c/o National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, 1233 Central St., Evanston, IL 60201
In Persia (present-day Iran), a predominantly Muslim country in the mid-1800s, the expectation that the coming of the Mahdi, the successor to Muhammad promised in Islamic writings, was strong. Into this environment was born Mirza Ali Muhammad (1819–1850), a Shi’a Muslim who declared himself the Bab, or gate, through whom people would learn of the imminent advent of another messenger of God. Many people accepted the messianic claims of the Bab who declaraed his station in 1844, and established the Babi religion. The initial enthusiasm of the movement quickly encountered fierce opposition eventually resulting in persecution. In 1850 the Bab was martyred.
Two years later, a Babi attempted to kill the shah, and persecution led to further imprisonments of Babis. Among those imprisoned was Mirza Husayn-Ali (1817–1892), who, while languishing in prison, came to understand himself as the Holy One whom the Bab foretold. In 1853 he and his family were exiled and left Tehran, Iran, for Baghdad, Iraq, where in 1863, he declared his station as a messenger of God.
During the following years, leadership of the Babi movement was in the hands of Mirza Yahya (1831–1912), Husayn-Ali’s half brother, but gradually it shifted to Husayn-Ali because of Mirza Yahya’s incompetence. In 1863 Husayn-Ali revealed to a few close associates and members of his family that he was the messenger that the Bab had anticipated. From that time an increasing number of Babis accepted Baha’u’llah (as Husayn-Ali was called) and became Baha’is.
Baha’u’llah was exiled from Baghdad to Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey, and then later to Adrianople (now Edirne), Turkey. He then was exiled to the penal colony at Akka (now Acre) during 1868 in present-day Israel, where he spent the remainder of his life. While under house arrest there by the Turkish authorities, he produced the majority of his 15,000 works, considered scripture by his followers.
After his death in 1892, Baha’u’llah was succeeded by his eldest son, Abbas Effendi (1844–1921), known to the world by his religious name, Abdu’l-Baha (meaning servant of Baha). Abdu’l-Baha is considered the exemplar of the Baha’i teachings and served as head of the Baha’i community until his death. In 1902 he was confined by the Turkish authorities until the 1908 Young Turks Revolution brought a gradual easing of restrictions. Abdu’l-Baha then turned his attention to the spread of the Baha’i faith and traveled to Europe and North America in that effort. Upon his death in 1921, Abdu’l-Baha was succeeded by Shoghi Effendi (1897–1957), his grandson, as guardian of the faith.
The Baha’i faith was brought to America in 1892 by Ibrahim Kheiralla, though he later left the movement and founded a rival organization. Kheiralla founded a Baha’i group in Chicago, Illinois, in 1894 and several others sprang up as a result of his efforts. The first convert was Thornton Chase (1847–1912), who joined the faith in 1894. The first U.S. Baha’i convention would be held in 1907. In 1900, Agnes Baldwin Alexander (1875–1971) encountered the Baha’i religion in Rome, Italy, and took it to Hawaii.
In 1912 Abdu’l-Baha spent eight months in the United States and laid the cornerstone of the Baha’i house of worship in Wilmette, Illinois. The temple took 40 years to build and was completed in 1953. The temple’s structure demonstrated the significance of the number nine. As the largest single digit, nine is a symbol of culmination and unity for Baha’is. The Wilmette temple, like all Baha’i temples, is nine-sided and capped with a dome.
The Baha’i teachings are contained in the writings of the Bab, Baha’u’llah, and Abdu’l-Baha, considered scriptures, and in the writings of Shoghi Effendi, which are considered infallible guidance. They teach the essential oneness of all revealed faiths, which have been given at different stages and ages. The Baha’i faith is considered the latest phase in the progressive unfolding of a single universal religion, of which all previous world religions are a part. Baha’is believe that God will continue to send messengers in the future.
The Baha’i faith teaches that God is, in essence, unknowable, though his word is known through his chosen messenger. Some Baha’i principles include the independent search for truth, the oneness of the human race, the unity of religion, the condemnation of prejudice, the harmony of science and religion, the equality of the sexes, compulsory education, the adoption of a universal language, the abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty, a world court, work in the spirit of service as worship, justice, and universal peace. Baha’i scriptures also stress the immortality and continuous progress of the soul. Baha’i writings also describe work done in a spirit of service as a form of worship and stress the immortality and continuous progress of the soul.
Baha’is gather regularly for weekly prayer and study of the sacred writings. There is an annual 19-day fasting period and nine holy days during which work is suspended. March 21 is also a holy day, celebrated as New Year’s Day. Besides the temple at Wilmette, six others have been built around the world, with an eighth under construction in Chile.
