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Bahá'í

Bahá'í


The Bahá'í faith, a new and growing world religion, holds the unity and harmony of science and religion as one of its core principles. Science and religion, according to the Bahá'í teachings, are both equally necessary for humanity to progress. Science is the discoverer of the material and the spiritual reality of things, and it is the foundation of material and spiritual development. Religion develops both the individual and society, fostering the love, fellowship, and will that is necessary for humanity to advance. Science and religion counterbalance each other: Religion without science leads to superstition, whereas science without religion leads to materialism.


Historical origins

The Bahá'í faith originated in nineteenth-century Iran at a time when the country was struggling with economic and political instability, conflict between the religious and secular segments of society, and Russian and British expansionist policies. Iran was in decline under the Qajar dynasty when the Bábí millenarian movement was founded in 1844 by the Báb (Siyyid 'Alí Muhammad, 18191850). The rapid rise of the Bábí movement and its prophecy of the coming of a world redeemer led to violent suppression, with its leaders either killed or sent into exile, as was the case for Baháhuhlláh (Mírzá Husayn hAlí, 18171892).

Baháhuhlláh nursed the decimated Iranian Bábí community back to health from nearby Baghdad but was further exiled to Constantinople (modern Istanbul), to Adrianople (modern Edirne), and finally to Acre (modern Akko in Palestine). When he announced that he was the redeemer prophesied by the Báb, most of the Bábí community became Bahá'ís, followers of Baháhuhlláh.

Baháhuhlláh's teachings were laid out in numerous books, epistles, and letters to a growing community. The central theme was unity: the unity of religion; the oneness of God; the unity of humanity; the equality of women and men; the need for a united world civilization, and the unity of science and religion. Religion promoted amity and concord as its chief aim, and this required the unfettered search after truth and the elimination of prejudice and superstition characteristic of science.

By the early twentieth century, the Bahá'í faith had spread around the world. 'Abduhl-Bahá (18441921)Baháhuhlláh's eldest son and successortraveled and spoke widely throughout Europe and North America, emphasizing that religion must be progressive. The great progress in technical and material spheres wrought by science necessitated similar progress in religion. "When religion, shorn of its superstitions, traditions, and unintelligent dogmas, shows its conformity with science," he told his audiences, "then will there be a great unifying, cleansing force in the world which will sweep before it all wars, disagreements, discords and struggles" (1969, p. 146). Shoghi Effendi (18971957) succeeded 'Abduhl-Bahá. After his death, leadership passed to the Universal House of Justice seated in Haifa, Israel.

Bahá'í teachings about science and religion

The teachings of the Bahá'í faith are "founded upon the unity of science and religion and upon investigation of truth." Science and religion are like the two wings of one bird: "A bird needs two wings for flight, one alone would be useless. Any religion that contradicts science or that is opposed to it, is only ignorancefor ignorance is the opposite of knowledge. Religion which consists only of rites and ceremonies of prejudice is not the truth" ('Abduhl-Bahá, 1969 p. 129).

The Bahá'í writings describe science as "the discoverer of realities," the means by which humanity explores and understands both material and spiritual phenomena:

The virtues of humanity are many, but science is the most noble of them all. . . . It is a bestowal of God; it is not material; it is divine. Science is an effulgence of the Sun of Reality, the power of investigating and discovering the verities of the universe, the means by which man finds a pathway to God. Through intellectual and intelligent inquiry science is the discoverer of all things. ('Abduhl-Bahá, 1982 p. 49)

The purpose of religion is to "safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men" (Baháhuhlláh, 1978, p. 168). Human nature is fundamentally spiritual, and the "spiritual impulses set in motion by such transcendent figures as Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, and Muhammad have been the chief influence in the civilizing of human character" (Bahá'í International Community). Religion and spiritual commitment are necessary if the fruits of science are to be used for the advancement of humanity: "In every sphere of human activity and at every level, the insights and skills that represent scientific accomplishment must look to the force of spiritual commitment and moral principle to ensure their appropriate application" (Bahá'í International Community).

Religious truth must be understood in the light of science and reason if it is not to become superstition and a source of discord. Religious doctrines that disagree with science are likely to disagree with doctrines of other religions, creating and sustaining religious conflict. However, this does not mean the current scientific point of view is necessarily fully correct, nor does it mean that truth is limited to only what science can explain.

