Summary of Bahai Religion
The Bahá'í faith is a monotheistic religion that was founded by Bahá'u'lláh in Persia during the nineteenth century, emphasizing unity with the spirit of all humankind. it is estimated there are five to six million Bahá'ís around the world in more than 200 countries.
Bahá'í teachings emphasize unity of the major world religions. Religious history has been seen to have unfolded through a series of divine messengers, each establishing a religion suited to the needs of the time and also the capacity of the people. These messengers include Abraham, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and others, including the most recently Bahá'u'lláh. In Bahá'í belief, each messenger taught of the next, and Bahá'u'lláh's life and teachings fulfill end-time promises of all previous scriptures. Humanity is understood to be involved in collective evolution, and the need of the present time is for the establishment of peace, justice and unity on a global scale.
The word "Bahá’í" is either used as an adjective to refer to the Bahá'í Faith or for a follower of Bahá'u'lláh. The word is not a noun meaning the religion as a whole. It is derived from the Arabic word Bahá’, meaning "glory" or "splendour". The use of the term "Bahaism" (or "Baha'ism") has been used in the past, but is fading from use.
Three core principles establish Bahá'í teachings and doctrine: the unity of God, religion, and of humankind. From these stems comes the belief that God reveals his will through divine educators, with the purpose of transforming the character of humankind and developing, within those who respond, moral and spiritual qualities. Religion is thus seen as unified and progressive from age to age.
Bahá'í writings describe a single, inaccessible, omniscient, omnipresent, and almighty God who created all things in the universe. The existence of God and the universe is eternal, without beginning or end. Though inaccessible directly, God is seen as conscious of creation, with a purpose that is expressed through messengers termed Manifestations of God.
Bahá'í teachings state God is too great for humans to comprehend, or to create an accurate image of; human understanding of God is through revelation through his Manifestations of God. In the Bahá'í religion, God is commonly referred to by titles and attributes (e.g. the All-Powerful, or the All-Loving). There is a significant emphasis on monotheism. Doctrines such as the Trinity contradict the Bahá'í view that God has no equal and is single. Their teachings state that the attributes applied to God are used to translate Godliness into human terms and to help individuals concentrate on personal attributes in worshipping God, in order to develop their potentialities on their spiritual path. According to the Bahá'í teachings, human purpose is to learn to know and love God through prayer and reflection.
Bahá'í notions of revelation result in their acceptance of most of the world's religions, whose central figures are seen as Manifestations of God. Religious history is interpreted as a series of dispensations, each manifestation bringing a broader and more advanced revelation, more suited for the time and place it was expressed. Specific religious teachings (the direction of prayer, or dietary restrictions) may be revoked by a subsequent manifestation so that more appropriate requirements for the time and place may be established. Conversely, certain general principles such as neighbourliness, or charity are seen to be universal. In Bahá'í belief, this process of progressive revelation will never end, however, Bahá'ís do not expect a new manifestation of God to appear within 1000 years of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation.
Bahá'í beliefs are sometimes seen as combinations of earlier religions' beliefs. Bahá'ís, however, assert that it is a distinct tradition with its own scriptures, teachings, laws, and history. Its background in Shi'a Islam is often seen as analogous to the Jewish context in which Christianity was established. Bahá'ís describe their faith as an independent religion that differs from the other traditions in its relative age and in the appropriateness of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings to the modern context. Bahá'u'lláh is believed to have fulfilled the messianic expectations of precursor faiths.
Bahá'í writings state that humans have a "rational soul" that provides the species with a unique capacity to recognize humanity's relationship with its creator. Every human has a duty to recognize God through His messengers, and to conform to their teachings. Through obedience, service, and prayer, the soul becomes closer to God, the spiritual ideal in Bahá'í belief. When a human dies, the soul passes to next world, where its development spiritually in the physical world becomes the basis for judgement and advancement in the spiritual world. Heaven and Hell are spiritual states of nearness or distance from God and describe relationships in this world and the next, not physical places of reward and punishment achieved after death.
Bahá'í writings emphasize essential equality of human beings, and abscence of prejudice. Humanity is seen essentially as one, though it is highly varied. Doctrines of racism, nationalism, caste, social class and gender-based hierarchy are seen as impediments to unity. Unification of humankind is the paramount issue in the religious and political conditions of the present world.
Shoghi Effendi, the appointed head of the religion from 1921 to 1957, wrote this summary of what he considered to be the distinguishing principles of Bahá'u'lláh's beliefs 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 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."
