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Baha'i Faith

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The Bahá'í Faith is a monotheistic religion. Although the Baha'i Faith is not traditionally included among the Abrahamic religions, it recognizes the same prophets, plus its own.

Table of contents
1 Brief Chronology of the Bahá'í Faith
2 External links

The Báb

In 1844 the Persian prophet Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad, who adopted the title "the Báb", which means "the Gate" in Arabic, established a new religion. It is distinct from Islam but grew out of the Islamic matrix in the same way that Christianity grew out of Judaism or Buddhism out of Hinduism. Followers of the Báb were known as Bábís and their religion as "the Bábí Faith". The Bábí Faith has its own scriptures and religious teachings, but its duration was very short. The Báb's primary purpose was to prepare the way for "Him whom God shall manifest," the One promised in the scriptures of all of the world's great religions.

The ecclesiastical and political authorities were alarmed by the large numbers of people who quickly became attracted to these new religious teachings. The Báb and his followers were persecuted relentlessly. The Báb was imprisoned and eventually executed by a firing squad in Tabriz, Persia (present-day Iran) on July 9, 1850. His mission lasted six brief years.

Bahá'u'lláh

Mírzá Husayn-`Alí, who took the title Bahá'u'lláh, which is Arabic for "the Glory of God", was a Persian nobleman who became one of the early, prominent followers of the Báb. He was arrested and imprisoned during a period of severe persecution in 1852. While incarcerated in the dungeon of the Siyáh-Chál in Tehran, He received the first intimations that He was the One anticipated by the Báb. Nine years later, in 1863, while exiled in Baghdad, Iraq, He formally announced His mission to His family and a small number of followers.

The machinations of the Persian and Ottoman authorities took Bahá'u'lláh further and further into exile, from Baghdad to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), then to Adrianople (present-day Edirne), and finally, in 1868, to the penal colony of Acre, on the very edge of the Ottoman Empire. Bahá'u'lláh remained there until His passing on May 29, 1892, after forty years of exile and imprisonment. Bahá'ís regard His resting place outside the city as the holiest spot on earth, to which they turn in prayer each day.

The other important Bahá'í holy place in the Haifa/Acre area is the tomb or Shrine of the Báb, located on the slope of Mount Carmel in Haifa. 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.

Bahá'u'lláh revealed the equivalent of more than one hundred volumes of divinely inspired writings in Arabic and Persian. The main repository of the laws of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation is the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, "the Most Holy Book".

`Abdu'l-Bahá

Before His passing, Bahá'u'lláh appointed His eldest son, `Abdu'l-Bahá, as His successor and the sole interpreter of His teachings. Bahá'u'lláh designated him "Center of the Covenant" and directed all Bahá'ís to turn to `Abdu'l-Bahá as the Head of their Faith.

(In the Bahá'í Faith, "Covenant" refers specifically to the succession of authority from Bahá'u'lláh to `Abdu'l-Bahá, and from `Abdu'l-Bahá to the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice. Those who publicly deny and rebel against this established succession of authority are known as "Covenant-Breakers", and are subsequently excommunicated from the Bahá'í community. The purpose of the Covenant is to safeguard the unity of the Bahá'í community, protecting it from the influence of schismatics.)

`Abdu'l-Bahá had shared his Father's long exile and imprisonment. This imprisonment continued until `Abdu'l-Bahá's own release as a result of the "Young Turk" revolution in 1908. Shortly after his release, `Abdu'l-Bahá traveled to Europe and America, proclaiming the teachings of his Father and nurturing the fledgling Bahá'í communities that had sprung up in various centers in Europe, the United States and Canada. Many of his talks were recorded and have been published in books entitled "Paris Talks" and "The Promulgation of Universal Peace." Another important work of `Abdu'l-Bahá, which set the course of the expansion and consolidation of the Bahá'í world community, is a series of documents called "Tablets of the Divine Plan". He also carried on a voluminous correspondence with Bahá'í communities and individuals over a period of many years, and many of these letters, or "Tablets", have been translated and published in various languages.

`Abdu'l-Bahá died in Haifa on November 28, 1921.

 

The Administrative Order of the Bahá'í Faith

`Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament is the charter of the Bahá'í administrative order. In this document `Abdu'l-Bahá established the twin institutions of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice, and he appointed his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith. Again, because of the clear directions in the Will and Testament, there was no question as to the succession of leadership in the Faith.

