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The Baháʼí Faith is a relatively new religion[a] teaching the essential worth of all religions and the unity of all people.[b] Established by Baháʼu'lláh in the 19th century, it initially developed in Iran and parts of the Middle East, where it has faced ongoing persecution since its inception. The religion is estimated to have 5–8 million adherents, known as Baháʼís, spread throughout most of the world's countries and territories.[c]
The religion has three central figures: the Báb (1819–1850), considered a herald who taught that God would soon send a prophet in the same way as Jesus or Muhammad, and who was executed by Iranian authorities in 1850; Baháʼu'lláh (1817–1892), who claimed to be that prophet in 1863 and faced exile and imprisonment for most of his life; and his son, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá (1844–1921), who was released from confinement in 1908 and made teaching trips to Europe and the United States. After ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's death in 1921, leadership of the religion fell to his grandson Shoghi Effendi (1897–1957). Baháʼís annually elect local, regional, and national Spiritual Assemblies that govern the religion's affairs. Every five years the members of all National Spiritual Assemblies elect the Universal House of Justice, the nine-member supreme governing institution of the worldwide Baháʼí community that is located in Haifa, Israel, near the Shrine of the Báb.
According to the Baháʼí teachings, religion is revealed in an orderly and progressive way by a single God through Manifestations of God, who are the founders of major world religions throughout history; Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad are noted as the most recent of these before the Báb and Baháʼu'lláh. Baháʼís regard the major religions as fundamentally unified in purpose, though varied in social practices and interpretations. The Baháʼí Faith stresses the unity of all people, explicitly rejecting racism, sexism, and nationalism. At the heart of Baháʼí teachings is the goal of a unified world order that ensures the prosperity of all nations, races, creeds, and classes.
Letters written by Baháʼu'lláh to various people, including some heads of state, have been collected and assembled into a canon of Baháʼí scripture. This includes works by his son ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, and the Báb, who is regarded as Baháʼu'lláh's forerunner. Prominent among Baháʼí literature are the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the Kitáb-i-Íqán, Some Answered Questions, and The Dawn-Breakers.
The word Baháʼí (بهائی) is used either as an adjective to refer to the Baháʼí Faith or as a term for a follower of Baháʼu'lláh. The proper name of the religion is the Baháʼí Faith, not Baháʼí or Baha'ism (the latter, once common among academics, is regarded as derogatory by the Baháʼís). It is derived from the Arabic Baháʼ (بهاء), a name Baháʼu'lláh chose for himself, meaning 'glory' or 'splendor'. In English, the word is commonly pronounced ba-HIGH (//), but the more accurate rendering of the Arabic is bah-HA-ee (//).
The accent marks above the letters, representing long vowels, derive from a system of transliterating Arabic and Persian script that was adopted by Baháʼís in 1923, and which has been used in almost all Baháʼí publications since. Baháʼís prefer the orthographies Baháʼí, the Báb, Baháʼu'lláh, and ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. "Bahai", "Bahais", "Bahaʼi", "the Bab", "Bahaullah" and "Bahaʼullah" are often used when accent marks are unavailable.
The teachings of Baháʼu'lláh form the foundation of Baháʼí belief. Three principles are central to these teachings: the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of humanity. Baha'is believe that God periodically reveals his will through divine messengers, whose purpose is to transform the character of humankind and to develop, within those who respond, moral and spiritual qualities. Religion is thus seen as orderly, unified, and progressive from age to age.
The Baháʼí writings describe a single, personal, inaccessible, omniscient, omnipresent, imperishable, and almighty God who is the creator of all things in the universe. The existence of God and the universe is thought to be eternal, without a beginning or end. Though inaccessible directly, God is nevertheless seen as conscious of creation, with a will and purpose expressed through messengers called Manifestations of God.
Baháʼí teachings state that God is too great for humans to fully comprehend, or to create a complete and accurate image of by themselves. Therefore, human understanding of God is achieved through his revelations via his Manifestations. In the Baháʼí Faith, God is often referred to by titles and attributes (for example, the All-Powerful, or the All-Loving), and there is a substantial emphasis on monotheism. Baháʼí teachings state that the attributes applied to God are used to translate Godliness into human terms and to help people concentrate on their own attributes in worshipping God to develop their potentialities on their spiritual path. According to the Baháʼí teachings the human purpose is to learn to know and love God through such methods as prayer, reflection, and being of service to others.
