Bahá'í Faith Definition, History, Beliefs, & Lifestyle (08.06.2018)
The Bahai Faith, an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam, began to take its present form in Iran in 1844.
The faith was originated by a young Iranian named Siyyid Ali-Muhammad (1819–50), who called himself the Bab, which means “the gate.” He alerted people to the coming of a messenger from God, who would be next in the line of great prophets that included Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. The Muslim hierarchy persecuted the Bab and his followers because the Bab’s teachings clashed with the Islamic faith, particularly concerning one point of primary importance to Islam: the Muslim belief that Muhammad was the final messenger of God.
The Bab was subsequently executed for his heresy. Twenty thousand Babis, as the Bab’s followers were known, were martyred for the cause. In 1863 one of the Bab’s followers had a revelation while in prison that he was the messenger of God of whom his deceased leader had prophesied. He called himself Bahaullah (1817–92), meaning “the glory of God.” He was the founder of the Bahai religion.
Born Mirza Husayn, Bahaullah was a man endowed with great wealth, who lost much of it during the persecution that resulted from his open endorsement of the teachings of the Bab. Nevertheless, Bahaullah was a man known for his generosity and greatly respected by his comrades.
Bahaullah’s death was not the end of the Bahai religion. Abdul-Baha (1844–1921), the eldest son of Bahaullah, spent much of his time spreading Bahai teachings around the world and was responsible for taking Bahai teachings to the West. Through a series of letters he developed the Bahai ideas of social reform and international justice, illuminating the faith with these ideas.
After Abdul-Baha’s death, his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1897–1957), succeeded him; Effendi continued his grandfather’s missionary work and further developed the Bahai philosophy.
When Shoghi Effendi died, the leadership passed to a group of believers instead of to a single individual.
This led to the present leadership, called the Universal House of Justice.
Although the Bahai Faith is the youngest of the world’s independent religions, it ranks as one of the most widely practiced. Its adherents cover a broad spectrum of the world community, encompassing nations, races, and myriad cultures.
The central idea of the Bahai religion is unity.
The Bahai Faith is based on three principles: the oneness of God, the oneness of religion, and the oneness of humanity. Followers believe that the time has come for the world to shed its diversity and become one people, ignoring the superficial differences created by the variety of races, cultures, and religions. While the origin of the Bahai Faith was Islam, and many of its teachings have their roots in the Koran, it is primarily different from its parent religion in its acceptance of the legitimacy of other great faiths.
The Bahai year follows the Badi calendar (see Appendix III).
Origins and History
The Bahai Faith first appeared in Persia and spread to the neighboring Muslim regions of Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and the northern part of India.
Although some early followers were of Jewish, Christian, or Zoroastrian backgrounds, the vast majority were followers of Islam.
The Bahai community worldwide can lay claim to being the most widespread body of people on earth. The Bahai Faith is practiced by people from vastly different religious backgrounds who study a common set of writings, observe one code of religious laws, and look to a single international body for guidance.
Given their emphasis on unity, it is not surprising that the Bahai community has constructed one of the world’s most unified religious organizations The Bahai have a range of institutions to preside over the administrative affairs of their faith. In each region, nine-member boards known as Local Spiritual Assemblies are elected annually. There are also National Spiritual Assemblies, which are also nine-member boards, that govern the affairs of the Bahai community in individual countries.
The highest administrative unit is the Universal House of Justice, a nine-member board elected every five years by the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies. The Universal House of Justice is now based in Haifa, Israel. Bahai believe that there is no need for a clergy because each individual is capable of exploring the revelations of God.
Bahai has certain tenets at the heart of the faith, and the oneness of humanity is the fulcrum of its teachings. The Bahai believe that all women and men are equal in God’s eyes and that people must have the same educational and economic opportunities, regardless of their origin or race. In the Bahai view there is no superior race or religion.
They also believe that the current state of the world is one phase in a transition that will ultimately and inevitably lead to the unification of the human race.
The Bahai believe that there is only one God and that all the world’s religions have come from God. They argue that the followers of each prophet or messenger should be able to honor the prophets of other religions. Abdul-Baha taught the harmony between science and religion, referring to them as two wings with which the human soul can progress; one cannot work without the other. Religion without science would lead to superstition, he taught, and science without religion paves the way for materialism.
The Bahai believe that the foundation of all great religions is one, that they are divine in origin, and that their basic principles do not differ.
Bahaullah once explained that the fundamental spiritual role of religion was to enable human beings to achieve two things: a true understanding of their own nature and God’s will and purpose for them. He explained that God transmitted spiritual teachings through messengers or manifestations.
The Bahai believe in Muhammad, Jesus, Zoroaster, Krishna, and Buddha, among others, as messengers of God. Each of these men foretold a great messenger who would come to this earth and bring peace.
The Bahai believe that that messenger was Bahaullah and that the time for peace is now.
The primary goals of the Bahai Faith are to abolish the extremes between poverty and wealth, to eradicate racism, and to promote love among all people. According to the writings of Bahaullah, the time has come for the great leaders of the world to resolve their differences and come together.
Bahaullah did not want anyone to accept his teachings without thinking about the ideas, but to use his or her faculty of reason to make up his or her own mind. According to Abdul-Baha, God has given each of us the ability to reason; all people have the capability of searching and finding the truth for themselves. There is no reason for anyone to follow his or her ancestors because of ignorance, laziness, or indifference.
The Bahai Faith continues to spread, especially in the developing world, where its messages have really taken hold, and its holy scriptures have been translated into more than 800 languages. Yet it has had its fair share of problems. The governments of Islamic countries, especially that of Iran, the land where it began, continue to persecute the Bahai.
Iran has banned them from enrolling in the country’s universities and holding government jobs since 1979. Many were imprisoned there during the early 1980s, and it is estimated that more than 200 believers were executed between 1978 and 1998.
Bahai property has also been demolished, including the house of the Bab in Shiraz, one of three Bahai pilgrimage sites.
Holidays and Religious Observances
Ridvan (Paradise) is a 12-day festival that commemorates Bahaullah’s announcement of his status as a prophet and his departure from Baghdad in 1863. This period is also when Bahai elections are normally held. The observance begins at sunset on April 20 and lasts until sunset on May 2. Devout Bahais do not work on the first, ninth, and 12th days of Ridvan because they are major Bahai holy days.
The name of the holiday was the name Bahaullah gave to the Najibiyyih Garden in Baghdad where he stayed before leaving Baghdad. There are, in addition, two other Bahai holy days: the Day of the Covenant (November 26) and the Ascension of Abdul-Baha (November 28).
The naming of a newborn baby in a Bahai community, according to the Universal House of Justice, is strictly the responsibility of the family. The teachings of the Bahai do not provide for any ceremony on this occasion.
The marriage ceremony of the Bahai is remarkably simple. All the wedding ceremony requires is that there are two respectable witnesses and that the couple takes the following vow, as the Bahai teachings ordain: “We will all, verily, abide by the will of God.” That vow concludes the ceremony. The wedding does not require a priest; it can be led by anyone belonging to the community. There is also no dowry system, although the bridegroom presents prescribed gifts to the bride.
The Bahai law for the burial of the dead forbids carrying the body for more than an hour’s journey from the place of death. It is also necessary to wrap the body in a cloak of cotton or silk. The coffin should be made of crystal, stone, or fine hardwood, and the deceased should wear a ring carrying the inscription, “I came forth from God and return unto Him, detached from all save Him, holding fast to His Name, the Merciful, and the Compassionate.”