The Bahá’í religion was founded in 1863 through a Persian by the name Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), and which grew throughout Iran and parts of the Middle East where it has faced persecution since its beginning.
In many majority Muslim countries. the Bahá’í religion is viewed as apostasy and thus a victim of persecution. In the 20th century a number of Bahá’ís were executed in Egypt and Iran while other Muslim nations have restricted their religious freedom. Today there are somewhere between five and eight million Bahá’ís living in over 230 countries worldwide, and the majority currently live on the Asian continent. Bahá’í beliefs and teachings cover a range of theological topics such as the nature of the human being, worship, the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity humanity.
Manifestations of God
According to the Bahá’í faith, throughout history God has sent divine prophets or educators to humankind. These divine prophets are referred to as Manifestations (of God) and each are thought to have been a further stage in the revelation of God to human beings. Manifestations have includes a number of the major figures behind or inextricably linked to religious movements such as Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus Christ, and the prophet Muhammad. Bahá’u’lláh is considered the latest of these Manifestations of God, and claimed to have taught that all the religions of the world ultimately stem from the same source and that each are successive chapters within the one religion from God (1). Thus, Baha’is incorporate a strong theme of unity into their theology and teachings.
The Báb and the Covenant
Bahá’u’lláh was a follower of a Persian merchant by the name Siyyid `Alí Muhammad Shírází (1819-1850). Claiming to be a messenger of God, Siyyid `Alí Muhammad Shírází renamed himself the Báb (“the Gate” in Arabic). The Báb claimed that a messenger would soon arrive from God and would be the latest in a line of prophets including Moses, Muhammad, and Jesus Christ (2). Given life within Iran at the time, the Báb’s message was attractive and his popularity and following grew which ultimately resulted in the religion of Babism. The Báb believed it was his mission to prepare the way for the coming of a second Messenger from God who would both be greater than himself as well as the usherer of an age of peace and justice. Bahá’ís believe that Bahá’u’lláh was the ‘Promised One’ foretold by the Báb and by all of the Divine Messengers of the past (3). Bahá’u’lláh delivered a new revelation from God to humankind as presented in his writings which weren’t taken well by the authorities who imprisoned and tortured him. He would also eventually be exiled.
The line or chain of transmission via which the teachings and beliefs of the Bahá’í faith were passed down are referred to as the Covenant. This line went from Bahá’u’lláh to his eldest son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), from Abdu’l-Bahá to his grandson Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), and finally to the establishment of the Universal House of Justice (established 1963, located in Haifa, Israel) (4).
The Unity and Nearness of God
Bahá’ís believe in the existence of a single God which seems to resemble the God of some monotheistic religions. For one, God is conceptualized as creator of all things within the universe, is all-knowing, all-powerful, and eternal. Although God is deemed too great to be understood by the finite human mind, God is able to reveal his will and purpose to human beings which he has done via his Manifestations (5). It is through these Manifestations that human beings can come to know things about God. Bahá’ís also believe that it is this one true God of whom is called by different names in the different world religions. The unity of God was expressed by Bahá’u’lláh who stated,
“All-praise to the unity of God, and all-honour to Him, the sovereign Lord, the incomparable and all-glorious Ruler of the universe, Who, out of utter nothingness, hath created the reality of all things, Who, from naught, hath brought into being the most refined and subtle elements of His creation, and Who, rescuing His creatures from the abasement of remoteness and the perils of ultimate extinction, hath received them into His kingdom of incorruptible glory. Nothing short of His all-encompassing grace, His all-pervading mercy, could have possibly achieved it.”
God is also personal and human beings are able to draw close to him through studying the sacred writings as well as engaging in prayer and meditation. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá highlighted God’s nearness and how human beings could draw close to him,
“[W]e learn that nearness to God is possible through devotion to Him, through entrance into the Kingdom and service to humanity; it is attained by unity with mankind and through loving-kindness to all; it is dependent upon investigation of truth, acquisition of praiseworthy virtues, service in the cause of universal peace and personal sanctification.”
Bahá’í View of the Unity of God of Other Religions
Bahá’ís believe that there is only one real religion, which is the religion of God, and they view different religions as constituting different approaches to that one true religion. In this respect the Bahá’í faith possesses a unique view of religions given that it accepts them as true and valid. Bahá’u’lláh himself believed that the different religions and their religious traditions spoke of the same divine reality, and thus Bahá’ís are encouraged to treat adherents of other religions in a friendly manner as well as encourage peaceful relations between different faith communities.
Bahá’í View of the Unity of Humanity
Bahá’ís believe in the equality of human beings and the sexes. All human beings have immortal souls, a spiritual reality within the person which does not die when the body does and moves on to another plane of existence. Bahá’ís also hold to the the idea of a single race, which they hope will soon be united into a single global community. This emphasis on equality and unity does not undermine diversity which is acknowledged, but rather that no human being or group of people should consider themselves superior to any other. Thus, there is no room for racism, sexism, classism, and acts and behaviours motivated by these are considered moral evils and contrary to God’s plan (6). According to Bahá’u’lláh,
“The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” Similarly, in 2001 the Bahá’í International Community issued a statement in which they claimed “We are a single people, inhabiting the planet Earth, one human family bound together in a common destiny, a single entity created from one same substance, obligated to ‘be even as one soul.’”
Prayer, meditation, studying sacred scripture, and community meetings are important to Bahá’í spiritual life. Prayer, both devotional (private) and obligatory, are integral to their spirituality. Bahá’ís can can make requests to God, and pray for healing, community life, and marriage. They believe that through prayer and the studying of Bahá’í sacred writings one is able to grow in humility and become of service to humanity. Bahá’ís revere both the Bab and Bahá’u’lláh and use their prayers, which they regard as the words of God and therefore full of spiritual power, during meetings and times of devotion. Obligatory prayer consists of a set of three prayers penned by Bahá’u’lláh, and are considered the most significant prayers required to be said by those who are 15 years and older. Engaging in obligatory prayer is a demonstration of one’s own humility and awe before God. Bahá’ís gather at numerous locations including their homes as well as Houses of Worship and Mother Temples. They do not have ecclesiastical like authorities such as priests or clergy but still gather for prayer, meditation, and the reading of scripture. Studying their sacred scriptures is important. Their are numerous texts but the most valuable are those penned by the Bab, Bahá’u’lláh, `Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice. Bahá’ís consider the writings of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh to be divine revelation. Mediation helps the individual with focused self-reflection and is closely linked to reading sacred scripture which provides an opportunity to meditate on spiritual concepts and to reflect on how they might be applied to one’s own life (7).
The Bahá’í religion is open and welcoming to those who are willing to accept Bahá’u’lláh as the latest Manifestation of God as well as accept the Covenant he made with his followers about his successor and interpreter, Abdu’l-Bahá (8). If one is to convert to the faith it is essential for him or her to become part of the faith community, and openly declare his or her faith at a local or national Spiritual Assembly.
1. Bahai.org. The Bahá’í Faith. Available.
2. Bahai.org. The Bab. Available.
3. Bahai.org. Bahaullah Covenant. Available.
4. Bahai.org. Bahaullah Covenant. Available.
5. Bahai Reference Library. Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Available.
6. Bahá’í World News Service. 2001. Baha’i International Community issues statement to World Conference against Racism. Available.
7. Bahai.org. What Baha’is Believe. Available.
8. Bahai.org. Bahaullah Covenant. Available.