Baháʼí notions of progressive religious revelation result in their accepting the validity of the well known religions of the world, 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 that is rendered as a text of scripture and passed on through history with greater or lesser reliability but at least true in substance, suited for the time and place in which it was expressed. Specific religious social teachings (for example, 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 (for example, neighbourliness, or charity) are seen to be universal and consistent. In Baháʼí belief, this process of progressive revelation will not end; it is, however, believed to be cyclical. Baháʼís do not expect a new manifestation of God to appear within 1000 years of Baháʼu'lláh's revelation.
Baháʼí beliefs are sometimes described as syncretic combinations of earlier religious beliefs. Baháʼís, however, assert that their religion is a distinct tradition with its own scriptures, teachings, laws, and history. The religion was initially seen as a sect of Islam because of its belief in the prophethood of Muhammad and in the authenticity and veracity of the Qur’an. Most religious specialists now see it as an independent religion, with its religious background in Shiʻa Islam being seen as analogous to the Jewish context in which Christianity was established. Muslim institutions and clergy, both Sunni and Shi'a, consider formerly-Muslim Baháʼís to be deserters or apostates from Islam, which has led to Baháʼís being persecuted. Baháʼís describe their faith as an independent world religion, differing from the other traditions in its relative age and in the appropriateness of Baháʼu'lláh's teachings to the modern context. Baháʼu'lláh is believed to have fulfilled the messianic expectations of these precursor faiths.
The Baháʼí writings state that human beings have a "rational soul", and that this provides the species with a unique capacity to recognize God's status 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 Baháʼí writings state that the soul becomes closer to God, the spiritual ideal in Baháʼí belief. According to Baháʼí belief when a human dies the soul is permanently separated from the body and carries on in the next world where it is judged based on the person's actions in the physical 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 Baháʼí 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 Baháʼí teachings state that the unification of humanity is the paramount issue in the religious and political conditions of the present world.
The following principles are frequently listed as a quick summary of the Baháʼí teachings. They are derived from transcripts of speeches given by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá during his tour of Europe and North America in 1912. The list is not authoritative and a variety of such lists circulate.
- Unity of God
- Unity of religion
- Unity of humanity
- Equality between women and men
- Elimination of all forms of prejudice
- World peace and a new world order
- Harmony of religion and science
- Independent investigation of truth
- Universal compulsory education
- Universal auxiliary language
- Obedience to government and non-involvement in partisan politics[d]
- Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty
- Prohibition of slavery
Bahá'u'lláh writes that all people "have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization", based on the development of virtues, but warns that "if carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation".
With specific regard to the pursuit of world peace, Baháʼu'lláh prescribed a world-embracing collective security arrangement for the establishment of a temporary era of peace referred to in the Baha'i teachings as the Lesser Peace. For the establishment of a lasting peace (The Most Great Peace) and the purging of the "overwhelming Corruptions" it is necessary that all the people of the world universally unite under a universal Faith.
The Baháʼí teachings speak of a "Greater Covenant", being universal and endless, and a "Lesser Covenant", being unique to each religious dispensation. The Greater Covenant is viewed as a more enduring agreement between God and humanity, where a Manifestation of God is expected to come to humanity about every thousand years, at times of turmoil and uncertainty.
The Lesser Covenant is viewed as an agreement between a Messenger of God and his followers, and includes social practices and the continuation of authority in the religion. Baháʼu'lláh and ʻAbdu'l-Bahá established rules and institutions for an authoritative line of succession of leadership, in order to maintain unity and prevent schism. The Universal House of Justice is the final authority to resolve any disagreements among Baháʼís, and within this framework no individual follower may propose 'inspired' or 'authoritative' interpretations of scripture. The dozen or so attempts at schism have all either become extinct or remained extremely small, numbering a few hundred collectively. The followers of such divisions are regarded as Covenant-breakers and shunned.
Shoghi Effendi's summary
Shoghi Effendi, the head of the religion from 1921 to 1957, wrote the following summary of what he considered to be the distinguishing principles of Baháʼu'lláh's teachings, which, he said, together with the laws and ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas constitute the bedrock of the Baháʼí Faith:
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 human kind 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 Baháʼu'lláh proclaimed].
