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BAHĀʾĪS follow the teaching of the Bāb and Mīrzā usayn ʿAlī Nūrī, later known as Bahāʾ Allāh (Baháʾuʾlláh, according to Bahāʾī orthography), the Bāb's successor and "the one whom God shall manifest" (man yuhiruhu Allāh ). The religion spread from Iran and the Middle East all over the world starting at the end of the nineteenth century.

MĪrzĀ usayn ʿAlĪ NŪrĪ, BahĀʾ AllĀh

Born into a noble Tehran family, Mīrzā usayn ʿAlī Nūrī (18171892) and his younger half brother Mīrzā Yayā Nūrī (18301912), known as ub-i Azal, came in touch with the Bāb soon after his revelation in 1844. But during the first years neither brother took a dominant position among the Bābīs. At the meeting at Badasht in the summer of 1848, Bahāʾ Allāh supported Qurrat al-ʿAyn's position regarding the abrogation of the sharī ʿah but did not share her other radical views. During the following year ub-i Azal was designated as the leader of the Bābīs because the Bāb appreciated his knowledge and thought him an able leader to succeed him. During the persecution of the Bābīs following the attempt to assassinate Nāir al-Dīn Shāh in 1852, Bahāʾ Allāh was imprisoned in Tehran in a jail known as Siyāh Chāl, the "Black Hole." There for the first time Bahāʾ Allāh became aware of his future mission as a divine messenger. In 1853 Bahāʾ Allāh was exiled to Baghdad, where other Bābīs, including ub-i Azal, already resided.

Although Bahāʾ Allāh accepted the leading position of his half brother, in Baghdad the first tensions between the two became evident, partly fostered by differences in interpreting the bayān, which Bahāʾ Allāh saw in a more mystical or ethical light. As a result he left Baghdad on April 10, 1854, to live as a dervish in Kurdistan near Sulaymānīyah for two years. After his return to Baghdad, his influence on the Bābī exiles increased. Famous works authored by Bahāʾ Allāh in those years include mystical books, like the Seven Valleys, the Four Valleys, and the Hidden Words (1858). Theological arguments that the Bāb saw himself as a prophet announced in the Qurʾān are the main contents of the Book of Certitude (1862; Kitāb-i Īqān ). These writings foreshadowed Bahāʾ Allāh as the divine messenger whom the Bāb had foretold.

Shortly before the Ottoman authorities removed him from Baghdad to Istanbul, Bahāʾ Allāh declared himself to be this promised figure on April 8, 1863, in a garden called Bāgh-i Rivān (Garden of Paradise) in the precincts of Baghdad. After some months in Istanbul, Bahāʾ Allāh and the other exiles were sent to Edirne, where they stayed for about five years. In the Surāt al-Amr, Bahāʾ Allāh informed his half brother officially about his claim to be "the one whom God shall manifest" (man yuiruhu Allāh ). The writings of Bahāʾ Allāh that originated from the time spent in Edirne make it clear that he was the promised prophet. One of the important writings is the Kitāb-i Badīʾ (Wondrous book), but he also wrote letters (alwā, tablets) to political leaders during these years. Conflicts arose among the Bābīs, who had to decide whether to side with him or with ub-i Azal. Therefore the Ottoman authorities banished the Bahāʾīs, as the followers of Bahāʾ Allāh were called, to Acre in Palestine, whereas the followers of ub-i Azal, the Azalīs, were banished to Cyprus.

In August 1868 Bahāʾ Allāh and his family arrived at Acre, where Bahāʾ Allāh was imprisoned for the next nine years before he was allowed to move to a country house at Mazraʿah. In 1880 he moved to Bahjī near Haifa. During more than two decades in Palestine, Bahāʾ Allāh was revered by his followers, who came from as far away as Persia to catch sight of him for a moment. He finished the most holy text of the Bahāʾīs, the Kitāb-i Aqdas, in 1873. This book primarily relates to sacred and civil laws for the Bahāʾīs, thus abrogating the Bāb's bayān for the legal aspects of the religion. The Arabic texts of the Kitāb-i Aqdas are meant to be stylistically close to the classical style of the Qurʾān. Further letters to individual Bahāʾīs and political leaders as well as other writings also originated in these years. Close to the end of his life, Bahāʾ Allāh wrote Epistle to the Son of the Wolf (Law-i Ibn Dhiʾb ), which reflects the main topics of Bahāʾī teachings and aspects of its history once more. The Kitāb-i ʿAhd, Bahāʾ Allāh's will, set out that his son Abbas Effendi, better known as ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ (Servant of the Glory [of God]), would be his only legitimate successor and the infallible interpreter of his father's books. On May 29, 1892, Bahāʾ Allāh died at Bahjī.

