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Intro to Baha'i
Monday, November 17, 2008


The Baha’i faith was founded in Iran in 1844. The youngest of the monotheistic religions, its membership includes persons from virtually every country, ethnic group, profession, and socioeconomic class.

Baha’is view all the world’s religions as a part of a single, progressive process through which God reveals the Divine will to humanity.

Baha’u’llah (1817-1892), the faith’s founder, is recognized as the most recent messenger in a line of Divine Messengers stretching back beyond recorded time, including Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus Christ, and Muhammad.

The central theme of Bah’u’llah’s message is unity. Teaching that there is only one God and only one human race, he proclaimed that the day has come for humanity’s unification into one global society.

Initiation Rituals and Membership

A person becomes Baha’i by recognizing Baha’u’llah as the Messenger of God for this age, his laws and teachings, and the guidance of the administrative institutions he established for the unification of humanity. Generally, the enrollment of a new believer involves three steps:

1. Declaration of faith
2. The processing of one’s declaration (oral and written) by a Local Spiritual Assembly
3. Recording the enrollment of membership in the National Spiritual Assembly

Accurately estimating the number of believers in the world is difficult because of regional religious persecution, government oppression, and inability to collect data in underdeveloped nations. The most recent estimates place membership at 7.5 million.

History

Baha’u’llah (Mirza Husayn ‘Ali) was born in Persia (now Iran) on November 12, 1817. Followers believe he was the fulfillment of prophecies in the Bible about the return of Christ. They believe Baha’ullah was a direct descendant of the King and in his lifetime revealed plans for the Kingdom of God on earth. It was Baha’u’llah who revealed the concept of Progressive Revelation to the world.

Baha’u’llah was a member of one of the great patrician families of Persia, which traced its lineage to the ruling dynasties of Persia’s imperial past, endowed with wealth and vast estates. Baha’u’llah refused a position at court with its advantages. He became known for his generosity and kindliness.

Baha’u’llah announced his support for the message of the Báb (Mirza ‘Ali Muhammad). The Bab announced a prophet of God who would usher in an age of peace for humanity. In 1863 Baha’u’llah declared he was the Prophet of whom the Bab had spoken. When the Bab was executed, Baha’u’llah lost all his worldly endowments and was subjected to imprisonment, torture, and a series of banishments – first to Baghdad, where he announced himself as the one promised by the Bab. From Baghdad he was sent to Constantinople, to Adrianople, and finally to Acre (Akka), in the Holy Land, where he arrived as a prisoner in 1868. He died in 1892.

From Adrianople and later Acre, Baha’u’llah addressed a series of letters to the rulers of his day that proclaimed the coming unification of humanity and the emergence of a world civilization. Kings, emperors, and presidents of the world were called upon to reconcile their differences, curtail armaments, and devote their energies to establishing universal peace.

Baha’u’llah died in 1892 at Bahji, just north of Acre, and is buried there. He had appointed his eldest son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha to lead the Baha’i community (1892-1921), who in turn appointed his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as his successor.

Shoghi Effendi served as Guardian of the Baha’i teaching from 1921 to his death on November 4, 1957, having appointed no-one to succeed him. The only group who appeared to have any basis of authority for leading the Faith were the Hands of the Cause, who had been appointed by Shoghi Effendi as “the Chief Stewards of Bahá'u'lláh's embryonic World Commonwealth.” This group took over the responsibility for taking the Ten Year Crusade initiated by Shoghi Effendi to its conclusion in 1963. The Hands of the Cause held a series of Conclaves. At the second, in 1958, they decided to bring into being, at the end of the Ten Year Crusade, the Universal House of Justice, an institution ordained by Bahá'u'lláh and stated by `Abdu'l-Bahá to be under divine guidance.