The canonical texts of the Baháʼí Faith are the writings of the Báb, Baháʼu'lláh, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, and the authenticated talks of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. The writings of the Báb and Baháʼu'lláh are considered as divine revelation, the writings and talks of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá and the writings of Shoghi Effendi as authoritative interpretation, and those of the Universal House of Justice as authoritative legislation and elucidation. Some measure of divine guidance is assumed for all of these texts.
Some of Baháʼu'lláh's most important writings include the Kitáb-i-Aqdas ("Most Holy Book"), which defines many laws and practices for individuals and society, the Kitáb-i-Íqán ("Book of Certitude"), which became the foundation of much of Baháʼí belief, and Gems of Divine Mysteries, which includes further doctrinal foundations. Although the Baháʼí teachings have a strong emphasis on social and ethical issues, a number of foundational texts have been described as mystical. These include the Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys. The Seven Valleys was written to a follower of Sufism, in the style of ʻAttar, the Persian Muslim poet, and sets forth the stages of the soul's journey towards God. It was first translated into English in 1906, becoming one of the earliest available books of Baháʼu'lláh to the West. The Hidden Words is another book written by Baháʼu'lláh during the same period, containing 153 short passages in which Baháʼu'lláh claims to have taken the basic essence of certain spiritual truths and written them in brief form.
|1817||Baháʼu'lláh was born in Tehran, Iran
|1819||The Báb was born in Shiraz, Iran
|1844||The Báb declares his mission in Shiraz, Iran
|1850||The Báb is publicly executed in Tabriz, Iran
|1852||Thousands of Bábís are executed|
|Baháʼu'lláh is imprisoned and forced into exile
|1863||Baháʼu'lláh first announces his claim to divine revelation in Baghdad, Iraq.|
|He is forced to leave Baghdad for Istanbul, then Adrianople
|1868||Baháʼu'lláh is forced into harsher confinement in ʻAkká, in Palestine
|1892||Baháʼu'lláh dies near ʻAkká|
|His Will appointed ʻAbdu'l-Bahá as successor
|1908||ʻAbdu'l-Bahá is released from prison
|1921||ʻAbdu'l-Bahá dies in Haifa|
|His Will appointed Shoghi Effendi as Guardian
|1957||Shoghi Effendi dies in England
|1963||The Universal House of Justice is first elected|
The Baháʼí Faith traces its beginnings to the religion of the Báb and the Shaykhi movement that immediately preceded it. The Báb was a merchant who began preaching in 1844 that he was the bearer of a new revelation from God, but was rejected by the generality of Islamic clergy in Iran, ending in his public execution for the crime of heresy. The Báb taught that God would soon send a new messenger, and Baháʼís consider Baháʼu'lláh to be that person. Although they are distinct movements, the Báb is so interwoven into Baháʼí theology and history that Baháʼís celebrate his birth, death, and declaration as holy days, consider him one of their three central figures (along with Baháʼu'lláh and ʻAbdu'l-Bahá), and a historical account of the Bábí movement (The Dawn-Breakers) is considered one of three books that every Baháʼí should "master" and read "over and over again".
The Baháʼí community was mostly confined to the Iranian and Ottoman empires until after the death of Baháʼu'lláh in 1892, at which time he had followers in 13 countries of Asia and Africa. Under the leadership of his son, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, the religion gained a footing in Europe and America, and was consolidated in Iran, where it still suffers intense persecution. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's death in 1921 marks the end of what Baháʼís call the "heroic age" of the religion.
On the evening of 22 May 1844, Siyyid ʻAlí-Muhammad of Shiraz gained his first convert and took on the title of "the Báb" (الباب "Gate"), referring to his later claim to the status of Mahdi of Shiʻa Islam. His followers were therefore known as Bábís. As the Báb's teachings spread, which the Islamic clergy saw as blasphemous, his followers came under increased persecution and torture. The conflicts escalated in several places to military sieges by the Shah's army. The Báb himself was imprisoned and eventually executed in 1850.
Baháʼís see the Báb as the forerunner of the Baháʼí faith, because the Báb's writings introduced the concept of "He whom God shall make manifest", a messianic figure whose coming, according to Baháʼís, was announced in the scriptures of all of the world's great religions, and whom Baháʼu'lláh, the founder of the Baháʼí Faith, claimed to be. The Báb's tomb, located in Haifa, Israel, is an important place of pilgrimage for Baháʼís. The remains of the Báb were brought secretly from Iran to the Holy Land and eventually interred in the tomb built for them in a spot specifically designated by Baháʼu'lláh. The main written works translated into English of the Báb's are collected in Selections from the Writings of the Báb out of the estimated 135 works.
