Bahá'í Faith
Seat of the Universal House of Justice, governing body of the Bahá'ís, in Haifa, Israel

Bahá'í Faith
Bahai star.svg

Central figures

Bahá'u'lláh
The Báb · `Abdu'l-Bahá

Key scripture
Kitáb-i-Aqdas · Kitáb-i-Íqán

The Hidden Words
The Seven Valleys

Institutions

Administrative Order
The Guardianship
Universal House of Justice
Spiritual Assemblies

History

Bahá'í history · Timeline
Bábís · Shaykh Ahmad
Persecution

Notable individuals

Shoghi Effendi
Martha Root · Táhirih
Badí‘ · Apostles
Hands of the Cause

See also

Symbols · Laws
Teachings · Texts
Calendar · Divisions
Pilgrimage · Prayer

Index of Bahá'í Articles
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The Bahá'í Faith (play /bəˈh/)[1] is a monotheistic religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh in 19th-century Persia, emphasizing the spiritual unity of all humankind.[2] There are an estimated five to six million Bahá'ís around the world in more than 200 countries and territories.[3][4]

In the Bahá'í Faith, religious history is seen to have unfolded through a series of divine messengers, each of whom established a religion that was suited to the needs of the time and the capacity of the people. These messengers have included Abraham, the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and others, and most recently the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. In Bahá'í belief, each consecutive messenger prophesied of messengers to follow, and Bahá'u'lláh's life and teachings fulfilled the end-time promises of previous scriptures. Humanity is understood to be in a process of collective evolution, and the need of the present time is for the gradual establishment of peace, justice and unity on a global scale.[5]

The word "Bahá'í" is used either as an adjective to refer to the Bahá'í Faith or as a term for a follower of Bahá'u'lláh. The word is not a noun meaning the religion as a whole.[6] It is derived from the Arabic Bahá, meaning "glory" or "splendour".[7] The term "Bahaism" (or "Baha'ism") has been used in the past, but the generally accepted name for the religion is the Bahá'í Faith.[8][9]

Contents

Beliefs

Three core principles establish a basis for Bahá'í teachings and doctrine: the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of humankind.[4] From these postulates stems the belief that God periodically reveals his will through divine messengers, whose purpose is to transform the character of humankind and develop, within those who respond, moral and spiritual qualities. Religion is thus seen as orderly, unified, and progressive from age to age.[10]

God

Bahá'í Temple, Ingleside, Sydney, Australia

The Bahá'í writings describe a single, personal, inaccessible, omniscient, omnipresent, imperishable, and almighty God who is the creator of all things in the universe.[11] The existence of God and the universe is thought to be eternal, without a beginning or end.[12] Though inaccessible directly, God is nevertheless seen as conscious of creation, with a will and purpose that is expressed through messengers termed Manifestations of God.[11][13]

Bahá'í 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.[14][15] In the Bahá'í religion 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; such doctrines as the Trinity are seen as compromising, if not contradicting, the Bahá'í view that God is single and has no equal.[16] The Bahá'í teachings state that the attributes which are applied to God are used to translate Godliness into human terms and also to help individuals concentrate on their own attributes in worshipping God to develop their potentialities on their spiritual path.[14][15] According to the Bahá'í teachings the human purpose is to learn to know and love God through such methods as prayer, reflection and being of service to humankind.[14]

Symbols of many religions on a pillar of the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, U.S.

Religion

See also: Progressive revelation

Bahá'í notions of progressive religious revelation result in their accepting the validity of most of the world's religions, 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, suited for the time and place in which it was expressed.[12] 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 Bahá'í belief, this process of progressive revelation will not end; however, it is believed to be cyclical. Bahá'ís do not expect a new manifestation of God to appear within 1000 years of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation.[17]