Further Historical Developments

According to Bahāʾī tradition, ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ (ʿAbduʾl-Bahā according to Bahāʾī orthography) was born in the same night when Sayyed ʿAlī Muammad declared himself in Shiraz to be the Bāb to the hidden Imām on May 23, 1844. He was close to his father from the days of his childhood, and at least since the period of Bahāʾ Allāh's imprisonment in Acre, he was the person who maintained contact between Bahāʾ Allāh and the community. In the Kitāb-i ʿAhd he was bestowed the title markaz-i ʿahd (the center of the covenant), thus marking his elevated position within the Bahāʾī faith. But ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ never was considered a prophet, only the interpreter of Bahāʾ Allāh's revelation. During the first years of ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ's leadership, the Bahāʾīs faced another crisis as another son of Bahāʾ Allāh, Muammad ʿAlī, contested ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ's position. It took about one decade to settle this dispute.

During these years ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ's activities to further the religion were restricted to the area of Acre. But Bahāʾīs from the Middle Eastern countries went to Acre, thus strengthening the bonds between the "center of the covenant" and his followers. In 1898 the first American Bahāʾī pilgrims arrived in Acre; the Bahāʾī faith had been known in the United States since 1894. ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ was imprisoned for participating in the revolt of the Young Turks against the Ottoman government, but with his formal release from prison in 1908, the situation changed. In 1909 the Bāb's corpse was buried in his shrine on Mount Carmel, thus making this shrine, in addition to Bahāʾ Allāh's grave at Bahjī, a center for Bahāʾī pilgrimage. In 1910 ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ set out for his first missionary journey to Egypt. During the following year he visited Europe, and in 19121913 he traveled on missions to Europe and the United States. In 1912 the foundation stone for the "house of worship," the first building of its kind in the West, was laid at Wilmette, Illinois.

With these missionary journeys, the Bahāʾī faith became an international religion, and ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ's encounters with Westerners also brought new topics into his writings interpreting the revelations of his father. At least in his speeches delivered in the West, ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ increased references to Christianity and reduced references to Islam. ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ's presence in the United States stimulated the first wave of growth of the American Bahāʾī community, and he continued to send tablets to America after his departure. The Bahāʾī faith had started in the United States in 1894, when Ibrahim George Kheiralla (18491929), a native of Lebanon, converted the first Americans to the faith. Several American converts spread the religion during the first decade of the twentieth century, helping establish the communities in India, Burma, and Tehran and introducing the religion to Paris and London. Therefore ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ was impressed by the efforts of the still small American community during his visit. In his "Tablets of the Divine Plan" (19141916), he advised the American community regarding how to spread the new religion throughout America. ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ admonished the American Bahāʾīs to arrange interracial or multiethnic marriages as an expression of the Bahāʾī doctrine of the unity of humans.

The Bahāʾī religion broadened and developed on a social level, which led to the humanitarian involvement of ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ and other Bahāʾīs during World War I. In appreciation ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ was knighted by the British government in 1920. ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ died on November 28, 1921, in Haifa and is buried in the Bāb's shrine.

ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ was succeeded by his grandson Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, born in 1897. Under Shoghi Effendi's leadership Bahāʾī communities existed in about twenty-two countries, from the Middle East to Europe, the United States, India, and Burma. Shoghi Effendi was educated at Oxford University, and in 1936 he married Mary Maxwell, also known as Rūhīyah Khānum (d. 2000). Shoghi Effendi is the infallible interpreter of Bahāʾ Allāh's and ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ's writings and the "guardian of the cause of God" (walī-yi amr Allāh ). His main achievements included establishing the administrative and institutional structure of the Bahāʾī religion. Whereas most of the Bahāʾī organizations are only indicated in short and general terms in Bahāʾ Allāh's Kitāb-i Aqdas, Shoghi Effendi laid out the details. During his period as guardian, the number of National Spiritual Assemblies increased, thus creating a firm and uniform basis for the Bahāʾī communities in different countries. These assemblies, later renamed National Houses of Justice, are headed by the Universal House of Justice, the governing body of all the Bahāʾīs worldwide, which was planned by Shoghi Effendi. The Universal House of Justice is a body of nine men elected to five-year terms by representatives from the National Spiritual Assemblies. No elections took place during Shoghi Effendi's lifetime. In 1951 he named the first twelve Bahāʾīs to the Hand of the Cause, assigning them special tasks in teaching and missionary activities. Until his untimely death on November 4, 1957, Shoghi Effendi appointed further "Hands," raising the total number to twenty-seven.