Mírzá Husayn ʻAlí Núrí was one of the early followers of the Báb, and later took the title of Baháʼu'lláh. Bábís faced a period of persecution that peaked in 1852–53 after a few individual Bábis made a failed attempt to assassinate the Shah. Although they acted alone, the government responded with collective punishment, killing many Bábís. Baháʼu'lláh was put in prison.
Shortly thereafter he was expelled from Iran and traveled to Baghdad, in the Ottoman Empire. In Baghdad, his leadership revived the persecuted followers of the Báb in Iran, so Iranian authorities requested his removal, which instigated a summons to Constantinople (now Istanbul) from the Ottoman Sultan. In 1863, at the time of his removal from Baghdad, Baháʼu'lláh first announced his claim of prophethood to his family and followers, which he said came to him years earlier while in a dungeon of Tehran. From the time of the initial exile from Iran, tensions grew between him and Subh-i-Azal, the appointed leader of the Bábís, who did not recognize Baháʼu'lláh's claim. Throughout the rest of his life Baháʼu'lláh gained the allegiance of most of the Bábís, who came to be known as Baháʼís.
He spent less than four months in Constantinople. After receiving chastising letters from Baháʼu'lláh, Ottoman authorities turned against him and put him under house arrest in Adrianople (now Edirne), where he remained for four years, until a royal decree of 1868 banished all Bábís to either Cyprus or ʻAkká.
It was in or near the Ottoman penal colony of ʻAkká, in present-day Israel, that Baháʼu'lláh spent the remainder of his life. After initially strict and harsh confinement, he was allowed to live in a home near ʻAkká, while still officially a prisoner of that city. He died there in 1892. Baháʼís regard his resting place at Bahjí as the Qiblih to which they turn in prayer each day.
He produced over 18,000 works in his lifetime, in both Arabic and Persian, of which only 8% have been translated into English. During the period in Adrianople, 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.
ʻAbbás Effendi was Baháʼu'lláh's eldest son, known by the title of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá (Servant of Bahá). His father left a will that appointed ʻAbdu'l-Bahá as the leader of the Baháʼí community, and designated him as the "Centre of the Covenant", "Head of the Faith", and the sole authoritative interpreter of Baháʼu'lláh's writings. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá had shared his father's long exile and imprisonment, which continued until ʻAbdu'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 Baháʼí Faith.
There are over 27,000 extant documents by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, mostly letters, of which only a fraction have been translated into English. Among the more well known are The Secret of Divine Civilization, the Tablet to Auguste-Henri Forel, and Some Answered Questions. Additionally notes taken of a number of his talks were published in various volumes like Paris Talks during his journeys to the West.
Baháʼu'lláh's Kitáb-i-Aqdas and The Will and Testament of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá are foundational documents of the Baháʼí administrative order. Baháʼu'lláh established the elected Universal House of Justice, and ʻAbdu'l-Bahá established the appointed hereditary Guardianship and clarified the relationship between the two institutions. In his Will, ʻAbdu'l-Bahá appointed Shoghi Effendi, his eldest grandson, as the first Guardian of the Baháʼí Faith. Shoghi Effendi served for 36 years as the head of the religion until his death.
Throughout his lifetime, Shoghi Effendi translated Baháʼí texts; developed global plans for the expansion of the Baháʼí community; developed the Baháʼí 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 unexpectedly died after a brief illness on 4 November 1957, in London, England, under conditions that did not allow for a successor to be appointed.
In 1937, Shoghi Effendi launched a seven-year plan for the Baháʼís of North America, followed by another in 1946. In 1953, he launched the first international plan, the Ten Year World Crusade. This plan included extremely ambitious goals for the expansion of Baháʼí communities and institutions, the translation of Baháʼí texts into several new languages, and the sending of Baháʼí pioneers into previously unreached nations. He announced in letters during the Ten Year Crusade that it would be followed by other plans under the direction of the Universal House of Justice, which was elected in 1963 at the culmination of the Crusade. The House of Justice then launched a nine-year plan in 1964, and a series of subsequent multi-year plans of varying length and goals followed, guiding the direction of the international Baháʼí community.