Shoghi Effendi, who was a student at Oxford University at the time of his Grandfather's passing, served as the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith until his passing in 1957. For thirty-six years he developed the Bahá'í community and its administrative structure in order to prepare it to support the election of the Universal House of Justice. Because the Bahá'í community was relatively small and undeveloped when the Guardian assumed the leadership of the Faith, it took many years to strengthen it and develop it to the point where it was capable of supporting the administrative structure envisioned by `Abdu'l-Bahá. Shoghi Effendi pursued this goal energetically and systematically.

As outlined in the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá, the roles and functions of the institutions of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice were clearly complementary: the Guardianship's function was interpretive, while the function of the Universal House of Justice was legislative. Neither should infringe upon the role of the other. Throughout the period of the Guardianship, Shoghi Effendi exercised his interpretive function. He translated the sacred writings of the Faith; he developed global plans for the expansion of the Bahá'í community; he developed the World Centre of the Bahá'í Faith in Haifa; he carried on a voluminous correspondence with communities and individuals around the world; and he built the administrative structure of the Faith, preparing the community for the election of the Universal House of Justice.

The Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá clearly anticipated that there would be a succession of Guardians, but this was not to be. `Abdu'l-Bahá had indicated that the first born of the Guardian should be his successor, but if that individual did not inherit the Guardian's spiritual qualities, then he should appoint another male descendant of Bahá'u'lláh. However, Shoghi Effendi did not have children, and through the years all of the members of his family had rebelled against the authority conferred upon him, becoming "Covenant-Breakers". Thus, it was not possible for him to appoint a successor as Guardian. It was also clear from `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament that only the Universal House of Justice had the authority to resolve questions not explicitly dealt with by either Bahá'u'lláh or `Abdu'l-Bahá, and this issue would obviously need to be taken up by that body. And so Shoghi Effendi had laid the foundations for the election of the Universal House of Justice. This nine-member body, which governs the international Bahá'í community, was first elected in 1963. That same year, it determined that there was "no way to appoint or to legislate to make it possible to appoint a second Guardian to succeed Shoghi Effendi."

Bahá'ís all over the world, loyal to the Covenant first established by Bahá'u'lláh and then carried forward by `Abdu'l-Bahá, accepted this decision made by what they believe is the divinely guided central authority of their Faith.

There is no clergy in the Bahá'í Faith. At the grassroots level, Bahá'í communities are governed by freely elected nine-member councils called "Local Spiritual Assemblies". Similarly, National Spiritual Assemblies direct and coordinate the affairs of national Bahá'í communities. The Bahá'í electoral process is unique. There is no system of candidature, electioneering or campaigning, and the purpose is to elect members who best possess those spiritual qualities that enable them to serve the community.

Teachings and Laws

Bahá'u'lláh's primary teachings are these:

  • There is but one supreme deity. (God) and He is unknowable to man.

Bahá'u'lláh writes on this subject:

"So perfect and comprehensive is His creation that no mind or heart, however keen or pure, can ever grasp the nature of the most insignificant of His creatures; much less fathom the mystery of Him Who is the Day Star of Truth, Who is the invisible and unknowable Essence..."

and further

"All that the sages and mystics have said or written have never exceeded, nor can they ever hope to exceed, the limitations to which man's finite mind hath been strictly subjected. To whatever heights the mind of the most exalted of men may soar, however great the depths which the detached and understanding heart can penetrate, such mind and heart can never transcend that which is the creature of their own thoughts. The meditations of the profoundest thinker, the devotions of the holiest of saints, the highest expressions of praise from either human pen or tongue, are but a reflection of that which hath been created within themselves."

  • there is but one humanity--the distinctions of race, gender, etc. are but distinctions of facade, not innate character or ability, and all are equal in the sight of God

  • All the world's great religions receive their inspiration from the same divine source

`Abdu'l-Bahá wrote:

The differences among the religions of the world are due to the varying types of minds.

Regarding the relationships and station of the various founders of the worlds great religions, which Bahá'ís refer to as "Manifestations of God" Bahá'u'lláh writes:

God hath ordained the knowledge of these sanctified Beings to be identical with the knowledge of His own Self. Whoso recognizeth them hath recognized God. Whoso hearkeneth to their call, hath hearkened to the Voice of God, and whoso testifieth to the truth of their Revelation, hath testified to the truth of God Himself. Whoso turneth away from them, hath turned away from God, and whoso disbelieveth in them, hath disbelieved in God . . . They are the Manifestations of God amidst men, the evidences of His Truth, and the signs of His glory.