Similarly, science alone is inadequate. Doctrines inspired by sciencemost notably, the view that only material things are realhave had pernicious and corrosive effects when imposed on the people of the world. These doctrines need to be counteracted by the truths of religion. 'Abduhl-Bahá in Paris Talks emphasized that "with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism" ('Abduhl-Bahá 1969, p. 143). Furthermore, the commitment and the will that derives from religion is required if the results of science are to be applied to the benefit of the people of the world.

Evolution and the emergence of humanity

.

The Bahá'í writings address in depth the issue of evolution and the emergence of humanitya major source of conflict between science and contemporary religion. Humanity is described as emerging by a gradual progression that starts at a simple material stage and advances degree by degree to the human stage. In each stage, according to 'Abduhl-Bahá, humanity develops capacity for advancement to the next stage: "While in the kingdom of the mineral he was attaining the capacity for promotion into the degree of the vegetable. In the kingdom of the vegetable he underwent preparation for the world of the animal, and from thence he has come onward to the human degree, or kingdom" ('Abduhl-Bahá 1982, p. 225). Evolutionary processesindeed, all natural processesare the expression of God's will and the mechanism for the unfolding of God's creation:

Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world (Baháhuhlláh, p. 142).

Humanity, therefore, was created by God and potentially existed even before being actualized as a "composition of the atoms of the elements."

Humans and animals and are distinct and different kinds of beings, according to the Bahá'í view. It is incorrect to say that humans are descended from animals, even though physically that is the case. This is because humans have a rational and spiritual side in addition to the physical reality they share with animals: "The reality of man is his thought, not his material body. The thought force and the animal force are partners. Although man is part of the animal creation, he possesses a power of thought superior to all other created beings" ('Abduhl-Bahá 1969, p. 17). The Bahá'í point of view therefore diverges from understandings of evolution that see no distinction between humans and animals. It reconciles two perspectivesnatural evolution and divine creationthat many have deemed irremediably in conflict.

Types of knowledge. 'Abduhl-Bahá describes human knowledge as being of two kinds. One kind "is the knowledge of things perceptible to the senses." The other kind "is intellectualthat is to say, it is a reality of the intellect; it has no outward form and no place and is not perceptible to the senses" ('Abduhl-Bahá 1981, p. 83). The knowledge that people have of the laws of the universe is such an intellectual reality, as is the knowledge of God. 'Abduhl-Bahá further describes four criteria for knowledge: sense perception (empiricism), reason (rationality), tradition, and inspiration. By itself, each criterion is inadequate: The senses can be fooled, reasonable thinkers differ, understanding of tradition is reasoned and gives differing interpretations, and the heart's promptings are not reliable. Only when evidence from all criteria is in agreement can a proof be trusted as reliable.

The Bahá'í model of how reliable knowledge is obtained gives a perspective for viewing the roles of science and religion in society. Purely empirical approaches or rational approaches to knowledge, even when combined as they are in science, are inadequate to meet social needs. Approaches based solely on traditionprophetic or otherwiseor intuition and feeling are likewise inadequate. Rather, contributions from all the approaches are needed. Neither science nor religion separately provides the broad foundations by which society can progress. Both are needed.


Conclusion

The task facing humanity, according to the Universal House of Justice, the global Bahá'í administrative body, "is to create a global civilization which embodies both the spiritual and material dimensions of existence." Carrying out this task requires "a progressive interaction between the truths and principles of religion and the discoveries and insights of scientific inquiry." Science provides the understanding and technical capabilities that allow humanity to overcome the limitations of nature, making the goal of a peaceful and just world civilization an achievable one. Religion provides the moral, ethical, and spiritual strength, the discipline, and the commitment that are necessary if the goal is to become a reality.

See also Emergence


Bibliography

'abdu'l-bahá. paris talks: addresses given by 'abdu'l-bahá in paris in 19111912, 11th edition. london: bahá'í publishing trust, 1969.

'abdu'l-bahá. selections from the writings of 'abdu'l- bahá. haifa, israel: bahá'í world centre, 1978.