Universal House of Justice
Since 1963, the Universal House of Justice has been the elected head of the Baháʼí Faith. The general functions of this body are defined through the writings of Baháʼu'lláh and clarified in the writings of Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi. These functions include teaching and education, implementing Baháʼí laws, addressing social issues, and caring for the weak and the poor.
The House of Justice directs the work of the Baháʼí community through a series of multi-year international plans that began with a nine-year plan in 1964. In the current plan, the House of Justice encourages the Baháʼís around the world to focus on capacity building through children's classes, junior youth groups, devotional gatherings, and study circles. Additional lines of action include social action and participation in the prevalent discourses of society. The years from 2001 until 2021 represent four successive five-year plans, culminating in the centennial anniversary of the passing of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá. Annually, on 21 April, the Universal House of Justice sends a 'Ridván' message to the worldwide Baháʼí community, that updates Baháʼís on current developments and provides further guidance for the year to come.[e]
At local, regional, and national levels, Baháʼís 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 Baháʼí Faith does not have. The Universal House of Justice remains the supreme governing body of the Baháʼí Faith, and its 9 members are elected every five years by the members of all National Spiritual Assemblies. Any male Baháʼí, 21 years or older, is eligible to be elected to the Universal House of Justice; all other positions are open to male and female Baháʼís.
The Baháʼí Faith is a medium-sized religion. A Baháʼí-published document reported 4.74 million Baháʼís in 1986 growing at an annual rate of 4.4%. Baháʼí sources since 1991 usually estimate the worldwide Baháʼí population to be above 5 million. The World Christian Encyclopedia estimated 7.1 million Baháʼís in the world in 2000, representing 218 countries, and 7.3 million in 2010 with the same source. The figure of 5 million Baháʼís in the early 1990s is a result of rapid growth since the early 1950s, when rough estimates suggest there were only around 200,000 Baháʼís.
According to two researchers in 2013: "The Baha'i Faith is the only religion to have grown faster in every United Nations region over the past 100 years than the general population; Bahaʼi was thus the fastest-growing religion between 1910 and 2010, growing at least twice as fast as the population of almost every UN region." The Baháʼí Faith was ranked by Foreign Policy magazine as the world's second fastest growing religion by percentage (1.7%) in 2007. It 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. According to Britannica, the Baháʼí Faith (as of 2010) is established in 221 countries and territories and has an estimated seven million adherents worldwide. Additionally, Baháʼís have self-organized in most of the nations of the world.
The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2004 included the following on the regional distribution of the world's Baháʼís:
The majority of Baháʼís live in Asia (3.6 million), Africa (1.8 million), and Latin America (900,000). According to some estimates, the largest Baháʼí community in the world is in India, with 2.2 million Baháʼís, next is Iran, with 350,000, the US, with 150,000, and Brazil, with 60,000. Aside from these countries, numbers vary greatly. Currently, no country has a Baháʼí majority.
The world's largest Baháʼí population lives in India, which in 2010 was home to an estimated 1,897,651 Baháʼís. Also according to the Association of Religion Data Archives, the Baháʼí Faith is the largest numerical religious minority in Iran, Panama and Belize, the second largest international religion in Bolivia, Zambia, and Papua New Guinea; and the third largest international religion in Chad and Kenya.
The following are a few examples from Baháʼu'lláh's teachings on personal conduct that are required or encouraged of his followers:
- Baháʼís over the age of 15 should individually recite an obligatory prayer each day, using fixed words and form.
- In addition to the daily obligatory prayer, Baháʼís should offer daily devotional prayer and should meditate and study sacred scripture.
- Adult Baháʼís should observe a Nineteen-Day Fast each year during daylight hours in March, with certain exemptions.
- There are specific requirements for Baháʼí burial that include a specified prayer to be read at the interment. Embalming or cremating the body is strongly discouraged.
- Baháʼís should make a 19% voluntary payment on any wealth in excess of what is necessary to live comfortably, after the remittance of any outstanding debt. The payments go to the Universal House of Justice.
The following are a few examples from Baháʼu'lláh's teachings on personal conduct that is prohibited or discouraged.
- Backbiting and gossip are prohibited and denounced.
- Drinking or selling alcohol is forbidden.