Since the founders of all the world religions are essentially the manifestations of one God, it follows that the religions themselves are from the same source, and have the same goal, Bahá'u'lláh has therefore urged the followers of the different religions to put aside their differences.

The Great Being saith: O ye children of men! The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. Suffer it not to become a source of dissension and discord, of hate and enmity.
 
Bahá'u'lláh urged the elimination of religious intolerance. Abdu'l-Bahá expresses the same idea even more emphatically in his Will and Testament.

"Consort with all the peoples, kindreds and religions of the world with the utmost truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness, that all the world of being may be filled with the holy ecstasy of the grace of Bahá, that ignorance, enmity, hate and rancour may vanish from the world and the darkness of estrangement amidst the peoples and kindreds of the world may give way to the Light of Unity. Should other peoples and nations be unfaithful to you show your fidelity unto them, should they be unjust toward you show justice towards them, should they keep aloof from you attract them to yourself, should they show their enmity be friendly towards them, should they poison your lives, sweeten their souls, should they inflict a wound upon you, be a salve to their sores. Such are the attributes of the sincere! Such are the attributes of the truthful."

Bahá'ís often refer to this concept as "Progressive Revelation", which simply means that God is revealed to mankind progressively, as we mature and are able to comprehend the purpose of God in creating humanity.

Social principles

The following list of 12 "beliefs" are frequently listed as a quick summery of Bahá'í teachings. They are derived from a variety of such lists extracted from transcripts of speeches given by Abdu'l-Bahá during his his tour of Europe and North America in 1912. The list is not authoritative and a variety of such lists circulate.

  • The Oneness of God
  • The Oneness of religion
  • The Oneness of mankind
  • Equality of men and women
  • Elimination of all forms of prejudice
  • World peace
  • Harmony of religion and science
  • The need for universal compulsory education
  • Obedience to government
  • Non-involvement in [partisan] politics
  • A spiritual solution to economic problems
  • Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty

Another Bahá'í principle is that of moderation in all things (specifically liberty, civilization, religious zeal and scriptural literalism.)

Bahá'ís believe that although the current age is quite dark, the future of humanity is gloriously bright and that world peace is inevitable.

To be a Bahá'í means that a person believes that Bahá'u'lláh is the manifestation of God for this time. A Bahá'í strives to follow His teachings, and observes His laws.

Rituals

The rituals in the Bahá'í Faith are simple and few in number:

  • There is a specified set of marriage vows.
  • There are a few specified funerary practices.
  • Bahá'ís are enjoined to
    • recite an obligatory prayer each day, facing in the direction of the Qiblih (the Point of Adoration)
    • read the sacred writings of their Faith each morning and evening
    • perform a pilgrimage once in their life if they are able to afford it
    • support their Faith with material offerings.
Soliciting of funds from individuals is strictly prohibited, and Bahá'í institutions are forbidden from accepting contributions from people who are not Bahá'ís.

Laws and Ordinances

  • Bahá'ís in good health between the ages of 15 and 70 observe a nineteen-day sunrise-to-sunset fast each year March 2 to March 21.
  • There are no dietary restrictions, but Bahá'ís are forbidden to drink alcohol or to take recreational drugs, as these interfere with an individual's spiritual growth and progress.
  • Family life is, in the Bahá'í view, a cornerstone of society. Marriage is encouraged.
    • Chastity outside marriage is required.
    • Couples wishing to marry must obtain the consent of all living natural parents, as the Bahá'í teachings state that marriage is more than a union of individuals; it is the union of families.
    • Partners are expected to remain absolutely faithful within the marriage relationship.
    • Interracial and interreligious marriages are accepted.
    • Divorce is permitted, although regarded with the utmost seriousness, and is granted if, after a year of separation, the couple is unable to reconcile their differences.

The Bahá'í Calendar

The Bahá'í calendar was established by the Báb. The year consists of 19 months of 19 days, and 4 or 5 intercalary days, to make a full solar year. The New Year 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. While the name may seem to suggest that an elaborate meal is served, that is not necessarily the case. Sometimes refreshments are plentiful, but they can be as simple as bread and water.