Bahá'í beliefs are sometimes described as syncretic combinations of earlier religious beliefs.[18] Bahá'ís, however, assert that their religion is a distinct tradition with its own scriptures, teachings, laws, and history.[12][19] While the religion was initially seen as a sect of Islam, most religious specialists now see it as an independent religion, with its religious background in Shi'a Islam being seen as analogous to the Jewish context in which Christianity was established.[20] Muslim institutions and clergy, both Sunni and Shia, consider Bahá'ís to be apostates from Islam, which has led to Bahá'ís being persecuted.[21][22] Bahá'ís, themselves, describe their faith as an independent world religion, differing from the other traditions in its relative age and in the appropriateness of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings to the modern context.[23] Bahá'u'lláh is believed to have fulfilled the messianic expectations of these precursor faiths.[24]

Human beings

The Ringstone symbol represents humanity's connection to God

The Bahá'í writings state that human beings have a "rational soul", and that this provides the species with a unique capacity to recognize God's station 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.[25] Through recognition and obedience, service to humanity and regular prayer and spiritual practice, the Bahá'í writings state that the soul becomes closer to God, the spiritual ideal in Bahá'í belief. When a human dies, the soul passes into the next world, where its spiritual development in the physical world becomes a basis for judgment and advancement in the spiritual 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.[26]

The Bahá'í 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.[4] The Bahá'í teachings state that the unification of humankind is the paramount issue in the religious and political conditions of the present world.[12]

Teachings

Texts & Scriptures
of the
Bahá'í Faith
Bahai star.svg

From The Báb

Persian Bayán · Arabic Bayán
Writings of the Báb

From Bahá'u'lláh

Epistle to the Son of the Wolf
Four Valleys
Gems of Divine Mysteries
Gleanings · Kitáb-i-Aqdas
Kitáb-i-Íqán · Hidden Words
Seven Valleys
Summons of the Lord of Hosts
Tabernacle of Unity
Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh

From `Abdu'l-Bahá

Paris Talks
The Secret of Divine Civilization
Some Answered Questions
Tablets of the Divine Plan
Tablet to Dr. Forel
Tablet to The Hague
Will and Testament

From Shoghi Effendi

The Advent of Divine Justice
Bahá'í Administration
God Passes By
World Order of Bahá'u'lláh
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Summary

Shoghi Effendi, the appointed head of the religion from 1921 to 1957, wrote the following summary of what he considered to be the distinguishing principles of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings, which, he said, together with the laws and ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas constitute the bedrock of the Bahá'í 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 humankind 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 Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed].[27]

Social principles

The following principles are frequently listed as a quick summary of the Bahá'í teachings. They are derived from transcripts of speeches given by `Abdu'l-Bahá during his tour of Europe and North America in 1912.[28][29] The list is not authoritative and a variety of such lists circulate.[19][29][30]

With specific regard to the pursuit of world peace, Bahá'u'lláh prescribed a world-embracing collective security arrangement as necessary for the establishment of a lasting peace.[32]

Mystical teachings

Although the Bahá'í teachings have a strong emphasis on social and ethical issues, there exist a number of foundational texts that have been described as mystical.[12] The Seven Valleys is considered Bahá'u'lláh's "greatest mystical composition." It was written to a follower of Sufism, in the style of  `Attar, a Muslim poet,[33] 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 Bahá'u'lláh to the West. The Hidden Words is another book written by Bahá'u'lláh during the same period, containing 153 short passages in which Bahá'u'lláh claims to have taken the basic essence of certain spiritual truths and written them in brief form.[34]

Covenant

The Bahá'í teachings speak of both a "Greater Covenant",[35] being universal and endless, and a "Lesser Covenant", being unique to each religious dispensation. 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. At this time Bahá'ís view Bahá'u'lláh's revelation as a binding lesser covenant for his followers; in the Bahá'í writings being firm in the covenant is considered a virtue to work toward.[36] The Greater Covenant is viewed as a more enduring agreement between God and humankind, where a Manifestation of God is expected to come to humanity about every thousand years, at times of turmoil and uncertainty.

