religious minorities in Iran is, in fact, deteriorating."
Bernard Lewis states that the Muslim laity and Islamic authorities have always had great difficulty in accommodating post-Islamic monotheistic religions such as the Bahá'í Faith, since on one hand the followers of such religions cannot be dismissed either as benighted heathens, like the polytheists of Asia and the animists of Africa, nor as outdated precursors, like the Jews and Christians. Moreover, their very existence presents a challenge to the Islamic doctrine of the perfection and finality of Muhammad's revelation.