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 Faith.

Mashriqu'l-Adhkár

Most Bahá'í meetings occur in individuals' homes, local Bahá'í centers, or rented facilities. There are currently only seven Bahá'í Houses of Worship. The name used in the Bahá'í writings for Houses of Worship is Mashriqu'l-Adhkár (Dawning-place of the Remembrance of God). The Mashriqu'l-Adhkár forms the center of a complex of insititutions of the Baha'i community.

Statistics

Today, there are some six million Bahá'ís living in 236 countries and territories around the world. They come from more than 2,100 different ethnic and tribal groups and live in more than 127,000 localities. The 2002 World Almanac lists 133,500 Bahá'ís in the USA and 28,500 in Canada.

Involvement in the Life of Society

Bahá'ís actively promote issues of social justice and spirituality wherever they are found, holding the concept of the unity of mankind as the standard for their actions. Bahá'ís have also become increasingly involved in projects of social and economic development around the world.

Bahá'u'lláh wrote of the need for world government in this age of humanity's collective life. Because of this emphasis Bahá'ís have actively supported the United Nations since its inception. The Bahá'í International Community has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and with the United Nations Children's Fund UNICEF, and has undertaken joint development programs with United Nations agencies. (See [1] (http://www.bahai.org/article-1-6-0-6) further information] on the relationship between the Bahá'í International Community and the United Nations.)

Usage note: The correct orthographies are "Bahá'í", "Bahá'ís", "Báb", and "Bahá'u'lláh". Because of typographic limitations, the forms "Bahai", "Bahais", "Bab", and "Bahaullah" are often used (for example on Wikipedia).

Brief Chronology of the Bahá'í Faith

  • May 23, 1844 Declaration of the Báb in Shiraz, Iran.
  • July 9, 1850, Martyrdom of the Báb in Tabriz, Iran.
  • 1852, While imprisoned for four months in an underground dungeon in Tehran, Bahá'u'lláh receives the first intimations that He is the One foretold by the Báb.
  • January 12, 1853, Exile of Bahá'u'lláh from Tehran to Baghdad.
  • April 23, 1863, Declaration of Bahá'u'lláh in Garden of Ridván in Baghdad on the eve of his exile to Constantinople.
  • August 31, 1868, arrival of Bahá'u'lláh into the Prison-city of Acre in the Holy Land.

  • May 29, 1892, Ascension of Bahá'u'lláh.
  • 1893 First newspaper mention of the Bahá'í Faith in United States.
  • 1898 First pilgrimage by Western believers, including Phoebe Hearst and the first African-American believer, Robert Turner, to the Holy Land where they visited with 'Abdu'l-Bahá in prison.
  • September 1908, 'Abdu'l-Bahá is released from a lifetime of exile and imprisonment at 64 years of age.
  • April 1912 – December 1912, Travels of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in North America.
  • 1914-1918, World War I. 'Abdu'l-Bahá writes the Tablets of the Divine Plan.
  • April 27, 1920, 'Abdu'l-Bahá is knighted by the British Empire in recognition of His humanitarian work during WWI.
  • November 28, 1921, Ascension of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Haifa
    (This date marks the close of the "Heroic Age of the Baha'i Faith" and the opening of the "Formative Age.")
  • 1937, Shoghi Effendi launches the "Divine Plan" for the diffusion of the fragrance of the Cause.
  • 1944, Publication of "God Passes By" by Shoghi Effendi.
  • 1951, Eleven functioning National Spiritual Assemblies.
  • 1951-1957, appointment of 32 additional "Hands of the Cause of God" by Shoghi Effendi.
  • November 1957, passing of Shoghi Effendi.
  • 1957 – April, 1963. Faith is guided by 27 remaining Hands of the Cause.
  • April 1963, Election of first Universal House of Justice by representatives of 56 National Spiritual Assemblies gathered in Haifa.

The chronology posted above was taken from website http://www.mindspring.com/~lmno/vinsa6

External links

The Official Bahá'í Website, with considerable factual information (including history) can be found at: http://www.bahai.org Another good source of information is http://www.onecountry.org

Full text of the Bahá'í writings available in english along with extensive other study material are available at http://www.bahai-education.org/ocean

For links to over 3000 Bahá'í sites, see this search engine, the Bahá'í Faith Index: http://www.bahaindex.com

See also:



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