But after this month, with your help, everyone will know about the Baha’i.
When the Baha’i faith began in Shiraz, Iran in 1844, its followers were not called “Baha’is”, they were Babi’s. The faith was born of a young man in his early 20’s who in 1844 declared his mission as “The Bab” or The Gate for the one to come; the next Manifestation of God. Though immediately persecuted by Islamic authorities, his ministry lasted for six years until he and thousands of his followers were martyred in 1850. He was thirty years old at the time of his death.
Outside of the Baha’i faith, there is a tradition of those who view The Bab in a different and more elevated light apart from the Baha’i tradition. For more information, go here.
Born Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri, Baha’u’llah (which means The Glory of God) was born to a noble family in Iran. From an early age he was recognized as highly intelligent, perceptive, and kind to all. As a young man, he became known as the defender of the oppressed and refuge to the poor. Though he never met The Bab, he accepted the message immediately via The Bab’s first disciple, Mulla Husayn, and gave up his position in the nobility to join the young Babi’ movement.
Just as Baha’u’llah was gaining prominence as a member of the faith, violence broke out between Babi’ groups and the Qajar government. The fighting led to an assassination attempt on the Shah which failed and resulted in the slaughter of many Babi’s and the imprisonment of Baha’u’llah himself. While in prison, Baha’u’llah claimed to have been visited by a handmaiden of God and told of his station as the promised one of The Bab. Baha’u’llah was released from the “black pit” four months later and began what would be a life of exile.
Though his mission was revealed to him in the “black pit,” Baha’u’llah did not announce his status until years later in 1863 while he and his family lived in a tent in a garden outside of Baghdad along with many followers. Because of his growing popularity and influence, he was exiled farther and farther from his homeland and throughout the Turkish Empire. He spent last 40 years of his life in exile and prison. The writings Baha’i all over the world regard as scripture, including the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Kitab-i-Iqan, The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, and collections of hundreds of prayers and letters to followers and world officials alike, were all composed while in prison or in exile.
The Baha’i faith, though by the time of Baha’u’llah’s death in 1892 had reached the shores of nearly every continent, was passed down in leadership to Baha’u’llah’s son, Abdu’l’Baha, whose name means “Servant of Glory.” Abdu’l’Baha spent much of his life in exile with his father. From the age of 8, he hopped from prison to prison for 40 years–by his own free will–and came to be known for his wisdom, humor and good spirit in the face of dispar, and care for the suffering. Baha’u’llah eventually passed on the duties of administration and discourse over the faith to his son, whom he affectionately called “The Master.” Abdu’l’Baha is regarded as the exemplar of all good qualities every Baha’i and indeed, person, should uphold. He is quoted to have said, “My home is the home of laughter and mirth.”
After 40 years in prison, Abdu’l’Baha set out to spread the message of his father into Europe and America. He spoke at mosques, churches, and temples and soon many were filled with a zeal to spread the message throughout their part of the world.
When Abdu’l’Baha died in 1921, the Faith was handed down to his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, and was given the title of “Gaurdian of the Cause.” Effendi’s mission was to keep the Faith together against division and to set up an administrative body from the top down to carry out the propagation and maintenance of the Baha’i message.
- The Universal House of Justice: located in Haifa, Israel, this is the supreme institution of the Baha’i Faith to which all Baha’i turn. Think of it as the Supreme Court here in the States. Nine members are elected to this body by Baha’i National Assemblies around the world. Their duty is to direct and guide the faithful in light of the teachings of the Baha’i Faith.
- Continental Board of Counsellors: these individuals are appointed by the Universal House of Justice to aid National Spiritual Assemblies in the teaching and maintenance of the Baha’i Faith in their corner of the world.
- Auxiliary Board Members: these appointed members work with administrative bodies to further the teaching of the Faith and to release the power of the Baha’i faithful.
- National Spiritual Assembly: this body of nine individuals are elected each year by delegates of the National Convention. These individuals guide the faithful and spiritual matters within their home country. Every Baha’i has one vote to contribute to this election. There exists no campaigning or nomination.
- Local Spiritual Assembly: any local where nine or more Baha’is are present and gather is called a Local Spiritual Assembly. These bodies conduct business on a local level and often host a number of outreach and teaching events such as Study Circles, where Baha’i teachings are discerned and propagated.
No clergy exists within the Baha’i Faith, as all individuals are responsible for their spiritual growth through study, prayer, and consultation.
Three Primary Principles:
- The Oneness of God
- The Oneness of Religion
- The Oneness of Humanity
Laws and Obligations:
- No backbiting or gossip
- Avoid alcohol and drugs (outside of medicinal instruction from a doctor)
- Propagate and teach the Cause of God
- Contribute to the Baha’i Fund
- Pray and study the Holy Writings
- Observe the Fast from March 2-20
- Regard work as worship
- Observe the marriage laws
- Respect and obey the government and avoid partisan politics
Other Principles and Teachings:
- The foundation of all religion is one
- There is no conflict between science and religion
- All are responsible for the independent investigation of truth
- Absolute equality between men and women
- The abolition of all forms of prejudice
- Universal peace, education, and an auxiliary world language
This is a sampling of the Baha’i Faith and its teachings. One fairly unique aspect of this young and vibrant religion is that while in most faiths, the mode of revelation stops at the death of its prophet or leader, Baha’i believe in the continuity and progression of God’s word. In other words, Baha’u’llah wasn’t the first and only prophet or “Manifestation” sent by God to mankind…and he won’t be the last. He is considered the Manifestation for this age. Baha’is generally believe that each age is given a Manifestation of God according to man’s understanding and circumstances at the time. In this way, figures such as Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad are all regarded as Manifestations of God for their age. Baha’is insist that a careful look at the history, ministry, and lives of these individuals–while some differences in delivery and practice exist–the central message of unity of Man and oneness with God are the same.
Again, my purpose in providing this information is not to offer a comprehensive picture, but a sampling. I want to pique your interests, whet your palate, and encourage you to set out on your own to discover more. This isn’t limited to religion. Perhaps your office just hired a new co-worker who is culturally different from yourself and others. My mission is that through Project Conversion, I inspire you to resist spreading rumors or teasing and take a stand to get to know this new and unknown co-worker. Welcome them. Respectfully ask questions. This is what peace is made out of. Individuals doing small things. Individual snowflakes are soft and fragile, but together and backed by the wind of change, love and wisdom, can sweep across the land in a blizzard.
For more information, I encourage you to visit the Baha’i International site here. From there, you can find links to Baha’i websites maintained on the National level.
Until next time, Allah-u-Abha!