With unity as an essential teaching of the religion, Bahá'ís follow an administration they believe is divinely ordained, and therefore see attempts to create schisms and divisions as efforts that are contrary to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. Schisms have occurred over the succession of authority, but any Bahá'í divisions have had relatively little success and have failed to attract a sizeable following.[37] The followers of such divisions are regarded as Covenant-breakers and shunned, essentially excommunicated.[36][38]

Canonical texts

The canonical texts are the writings of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, and the authenticated talks of `Abdu'l-Bahá. The writings of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh are considered as divine revelation, the writings and talks of `Abdu'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.[39] Some of Bahá'u'lláh's most important writings include the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, literally the Most Holy Book, which is his book of laws,[40] the Kitáb-i-Íqán, literally the Book of Certitude, which became the foundation of much of Bahá'í belief,[41] the Gems of Divine Mysteries, which includes further doctrinal foundations, and the Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys which are mystical treatises.[42]

History

Bahá'í timeline
1844 The Báb declares his mission in Shiraz, Iran
1850 The Báb is publicly executed in Tabriz, Iran
1852 Thousands of Bábís are executed
Bahá'u'lláh is imprisoned and forced into exile
1863 Bahá'u'lláh first announces his claim to divine revelation
He is forced to leave Baghdad for Constantinople, then Adrianople
1868 Bahá'u'lláh is forced into harsher confinement in `Akká, Palestine
1892 Bahá'u'lláh dies near `Akká
His will appointed `Abdu'l-Bahá as successor
1908 `Abdu'l-Bahá is released from prison
1921 `Abdu'l-Bahá dies in Haifa
His will appoints Shoghi Effendi as Guardian
1957 Shoghi Effendi dies in England
1963 The Universal House of Justice is first elected

Bahá'í history follows a sequence of leaders, beginning with the Báb's May 23, 1844 declaration in Shiraz, Iran, and ultimately resting on an administrative order established by the central figures of the religion. The tradition was mostly isolated to the Persian and Ottoman empires until after the death of Bahá'u'lláh in 1892, at which time he had followers in 13 countries of Asia and Africa.[43] Under the leadership of his son, `Abdu'l-Bahá, the religion gained a footing in Europe and America, and was consolidated in Iran, where it still suffers intense persecution.[44] After the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1921, the leadership of the Bahá'í community entered a new phase, evolving from a single individual to an administrative order with both elected bodies and appointed individuals.[45]

The Báb

Shrine of the Báb in Haifa, Israel.

On May 23, 1844 Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad of Shiraz, Iran proclaimed that he was "the Báb" (الباب "the Gate"), referencing his later claim to the station of Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam of Shi`a Islam.[44] His followers were therefore known as Bábís. As the Báb's teachings spread, which the Islamic clergy saw as a threat, his followers came under increased persecution and torture.[12] The conflicts escalated in several places to military sieges by the Shah's army. The Báb himself was imprisoned and eventually executed in 1850.[46]

Bahá'ís see the Báb as the forerunner of the Bahá'í Faith, because the Báb's writings introduced the concept of "He whom God shall make manifest", a Messianic figure whose coming, according to Bahá'ís, was announced in the scriptures of all of the world's great religions, and whom Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, claimed to be in 1863.[12] The Báb's tomb, located in Haifa, Israel, is an important place of pilgrimage for Bahá'ís. 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 Bahá'u'lláh.[47]

Bahá'u'lláh

Mírzá Husayn `Alí Núrí was one of the early followers of the Báb, and later took the title of Bahá'u'lláh. He was arrested and imprisoned for this involvement in 1852. Bahá'u'lláh relates that in 1853, while incarcerated in the dungeon of the Síyáh-Chál in Tehran, he received the first intimations that he was the one anticipated by the Báb.[4]

Shortly thereafter he was expelled from Tehran to Baghdad, in the Ottoman Empire;[4] then to Constantinople (now Istanbul); and then to Adrianople (now Edirne). In 1863, at the time of his banishment from Baghdad to Constantinople, Bahá'u'lláh declared his claim to a divine mission to his family and followers. Tensions then grew between him and Subh-i-Azal, the appointed leader of the Bábís who did not recognize Bahá'u'lláh's claim. Throughout the rest of his life Bahá'u'lláh gained the allegiance of most of the Bábís, who came to be known as Bahá'ís. Beginning in 1866, 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.

