Baha'i is a religious movement founded in the 19th century by the Persian Bahaullah. It claims members in practically every country of the world. Objecting to polygamy, slavery of any kind, religious prejudices, and politicized religion, Baha'is call for world peace and harmony. The ideals of a world federalist government and a new world language are also a part of their teachings. Recognition of the common ground of all religions is seen as fostering this move toward global unity; Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Zarathustra, Jesus, and Muhammad are all recognized as divine manifestations, a series of prophets culminating in Bahaullah. Nonresistance, respect for persons, and legal recognition of the equal rights of both sexes constitute additional aspects of Baha'i teaching.
By the time of Bahaullah's death in 1892, the Baha'i faith had won adherents throughout the Middle East. Under his son Abbas Effendi (or Abdul Baha, 1844 - 1921), who succeeded him as the movement's leader, it spread to Europe and the United States. Abbas Effendi was succeeded by his grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1897 - 1957). Since Shoghi Effendi's death, the Baha'is have been governed by elected leaders. Divided into more than 130 national assemblies and more than 26,000 local assemblies, they are estimated to number about 2 million worldwide. Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the discrimination to which Baha'is have always been subjected in the country of their origin has escalated into outright persecution.
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The Baha'i faith aims at a universal community of the human race; unity of all religions; and peace; for the whole world. Its founder was Baha'u'llah, lived in Persia in the latter half of the nineteenth century. He and his followers believe in the teachings of Moses and Jesus, Krishna and Buddha, Zoroaster, Muhammed, and the other major religious figures of history. All are considered correct and are to be reconciled into a comprehensive world religion for all men.
Each of the planet's six inhabited continents has one Temple. Each has unique architecture, but all have nine - symmetry, with nine identical entry doors so that members of each of the nine major religions of the world are welcomed. Services are weekly with meditation available between. The services include readings from scriptures of the world's religions.
All races, nationalities, and creeds are welcomed into their fellowship, in recognition that we all originated from the same "tree." There is no ritual and no clergy. "Teachers" and "pioneers" are unpaid assistance for students. Marriage and funeral services are simple and flexible. Virtually no buildings or assets are owned (except for the 6 Temples), so there is little emphasis on monetary or worldly concerns. Local meetings are generally in constituents' homes, with a few conventions for interspersal of knowledge.
Most religions look for differences in competing religions in order to criticize those believers as having wrong beliefs. Baha'i look for agreements with other religions in order to build common foundations for the eventual universal religion.
Funds which are given to the Baha'i go almost exclusively to publishing a large assortment of writings (many written by Baha'u'llah) which generally emphasize the commonalities of beliefs of the world's religions. These writings have been translated into over 700 languages!
Several of these are amazing considering they were espoused about 150 years ago, at a time when, in America, slavery was common and women didn't have the vote.
Some guiding principles are very strict. Smoking and drinking are absolutely banned. So are slavery, asceticism, monasticism. Idleness is condemned. Monogamy, strict obedience to one's government, and any works performed in the spirit of service are exalted.
There are no initiation rites, priesthood or sacraments in the Baha'i religion. Baha'is are required to pray every day; to meet at the first day of each Baha'i month for celebration; to fast from dawn to sunset during the month of 'Ala; to avoid drugs or alcohol; to avoid membership of political parties; and to observe particular holy days such as the birth of Baha Allah and the martyrdom of the Bab.
Emphasis is placed on the unity of humanity and the absolute equality of men and women. Baha'is see themselves working towards the establishment of a world government which will eradicate extremes of wealth and poverty. There is no single Baha'i sacred text. The writings of Baha Allah are, however, treated as sacred. The most important of these are: The Most Holy Book, The Book of Certitude, The Hidden Words, The Seven Valleys, and Epistle to the Son of the Wolf.
On the death of Baha Allah, the movement came under the leadership of his eldest son 'Abbas Effendi (1844-1921), who acquired the title 'Abd al-Baha ("servant of the glory of God"). After a spell in prison under the Ottoman Turks he undertook three missionary journeys: to Egypt (1910), to Europe (1911), and to the United States and Europe (1912-1913). Lecturing to large audiences, he both consolidated Baha'ism in these parts of the world and systematised his father's teachings.
'Abbas Effendi was succeeded by his grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), who directed his energies into developing the Baha'i communities in Europe and North America. Under his leadership the Baha'i community came to be organised within a system based on local and national assemblies. When he died in 1957 he left no heirs, and the movement's organisation was placed under the jurisdiction of a body known as the Council of the Hands of the Cause. In 1962 the International House of Justice was established in Haifa. This body is reelected every five years.
Today Baha'i communities can be found in almost every country in the world. In Iran they continue to represent the largest minority religious group, and have suffered particularly during the period of the Iranian revolution.
The number 9 is regarded as possessing important mystical properties and is sometimes used for decoration. The Baha'i place of worship is called in Arabic the mashriq al-adhkar (which means the "place where the uttering of the name of God arises at dawn"). The mashriq is a nine sided building in keeping with the mystical qualities of the number 9.
Bahaullah ("Splendor of God") is the title assumed around 1866 by the Iranian religious leader Mirza Husayn Ali, b. Nov. 12, 1817. He proclaimed himself to be the person announced by the Bab as the one who would bring his work to completion. The Baha'i movement, which arose from Bahaullah's teaching, spread as far as Europe and the United States during the time of Abbas Effendi, the son and successor of Bahaullah. The latter died, while in exile in Acre, Palestine, on May 29, 1897.
Willem A Bijlefeld
S Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah (1974); W M Miller, The Baha'i Faith: Its History and Teachings (1974).
Babism is a religious movement founded by Mirza Ali Muhammad of Shiraz (Iran), who announced his divine election as the Bab in 1844. This title, meaning "doorway to knowledge," was understood by many to imply that Muhammad of Shiraz claimed to have received a divine manifestation surpassing in significance the revelation granted to the prophet Muhammed, and that his book of revelation, the Bayan, overshadowed the Koran.
Understandably, serious tensions arose, and the Bab was executed (1850). When an attempt to assassinate the Shah failed in 1852, the persecution of the Babis intensified. The Bab's successor fled to Baghdad with his half brother Mirza Husayn Ali, who was later on recognized by most followers as the Bahaullah ("Splendor of God"). The religious movement led by the Bahaullah became known as Baha'i.
Willem A Bijlefeld
H M Balyuzi, The Bab (1973); W M Miller, The Baha'i Faith: Its History and Teachings (1974); P Smith, The Babi and Baha'i Religions (1987).
Overview of World Religions Project
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