After Shoghi Effendi’s death in 1957, leadership of the faith passed to the Universal House of Justice, an international body headquartered in Haifa, Israel, where the Bab’s shrine is located. Baha’u’llah indicated that there should be no clergy in the Baha’i faith, and instead ordained a system of elected councils at the local, national, and intetrnational levels to administer the affairs of the faith. The Universal House of Justice administers the affairs of the worldwide Baha’i community. It may enact laws and ordinances not expressly stated in the sacred Baha’i texts, but may not offer interpretation of scripture.
Members of the Universal House of Justice are elected every five years at an international convention composed of the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies, which are elected at annual conventions held in nearly every country in the world. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States is headquartered in Evanston, Illinois, near the house of worship and the Baha’i Publishing Trust in Wilmette.
In 2008 it was reported that 160,000 Baha’is resided in the United States. There were approximately 1,200 local spiritual assemblies. Worldwide there are more than 5 million Baha’is in close to 12,000 spiritual assemblies in more than 230 countries of the world. There were 182 national spiritual assemblies as of April 2001.
World Order • Brilliant Star.
Baha’i Faith: United States Official Web Site. www.bahai.us.
Balyuzi, H. M. Abdu’l-Baha: The Center of the Covenant of Baha’u’llah. London: George Ronald, 1971.
———. Baha’u’llah, The King of Glory. Oxford, UK: George Ronald, 1980.
Miller, William McElwee. The Baha’i Faith: Its History and Teachings. South Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1974.
Perkins, Mary, and Philip Hainsworth. The Baha’i Faith (Living Religions). London: Ward Lock Educational, 1980.
Whitehead, O. Z. Some Early Baha’is of the West. Oxford: George Ronald, 1976.
PO Box 65, Missoula, MT 59806
Baha’is Under the Provisions of the Covenant was formed by Leland Jensen (1914–1996), a long-time adherent of the dominant Baha’i group based in Haifa, Israel. Jensen and his wife, Opal, were chiropractors. They served as missionaries to two small islands, Reunion and Mauritius, off the coast of India in the 1950s, as part of the Ten Year Crusade announced by Shoghi Effendi (1857–1957) in 1953. Through this work, Leland and his wife earned the title Knights of Baha’u’llah.
Jensen followed Baha’i leader Mason Remey (1874–1974) when the latter announced in 1960 that he was the new Guardian of the world wide Baha’i community. Remey was excommunicated by the Hands of the Cause, the top leaders in the Baha’i movement; he formed his own National Spiritual Assembly for what became known as the Orthodox Baha’i Faith. Jensen moved to Montana in 1964. He was sent to prison in 1969 following a conviction on charges of sexual assault against a female patient. He claimed to be innocent of the charges and also argued that his conviction and prison time fulfilled key passages in biblical prophecy.
He was released from prison in 1973. In 1979 he announced that there would be a nuclear holocaust on April 29, 1980. Jensen formed a Second International Baha’i Council in 1991, as a counterpart to the Haifa-based Baha’is. In 2001, five years after Jensen’s death, his student Neil Chase announced that he was the Guardian in 2001. This led to a split over proper leadership. The majority, including Chase’s wife, rejected his claims, leading to his leaving.
Bahai’s Under the Provisions of the Covenant (Leland Jensen). bupc.montana.com/.
Balch, Robert W., et al. “Fifteen Years of Failed Prophecy.” In Expecting Armageddon, ed. Jon Stone, 269–282. New York: Routledge, 2000.
248A North Higgins #126, Missoula, MT 59802
In 2001 Neal Chase claimed to be the true leader of Baha’is Under the Provisions of the Covenant (see separate entry), whose founder, Leland Jensen (1914–1996), had died without naming a successor. He also claimed to be the true head of the second International Baha’i Council (sIBC). Because his declarations were not accepted by the majority of the leaders of the Baha’is Under the Provisions of the Covenant, Chase left with his followers and reorganized under the same name as the parent body.
Chase claims to be the great-grandson of ’Abdu’l-Baha and also carries the title of Third President of the true Universal House of Justice of Baha’u’llah. The group believes that the Baha’i House of Justice in Haifa, Israel, is bogus and that it will be destroyed by a burning meteor. Chase has argued that both the Bible and the writings of Nostradamus predicted the exact date of the execution of Saddam Hussein. Chase also predicts that nuclear war will destroy one-third of the world’s population.
The Noonday Sun.
Baha’is Under the Provisions of the Covenant (Neal Chase). www.bupc.org/.