'abdu'l-bahá. some answered questions, 3rd edition. wilmette, ill.: bahá'í publishing trust, 1981.

'abdu'l-bahá. the promulgation of universal peace: talks delivered by 'abdu'l-bahá during his visit to the united states and canada in 1912, 2nd edition. wilmette, ill.: bahá'í publishing trust, 1982.

bahá'u'lláh. tablets of bahá'u'lláh revealed after the kitábí-aqdas. haifa, israel: bahá'í world centre, 1978.

bahá'í international community. the prosperity of humankind: a statement prepared by the bahá'í international community office of public information. haifa, israel: bahá'í international community, 1995.

universal house of justice. letters of the universal house of justice. haifa, israel: bahá'í world centre, 1992.

stephen r. friberg

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Baháʾí

BAHÁʾÍ

BAHÁʾÍ. Originating in Persia in the mid-nineteenth century, the Baháʾí Faith is the youngest of the independent world religions. It is also one of the fastest growing and most widespread of religions with about 7 million adherents in over 220 countries. Founded by the prophet Baháʾuʾlláh, the faith is built on the fundamental principles of unity and justice and the necessary convergence of spiritual and social development. The faith embraces a concept of progressive revelation that assigns equal status to previous prophets, who are known as "manifestations of God." There is only one God. As perfect reflections of God the manifestations occupy a status between the human and the divine. Each prophet brings the same core message as well as new teachings suited to the time and place of his particular revelation and the stage of development of humanity. Baháʾuʾlláh's purpose, as the latest of these manifestations of god, is to usher in a new world order of peace and prosperity for the human race.

Dietary codes and prohibitions are absent in the Baháʾí sacred writings. Rather than rules there is an emphasis on guidance and on the responsibility of individual believers to live a virtuous life. Food rules and practices are often used as boundary markers in religions and as a way for believers to assert their faith identities. The absence of such prescriptive dietary codes in Baháʾí teachings exemplifies the Baháʾí concept of the unity of humankind by removing one boundary between races, cultures, and religions. There is no symbolic value attached to particular foods, nor are there foods that are associated with specific rituals or celebrations. Generally speaking Baháʾís follow local dietary custom. Nevertheless, there are three aspects of food that are explicitly addressed in Baháʾí sacred writings: the relationship of diet to health, fasting, and commensality as exemplified in the Nineteen Day Feast.

Role of Religion in Shaping Daily Diet

There is a special concern for the strength and wellbeing of the body as the temple of the human spirit. The body should be a willing, obedient, and efficient servant, kept in good health so that the Baháʾí can devote all his or her energy to serving Baháʾuʾlláh's purpose. To this end, Baháʾís are expected to take responsibility for looking after their own health, in which diet plays an essential role. Both asceticism and hedonism are to be avoided; the former because it is an inappropriate withdrawal from the world and a rejection of what God has provided, and the latter because one should not be preoccupied with material possessions. Instead, moderation is advised as a means to achieve a state of "detachment" necessary to attain true understanding of God's will.

The ideal regime is a balanced natural diet that is adapted to local climate and to the type of work in which the body is engaged. Although animal food is not forbidden, meat-eating is considered to be only a temporary necessity of the current age, one that will give way in the future to vegetarianism. Vegetarianism is portrayed as being a compassionate practice, for the killing of animals blunts the spiritual qualities of the human race. A meatless diet is also natural in that it uses simple foods that grow from the ground. Finally, vegetarianism is just; one should not eat lavishly while others starve.

Food is not only seen to be the chief way of maintaining health, but also the preferred means for treatment of disease. Health and disease are conceived of in terms of balance and bodily equilibrium reminiscent of Greek humoral theory and Ayurvedic conceptions of hot and cold. Disease arises from disturbances to the balance of the body, which can be restored through consumption of food containing the necessary elements to bring it back to health. Although a time is foreseen when improved medical knowledge and understanding will enable all illness to be treated by food, Baháʾís are enjoined to take full advantage of the best that current medicine has to offer and to seek the services of competent physicians when they are ill.