As Shoghi Effendi did not leave any will at his death, the Hands of the Cause assumed management of the religion and arranged the first election of the Universal House of Justice during the Rivān festival in April 1963, one hundred years after Bahāʾ Allāh proclaimed himself the man yuiruhu Allāh in the Rivān garden in Baghdad. The Universal House of Justice has subsequently led the religion with both legislative and executive powers and also with the task of commenting on the writings of the Bāb, Bahāʾ Allāh, ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ, and Shoghi Effendi. However, the Universal House of Justice does not interpret Bahāʾ Allāh's scripture because ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ and Shoghi Effendi were the definitive interpreters of those writings. Therefore, the Universal House of Justice's infallibility is restricted to the juridical level and does not include the theological level, where only the writings from the Bāb to Shoghi Effendi are definitive.

In the early twenty-first century the Bahāʾīs number close to six million in more than two hundred countries all over the world. The number of adherents rose significantly in the late twentieth century from a little more than one million at the end of the 1960s to six million by end of the century. But the growth of the religion is not equally distributed. In Europe and North America the number is relatively stagnant, whereas in India, South America, and sub-Saharan Africa the Bahāʾīs attract large numbers of new converts. In Iran the situation of the Bahāʾīs has been critical through the ages, as they have faced increasing persecutions. Bahāʾīs sometimes face persecution in other Muslim countries as well, as the Bāb's and Bahāʾ Allāh's claims to bring revelation even after the prophet Muammad are considered apostasy by Muslims.

The number of Bahāʾīs in the United States in the early twenty-first century is about 142,000 members with about 1,200 Local Spiritual Assemblies. About fifteen thousand Bahāʾīs live in Canada. A rough estimate is about one-third of these members were raised as Bahāʾīs, whereas approximately half of them may have been raised in a Christian confession or denomination. The Bahāʾī faith experienced a major influx between 1969 and 1972, when about fifteen thousand rural African Americans joined the religion, motivated by the Bahāʾī doctrine of racial equality. Also several hundred Native Americans in the Lakota and Navajo reservations embraced the faith in the late twentieth century.

Beliefs and Practices

The central focus of Bahāʾī theology is the idea of a threefold unitythere is only one God, all the divine messengers are one, and humankind is one. The strict monotheism of the Bahāʾīs brings them in line with older Jewish and Christian monotheism but most closely to Islam. This monotheistic trait clearly reflects the idea that there is only one religion, which develops according to human evolution. Therefore it is necessary that divine messengers and prophets appear in the course of time, but every prophet or divine manifestation brings the eternal religion, clothed in new garb. This evolutionary idea within Bahāʾī faith is not totally new, as Manichaeism in Iran and Muslim groups have held similar views. But Bahāʾ Allāh's contribution lies in the concept that the Bahāʾī religion is part of this cyclical evolution. Thus for Bahāʾīs in the future, but according to the Kitāb-i Aqdas not before "a thousand years," a new divine manifestation will appear to bring new knowledge from the one God, revealed in a way that is more suitable for the spiritual state of development of humankind then.

As the one God is unchangeable but society changes, divine messengers appear, but they are also thought to be one at a spiritual level. They "seal" the period of every earlier religion, thus keeping up the Muslim idea of Muammad as "seal of the prophets" (khātam al-nabīyīn ) but reducing it only to the period of Islam as religion in its worldly (or social or materialistic) form. An absolute "seal" exists for every kind of revelation that brings (the unchangeable) divine knowledge anew.

The third aspect of "oneness" relates to humankind. All people, men and women as well as different races, are considered one. Therefore Bahāʾīs not only proclaim their religion but also take actions to reduce differences among societies or disadvantages among people based on their race or sex. The Bahāʾī the theological idea of the unity of humankind encourages social engagement to improve living conditions, for example, in less-developed countries or to give equal chances for education both to women and men, and they participate in projects for global peace or global ethics. Such attempts to reach unity among humans by preserving cultural values and differences as a kind of "unity within pluralism" make the Bahāʾī religion attractive to a growing number of people.

For the individual believer, the prophet is the appointed representative of God in the created world. Whoever knows this has obtained all good in the world, as is stated at the beginning of the Kitāb-i Aqdas. Thus living as a Bahāʾī is a continuous journey toward God, and heaven and hell are symbols for coming close to God or being separated from him. As already indicated by the Bāb's teachings and taken up by Bahāʾ Allāh, eschatology is no longer something of the future, but with the appearance of God's new prophet on earth, eschatology, as predicted in earlier religions, has been realized. To behave according to this eschatological closeness to God, in ethical as well as cultic terms, is one of the main tasks for each Bahāʾī.

