Origins of the Bahá’í Faith
- Began on 23rd May 1844, in Persia, with Ali-Muhammad’s (1819-1850) declaration of himself as the Messenger of God announcing the coming of a “Greater One” who would lead the way to world peace.
- Ali-Muhammad became known as the Báb (the Gate or Door). He was executed in 1850, charged with heresy against Islam. His early followers were known as Bábis.
- In 1863, Husayn Ali (1817-1892) claimed to be the Greater One and the bringer of divine revelation fulfilling the promises made by previous Messengers in other religions. Exiled to Palestine in 1868, he died in Akka in 1892.
- There then followed a succession which is at the heart of the Bahá’í faith.
- ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), or the Servant of the Glory, was appointed in Bahá’u’láh’s Will as the authorised interpreter of Bahá’í teachings.
- ‘Abdul Bahá’s grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), was appointed in ‘Abdul Bahá’s Will and became the Guardian of the Faith and Interpreter of Scripture.
- From 1963, The Universal House of Justice, based at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa in Israel was established as the body which offers guidance to the contemporary Bahá’í community. It is elected every five years.
Central Aspects of the Bahá’í Faith
- Bahá’ís believe all documents that are handwritten by the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; all documents signed by them; and all directly or indirectly authenticated records of their spoken words, to be revealed by God.
- Bahá’u’lláh’s Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Most Holy Book) is seen as the foundation of Bahá’í moral principles and institutions.
- Doctrinal beliefs are contained in The Kitáb-i-Iqán (The Book of Certitude), whilst Bahá’u’lláh’s Hidden Words is a collection of ethical sayings.
Summary of Bahá’í Beliefs
- A summary of the main Bahá’í beliefs is set out in the collected talks which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave in the USA. These beliefs are:
- belief in one God
- the unity of humankind
- independent investigation of truth
- the common foundation of all religions
- the essential harmony of science and religion
- equality of opportunity for men and women
- elimination of prejudice of all kinds
- universal compulsory education
- a universal auxiliary language
- abolition of extremities of poverty and wealth through international legislation
- the establishment of universal peace by world government which will have international courts of justice and an international military force
- the concept of progressive revelation
Unity and Progressive Revelation
- Various Messengers, including Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ and Muhammad, are seen as “Manifestations of God” and are believed to have promised the coming of Bahá’u’lláh.
- Unity, based upon the oneness of God, is a central theme of the Bahá’í religion. It is seen as the basis upon which a new world order of peace and unity can be built and Bahá’í communities are seen as modelling this.
Education and Spirituality
- Education is a central theme in Bahá’í teaching and spirituality, and education for women is a priority, as nurturers of the next generation.
- Religion and science are not seen as contradictory: science is seen as leading to truth through investigation whilst religion brings truth through revelation.
- There are three “obligatory” prayers and every Bahá’í over fifteen years old must pray one of these daily as well as reading scriptural extracts every morning and evening.
- To pray, Bahá’ís turn in the direction of Bahji, the burial place of Bahá’u’lláh, which is near Akka in Israel.
The Consultative Principle
- Bahá’ís work on the basis of a principle of consultation which aims at unanimity.
Diversity within the Bahá’í Faith
- Bahá’ís do not acknowledge the legitimacy of any distinct traditions within their religion, believing part of its uniqueness to be that it has maintained its unity.
- Those who have disputed the succession and leadership set out in the Wills of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá are referred to by Bahá’ís as Covenant-breakers and are expelled.
Written by Professor Paul Weller