Fasting and Feasting

There is only one annual fast prescribed for Baháʾís. The precepts of the fast are laid down in the Kitab-I-Aqdas, or Most Holy Book, of Baháʾuʾlláh and along with obligatory prayer it is the most important of Baháʾí ritual obligations. The fast bears a marked resemblance to Islamic practice, the context in which it emerged. The Baháʾí fasting period lasts nineteen days from the second to the twentieth of March, and requires complete abstention from food and drink between the hours of sunrise and sunset. It is a period of meditation and prayer, a chance to renew one's spiritual self, and a reminder of the need to abstain from selfish desires. The fast is binding on Baháʾís in all countries but it is an individual obligation, not enforceable by Baháʾí administrative institutions. It applies to all believers from the age of maturity (thought of as age fifteen) until seventy, with exemptions for travelers under specified conditions; the sick; women who are menstruating, pregnant, or nursing; and those engaged in heavy labor, who are advised to be discrete and restrained in availing themselves of this exemption. Unlike in the Islamic model, fasters who are unable to meet their commitment do not have to offer any sort of restitution or make up the missed days later. Nor are sexual relations prohibited during fasting periods. Baháʾís are allowed to fast at other times of the year but this is not encouraged, and is rarely done. Fasting itself is only acceptable if it is done purely out of love for God. This is reminiscent of the importance of niyyah or intent in the Islamic fast of Ramadan.

Feast has a particular meaning in the Baháʾí Faith, referring to the monthly community meeting known as the Nineteen-Day Feast. The original purpose of the Baháʾí feast was a means of creating fellowship, and is rooted in the Persian tradition of hospitality. Baháʾuʾlláh enjoined believers to entertain nineteen people every nineteen days even if only water was provided. Over time the feast shifted from being a display of personal hospitality to becoming an institutional event. The modern Nineteen-Day Feast is held in each Baháʾí community on the first day of each Baháʾí month, and consists of three parts. The first is devotional and consists of readings from the Baháʾí sacred writings; the second is a consultative meeting where administrative and community issues are discussed; the third is a social gathering at which food is served. What is served is at the discretion of the host and is guided by personal preference and local custom. The Nineteen-Day Feast is intended only for the members of the Baháʾi community; however, non-Baháʾí visitors should be received hospitably at the social portion of the feast only.

The sharing of food is an important feature of Baháʾí social events. Food sharing also occurs through charitable activity and social action. However, where local community development projects supported by Baháʾís involve food, these usually take the form of agricultural development rather than food distribution.

See also Fasting and Abstinence: Islam ; Iran; Vegetarianism .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ʿAbduʾl-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. Wilmette, Ill.: BPT, 1964. Section 73. Passages on food, health, and the body.

Paul Fieldhouse


Selection from Some Answered Questions by ʿAbduʾl-BahÁ

The science of medicine is still in a condition of infancy; it has not reached maturity. But when it has reached this point, cures will be performed by things which are not repulsive to the smell and taste of manthat is to say, by aliments, fruits and vegetables which are agreeable to the taste and have an agreeable smell. . . . All the elements that are combined in man exist also in vegetables; therefore, if one of the constituents which compose the body of man diminishes, and he partakes of foods in which there is much of that diminished constituent, then the equilibrium will be established, and a cure will be obtained (Sec. 73).


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Bahá'í

BAHÁ'Í

BAHÁ'Í. The Bahá'í religion developed out of the Bábí movement, which in turn sprang from Shi'ite Islam. Bahá'u'lláh, born in Tehran in 1817, became a Bábí in 1844 (the year the Bábí movement began) and in 1863 announced that he was the divine messenger awaited by the movement. Within a few years virtually all Bábís accepted Bahá'u'lláh's messianic claim, thereby becoming Bahá'ís. Bahá'u'lláh gave his religion shape through fifteen thousand letters and about one hundred essays and books, which form the core of Bahá'í scripture. In them he described the nature of God, revelation, humanity, and physical creation; delineated the path of individual spiritual development, involving prayer, scripture study, fasting, pilgrimage, material sacrifice, and service to humanity; defined the holy days and governing institutions of the Bahá'í community; and described a spiritual civilization in which war would be abolished, humanity would be unified, and all would have access to education, opportunity, and prosperity. Before Bahá'u'lláh died in 1892 he appointed his son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá (18441921), as head of the religion.