In 1868 Bahá'u'lláh was banished by Sultan Abdülâziz a final time to the Ottoman penal colony of `Akká, in present-day Israel.[48] Towards the end of his life, the strict and harsh confinement was gradually relaxed, and he was allowed to live in a home near `Akká, while still officially a prisoner of that city.[48] He died there in 1892. Bahá'ís regard his resting place at Bahjí as the Qiblih to which they turn in prayer each day.[42]

`Abdu'l-Bahá

`Abbás Effendi was Bahá'u'lláh's eldest son, known by the title of `Abdu'l-Bahá (Servant of Bahá). His father left a Will that appointed `Abdu'l-Bahá as the leader of the Bahá'í community, and designated him as the "Centre of the Covenant", "Head of the Faith", and the sole authoritative interpreter of Bahá'u'lláh's writings.[47][49] `Abdu'l-Bahá had shared his father's long exile and imprisonment, which continued until `Abdu'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 Bahá'í Faith.[4]

Bahá'í administration

Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Aqdas and The Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá are foundational documents of the Bahá'í administrative order. Bahá'u'lláh established the elected Universal House of Justice, and `Abdu'l-Bahá established the appointed hereditary Guardianship and clarified the relationship between the two institutions.[47][50] In his Will, `Abdu'l-Bahá appointed his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as the first Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith.[50]

Shoghi Effendi throughout his lifetime translated Bahá'í texts; developed global plans for the expansion of the Bahá'í community; developed the Bahá'í 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.[4] He died in 1957 under conditions that did not allow for a successor to be appointed.[51][52]

At local, regional, and national levels, Bahá'ís 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 Bahá'í Faith does not have.[12][53] The Universal House of Justice, first elected in 1963, remains the successor and supreme governing body of the Bahá'í Faith, and its 9 members are elected every five years by the members of all National Spiritual Assemblies.[54] Any male Bahá'í, 21 years or older, is eligible to be elected to the Universal House of Justice; all other positions are open to male and female Bahá'ís.[55]

International plans

In 1937, Shoghi Effendi launched a seven year plan for the Bahá'ís of North America, followed by another in 1946.[56] In 1953, he launched the first international plan, the Ten Year World Crusade. This plan included extremely ambitious goals for the expansion of Bahá'í communities and institutions, the translation of Bahá'í texts into several new languages, and the sending of Bahá'í pioneers into previously unreached nations.[57] 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 Bahá'í community.[58]

Annually, on April 21, the Universal House of Justice sends a ‘Ridván’ message to the worldwide Bahá’í community,[59] which generally gives an update on the progress made concerning the current plan, and provides further guidance for the year to come.[60] The Bahá'ís around the world are currently being encouraged to focus on capacity building through children's classes, youth groups, devotional gatherings, and a systematic study of the religion known as study circles.[61][62] Further focuses are involvement in social action and participation in the prevalent discourses of society.[63][64] The years from 2001 until 2021 represent four successive five-year plans, culminating in the centennial anniversary of the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá.[65]

Demographics

The Bahá'í House of Worship in New Delhi, India attracts an average of 4 million visitors a year. It is popularly known as the Lotus Temple

A Bahá'í published document reported 4.74 million Bahá'ís in 1986 growing at a rate of 4.4%.[66] Bahá'í sources since 1991 usually estimate the worldwide Bahá'í population to be above 5 million.[67] The World Christian Encyclopedia estimated 7.1 million Bahá'ís in the world in 2000, representing 218 countries.[68]

From its origins in the Persian and Ottoman Empires, by the early 20th century there were a number of converts in South and South East Asia, Europe, and North America. During the 1950s and 1960s, vast travel teaching efforts brought the religion to almost every country and territory of the world. By the 1990s, Bahá'ís were developing programs for systematic consolidation on a large scale, and the early 21st century saw large influxes of new adherents around the world. The Bahá'í Faith is currently the largest religious minority in Iran.[69]

According to The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2004:

The majority of Bahá'ís live in Asia (3.6 million), Africa (1.8 million), and Latin America (900,000). According to some estimates, the largest Bahá'í community in the world is in India, with 2.2 million Bahá'ís, next is Iran, with 350,000, and the US, with 150,000. Aside from these countries, numbers vary greatly. Currently, no country has a Bahá'í majority.[70]

The Bahá'í religion 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. Britannica claims that it is established in 247 countries and territories; represents over 2,100 ethnic, racial, and tribal groups; has scriptures translated into over 800 languages; and has seven million adherents worldwide 2002.[71] Additionally, Bahá'ís have self-organized in most of the nations of the earth.

