According to Bahii teachings, religious history is seen as an evolving educational process for mankind, through God’s messengers, which are termed Manifestations of God. Bahuala is seen as the most recent, pivotal, but not final of these individuals. He claimed to be the expected redeemer and teacher prophesied in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions, and that his mission was to establish a firm basis for unity throughout the world, and inaugurate an age of peace and justice, which Bahaii expect will inevitably arise.
“Bahaii” can be an adjective referring to the Bahaii Faith, or the term for a follower of Bahuala (Bahaii is not a noun meaning the religion as a whole). The term comes from the Arabic word Bahaii > (بهاء), meaning “glory” or “splendor”.
Three core principles of Bahaii teachings are often referred to simply as: the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of mankind. Many Bahaii beliefs and practices are rooted in these priorities; but taken alone these would be an over-simplification of Bahaii teachings.
Bahaii believe in a single, imperishable God, the creator of all things, including all the creatures and forces in the universe. The existence of God is thought to be eternal, without a beginning or end, and is described as “a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty.” Though inaccessible directly, God is nevertheless seen as conscious of his creation, with a will and purpose. Bahaii believe that God expresses this will in many ways, including through a series of divine messengers referred to as Manifestations of God or sometimes divine educators. In expressing God’s intent, these manifestations are seen to establish religion in the world.
Bahaii teachings state that God is too great for humans to fully comprehend, or to create a complete and accurate image. In the Bahaii religion God is often referred to by titles (e.g. the All-Powerful, or the All-Loving), and there is a substantial emphasis on monotheism, rejecting such doctrines as the Trinity.
Symbols of many religions on the pillar of the Bahaii House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois
Bahaii notions of progressive religious revelation result in their accepting the validity of most of the worlds’ religions, whose founders and central figures are seen as Manifestations of God. These include, but are not limited to Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, and Buddha. Bahaii also believe that other religious figures, such as Adam, Noah, and H? historically existed and were prophets of God. Religious history is interpreted as a series of dispensations, where eachmanifestation brings a somewhat broader and more advanced revelation, suited for the time and place in which it was expressed. Specific religious social teachings (e.g. 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 (e.g. neighbourliness, or charity) are seen to be universal and consistent. Bahaii do not believe that this process of progressive revelation will end. They do, however, believe that it is cyclical. Bahaii do not expect a new manifestation of god to appear prior to 1000 years after Bahuala’s revelation.
Bahaii beliefs are sometimes described as syncretic combinations of earlier religions’ beliefs. Bahaii , however, assert that their religion is a distinct tradition with its own scriptures, teachings, laws, and history. Its cultural and religious debt to the Shi’a Islamic matrix in which it was founded is seen as analogous to the Jewish socio-religious context in which Christianity was established. Bahaii describe their faith as an independent world religion, differing from the other traditions only in its relative newness and in the appropriateness of Bahuala’s teachings to the modern context. Bahuala is believed to fulfill the messianic expectations of these precursor faiths.
The Ringstone symbol represents humanity’s connection to God
Bahaii believe 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. Through recognition and obedience, service to fellow humans and regular prayer and spiritual practice, Bahaii believe that the soul becomes closer to God, the spiritual ideal in Bahaii 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.
The Bahaii 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 tolerance. Doctrines of racism, nationalism, caste, and social class are seen as artificial impediments to unity. The Bahaii teachings state that the unification of mankind is the paramount issue in the religious and political conditions of the present world.
The Bahaii House of Worship in India attracts an average of 4 million visitors a year.
Bahaii sources usually estimate the worldwide Bahaii population to be above 5 million.Encyclopedias and similar sources estimate from 2 to 8 million Bahaii in the world in the early twenty-first century, with most estimates between 5 and 6 million.
From its origins in the Persian and Ottoman Empires, the Bahaii Faith acquired a number of Western converts by World War I. Fifty years later its population was distributed much more towards the Third World as a result of Bahaii pioneering efforts.
According to The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2004:
The majority of Bahaii live in Asia (3.6 million), Africa (1.8 million), and Latin America (900,000). According to some estimates, the largest Bahaii community in the world is in India, with 2.2 million Bahaii , next is Iran, with 350,000, and the USA, with 150,000. Aside from these countries, numbers vary greatly. Currently, no country has a Bahaii majority. Guyana is the country with the largest percentage of Bahaii (7%).
The Bahaii 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 .
|Texts & Scriptures
|From The Bahuala
|Persian Bay? ? Arabic Bay?
Writings of the Bahuala
|Epistle to the Son of the Wolf
Gems of Divine Mysteries
Gleanings ? Kit?-i-Aqdas
Kit?-i-?? ? Hidden Words
Summons of the Lord of Hosts
Tabernacle of Unity
Tablets of Bahuala
Secret of Divine Civilization
Some Answered Questions
Tablets of the Divine Plan
Will and Testament
|From Shoghi Effendi
Advent of Divine Justice
God Passes By
World Order of Bahuala
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 Bahuala’s teachings, which, he said, together with the laws and ordinances of the Kit?-i-Aqdas constitute the bed-rock of the Bahaii 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 Bahuala proclaimed].
The following 12 principles are frequently listed as a quick summary of the Bahaii teachings. They are derived from transcripts of speeches given by `Abdu’l-Bahaii > during his tour of Europe and North America in 1912. The list is not authoritative and a variety of such lists circulate.
- Unity of God
- Unity of religion
- Unity of mankind
- Gender Equality
- 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
Although it concentrates on social and ethical issues as well, some of the Bahaii Faith’s foundational texts might be described as mystical. Shoghi Effendi has called the Seven ValleysBahuala’s “greatest mystical composition.” It was written to a follower of Sufism, a mystic and esoterical tradition of Islam. It was first translated into English in 1906, becoming one of the earliest available books of Bahuala to the West. The Hidden Words is another book written by Bahuala during the same period, containing 153 short passages described by `Abdu’l-Bah? as “a treasury of divine mysteries”.