Though elaborate rituals are not known within the Bahāʾī community, some religious practices are noteworthy. Every believer is obliged to pray daily and to take part in the Nineteen-Day Feast that marks the beginning of every Bahāʾī month according to the cultic calendar, made up of nineteen months with nineteen days each and four intercalculary days, a practice adopted from the Bābīs. The main festivals, the nine holy days of the Bahāʾī faith, commemorate central events of the history of the religion: the Rivān festival (April 21 to May 2), the day of the Bāb's declaration (May 22), the birthdays of the Bāb (October 20) and Bahāʾ Allāh (November 12) and the days of their deaths (July 9 and May 29, respectively), the New Year festival (March 21) at the spring equinox according to the solar calendar, the Day of the Covenant (November 26), and the day of ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ's death (November 28). The Houses of Worship are buildings dedicated only for devotions and readings from the Bahāʾī Scripture. The month of fasting (ʿAla) in March and the qiblah, the direction during individual prayer to Bahāʾ Allāh's shrine in Bahjī, retain phenomenologically some links to practices in Shīʿī Islam. But on the whole the Bahāʾī faith, though evolving with the Bābīs from a Muslim background, clearly defined its own doctrines and practices.

See Also



Primary Sources

ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ. Some Answered Questions. Wilmette, Ill., 1982.

ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ. Paris Talks. London, 1995.

Bahāʾ Allāh. Kitāb-i-Īqān (The book of certitude). Wilmette, Ill., 1950.

Bahāʾ Allāh. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahāʾuʾllāh. Translated by Shoghi Effendi. Wilmette, Ill., 1951.

Bahāʾ Allāh. The Hidden Words of Bahāʾuʾllāh. Wilmette, Ill., 1954.

Bahāʾ Allāh. The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys. Wilmette, Ill., 1978.

Bahāʾ Allāh. Tablets of Bahāuʾllāh, Revealed after the Kitāb-i-Aqdas. Wilmette, Ill., 1988.

Bahāʾ Allāh. The Kitāb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book. Haifa, Israel, 1992.

Shoghi Effendi. God Passes By. Wilmette, Ill., 1944.

Shoghi Effendi. The World Order of Bahāʾuʾlláh: Selected Letters. Wilmette, Ill., 1991.

Secondary Sources

Åkerdahl, Per-Olof. Bahāʾī Identity and the Concept of Martyrdom. Uppsala, Sweden, 2002. A Study on the shaping of Bahāʾī identity and theology.

Balyuzi, Hasan M. Bahāʾuʾllāh: The King of Glory. Oxford, 1980. Biography of Bahāʾ Allāh that is partly hagiographical.

Buck, Christopher. Symbol and Secret: Qurʾan Commentary in Bahāʾuʾllāh's Kitāb-i Īqān. Los Angeles, 1995. Excellent study in the Kitāb-i Īqān.

Bushrui, Suheil. The Style of the Kitāb-i-Aqdas: Aspects of the Sublime. Bethesda, Md., 1995. Excellent study of the literacy and theology of the central book of the Bahāʾīs.

Cole, Juan R. I. Modernity and the Millennium: The Genesis of the Bahaʾi Faith in the Nineteenth-Century Middle East. New York, 1998. Analysis of the historical situation leading to the rise of the Bahāʾī religion.

Hollinger, Richard, ed. Community Histories. Los Angeles, 1994. Collection of articles on the history of the religion in America.

Hutter, Manfred. Die Bahāʾī: Geschichte und Lehre einer nachislamischen Weltreligion. Marburg, Germany, 1994. Concise presentation of the history and doctrine.

McMullen, Michael, The Bahāʾī: The Religious Construction of a Global Identity. New Brunswick, N.J., 2000. Focuses on the Bahāʾī community of Atlanta in relation to the general situation of the Bahāʾī faith in the United States.

Momen, Moojan, ed. Scripture and Revelation. Oxford, 1997. Collection of essays on Bahāʾī literature.

Saiedi, Nader. Logos and Civilization: Spirit, History, and Order in the Writings of Bahāʾuʾllāh. Bethesda, Md., 2000. In-depth study of the theology of the main writings of Bahāʾ Allāh.

Schaefer, Udo. Beyond the Clash of Religions: The Emergence of a New Paradigm. Prague, Czech Republic, 1995. Survey of Bahāʾī relations to other religions and an outline of Bahāʾī theology.

Smith, Peter. A Short History of the Bahāʾī Faith. Oxford, 1996. Well-balanced introduction to history and doctrine.

Smith, Peter, and Moojan Momen. "The Bahāʾī Faith 19571988: A Survey of Contemporary Developments." Religion 19 (1989): 6391. Detailed study of the growth of the Bahāʾī religion from a sociological perspective.

Manfred Hutter (2005)

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