The Baha’i Faith
A world religious body dating from mid-nineteenth century
Persia (now Iran). Founded out of Shia Islam, which dominates
the religious life of Iran, the Baha’i Faith projected a broad
view of the oneness of mankind and coming unity of different
religions.
Members of the Baha’i Faith generally look upon three
major figures as founding influences on the new religion. Mirza
Ali Muhammad (1819–1850), known as the Bab, or ‘‘Gate,’’ of
revelation, founded a movement in Persia in the 1840s based
upon the belief that the promised madhi, the successor of Muhammad,
was at hand. Most followers believed the Bab to be
the madhi. However, he was martyred in 1850.
Two years later, an attempt on the life of the Shah of Persia
by a follower of the Bab released further persecutions. Mirza
Husayn Ali (1817–1892) was among those imprisoned. During
his four months of confinement he came to believe that he was
the Holy One predicted by the Bab, though he confided that
insight to only a few. He, his family, and many of the Bab’s followers
were exiled—first to Baghdad, then Adrianople, Constantinople,
and eventually in a prison at Acre (now Israel). In
1863, after being moved from Baghdad, he declared his new
revelation, and from that time forward people began to recognize
him as Bah’u’llah, the Glory of God. Baha’u’llah spent the
rest of his life under house arrest in Acre, where he composed
the majority of his writings, now considered as scripture by the
movement.
Baha’u’llah’s son, Abbas Effendi (1844–1921), known as
Abdu’l-Baha (or Servant of Baha), is considered the exemplar
of the faith. Like his father he was confined at Acre until 1908,
when he was released following the Revolution of the Young
Turks. He was then able to oversee the worldwide spread of the
Baha’i Faith. He was in turn succeeded by his grandson, Shoghi
Effendi (1897–1957), considered the guardian of the faith. The
writings of the Bab, Baha’u’llah, and Abdu’-Baha are considered
scripture by followers of the faith, and those of Shoghi Effendi
as infallible commentary.
The teachings of the Faith are universalist, based on the
claim that divine revelation is continuous and that the Baha’i
Faith is the culmination of the world’s major religions. The
Baha’i Faith proclaims the unity of God and His Prophets, upholds
the principle of an unfettered search after truth, condemns
all forms of superstition and prejudice, and teaches that
the fundamental purpose of religion is to promote concord and
harmony. Religion must go hand-in-hand with science, as it
constitutes the sole and ultimate basis of a peaceful, ordered,
and progressive society. Baha’i followers believe in the principle
of equal opportunity, rights, and privileges for both sexes;
compulsory education; and the abolishment of extremes of
poverty and wealth. Work performed in the spirit of service is
considered of equal rank to worship. The Faith has become
part of the international peace movement and in that regard
recommends the adoption of an auxiliary international language,
and the formation of the necessary agencies for establishing
and safeguarding a permanent and universal peace.
The Baha’i Faith has its international headquarters in Haifa,
Israel, and membership now extends to 300 countries and territories,
where centers have been established. They remain a
minority in contemporary Iran and were among the losers in
the revolution that resulted in the departure of the shah in
1979. Many Baha’is were persecuted and executed under the
conservative rule of Ayatollah Khomeini. In the United States,
the Baha’i National Center is located in Wilmette, Illinois;
readings are given from the sacred scriptures in a large and
beautiful House of Worship, and the facilities are available for
individual worship and meditation. The quarterly journal
World Order is published by the National Spiritual Assembly of
the Baha’is of the U.S. national center at 536 Sheridan Rd.,
Wilmette, Illinois 60091. In Britain, the National Spiritual Assembly
of the Baha’is of the U.K. is at 27 Rutland Gate, London
S.W.7, England.
Sources
Faizi, Gloria. The Baha’i Faith An Introduction. New Delhi,
India Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1988.
Hatcher, William S., and J. Douglas Martin. The Baha’i Faith.
San Francisco Harper & Row, 1984.
Perkins, Mary, and Philip Hainsworth. The Baha’i Faith.
London Ward Lock Educational, 1980.
Stockman, Robert H. The Baha’i Faith in America Origins,
1892–1900. Wilmette, Ill. Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1985.