The Bahá'í Faith is a religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh in nineteenth-century Persia, emphasizing the spiritual unity of all humankind. There are an estimated five to six million Bahá'ís around the world in more than 200 countries and territories.
Bahá'í teachings emphasize the underlying unity of the major world religions. Religious history is seen to have unfolded through a series of divine messengers, each of whom established a religion that was suited to the needs of the time and the capacity of the people. These messengers have included Abraham, the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and others, including most recently Bahá'u'lláh. In Bahá'í belief, each messenger taught of the next, and Bahá'u'lláh's life and teachings fulfill the end-time promises of previous scriptures. Humanity is understood to be involved in a process of collective evolution, and the need of the present time is for the gradual establishment of peace, justice and unity on a global scale.
The word "Bahá'í" (with two syllables, or more formally with three syllables, as in بهائی ) is used either as an adjective to refer to the Bahá'í Faith or as a term for a follower of Bahá'u'lláh, and the word is not a noun meaning the religion as a whole. It is derived from the Arabic Bahá’, meaning "glory" or "splendour". The term "Bahaism" (or "Baha'ism") has been used in the past but is fading from use.
The Bahá'í writings describe 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. In Bahá'í belief, 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 and to enable a relationship with God.
Bahá'í teachings state that God is too great for humans to fully comprehend, or to create a complete and accurate image, by themselves; human understanding of God is through his revelation via his Manifestations of God. In the Bahá'í religion God is often referred to by titles and attributes (e.g. the All-Powerful, or the All-Loving), and there is a substantial emphasis on monotheism, and an interpretation of such doctrines as the Trinity in a symbolic rather than literal sense. The Bahá'í teachings state that the attributes which are applied to God are used to translate Godliness into human terms and also to help individuals concentrate on their own attributes in worshipping God to develop their potentialities on their spiritual path. According to the Bahá'í teachings the human purpose is to learn to know and love God through such methods as prayer and reflection.
Bahá'í notions of progressive religious revelation result in their accepting the validity of most of the world's religions, whose founders and central figures are seen as Manifestations 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. In Bahá'í belief, this process of progressive revelation will not end; however, it is believed to be cyclical. Bahá'ís do not expect a new manifestation of God to appear within 1000 years of 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 religious background in Shi'a Islam is seen as analogous to the Jewish 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 age and in the appropriateness of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings to the modern context. Bahá'u'lláh is believed to have fulfilled the messianic expectations of these precursor faiths.
The Bahá'í writings state 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 through his messengers, and to conform to their teachings. Through recognition and obedience, service to humanity and regular prayer and spiritual practice, the Bahá'í writings state 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 acceptance. Doctrines of racism, nationalism, caste, social class and gender-based hierarchy are seen as artificial impediments to unity. The Bahá'í teachings state that the unification of humankind is the paramount issue in the religious and political conditions of the present world.
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 humankind 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].
With unity as an essential teaching of the religion, Bahá'ís follow an administration they believe is divinely ordained, and therefore see attempts to create schisms and divisions as efforts that are contrary to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. Schisms have occurred over the succession of authority, but any Bahá'í divisions have had relatively little success and have failed to attract a sizeable following. The followers of such divisions are regarded as Covenant-breakers and shunned, essentially excommunicated.
|>1844||The Báb declares his mission in Shiraz, Iran|
|>1850||The Báb is publicly executed in Tabriz, Iran|
|>1852||Thousands of Bábís are executed|
|>||Bahá'u'lláh is imprisoned and forced into exile|
|>1863||Bahá'u'lláh first announces his claim that he is the Promised One|
|>||He is forced to leave Baghdad for Constantinople, then Adrianople|
|>1868||Bahá'u'lláh is forced into harsher confinement in `Akká, Palestine|
|>1892||Bahá'u'lláh dies at the age of 75 near `Akká|
|>||His will appointed `Abdu'l-Bahá as successor|
|>1908||`Abdu'l-Bahá is released from prison|
|>1921||`Abdu'l-Bahá dies in Haifa|
|>||His will appoints Shoghi Effendi as Guardian|
|>1963||The Universal House of Justice is first elected|
On October 23rd 1844 Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad of Shiraz, Iran proclaimed that he was "the Báb" (الباب "the Gate"), after a Shi`a religious concept. His followers were therefore known as Bábís. As the Báb's teachings spread, which the Islamic clergy saw as a threat, 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, located in Haifa, Israel, is an important place of pilgrimage for Bahá'ís. The remains of the Báb were brought secretly from Iran to the Holy Land and were eventually interred in the tomb built for them in a spot specifically designated by Bahá'u'lláh.
Shortly thereafter he was expelled from Tehran to Baghdad, in the Ottoman Empire; then to Constantinople (now Istanbul); and then to Adrianople (now Edirne). In 1863, at the time of his banishment from Baghdad to Constantinople, Bahá'u'lláh declared his claim to a divine mission to his family and followers. Tensions then grew between him and Subh-i-Azal, the appointed leader of the Bábís who did not recognize Bahá'u'lláh's claim. Throughout the rest of his life Bahá'u'lláh gained the allegiance of most of the Bábís, who came to be known as Bahá'ís. Beginning in 1866, he began declaring his mission as a Messenger of God in letters to the world's religious and secular rulers, including Pope Pius IX, Napoleon III, and Queen Victoria.