Stone, Jon R., ed. Expecting Armageddon: Essential Readings in Failed Prophecy. New York: Routledge, 2000.
PO Box 3201, Roswell, NM 88202
Members of the Orthodox Baha’i faith, in contrast to most other Baha’is, believe that the Baha’i administrative order remains unchanged with all of its administrative institutions intact since the death of Shoghi Effendi (1897–1957), the first guardian of the faith. The Baha’i administrative order was dictated in the will and testament of Abdu’l-Baha (1844–1921), who was the son of Baha’u’llah (1817–1892), the author of the Baha’i Revelation. This document was characterized by Shoghi Effendi as divinely conceived, equal in sacredness and immutability to Baha’u’llah’s most holy book, the Kitab-I-Agdas, and the charger of his world order. In his will, Abdu’l-Baha appointed Shoghi Effendi the first guardian of the Baha’i faith and stipulated that each guardian appoint his successor in his own lifetime. Under the terms of this document, the guardian is the head of the faith, the sole interpreter of Baha’i holy writ, and the sacred head of the Universal House of Justice, the supreme legislative body of the Baha’i administrative order.
Shoghi Effendi became guardian of the Baha’i faith in 1921 following the death of Abdu’l-Baha. For the next 30 years he painstakingly developed the Baha’i administrative order at the local and national levels. Based upon the fact that there were then nine functioning national administrative institutions, he established the first international Baha’i council, explaining that it was a temporary title given to what was to become the Universal House of Justice. Shoghi Effendi did not assume the presidency of the council. He appointed Charles Mason Remey (1874–1974), a leading American Baha’i who had been chosen by Abdu’l-Baha to design the Baha’i temple on Mount Carmel and who was the architect of other Baha’i temples. The council was never convened into a functioning body during Shoghi Effendi’s lifetime, although he assigned tasks to individuals who had been appointed to it. Coinciding with the passing of Shoghi Effendi in 1957, Remey became the functioning president of the council. It is the belief of the Orthodox Baha’is that “president of the Universal House of Justice” (i.e., the International Baha’i Council) and “guardian of the faith” are synonymous terms; hence Remey became the second guardian of the faith. The majority of Baha’is refused to recognize the validity of the appointment and declared the office of the guardian terminated.
Members of the National Baha’i Council stated that Mason Remey elected to appoint his successor in the same manner that Shoghi Effendi had employed. He established the second International Baha’i Council and appointed as its president Joel B. Marangella (b. 1918). However, he reinforced the appointment in a letter addressed to Marangella, telling him to advise the Baha’is that he was the third guardian of the faith.
As it was impracticable for the second International Baha’i Council to function as a body, due to lack of support from national Baha’i administrative bodies, and as a majority of supporters of the guardian were to be found in the United States, Marangella established a national Baha’i bureau in New York City, New York. The bureau, which moved to New Mexico in 1972, administered the affairs of the faith in the United States on a provisional and limited basis.
In 1978 the bureau’s functions were assumed and expanded by the local Baha’i council of Roswell, New Mexico, a body of nine believers designated by the third guardian as the National Baha’i Council of the Orthodox Baha’is of the United States. The council was assigned national Baha’i administrative jurisdiction pending the formation of a national Baha’i council when circumstances permit.
The council, in addition to propagating the faith through various media such as newspapers and magazines, inserted open letters and appeals by the guardian in newspapers in the United States and foreign countries in order to convince Baha’is that Shoghi Effendi provided for the continuance of the guardian’s office. In 1995 the third guardian established an Internet site and in 1996 the Mother Baha’i Council established a site of its own.
In 2000 the guardian transferred the responsibilities for the direction of the faith in the United States to a provisional national Baha’i council. As was the case with the Mother Baha’i Council, the new administrative unit of the Orthodox Baha’i faith continues to declare aggressively that in terminating the guardianship, the other Baha’is have, in effect, negated the major provisions of the will and testament of Abdu’l Baha and hence are attempting to destroy the world order of Baha’u’llah.
Herald of the Covenant • Friends in Touch • Star of the Covenant (for Orthodox Baha’is only).
The council is one of three groups that continue the guardianship and recognize Mason Remey as the second guardian. Donald Harvey claims to have a letter from Remey appointing him to be the third guardian. In the United States, Harvey’s followers are affiliated in the Remey Society. The third group, an offshoot of the Mother Baha’i Council, is the Orthodox Baha’i Faith under the Regency.
The Orthodox Baha’i Faith: An Introduction. Roswell, NM: Mother Baha’i Council of the United States, 1981.
