The Baha'i Faith

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The Baha'i Faith

A world religious body dating from mid-nineteenth century Persia (now Iran). Founded out of Shia Islam, which dominates the religious life of Iran, the Baha'i Faith projected a broad view of the oneness of mankind and coming unity of different religions.

Members of the Baha'i Faith generally look upon three major figures as founding influences on the new religion. Mirza Ali Muhammad (1819-1850), known as the Bab, or "Gate," of revelation, founded a movement in Persia in the 1840s based upon the belief that the promised madhi, the successor of Muhammad, was at hand. Most followers believed the Bab to be the madhi. However, he was martyred in 1850.

Two years later, an attempt on the life of the Shah of Persia by a follower of the Bab released further persecutions. Mirza Husayn Ali (1817-1892) was among those imprisoned. During his four months of confinement he came to believe that he was the Holy One predicted by the Bab, though he confided that insight to only a few. He, his family, and many of the Bab's followers were exiledfirst to Baghdad, then Adrianople, Constantinople, and eventually in a prison at Acre (now Israel). In 1863, after being moved from Baghdad, he declared his new revelation, and from that time forward people began to recognize him as Bah'u'llah, the Glory of God. Baha'u'llah spent the rest of his life under house arrest in Acre, where he composed the majority of his writings, now considered as scripture by the movement.

Baha'u'llah's son, Abbas Effendi (1844-1921), known as Abdu'l-Baha (or Servant of Baha), is considered the exemplar of the faith. Like his father he was confined at Acre until 1908, when he was released following the Revolution of the Young Turks. He was then able to oversee the worldwide spread of the Baha'i Faith. He was in turn succeeded by his grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), considered the guardian of the faith. The writings of the Bab, Baha'u'llah, and Abdu'-Baha are considered scripture by followers of the faith, and those of Shoghi Effendi as infallible commentary.

The teachings of the Faith are universalist, based on the claim that divine revelation is continuous and that the Baha'i Faith is the culmination of the world's major religions. The Baha'i Faith proclaims the unity of God and His Prophets, upholds the principle of an unfettered search after truth, condemns all forms of superstition and prejudice, and teaches that the fundamental purpose of religion is to promote concord and harmony. Religion must go hand-in-hand with science, as it constitutes the sole and ultimate basis of a peaceful, ordered, and progressive society. Baha'i followers believe in the principle of equal opportunity, rights, and privileges for both sexes; compulsory education; and the abolishment of extremes of poverty and wealth. Work performed in the spirit of service is considered of equal rank to worship. The Faith has become part of the international peace movement and in that regard recommends the adoption of an auxiliary international language, and the formation of the necessary agencies for establishing and safeguarding a permanent and universal peace.

The Baha'i Faith has its international headquarters in Haifa, Israel, and membership now extends to 300 countries and territories, where centers have been established. They remain a minority in contemporary Iran and were among the losers in the revolution that resulted in the departure of the shah in 1979. Many Baha'is were persecuted and executed under the conservative rule of Ayatollah Khomeini. In the United States, the Baha'i National Center is located in Wilmette, Illinois; readings are given from the sacred scriptures in a large and beautiful House of Worship, and the facilities are available for individual worship and meditation. The quarterly journal World Order is published by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the U.S. national center at 536 Sheridan Rd., Wilmette, Illinois 60091. In Britain, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the U.K. is at 27 Rutland Gate, London S.W.7, England.


Faizi, Gloria. The Baha'i Faith: An Introduction. New Delhi, India: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1988.

Hatcher, William S., and J. Douglas Martin. The Baha'i Faith. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.

Perkins, Mary, and Philip Hainsworth. The Baha'i Faith. London: Ward Lock Educational, 1980.

Stockman, Robert H. The Baha'i Faith in America: Origins, 1892-1900. Wilmette, Ill.: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1985.