Bahá'u'lláh was banished by Sultan Abdülâziz a final time to the Ottoman 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 (The Most Holy Book), and the Kitáb-i-Íqán (The Book of Certitude) are recognized as major theological works, and the Hidden Words and the Seven Valleys as mystical treatises.
`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.
Shoghi Effendi throughout his lifetime translated Bahá'í texts; 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 did not 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 teachings 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 successor and 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.
Bahá'í sources usually estimate the worldwide Bahá'í population to be above 5 million. Most encyclopedias and similar sources estimate between 5 and 6 million Bahá'ís in the world in the early twenty-first century.
From its origins in the Persian and Ottoman Empires, by the early 20th century there were a number of converts in South and South East Asia, Europe, and North America. During the 1950s and 1960s vast travel teaching efforts brought the religion to almost every country and territory of the world. By the 1990s Bahá'ís were developing programs for systematic consolidation on a large scale, and the early 21st century saw large influxes of new adherents around the world. The Bahá'í Faith is currently the largest religious minority in Iran.
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 U.S., with 150,000. Aside from these countries, numbers vary greatly. Currently, no country has a Bahá'í majority.
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 . Additionally, Bahá'ís have self organized in most of the nations of the earth.
The Bahá'í religion was ranked by the FP magazine as the world's second fastest growing religion, with growth rate of 1.70 percent.
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.
The second five-year plan (2006–2011) 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.
The main sequence of courses for all localities is the books of the Ruhi Institute, whose materials were originally designed for use in Colombia. The first book studies three themes: the Bahá'í texts, 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, written by Bahá'u'lláh. The following are a few examples of basic laws and religious observances,
While some of the laws from the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are applicable at the present time and may be enforced to a degree by the administrative institutions, Bahá'u'lláh has provided for the progressive application of other laws that are dependent upon the existence of a predominantly Bahá'í society. The laws, when not in direct conflict with the civil laws of the country of residence, are binding on every Bahá'í, and the observance of personal laws, such as prayer or fasting, is the sole responsibility of the individual.
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 center 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'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 biological parents, even if one partner is not a Bahá'í. 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 symbols of the religion are derived from the Arabic word Bahá’ (بهاء "splendor" or "glory"), with a numerical value of 9, which is why the most common symbol is the nine-pointed star. The ringstone symbol and calligraphy of the Greatest Name are also often encountered. The former consists of two stars interspersed with a stylized Bahá’ whose shape is meant to recall the three onenesses, while the latter is a calligraphic rendering of the phrase Yá Bahá'u'l-Abhá (يا بهاء الأبهى "O Glory of the Most Glorious!").
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 Islamic countries, especially Iran, where over 200 believers were executed between 1978 and 1998. The marginalization of the Iranian Bahá'ís by current governments is rooted in historical efforts by Shi`a clergy to persecute the religious minority. When the Báb started attracting a large following, the clergy hoped to stop the movement from spreading by stating that its followers were enemies of God, and these led to mob attacks and public executions. Starting in the twentieth century, in addition to repression that impacted individual Bahá'ís, centrally-directed campaigns that targeted the entire Bahá'í community and institutions were initiated. In one case in Yazd in 1903 more than 100 Bahá'ís were killed. Later on Bahá'í schools, such as the Tarbiyat boys' and girl's schools in Tehran, were closed in the 1930s and '40s, Bahá'í marriages were not recognized and Bahá'í texts were censored.
During the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, due to the growing nationalism and the economic difficulties in the country, the Shah gave up control over certain religious affairs to the clergy of the country. This resulted in a campaign of persecution against the Bahá'ís. They approved and coordinated the anti-Bahá'í campaign to incite public passion against the Bahá'ís started in 1955 and included the spreading of anti-Bahá'í propaganda in national radio stations and official newspapers. In the late 1970s the Shah's regime, due to criticism that he was pro-Western, consistently lost legitimacy. As the anti-Shah movement gained ground and support, revolutionary propaganda was spread that some of the Shah's advisors were Bahá'ís. Bahá'ís were portrayed as economic threats, supporters of Israel and the West and popular hatred for the Bahá'ís increased.
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.
According to a US panel, attacks on Bahá'ís in Iran have increased since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president. 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. 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." On May 14, 2008, members of an informal body known as the Friends that oversaw the needs of the Bahá'í community in Iran were arrested and taken to Evin prison.
The Bahá'ís in Egypt have also faced hardship; on December 16, 2006 the Supreme Administrative Council of Egypt ruled the government may not recognize the Bahá'í Faith in official identification numbers. The ruling left Egyptian Bahá'ís unable to obtain government documents, including ID cards, birth, death, marriage or divorce certificates, or passports, all of which require a person's religion to be listed. They also could not be employed, educated, treated in hospitals or vote, among other things. On January 29, 2008 Cairo's court of Administrative Justice, ruling on two related court cases, ruled in favour of the Bahá'ís, allowing them to obtain birth certificates and identification documents, so long as they omit their religion on court documents, however as of April 22, 2008 the Egyptian Ministry of Interior has yet to implement the ruling, and Bahá'ís remain without identification cards.
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 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.