In 1892 the Bahá'í religion was brought to the United States by Middle Eastern immigrants. The first American, Thornton Chase (18471912), converted in 1894 in Chicago; by 1900 there were some 1,500 Bahá'ís in the United States, with the largest communities in Chicago, New York, and Kenosha, Wisconsin. The first Bahá'í temple in the Western world was built in Wilmette, a Chicago suburb, from 1912 to 1953. American Bahá'ís played a major role in taking the religion to Europe (1899), East Asia (1914), South America (1919), Australia (1920), and sub-Saharan Africa (1920). They helped organize many of the earliest Bahá'í local and national "spiritual assemblies" (governing councils); the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States dates back to 1926, with a predecessor institution dating to 1909. The religion has seen steady membership growth in the United States, from 3,000 in 1936 to 140,000 in 2000. Worldwide in 2000 it had more than 5 million members.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Smith, Peter. The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions: From Messianic Shi'ismto a World Religion. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Robert Stockman

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Baha'i

Baha'i (bähä´ē, –hī´, bə–), religion founded by Baha Ullah (born Mirza Huseyn Ali Nuri) and promulgated by his eldest son, Abdul Baha (1844–1921). It is a doctrinal outgrowth of Babism, with Baha Ullah as the Promised One of the earlier religion. The Baha'i faith holds that God can be made known to humankind through manifestations that have come at various stages of human progress; prophets include Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha Ullah. Baha'is believe in the unity of all religions, in universal education, in world peace, and in the equality of men and women. An international language and an international government are advocated. Emphasis is laid upon simplicity of living and upon service to the suffering. The teachings spread in the 20th cent., particularly in Africa. The center of the faith in the United States is the great house of worship at Wilmette, Ill. The administrative center of the world faith is in Haifa, Israel, the site of Baha Ullah's tomb. There are some 5 million Baha'is in the world, with the largest communities in India and Iran. Prior to the Iranian revolution (1979) there were about 1 million Iranian Baha'is, who, despite widespread societal discrimination, had generally prospered. Under the Iranian Islamic republic, which regards the religion as an Islamic heresy, Baha'i is banned; Baha'i religious institutions were closed, and Baha'i property confiscated. Baha'is were removed from government posts, thousands were imprisoned, and several hundred were executed.

See S. Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come (rev. ed. 1980); P. Smith, The Baha'i Religion (1988).

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Bahai

Ba·ha·'i / bəˈhī/ (also Ba·ha·i) • n. (pl. -ha·'is ) a monotheistic religion founded in the 19th century as a development of Babism, emphasizing the essential oneness of humankind and of all religions and seeking world peace. The Baha'i faith was founded by the Persian Baha'ullah (1817–92) and his son Abdul Baha (1844–1921). ∎  an adherent of the Baha'i faith. DERIVATIVES: Ba·ha·'ism / -ˌizəm/ n.

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Bahai

Baha'i Religion founded in the 1860s by Bahaullah as an outgrowth of the Babi faith. Its headquarters are in Haifa, Israel. It seeks world peace through the unification of all religions and stresses a simple life dedicated to serving others. It recognizes Bahaullah as the latest prophet of God.

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Baha'i

Baha'i a monotheistic religion founded in the 19th century as a development of Babism, emphasizing the essential oneness of humankind and of all religions and seeking world peace.

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Baha'i

Baha'ially, Altai, apply, assai, awry, ay, aye, Baha'i, belie, bi, Bligh, buy, by, bye, bye-bye, chi, Chiangmai, Ciskei, comply, cry, Cy, Dai, defy, deny, Di, die, do-or-die, dry, Dubai, dye, espy, eye, fie, fly, forbye, fry, Frye, goodbye (US goodby), guy, hereby, hi, hie, high, I, imply, I-spy, July, kai, lie, lye, Mackay, misapply, my, nearby, nigh, Nye, outfly, passer-by, phi, pi, pie, ply, pry, psi, Qinghai, rai, rely, rocaille, rye, scry, serai, shanghai, shy, sigh, sky, Skye, sky-high, sly, spin-dry, spry, spy, sty, Sukhotai, supply, Tai, Thai, thereby, thigh, thy, tie, Transkei, try, tumble-dry, underlie, Versailles, Vi, vie, whereby, why, wry, Wye, xi, Xingtai, Yantai

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