With the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963, the Bahá'í Faith moved into a new phase of its development; the leadership changed from appointed individuals to an elected council. This is regarded as the beginning of a new epoch in Bahá'í history. The Universal House of Justice decided to continue the pattern set by Shoghi Effendi; further progress and development of the religion was to occur within the framework of a series of international plans. This has led to an unprecedented growth of the religion, great internal changes and developments, the increasing involvement of the Bahá'í community in society, and a gradual emergence from obscurity in the public realm.

Theology

The central teaching of Bahá'u'lláh is that humanity is one human race, and that the age for the unification of this race in a global society has arrived. They believe world peace is at hand.

Baha’is teach Progressive Revelation. They believe that all great religions of the past have been stages in the progressive revelation of what Bahá'ull’ah called “the changeless faith of God.” God himself is unknowable. From age to age he reveals himself through his messengers, whose lives and teachings reflect divine qualities. These successive revelations provide the chief impulse in the civilizing of human nature and the evolution of society.

God makes known his mind and will through Manifestations (prophets, messengers), who have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha’u’llah, as well as other teachers whose names have been lost over time. Other messengers will follow Bahá'u'lláh as long as the universe exists, but the challenge of the next thousand years will be to realize Bahá'u'lláh's vision of world unity. Each prophet or manifestation of God is the focal point of spiritual light and life for humanity in the age in which he appears. Baha’u’llah proclaimed himself to be a focal center of spiritual guidance for humanity at his point in human history.

Basic beliefs are centered on three principles: the oneness of God, the oneness of religion, and the oneness of humanity.

Prayer is conversation with God. Baha’is believe that spiritual communion with God can be brought about and maintained by meditation and prayer. They stress the importance of worship and encourage it. It is not sufficient to merely accept and observe the teachings. One should, in addition, cultivate the sense of spirituality which comes through prayer.

Baha’i’s are committed to the development of individuals and society by acquiring spiritual virtues and powers. Laws and institutions can become effective only when the inner spiritual life has been perfected and transformed. Otherwise religion degenerates into a mere organization.

The Baha’u’llah was born into a Muslim family and society. In much the same way as Christianity grew out of Judaism, or Buddhism out of Hinduism, the Baha’i Faith emerged from an Islamic context. However, the Baha’i faith is an independent religion with its own laws, teachings, and institutions.

Baha’is believe they have a duty to share their faith with others but are forbidden to proselytize. No pressure is put on anyone to accept this faith, since independent investigation of truth is a fundamental right and responsibility of each individual.

Basic Social Teachings

  • Humanity is one people
  • There should be equal rights for men and women
  • All forms of prejudice should be abolished
  • There is essential harmony between science and religion
  • Poverty should be eliminated
  • The abandonment of all forms of prejudice
  • Assurance to women of full equality of opportunity
  • Recognition of the unity and relativity of religious truth
  • Elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth
  • Realization of universal education
  • Responsibility of each person to independently search for truth
  • Establishment of a global commonwealth of nations
  • Recognitions that true religion is in harmony with reason and the pursuit of scientific knowledge

The Baha’i Fast

Directives are contained in Bahá'u'lláh, Kitab-i-Aqdas. The fast is binding on all believers from the age of maturity, which for Bahá'ís is 15, until 70. The following individuals are exempt from fasting:

  • Travelers, provided their journey lasts at least nine hours or two hours on foot. If they break their journey for more than 19 days, they are only exempt for the first three days after their arrival. If they return home, they must begin fasting on arrival.
  • The sick
  • Children under 15
  • Women who are pregnant or nursing
  • Women who are menstruating, who must instead repeat the phrase “Glorified be God, the Lord of Splendor and Beauty” 95 times between one noon and the next
  • Those engaged in heavy labor, who are advised to be discreet and restrained in availing themselves of this exemption

Bahá'u'lláh does not require missed days of fasting to be “made up,” nor does he mention abstention from sexual relations. An individual who is exempt from fasting during any part of a day is exempt from fasting the entire day. The fast is binding on Bahá'ís in all countries but it is an individual obligation, not enforceable by Bahá'í institutions.