Bahaii have high regard for what is termed the “Greater Covenant”, which they see as universal in nature, and from “time immemorial” has been carried through by the Manifestations of God of all ages.[ They also regard highly the “Lesser Covenant”, which is viewed as an agreement between a Messenger of God and his followers, unique to each revelation, and includes social practices and the continuation of authority in the religion. At this time Bahaii view Bahuala’s revelation as a binding lesser covenant for his followers; in the Bahaii writings being firm in the covenant is considered as one of the main religious virtues a person can work toward.
With unity as an essential teaching of the religion, Bahaii follow an administration that they believe is divinely ordained, and therefore see attempts to create schisms and divisions as insignificant, doomed efforts which are contrary to the teachings of Bahuala. Throughout Bahaii history schisms have occurred over the succession of authority. The followers of the various Bahaii divisions, who in total, number in the low thousands, are regarded as Covenant-breakers and shunned, essentially excommunicated.
Shrine of the Bahuala in Haifa, Israel.
Bahaii history is often traced through a sequence of leaders, beginning with the Bahuala ‘s May 23, 1844 declaration in Shiraz, 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 Bahuala in 1892, at which time he had followers in thirteen countries of Asia and Africa. Under the leadership of his son, `Abdu’l-Bah? the religion gained a footing in Europe and America, and was consolidated in Iran, where it still suffered intense persecution. After the death of `Abdu’l-Bah?in 1921, the leadership of the Bahaii community entered a new phase, evolving from that of a single individual to an administrative order with a system of both elected bodies and appointed individuals.
In 1844 Siyyid `Al Muhammad of Shiraz, Iran proclaimed that he was “the Bahuala ” (Arabic: الباب “the Gate”), after a Shi`a religious concept. His followers were therefore known as Bahuala ?. As the Bahuala ‘s teachings spread, which the Islamic clergy saw as a threat, Bahuala ? came under increased persecution, at times being forced to choose between renouncing their beliefs or being killed. Several military confrontations took place between government and Bahuala ?forces. The Bahuala himself was imprisoned and eventually executed in 1850.
Bahaii see the Bahuala as the forerunner of the Bahaii Faith, because the Bahuala ‘s writings introduced the concept of “He whom God shall make manifest”, a Messianic figure whose coming, according to Bahaii , was announced in the scriptures of all of the world’s great religions, and whom Bahuala, the founder of the Bahaii Faith, claimed to be in 1863. The Bahuala ‘s tomb is located in Haifa, Israel, and is an important place of pilgrimage for Bahaii . The remains of the Bahuala were brought secretly from Persia to the Holy Land and were eventually interred in the Shrine built for them in a spot specifically designated by Bahuala.
M?z?Husayn `Al?of N? was one of the early followers of the Bahuala , who later took the title of Bahuala. He was arrested and imprisoned for this involvement in 1852. He claimed that while incarcerated in the dungeon of the S??-Ch? in Tehran, he received the first intimations that he was the one anticipated by the Bahuala . He announced this in 1863.
Shortly thereafter he was expelled from Persia to Baghdad, in the Ottoman Empire; then to Constantinople; then to Adrianople. During this time tensions grew between Bahuala and Subh-i-Azal, the appointed leader of the Bahuala ?, culminating in Bahuala’s 1866 declaration. While in Adrianople, he wrote letters to several rulers of the world, including Sultan Abd??iz, declaring his mission as a Messenger of God. As a result Bahuala was banished a final time, to the penal colony of `Akka, in present-day Israel.
Towards the end of his life, the strict and harsh confinement was gradually relaxed, and he was allowed to live in a home near `Akk? while still officially a prisoner of that city. He died there in 1892. Bahaii regard his resting place at Bahj?/a> as the Qiblih to which they turn in prayer each day. During his lifetime, Bahuala left a large volume of writings; the Kit?-i-Aqdas, and the Book of Certitude are recognized as primary Bahaii theological works, and the Hidden Words and the Seven Valleys as primary mystical treatises.
`AbBahuala Effendi was Bahuala’s eldest son, known by the title of `Abdu’l-Bah? (Servant of Bah?. His father left a Will that appointed `Abdu’l-Bah?as the leader of the Bahaii community, and designated him as the “Centre of the Covenant”, “Head of the Faith”, and the sole authoritative interpreter of Bahuala’s writings.
`Abdu’l-Bah?had shared his father’s long exile and imprisonment, which continued until `Abdu’l-Bah?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 Bahaii Faith.
Bahuala’s Kit?-i-Aqdas and The Will and Testament of `Abdu’l-Bahaii > are foundation documents of the Bahaii administrative order. Bahuala established the elected Universal House of Justice, and `Abdu’l-Bah? established the appointed hereditary Guardianship and clarified the relationship between the two institutions. In his Will, `Abdu’l-Bah?appointed his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as the first Guardian of the Bahaii Faith.
Shoghi Effendi throughout his lifetime translated Bahaii literature; developed global plans for the expansion of the Bahaii community; developed the Bahaii 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. He died in 1957 under conditions that didn’t allow for a successor to be appointed.
At local, regional, and national levels, Bahaii 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 faith and protecting the community.The latter do not serve as clergy, which the Bahaii Faith does not have.
The Universal House of Justice, first elected in 1963, remains the supreme governing body of the Bahaii Faith, and its 9 members are elected every five years by the members of all National Spiritual Assemblies. Any male Bahaii 21 years or older, is eligible to be elected to the Universal House of Justice; all other positions are open to male and female Bahaii .