PO Box 81842, Rochester, MI 48308
The Reform Bahai Faith traces its origins to events in the Baha’i world following the death in 1921 of Abdu’l-Baha, the son and successor of Baha’u’llah (1817–1892), the founder of the faith. Abdu’l-Baha’s 1912 covenant and teachings contained no conception of a hereditary guardianship, and he repeatedly stated in public and in writing that the Baha’i faith could not be organized but was rather the “spirit of the age.” Abdu’l-Baha’s teaching of a universal religion inspired such early Baha’is as Ruth White to reject what she and others believed was a fraudulent will and testament, written apparently by the family of Shoghi Effendi, appointing him to the nondoctrinal position of “guardianship.”
Following and seeking to revive Abdu’l-Baha’s interpretation of the Baha’i Faith, Reform Bahais have rediscovered and returned to Abdu’l-Baha’s covenant and emphasis on a universal religious movement. The Reform Bahai faith does not have officers, appointed administrative positions, or clergy, and operates primarily through its Web site, but refers to adherents as members. Abdu’l-Baha taught that the individual is responsible for her or his own spiritual growth. As the interpreter of Baha’u’llah’s teachings and center of the covenant, he emphasized that the separation of church and state was the will of God, grounded in a spiritual democracy.
In common with other Baha’i denominations, Reform Bahais believe in the basic oneness of God, all religions, and humankind. It finds hope in Baha’u’llah’s spiritual teachings and promised day of international peace and cooperation, through global institutions and consultation, uniting mankind in common faith.
Among declared members, Frederick Glaysher, a literary scholar and prominent critic of the larger Baha’i group based in Haifa, Israel, has been central to the revival of the Reform Bahai denomination. Glaysher and other Reform Bahais argue that the true, original Baha’i faith has been increasingly distorted since the death of Abdu’l-Baha.
In 2004 Glaysher created the Reform Bahai Web site. In 2008 the Reform Bahai Press published its first collection of Baha’i scripture, The Universal Principles of the Reform Bahai Faith. Glaysher has also published a volume documenting his personal Reform Bahai journey in Letters from the American Desert.
Reform Bahai ideology can be traced not only to the work of Ruth White, but also to the numerous works of Julie Chanler (1882–1961), and Mirza Ahmad Sohrab (1893–1958). These three argue, as does Glaysher, that Shoghi Effendi distorted the nature of Baha’u’llah’s religion and that Abdu’l-Baha’s purported will and testament was a fraudulent document. They believe this was proven independently through the work of Dr. C. Ainsworth Mitchell of the British Museum in 1930. White deposited Mitchell’s Report on the Writing Shown on the Photographs of the Alleged Will of Abdu’l-Baha at the Library of Congress.
The Reform Bahai Faith has issued 95 Theses about what it views as proper Bahai views and conduct. The first thesis resolves “to witness the truth of the deviation of the organized, incorporated Baha’i Faith from the Path, and its imposition of manifest corruptions and innovations, over many lamentable decades, that have wrought ever-increasing alienation, fear, censorship, coercion, misrepresentation, distortion, and damage, all the stratagems of despots and dictators, political and religious, upon individual Bahais, their families, and the community of believers.”
In January 2008 Glaysher submitted documents on behalf of the Reform Bahai movement to the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois in a civil case involving the use of Baha’i symbols. The National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) of Wilmette, Illinois, was the claimant against three minority Baha’i groups. The NSA argued that the smaller groups should be held in contempt for violation of a 1996 ruling about proper use of Baha’i symbols. The court ruled against the NSA, and the case is being appealed.
The Reform Bahai Faith. www.reformbahai.org/.
Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, and Frederick Glaysher. The Universal Principles of the Reform Bahai Faith. Reform Bahai Press, 2007.
Glaysher, Frederick. Letters from the American Desert: Signposts of a Journey, A Vision. Rochester, MI: Earthrise Press, 2008.
PO Box 1424, Las Vegas, NM 87701
The Tarbiyat Baha’i Community (formerly the Orthodox Baha’i Faith under the Regency) is one of three organizations of former members of the Baha’i Faith who accepted the claims of Charles Mason Remey (1874–1974) to be the successor of Shoghi Effendi (1897–1957), the first guardian of the Baha’i faith who died in 1957. Remey claimed to be the second guardian. After Remey’s death in 1974, Joel B. Marangella was one of two men who claimed to have been appointed by Remey as the third guardian. In 1969, Marangella organized his followers as the Orthodox Baha’i Faith prior to Remey’s death in 1974.