These listed principles are frequently listed as a quick summary of the Bahá'í teachings. They are derived from the transcripts of different speeches given by `Abdu'l-Bahá during his tour of Europe and North America in 1912.
- Unity of God
- Unity of religion
- Unity of humankind
- Equality between men and women
- Elimination of all forms of prejudice
- World peace
- Harmony of religion and science
- Independent investigation of truth
- Universal compulsory education
- Universal auxiliary language
- Obedience to government and non-involvement in partisan politics
- Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty
Though Bahá'í teachings have a strong emphasis on both social and ethical issues, there exist a number of texts that have been described as mystical. The Seven Valleys is considered to be Bahá'u'lláh's "greatest mystical composition." The Seven Valleys was written to a follower of Sufism, in the style of `Attar. It was translated into English in 1906, and become one of the earliest available books of Bahá'u'lláh in the West. The Hidden Words, another book written by Bahá'u'lláh during the same period, contains 153 short passages in which Bahá'u'lláh claims to have taken the basic spiritual truths and written them in brief form.
The Bahá'í teachings speak of a "Greater Covenant", universal and endless, and a "Lesser Covenant", unique to each religious dispensation. The Lesser Covenant is an agreement between a Messenger of God and his followers that includes both social practices and the continuation of authority in the religion. At this time Bahá'ís view Bahá'u'lláh's revelation as a lesser covenant for all of his followers; in the Bahá'í writings are firm in the covenant and are considered a virtue to work toward. The Greater Covenant is viewed to be a more enduring agreement between God and mankind, where a manifestation of God is expected to come generally every thousand years at times of need.
Having 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. The followers of these divisions are regarded as Covenant-breakers and are shunned, essentially excommunicated.
The laws of the Bahá'í Faith come primarily from the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, written by Bahá'u'lláh. These are a few examples of basic laws and religious observances.
- Bahá'ís over the age of 15 should recite an obligatory prayer each day. There are three such prayers among which one can be chosen each day.
- 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 relationships are permitted only between a husband and wife, and thus premarital and homosexual sex are forbidden.
- Gambling is forbidden.
While some laws from the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are applicable at the present time and can be enforced to a degree by the administrative institutions, Bahá'u'lláh 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 conflict with civil laws of a country of residence, are binding on every Bahá'í, and the observance of personal laws, such as prayer or fasting, are the sole responsibilities of the individual.
Bahá'í marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Its purpose is to foster spiritual harmony, and fellowship between the two partners and to provide a stable and loving environment children. The Bahá'í teachings on marriage call it a fortress for well-being and salvation and put marriage and the family as a foundation of the structure of human society. Bahá'u'lláh highly praised marriage, calling it an eternal command of God, discouraging divorce and homosexuality, and requiring chastity; Bahá'u'lláh taught that a husband and wife should improve the spiritual life of each other. Interracial marriage also is praised throughout Bahá'í scripture.
Bahá'ís intending to marry are asked to obtain an understanding of the other's character before making the decision to marry. Although parents shouldn't choose partners for their children, once two individuals decide to marry, they must receive the consent of all parents, even if one partner is not a Bahá'í. The Bahá'í marriage ceremony is very simple; the only compulsory part of the wedding is the reading of wedding vows prescribed by Bahá'u'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."
Places of Worship
Most Bahá'í meetings occur in the homes of individuals, local Bahá'í centers, etc. Currently, there are seven Bahá'í Houses of Worship world; one per continent, with an eighth under construction in Chile. Bahá'í writings refer to an institution called a "Mashriqu'l-Adhkár" (Dawning-place of the Mention of God), which means to form the center of a complex of institutions including a hospital, university, and so on. The first ever Mashriqu'l-Adhkár in `Ishqábád, Turkmenistan, is the most complete House of Worship.
The Bahá'í calendar is based upon a calander that was established by the Báb. Each year consists of 19 months, each having 19 days, with four or five intercalary days, to make a full solar year. The Bahá'í New Year corresponds with the traditional Persian New Year, called Naw Rúz, and occurs on the vernal equinox, March 21, after the month of fasting. Bahá'í communities gather at the beginning of each month at a meeting known as a Feast for Worship, Consultation and Socializing.
Each of the 19 months has been given a name which is an attribute of God; some examples include Bahá’ (Splendour), ‘Ilm (Knowledge), and Jamál (Beauty). The Bahá'í week is familiar in that it also consists of seven days, with each day also named after an attribute of God. Bahá'ís observe 11 Holy Days throughout the year, with work suspended on 9 of them. These days celebrate important anniversaries in the history of the religion.