- Sexual intercourse is only permitted between a husband and wife, and thus premarital, extramarital, or homosexual intercourse are forbidden. (See also Homosexuality and the Baháʼí Faith)
- Participation in partisan politics is forbidden.
- Begging as a profession is forbidden.
The observance of personal laws, such as prayer or fasting, is the sole responsibility of the individual. There are, however, occasions when a Baháʼí might be administratively expelled from the community for a public disregard of the laws, or gross immorality. Such expulsions are administered by the National Spiritual Assembly and do not involve shunning.
While some of the laws from the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are applicable at the present time, others are dependent upon the existence of a predominantly Baháʼí society, such as the punishments for arson or murder. The laws, when not in direct conflict with the civil laws of the country of residence, are binding on every Baháʼí.
The purpose of marriage in the Baháʼí faith is mainly to foster spiritual harmony, fellowship and unity between a man and a woman and to provide a stable and loving environment for the rearing of children. The Baháʼí teachings on marriage call it a fortress for well-being and salvation and place marriage and the family as the foundation of the structure of human society. Baháʼu'lláh highly praised marriage, discouraged divorce, and required chastity outside of marriage; Baháʼu'lláh taught that a husband and wife should strive to improve the spiritual life of each other. Interracial marriage is also highly praised throughout Baháʼí scripture.
Baháʼís intending to marry are asked to obtain a thorough understanding of the other's character before deciding to marry. 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, whether they are Baháʼí or not. The Baháʼí marriage ceremony is simple; the only compulsory part of the wedding is the reading of the wedding vows prescribed by Baháʼu'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."
Baháʼu'lláh prohibited a mendicant and ascetic lifestyle. Monasticism is forbidden, and Baháʼís are taught to practice spirituality while engaging in useful work. The importance of self-exertion and service to humanity in one's spiritual life is emphasised further in Baháʼu'lláh's writings, where he states that work done in the spirit of service to humanity enjoys a rank equal to that of prayer and worship in the sight of God.
Places of worship
Most Baháʼí meetings occur in individuals' homes, local Baháʼí centers, or rented facilities. Worldwide, as of 2018, ten Baháʼí Houses of Worship, including eight Mother Temples and two local Houses of Worship have been built and a further five are planned for construction. Two of these houses of worship are national while the other three are going to be local temples. Baháʼí 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. The first ever Baháʼí temple was built from 1902 to 1907 in ʻIshqábád, Turkmenistan, and regarding the attempt at building a complex of satellite institutions it was the most complete ever built, but it was confiscated by Soviet authorities in 1938 and later demolished. The oldest extant Baháʼí temple is the one near Chicago, Illinois, dedicated in 1953.
The Baháʼí calendar is based upon the calendar established by the Báb. The year consists of 19 months, each having 19 days, with four or five intercalary days, to make a full solar year. The Baháʼí New Year corresponds to the traditional Iranian New Year, called Naw Rúz, and occurs on the vernal equinox, near 21 March, at the end of the month of fasting. Baháʼí communities gather at the beginning of each month at a meeting called a Feast for worship, consultation and socializing.
Each of the 19 months is given a name which is an attribute of God; some examples include Baháʼ (Splendour), ʻIlm (Knowledge), and Jamál (Beauty). The Baháʼí week is familiar in that it consists of seven days, with each day of the week also named after an attribute of God. Baháʼís 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.
The symbols of the religion are derived from the Arabic word Baháʼ (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 five-pointed stars interspersed with a stylized Baháʼ whose shape is meant to recall the three onenesses, while the latter is a calligraphic rendering of the phrase Yá Baháʼu'l-Abhá (يا بهاء الأبهى "O Glory of the Most Glorious!").
The five-pointed star is the official symbol of the Baháʼí Faith, known as the Haykal ("temple"). It was initiated and established by the Báb and various works were written in calligraphy shaped into a five-pointed star.
Since its inception the Baháʼí Faith has had involvement in socio-economic development beginning by giving greater freedom to women, promulgating the promotion of female education as a priority concern, and that involvement was given practical expression by creating schools, agricultural co-ops, and clinics.
The religion entered a new phase of activity when a message of the Universal House of Justice dated 20 October 1983 was released. Baháʼís were urged to seek out ways, compatible with the Baháʼí teachings, in which they could become involved in the social and economic development of the communities in which they lived. Worldwide in 1979 there were 129 officially recognized Baháʼí socio-economic development projects. By 1987, the number of officially recognized development projects had increased to 1482.