The Bahá'í religion was ranked by the FP magazine as the world's second fastest growing religion by percentage (1.7%) in 2007.[72]

Social practices

Laws

Bahá'í gardens in Haifa, Israel.

The laws of the Bahá'í Faith primarily come from the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, written by Bahá'u'lláh.[73] The following are a few examples of basic laws and religious observances.

  • Prayer in the Bahá'í Faith consists of obligatory prayer and devotional (general) prayer. Bahá'ís over the age of 15 must individually recite an obligatory prayer each day, using fixed words and form. In addition to the daily obligatory prayer, believers are directed to daily offer devotional prayer and to meditate and study sacred scripture. There is no set form for devotions and meditations, though the devotional prayers written by the central figures of the Bahá'í Faith and collected in prayer books are held in high esteem. Reading aloud of prayers from prayer books is a typical feature of Bahá'í gatherings.
  • Backbiting and gossip are prohibited and denounced.
  • Adult Bahá'ís in good health should observe a nineteen-day sunrise-to-sunset fast each year from March 2 through March 20.
  • Bahá'ís are forbidden to drink alcohol or to take drugs, unless prescribed by doctors.
  • Sexual intercourse is only permitted between a husband and wife, and thus premarital and homosexual intercourse are forbidden. (See also Homosexuality and the Bahá'í Faith)
  • Gambling is forbidden.
  • Fanaticism is forbidden.
  • Adherence to ritual is condemned, with the notable exception of the obligatory prayers.
  • Abstaining from partisan politics is required.

While some of the laws from the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are applicable at the present time and may be enforced to a degree by the administrative institutions,[74] Bahá'u'lláh has provided for the progressive application of other laws that are dependent upon the existence of a predominantly Bahá'í society. The laws, when not in direct conflict with the civil laws of the country of residence, are binding on every Bahá'í,[74] and the observance of personal laws, such as prayer or fasting, is the sole responsibility of the individual.[73][75]

Marriage

The purpose of marriage in the Bahá'i 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.[76] The Bahá'í 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.[76] Bahá'u'lláh highly praised marriage, discouraged divorce and homosexuality, and required chastity outside of marriage; Bahá'u'lláh taught that a husband and wife should strive to improve the spiritual life of each other.[77] Interracial marriage is also highly praised throughout Bahá'í scripture.[76]

Bahá'ís intending to marry are asked to obtain a thorough understanding of the other's character before deciding to marry.[76] 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, even if one partner is not a Bahá'í. The Bahá'í marriage ceremony is simple; the only compulsory part of the wedding is the reading of the wedding vows prescribed by Bahá'u'lláh which both the groom and the bride read, in the presence of two witnesses.[76] The vows are "We will all, verily, abide by the Will of God."[76]

Work

Monasticism is forbidden, and Bahá'ís attempt to ground their spirituality in ordinary daily life. Performing useful work, for example, is not only required but considered a form of worship.[12] Bahá'u'lláh prohibited a mendicant and ascetic lifestyle.[78] The importance of self-exertion and service to humanity in one's spiritual life is emphasised further in Bahá'u'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.[12]

Places of worship

Bahá'í House of Worship, Langenhain, Germany

Most Bahá'í meetings occur in individuals' homes, local Bahá'í centers, or rented facilities. Worldwide, there are currently seven Bahá'í Houses of Worship with an eighth under construction in Chile.[79] Bahá'í 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.[80] The first ever Mashriqu'l-Adhkár in `Ishqábád, Turkmenistan, has been the most complete House of Worship.[81]

Calendar

The Bahá'í 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.[4] The Bahá'í New Year corresponds to the traditional Persian New Year, called Naw Rúz, and occurs on the vernal equinox, March 21, at the end of the month of fasting. Bahá'í communities gather at the beginning of each month at a meeting called a Feast for worship, consultation and socializing.[12]

