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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Bahai Faith

(Bahá’í Faith) The Bahá’í Faith originated in Persia (modern day Iran) in the nineteenth Century. The central figure of the Bahá’í Revelation was Mirza Husayn Ali, a member of the Persian nobility, born in Tehran in 1817 who was known as Bahá’u’llah, a title which means “The Glory of God.” The term “Bahá’í” means “follower of the Glory” or “follower of the light.” Bahá’ulláh’s mission was heralded by Siyyid’Alf Muhammad (The Báb) who began teaching in Shiraz in 1844 his own Divine mission, which was to announce the imminent emergence of the Divine Revelator promised in the scriptures of all the Holy books. Consequently the Báb and thousands of his followers were martyred at the urging of militant religious foes.

In divine response to the seeds of expectation that had matured through the Revelation of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, who had been among the Báb’s ardent admirers, received an intimation of his divine mission in 1852, confided it to his followers in 1853 (near the beginning of his exile) and proclaimed it publicly in 1863. In the years until his passing in Akka, Palestine (modern-day Israel) in 1892, Bahá’u’lláh revealed a great number of treatises on mystical, spiritual, social and ethical subjects. The purpose of his Revelation, he stated repeatedly, was to provide the divine guidance required for humanity’s spiritual and social well-being as it comes of age as a global society.

Bahá’í Beliefs. The premise underlying all facets of the Bahá’í Faith is the path towards unity. Bahá’ís acknowledge a Divine purpose to creation and the existence of a creator who remains infinitely beyond the comprehension of man and thus essentially unknowable. What knowledge we do possess of the Divine has been “dispensed” from that ultimate source by a series of prophetic figures, including the few known to history: ADAM, Krishna, BUDDHA, Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses, CHRIST, Muhammed and, most recently the Báb and Bahá’u’llah. This view of religious history as “progressive revelation” acknowledges the role of each of the revealed religions in the development of civilization, upholds the Divine station of the Prophets and attributes to human error and folly the divisions and conflicts that have emerged in their names.

The participation of the individual in the affairs of this world constitutes preparation for the existence of the soul in subsequent “worlds of God” beyond this physical earth. The quest for spirituality requires of the individual the suppression of the “lower self” (selfish yearnings provoked by ego and desire) and the cultivation of the “higher self” (the capacity to express spiritual and altruistic capacities latent in every person). Both prayer and a moral life are required in the “Bahá’í life.”

To Bahá’ís religion provides the foundations for individual spiritual development and the progress of society. The quest for spirituality has remained a constant through time, while the conditions of society are changing. Bahá’u’lláh calls for the elimination of all forms of prejudice, full equality between the sexes, universal education, an auxiliary global language and elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty. These and other practices are prerequisites to the establishment of a just and peaceful world. The establishment of such a peace requires efforts at the “grass-roots” as well as by the leaders of nations and Bahá’u’lláh anticipated the convening of some form of world assembly at which world leaders would make a binding pact ensuring security and allowing a reduction in expenditure on armaments.

World Center and World Distribution. The World Center of Bahá’í Faith is on Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel. There were Bahá’í communities in fifteen countries at the time of Bahá’u’lláh’s passing in 1892. Under the guidance of his son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (d. 1957) his successor and “Center” of his “Covenant” the number of countries in which Bahá’ís resided increased to thirty-five. Under the Guardianship of Shoghi Effendi (d. 1957) the grandson whom ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had appointed to lead the Faith after him, more than 200 additional territories were opened to the Faith of Bahá’ulláh. By the 1990s there were Bahá’í communities in more than 230 countries and territories and a following of more than six million.

Structure. Bahá’u’llá established in his Writings “Houses of Justices” to minister the spiritual and social needs of the community. The number of local-level bodies has presently reached 19,000 and national or regional governing bodies, some 170. These institutions, presently known as “Spiritual Assemblies” are the foundations upon which the supreme governing body of the Bahá’í world, the Universal House of Justice, has been established. In 1963 the members of 56 National Spiritual Assemblies first elected the Universal House of Justice and its nine members have been elected by an expanding number of these Assemblies at five-yearly intervals ever since. Bahá’í administration includes appointed offices, the members of which have an advisory and consultative role. There are, however, no clerical offices.

Local Assemblies organize the Bahá’í calendar, study classes for children, youth and adults; provide counsel in times of need and turn their attention to the welfare of the needy in their midst. The Bahá’í calendar which helps to regulate community life, comprises nineteen months each having nineteen days (=361 days, plus either 4 or 5 days at the end of each year which are designated as a period of festivity). Bahá’í communities gather on the first day of each Bahá’í month at a “Feast” which comprises devotions, administration and socializing. The Feast constitutes for the Bahá’ís a basic consultative forum at which open discussion is encouraged on all matters important to the community and through which communication is facilitated between the Local Assembly and the body of the believers.

International Activities. Since recognition of the Bahá’í International Community (BIC) as a non-governmental organization at the United Nations in 1948, the BIC has contributed Bahá’í perspectives on issues of social and economic development to numerous international conferences. Recent statements include “The Prosperity of Humankind,” prepared for the World Summit on Social Development (held in Copenhagen in 1995) and “Turning Point for All Nations,” an evaluation of the United Nations in the year of its fiftieth anniversary.

The Bahá’í Faith and Theosophy. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke before the Theosophical Society in London in 1911 at the invitation of Annie BESANT. He spoke of the principle of independent investigation of truth and of the importance of the promotion of love and unity. When asked about the task of unifying religions Abdu’l-Bahá replied that it was necessary to “search for truth, seek the realities in all religions, put aside all superstitions. Many of us do not realize the Reality of all Religions.” Bahá’ís thus share with Theosophists a quest for truth, but as their name suggests, have chosen to accept Bahá’ulláh as their guide.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:
Abdu’l-Baha. Abdu’l-Baha in London. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, United Kingdom, 1982.
Abdu’l Baha. Some Answered Questions (comp. Laura Clifford Barney). Bahá’í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, 1964.
Bahá’í International Community. Turning Point for All Nations: A Statement of the Bahá’í International Community on the 

Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations. New York, 1995.

Bahá’u’lláh. Writings of Baha’u’lláh. A Compilation. Bahá’í Publishing Trust, New Delhi, 1986.
Hassall, Graham. “Outpost of a World Religion”: The Bahá’í Faith in Australia 1920-1947. Journal of Religious History

16:3, June 1991.

Hatcher, William S. and J. Douglas Martin, 1986. The Bahá’í Faith: The Emerging Global Religion. Artarmon: Harper & 

Row.

McLean, J. A. Dimensions in Spirituality. Oxford: George Ronald 1994. Shoghi Effendi. World Order of Bahá’ulláh. Bahá’í

Publishing Trust, Wilmette, 2nd ed. 1974.

G.H.

 

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