The Bahá'í Faith is an emerging global religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh, a nineteenth-century Iranian exile. "Bahá'í" is either an adjective referring to this religion, or the term for a follower of Bahá'u'lláh.
Bahá'í theology speaks of three interlocking unities: the oneness of God (monotheism); the oneness of his prophets or messengers (religious perennialism); and the oneness of humanity (equality, globalism). These three principles have a profound impact on the theological and social teachings of this religion.
Religion is seen as a progressively unfolding process of education, by God, through his messengers, to a constantly evolving human family. Bahá'u'lláh is seen as the most recent, pivotal, but not final of God's messengers. His major purpose was to lay the spiritual foundations for a new global civilization of peace and harmony, which Bahá'ís expect to gradually arise.
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Relation to other religions
Bahá'ís believe in a process of progressive revelation recognising most of the major religions' founders including Zoroaster (Zarathustra), Krishna, Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed. Like Muslims, Bahá'ís interpret religious history in terms of a series of prophetic dispensations. Each prophet or messenger brings a somewhat broader and more advanced revelation.
Use of the English word "prophet" obscures the fact that Bahá'ís view not only the prophetic messages as divine, but also the messengers themselves, who are said to possess both human and divine stations. This resembles the Shi'i understanding of the prophets and imams, as well as the Christian view of Christ. To avoid confusion, Baha'is normally refer to the major prophets as divine "Manifestations" (mazhar).
The belief in the divinity of several major world religions have led some to characterize the Bahá'í Faith as syncretic in nature. Bahá'ís however see theirs not as a combination of religions, but as a distinct religious tradition with some 150 years of sacred history. It has its own scriptures, teachings, and laws.
Bahá'ís describe their faith as an independent world religion, differing from the other great religious traditions only in its newness. They consider that their religion has emerged from Islam in much the same way that Christianity emerged from Judaism, or Buddhism from Hinduism. Bahá'u'lláh is thought to fulfill the messianic promises, and other spiritual aspirations, of all these various predecessor faiths.
Bahá'ís continue to be persecuted in Islamic countries--especially in Iran, where over 200 believers were executed between 1978 and 1998. Bahá'ís have been banned from attending university and holding government jobs since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and many Bahá'ís were imprisoned during the early 1980's. Bahá'í cemeteries have been desecrated and property seized and occasionally demolished including the House of Mírzá Burzurg, Bahá'u'lláh's father. The House of the Báb in Shiraz has been destroyed twice, and is one of three sites to which Bahá'ís perform pilgrimage. As of mid-2005, arrests and persecutions of Baha'is by the Iranian government have continued.
Bahá'ís believe that Bahá'u'lláh has guaranteed the continuing unity of their faith by ordaining certain authorities and institutions, which are described at length below. This divine guarantee of the integrity of Bahá'í institutions is known as the "The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh," and is said to distinguish the Bahá'í Faith from others with equally divine origins. Bahá'ís believe that God will protect their faith from the fate of earlier religions, which have divided into sects and denominations. They accordingly characterize divisions within the Bahá'í faith as insignificant, ephemeral, and ill-motivated.
Shoghi Effendi 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 bed-rock 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 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 Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed]."
- God Passes By, p. 281
The following 12 "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. The list is not authoritative and a variety of such lists circulate.
- The Oneness of God
- The Oneness of religion
- The Oneness of mankind
- Equality of women and men
- Elimination of all forms of prejudice
- World peace
- Harmony of religion and science
- Independent investigation of truth
- The need for universal compulsory education
- The need for a universal auxiliary language
- Obedience to government and non-involvement in politics
- Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty
The first three of this list are commonly referred to as the Three Onenesses, and form a fundamental part of Baha'i beliefs.
The purpose of human life, say Bahá'ís, is spiritual growth. This is conceived almost as an organic process, like the development of a fetus, and continues after death. Rather than a heaven and hell strictly speaking (or reincarnation, for that matter), Bahá'ís teach an afterlife in which the soul may progress through ever-more-exalted spiritual realms.
Bahá'ís believe that while God's essence can never be fully fathomed, he can be understood through his "names and attributes." These are likened to gems and include such divine qualities as compassion or wisdom. Education (especially of a spiritual nature) reveals the divine gems which God has placed within our souls.
Bahá'u'lláh's Hidden Words, The Seven Valleys, and The Four Valleys are favorite mystical texts. Bahá'í spirituality tends to consist of textual study, prayer, and recitation. 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.
- Wikipedia. (2005). Bahá'í Faith (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahai_faith). Retrieved on July 16. 2005.