Each of the 19 months is given a name which is an attribute of God; some examples include Bahá’ (Splendour), ‘Ilm (Knowledge), and Jamál (Beauty).[82] The Bahá'í week is familiar in that it consists of seven days, with each day of the week also named after an attribute of God. Bahá'ís 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.[82]

Symbols

The calligraphy of the Greatest Name

The symbols of the religion are derived from the Arabic word Bahá’ (بهاء "splendor" or "glory"), with a numerical value of 9, which is why the most common symbol is the nine-pointed star.[83] 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 Bahá’ whose shape is meant to recall the three onenesses,[84] while the latter is a calligraphic rendering of the phrase Yá Bahá'u'l-Abhá (يا بهاء الأبهى "O Glory of the Most Glorious!").

The five-pointed star is the symbol of the Bahá'í Faith.[85][86] In the Bahá'í Faith, the star is known as the Haykal (Arabic: "temple"‎), and it was initiated and established by the Báb. The Báb and Bahá'u'lláh wrote various works in the form of a pentagram.[87]

Socio-economic development

Students of School for Girls, Tehran, 13 August 1933. This photograph may be of the students of Tarbiyat School for Girls which was established by the Bahá'í Community of Tehran in 1911; the school was closed by government decree in 1934.[88]

Since its inception the Bahá'í Faith has had involvement in socio-economic development beginning by giving greater freedom to women,[89] promulgating the promotion of female education as a priority concern,[90] and that involvement was given practical expression by creating schools, agricultural coops, and clinics.[89]

The religion entered a new phase of activity when a message of the Universal House of Justice dated 20 October 1983 was released. Bahá'ís were urged to seek out ways, compatible with the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í socio-economic development projects. By 1987, the number of officially recognized development projects had increased to 1482.[91]

United Nations

Bahá'u'lláh wrote of the need for world government in this age of humanity's collective life. Because of this emphasis the international Bahá'í 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.[92] The Bahá'í International Community is an agency under the direction of the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, and has consultative status with the following organizations:[93][94]

The Bahá'í 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.[94] 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 Bahá'í Faith has also undertaken joint development programs with various other United Nations agencies. In the 2000 Millennium Forum of the United Nations a Bahá'í was invited as the only non-governmental speaker during the summit.[95]

Persecution

The Bahá'í cemetery in Yazd after its desecration by the government

Bahá'ís continue to be persecuted in Islamic countries, as Islamic leaders do not recognize the Bahá'í Faith as an independent religion, but rather as apostasy from Islam. The most severe persecutions have occurred in Iran, where over 200 Bahá'ís were executed between 1978 and 1998,[69] and in Egypt. The rights of Bahá'ís have been restricted to greater or lesser extents in numerous other countries, including Afghanistan,[96] Indonesia,[97][98] Iraq,[99] Morocco,[100] and several countries in sub-Saharan Africa.[101]

Iran

The marginalization of the Iranian Bahá'ís 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.[44] Starting in the twentieth century, in addition to repression that impacted individual Bahá'ís, centrally directed campaigns that targeted the entire Bahá'í community and institutions were initiated.[102] In one case in Yazd in 1903 more than 100 Bahá'ís were killed.[103] Bahá'í schools, such as the Tarbiyat boys' and girl's schools in Tehran, were closed in the 1930s and 40s, Bahá'í marriages were not recognized and Bahá'í texts were censored.[102][104]

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 Bahá'ís was instituted.[105] An approved and coordinated anti-Bahá'í campaign (to incite public passion against the Bahá'ís) started in 1955 and included the spreading of anti-Bahá'í propaganda on national radio stations and in official newspapers.[102] 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 that some of the Shah's advisors were Bahá'ís.[106] Bahá'ís were portrayed as economic threats, supporters of Israel and the West, and societal hostility for the Bahá'ís increased.[102][107]

Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 Iranian Bahá'ís have regularly had their homes ransacked or been banned from attending university or holding government jobs, and several hundred have received prison sentences for their religious beliefs, most recently for participating in study circles.[69] Bahá'í cemeteries have been desecrated and property seized and occasionally demolished, including the House of Mírzá Buzurg, Bahá'u'lláh's father.[44] The House of the Báb in Shiraz, one of three sites to which Bahá'ís perform pilgrimage, has been destroyed twice.[44][108][109]

According to a US panel, attacks on Bahá'ís in Iran have increased since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president.[110][111] The United Nations Commission on Human Rights revealed an October 2005 confidential letter from Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces of Iran to identify Bahá'ís and to monitor their activities.[112] Due to these actions, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights stated on March 20, 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 Bahá'í 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."[112]

On May 14, 2008, members of an informal body known as the "Friends" that oversaw the needs of the Bahá'í community in Iran were arrested and taken to Evin prison.[110][113] The Friends court case has been postponed several times, but was finally underway on January 12, 2010.[114] Other observers were not allowed in the court. Even the defence lawyers, who for two years have had very minimal access to the defendants, had difficulty entering the courtroom.[114] 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.[114] Further sessions were held on February 7, 2010,[110] April 12, 2010[115] and June 12, 2010.[116] On August 11, 2010 it became known that the court sentence was 20 years imprisonment for each of the seven prisoners[117] which was later reduced to ten years.[118] After the sentence, they were transferred to Gohardasht prison.[119] In March 2011 the sentences were reinstated to the original 20 years.[120]

On January 3, 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, arrested his son, Niki Khanjani.[121]

The Iranian government claims that the Bahá'í Faith is not a religion, but a political organization, and hence refuses to recognize it as a minority religion.[122] However, the government has never produced convincing evidence supporting its characterization of the Bahá'í community.[123] Also the government's statements that Bahá'ís who recanted their religion would have their rights restored, attests to the fact that Bahá'ís are persecuted solely for their religious affiliation.[124] The Iranian government also accuses the Bahá'í Faith of being associated with Zionism because the Bahá'í World Centre is located in Haifa, Israel.[125] These accusations against the Bahá'ís have no basis in historical fact,[126][127][128] and the accusations are used by the Iranian government to use the Bahá'ís as "scapegoats".[129] In fact it was the Iranian Shah who banished Bahá'u'lláh from Persia to the Ottoman Empire and he was later exiled by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, at the behest of the Persian 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.[130]

Egypt

Bahá'í institutions and community activities have been illegal under Egyptian law since 1960.[131][132] All Bahá'í community properties, including Bahá'í centers, libraries, and cemeteries, have been confiscated by the government and fatwas have been issued charging Bahá'ís with apostasy.[131]

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, Bahá'ís 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 Bahá'í religious principle.[133] Without documents, they could not be employed, educated, treated in hospitals, travel outside of the country, or vote, among other hardships.[133] Following a protracted legal process culminating in a court ruling favorable to the Bahá'ís, the interior minister of Egypt released a decree on April 14, 2009, amending the law to allow Egyptians who are not Muslim, Christian, or Jewish to obtain identification documents that list dash in place of one of the three recognized religions.[134] The first identification cards were issued to two Bahá'ís under the new decree on August 8, 2009.[135]