Among those appointed to a leadership role by Remey, Reginald B. (Rex) King (d. 1977) accepted Marangella as the third guardian but later came to the conclusion that both Remey and Marangella had taken actions that were contrary to Baha’i law, thus proving that they were not the guardian as claimed. He concluded that Remey, rather than being the second guardian, was but a regent who assumed control until such time as the second guardian from the bloodline of Baha’u’llah (1817–1892) appeared and took his rightful place. Upon reaching that conclusion, King withdrew from Marangella and claimed to be the second regent.
King died in 1977. In his will he appointed four members of his family—Eugene K. King, Ruth L. King, Theodore Q. King, and Thomas King—as the council of regents to succeed him. In 1993 Ruth L. King resigned from the council of regents. Maeny Whitaker was appointed to take her place. The Baha’is of the Tarbiyat Baha’i community follow the teachings of the Baha’i faith, differing only in that they do not accept the authority of the Universal House of Justice because of its rejection of the guardianship. Instead they accept the regency, which holds open the station of the guardianship until the appearance of the second guardian.
Tarbiyat Baha’i Community. www.tarbiyatcenter.org/index.html.
Current address not obtained for this edition.
In the years after the death of Abdu’l-Baha (1844–1921) and the elevation of his grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1897–1957), to the guardian of the Baha’i faith, an American Baha’i, Ruth White (d. 1958), began to question Effendi’s authority. In her first book, Abdu’l-Baha and the Promised Age (1927), she voiced her opposition to his attempts to develop the Baha’i organization by quoting Abdu’l-Baha. “The Baha’i Movement is not an organization,” she quotes him as saying, “You can never organize the Baha’i Cause.” More importantly, she began to voice opposition to Effendi’s role as guardian, and in her 1929 work, The Baha’i Religion and Its Enemy, the Bahai Organization, she attacked the authenticity of the will and testament of Abdu’l-Baha, the document upon which Effendi’s authority rested.
Though she lectured widely throughout the United States, her only success in recruiting supporters came in Germany where the Baha’i World Union was founded by Wilhelm Herrigel and other Baha’is, who were described as friends of Abdu’lBaha. The Baha’i World Union continued until 1937 when the German government outlawed the Baha’i faith.
Simultaneously with White’s attack upon Effendi, though separate from it, Mirza Ahmad Sohrab (1891–1958), a close friend of Abdu’l-Baha and an American Baha’i, Julie Chandler (d. 1961), formed an independent Baha’i network in New York City, New York. They felt that Effendi’s increasing efforts to organize the faith were counterproductive. They established the New History Society, which offered lectures by Sohrab and other prominent guests (American physicist Albert Einstein [1879–1955] addressed it on one occasion) and opened a Baha’i bookshop. Members of the New History Society considered themselves participants in the Baha’i movement but separate from the organization headed by Effendi. In response, the Baha’i faith brought suit against Sohrab, Chandler, and the New History Society seeking to prevent their use of the name Baha’i. The court ruled against them, however, stating that no group of followers of a religion could monopolize the name of that religion or prevent other groups of followers from practicing their faith.
Like the Baha’i World Union, the New History Society found support in Europe and opened offices in Paris, France, in the 1930s, and Sohrab became the major spokesperson for the society. He spoke frequently and authored a number of books, including Broken Silence, a response to the 1941 court case.
White and Sohrab both died in 1958 and Chandler died in 1961. Since their deaths, their work and thought have been carried on by Hermann Zimmer of Stuttgart, West Germany. Zimmer had returned to Germany in 1948 after being released from a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp. He picked up the remnants of Herrigel’s organization and formed the World Union for Universal Religion and Universal Peace. In 1950 he published Die Wiederkunft Christi (The Return of Christ) in which he equated Baha’u’llah (1817–1892) with Christ returned in his Second Advent. Though never a large organization, the World Union remains a rallying point for free Baha’is around the world.
Not reported. Estimates suggest that only a few hundred free Baha’is reside in the United States.
National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i of the United States and Canada. The Baha’i Case against Mrs. Lewis Stuyvesant Chandler and Mirza Ahmad Sohrab. Wilmette, IL: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1941.
Sohrab, Mirza Ahmad. Broken Silence: The Story of Today’s Struggle for Religious Freedom. New York: Universal, 1942.
———. The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha: An Analysis. New York: Universal, 1944.
White, Ruth. Abdu’l-Baha and the Promised Age. New York: J.J. Little and Ives, 1927.
———. Baha’i Religion and Its Enemy, the Baha’i Organization. Rutland, VT: Charles Tuttle, 1929.
Zimmer, Hermann. A Fraudulent Testament Devalues the Baha’i Religion into Political Shoghism. Waiblingen, Germany: World Union for Universal Religion and Universal Peace, 1973.