Current initiatives of social action include activities in areas like health, sanitation, education, gender equality, arts and media, agriculture, and the environment. Educational projects include schools, which range from village tutorial schools to large secondary schools, and some universities. By 2017, the Baháʼí Office of Social and Economic Development estimated that there were 40,000 small-scale projects, 1,400 sustained projects, and 135 Baháʼí-inspired organizations.
Baháʼu'lláh wrote of the need for world government in this age of humanity's collective life. Because of this emphasis the international Baháʼí community has chosen to support efforts of improving international relations through organizations such as the League of Nations and the United Nations, with some reservations about the present structure and constitution of the UN. The Baháʼí International Community is an agency under the direction of the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, and has consultative status with the following organizations:
- United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
- United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)
- United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)
- United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
- World Health Organization (WHO)
The Baháʼí 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 Baháʼí Faith has also undertaken joint development programs with various other United Nations agencies. In the 2000 Millennium Forum of the United Nations a Baháʼí was invited as one of the only non-governmental speakers during the summit.
Baháʼís continue to be persecuted in some majority-Islamic countries, whose leaders do not recognize the Baháʼí Faith as an independent religion, but rather as apostasy from Islam. The most severe persecutions have occurred in Iran, where more than 200 Baháʼís were executed between 1978 and 1998. The rights of Baháʼís have been restricted to greater or lesser extents in numerous other countries, including Egypt, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iraq, Morocco, Yemen, and several countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
The marginalization of the Iranian Baháʼís by current governments is rooted in historical efforts by Muslim 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. These clerical directives led to mob attacks and public executions. Starting in the twentieth century, in addition to repression aimed at individual Baháʼís, centrally directed campaigns that targeted the entire Baháʼí community and its institutions were initiated. In one case in Yazd in 1903 more than 100 Baháʼís were killed. Baháʼí schools, such as the Tarbiyat boys' and girls' schools in Tehran, were closed in the 1930s and 1940s, Baháʼí marriages were not recognized and Baháʼí texts were censored.
During the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to divert attention from economic difficulties in Iran and from a growing nationalist movement, a campaign of persecution against the Baháʼís was instituted.[f] An approved and coordinated anti-Baháʼí campaign (to incite public passion against the Baháʼís) started in 1955 and it included the spreading of anti-Baháʼí propaganda on national radio stations and in official newspapers. During that campaign, initiated by Mulla Muhammad Taghi Falsafi, the Bahá'í center in Tehran was demolished at the orders of Tehran military governor, General Teymur Bakhtiar. In the late 1970s the Shah's regime consistently lost legitimacy due to criticism that it was pro-Western. As the anti-Shah movement gained ground and support, revolutionary propaganda was spread which alleged that some of the Shah's advisors were Baháʼís. Baháʼís were portrayed as economic threats, and as supporters of Israel and the West, and societal hostility against the Baháʼís increased.
Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 Iranian Baháʼís have regularly had their homes ransacked or have been banned from attending university or from holding government jobs, and several hundred have received prison sentences for their religious beliefs, most recently for participating in study circles. Baháʼí cemeteries have been desecrated and property has been seized and occasionally demolished, including the House of Mírzá Buzurg, Baháʼu'lláh's father. The House of the Báb in Shiraz, one of three sites to which Baháʼís perform pilgrimage, has been destroyed twice. In May 2018, the Iranian authorities expelled a young woman student from university of Isfahan because she was Baháʼí. In March 2018, two more Baháʼí students were expelled from universities in the cities of Zanjan and Gilan because of their religion.
According to a US panel, attacks on Baháʼís in Iran increased under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights revealed an October 2005 confidential letter from Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces of Iran ordering its members to identify Baháʼís and to monitor their activities. Due to these actions, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights stated on 20 March 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 Baháʼí 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 14 May 2008, members of an informal body known as the "Friends" that oversaw the needs of the Baháʼí community in Iran were arrested and taken to Evin prison. The Friends court case has been postponed several times, but was finally underway on 12 January 2010. Other observers were not allowed in the court. Even the defence lawyers, who for two years have had minimal access to the defendants, had difficulty entering the courtroom. The chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said that it seems that the government has already predetermined the outcome of the case and is violating international human rights law. Further sessions were held on 7 February 2010, 12 April 2010 and 12 June 2010. On 11 August 2010 it became known that the court sentence was 20 years imprisonment for each of the seven prisoners which was later reduced to ten years. After the sentence, they were transferred to Gohardasht prison. In March 2011 the sentences were reinstated to the original 20 years. On 3 January 2010, Iranian authorities detained ten more members of the Baha'i minority, reportedly including Leva Khanjani, granddaughter of Jamaloddin Khanjani, one of seven Baha'i leaders jailed since 2008 and in February, they arrested his son, Niki Khanjani.