Reactions

Bernard Lewis states that the Muslim laity and Islamic authorities have always had great difficulty in accommodating post-Islamic monotheistic religions such as the Bahá'í Faith, since the followers of such religions cannot be dismissed either as benighted heathens, like the polytheists of Asia and the animists of Africa, nor as outdated precursors, like the Jews and Christians. Moreover, their very existence presents a challenge to the Islamic doctrine of the finality of Muhammad's revelation.[136]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ In English /bəˈh/ with two syllables, in Persian Persian: بهائی [bæhɒːʔiː] with three syllables. The exact realization of the English pronunciation varies. The Oxford English Dictionary has /bæˈhɑː/ ba-hah-ee, Merriam-Webster has /bɑːˈhɑː/ bah-hah-ee, and the Random House Dictionary has /bəˈhɑː/ bə-hah-ee. See Banani, Amin (MP3), A Baha'i Glossary and Pronunciation Guide, Bahá’i Study, http://www.bahaistudy.org/mp3/Bahai-Glossary1.mp3  and Shahrokh, Darius, Bahá’i Library, http://bahai-library.com/wttp/programs.html  – A Guide to Pronunciation part 1 and 2, for more pronunciation instructions
  2. ^ Houghton 2004
  3. ^ Bahá'í statistics for a breakdown of different estimates.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Hutter 2005, pp. 737–40
  5. ^ Smith 2008, pp. 107–9
  6. ^ Stockman 2006, p. 209
  7. ^ Bahá'ís prefer the orthographies "Bahá'í", "Bahá'ís", "the Báb", "Bahá'u'lláh", and "`Abdu'l-Bahá", using a particular transcription of the Arabic and Persian in publications. "Bahai", "Bahais", "Baha'i", "the Bab", "Bahaullah" and "Baha'u'llah" are often used when diacriticals are unavailable.
  8. ^ Hatcher & Martin 1998, pp. xiii
  9. ^ Centre for Faith and the Media. A Journalist's Guide to the Baha'i Faith. Calgary, Alberta: Centre for Faith and the Media. p. 3. http://www.faithandmedia.org/cms/uploads/files/8_guide-bahai.pdf. 
  10. ^ Smith 2008, pp. 108–109
  11. ^ a b Smith 2008, p. 106
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Britannica 1992
  13. ^ Smith 2008, pp. 111–112
  14. ^ a b c Hatcher 2005, pp. 1–38
  15. ^ a b Cole 1982, pp. 1–38
  16. ^ Stockman, Robert. "Jesus Christ in the Baha'i Writings". Baha'i Studies Review 2 (1). http://bahai-library.com/articles/stockman.jesus.html. 
  17. ^ McMullen 2000, p. 7
  18. ^ Stockman, Robert (1997). "The Baha'i Faith and Syncretism". A Resource Guide for the Scholarly Study of the Bahá'í Faith. http://bahai-library.com/stockman_bahai_syncretism. 
  19. ^ a b "Bahais". Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. http://www.brillonline.nl/public/demo#islam. Retrieved 2007-05-03. 
  20. ^ Van der Vyer, J.D. (1996). Religious human rights in global perspective: religious perspectives. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 449. ISBN 9041101764. 
  21. ^ Boyle, Kevin; Sheen, Juliet (1997). Freedom of religion and belief: a world report. Routledge. pp. 29. ISBN 0415159784. 
  22. ^ Afshari, Reza (2001). Human rights in Iran: the abuse of cultural relativism. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 119–120. ISBN 081223605X. 
  23. ^ Lundberg, Zaid (1996–2005). "The Concept of Progressive Revelation". Baha'i Apocalypticism: The Concept of Progressive Revelation. Department of History of Religion at the Faculty of Theology, Lund University. http://bahai-library.com/lundberg_bahai_apocalypticism. Retrieved 2007-05-01. 
  24. ^ Buck, Christopher (2004). "The eschatology of Globalization: The multiple-messiahship of Bahā'u'llāh revisited". In Sharon, Moshe (PDF). Studies in Modern Religions, Religious Movements and the Bābī-Bahā'ī Faiths. Boston: Brill. pp. 143–178. ISBN 90-04-13904-4. http://www.christopherbuck.com/Buck_PDFs/Buck_Eschatology_2004.pdf. 
  25. ^ McMullen, Michael D. (2000). The Baha'i: The Religious Construction of a Global Identity. Atlanta, Georgia: Rutgers University Press. pp. 57–58. ISBN 0-8135-2836-4. http://books.google.com/books?id=lF0UquZAZW8C. 
  26. ^ Masumian, Farnaz (1995). Life After Death: A study of the afterlife in world religions. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. ISBN 1-85168-074-8. 
  27. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1944). God Passes By. Wilmette, Illinois, US: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. 281–2. ISBN 0-87743-020-9. http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/GPB/gpb-20.html#gr7. 
  28. ^ Smith 2008, pp. 52–53
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  31. ^ 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)
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  40. ^ Hatcher & Martin 1998, pp. 46
  41. ^ Hatcher & Martin 1998, pp. 137
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