The Iranian government claims that the Baháʼí Faith is not a religion, but is instead a political organization, and hence refuses to recognize it as a minority religion. However, the government has never produced convincing evidence supporting its characterization of the Baháʼí community. The Iranian government also accuses the Baháʼí Faith of being associated with Zionism. These accusations against the Baháʼís have no basis in historical fact, and the accusations are used by the Iranian government to use the Baháʼís as "scapegoats". In fact it was the Iranian leader Naser al-Din Shah Qajar who banished Baháʼu'lláh from Iran to the Ottoman Empire and Baháʼu'lláh was later exiled by the Ottoman Sultan, at the behest of the Iranian Shah, to territories further away from Iran and finally to Acre in Syria, which only a century later was incorporated into the state of Israel.
In 2019, the Iranian government made it impossible for the Baháʼís to legally register with the Iranian state. National identity card applications in Iran no longer include the “other religions” option effectively making the Baháʼí Faith unrecognized by the state.
During the 1920s, Egypt's religious Tribunal recognized the Baha'i Faith as a new, independent religion, totally separate from Islam, due to the nature of the 'laws, principles and beliefs' of the Baha'is. At the same time the Tribunal condemned "in most unequivocal and emphatic language the followers of Baha'u'llah as the believers in heresy, offensive and injurious to Islam, and wholly incompatible with the accepted doctrines and practice of its orthodox adherents."
Baháʼí institutions and community activities have been illegal under Egyptian law since 1960. All Baháʼí community properties, including Baháʼí centers, libraries, and cemeteries, have been confiscated by the government and fatwas have been issued charging Baháʼís with apostasy.
The Egyptian identification card controversy began in the 1990s when the government modernized the electronic processing of identity documents, which introduced a de facto requirement that documents must list the person's religion as Muslim, Christian, or Jewish (the only three religions officially recognized by the government). Consequently, Baháʼís were unable to obtain government identification documents (such as national identification cards, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage or divorce certificates, or passports) necessary to exercise their rights in their country unless they lied about their religion, which conflicts with Baháʼí religious principle. Without documents, they could not be employed, educated, treated in hospitals, travel outside of the country, or vote, among other hardships. Following a protracted legal process culminating in a court ruling favorable to the Baháʼís, the interior minister of Egypt released a decree on 14 April 2009, amending the law to allow Egyptians who are not Muslim, Christian, or Jewish to obtain identification documents that list a dash in place of one of the three recognized religions. The first identification cards were issued to two Baháʼís under the new decree on 8 August 2009.
- Baháʼí Faith in fiction
- Criticism of the Baháʼí Faith
- List of Baháʼís
- List of former Baháʼís
- Baháʼí Faith by country
- Terraces (Baháʼí), the Hanging Gardens of Haifa
- The Baháʼí Faith is described in reliable sources as a 'religion', 'sect', 'relatively new religion', 'world religion', 'major world religion', 'megareligion', 'independent world religion', 'new religious movement', 'alternative religion', and other attempts to convey that it is new (relative to well-established faiths), not mainstream, and with no racial or national focus.
- Sources summarize the Baháʼí Faith as teaching, "the essential worth of all religions, the unity of all peoples, and the equality of the sexes", "the essential unity of all religions and the unity of humanity", "the spiritual unity of mankind and advocates peace and universal education", "the unity of all peoples under God", or "religious unity... the Oneness of Humanity... the equality of all human beings regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or social class".
- See Baháʼí Faith by country#Number of Baháʼís worldwide for detailed estimates.
- Obedience to government is not applicable when submission to law amounts to a denial of Faith. See for example: Political Non-involvement and Obedience to Government – A compilation of some of the Messages of the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice (compiled by Dr. Peter J. Khan)
- All Ridván messages can be found at Bahai.org and Bahaiprayers.net/Ridvan (multi-lingual).
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