BAHAI: Some Basic Concepts

Bahai faith is one of the newest religions in the world. It was founded in the mid-nineteenth century by Mirza Husayn Ali, known as Baha’ Ullah , meaning ‘The Glory of God’ in Iran (1817-1892). It spread to Europe, America, and elsewhere under the successors of Baha’Ullah. Currently there are estimated to be about 10 million Bahais  with the majority living in Asia, Africa, USA and Latin America.  The Bahai faith has been represented in Australia since 1920. There is a Bahai Temple at Ingleside in Sydney, NSW.

The main tenets are the unity of all religions and the unity of all humanity. Its principle centre is in Haifa, Israel, near the graves of Baha Ullah and his predecessor, The Bab.

The Founder of Bahai, Baha’Ullah: The founder of the Bahai faith, Baha’ Ullah (1817-1892) was amongst the earliest converts to the movement known as Babism, and in 1863 he proclaimed himself ‘He Whom God Shall Manifest’ as foretold by the Bab. The Bab or ‘Gateway’ (1819-1850) was the founder of a new religion in the Shia Muslim country, Iran. His teaching had a strong focus on a future messiah and it also rejected many of the teachings of the Islamic Sharia (Islamic Canonical Laws) and developed a metaphysics of its own. The Bab and his followers were severely persecuted by the Persian authorities and he himself was imprisoned and then executed in 1850. He is seen as the predecessor of the Bahai Messiah and bit like John the Baptist in Christianity.

Baha Ullah’s declaration of himself as the Messiahproduced a schism in the Babism community and led to violence. Baha Ullah was the victim of persecution and banishment by the Ottoman Turkish Empire authorities several times in his life and he ended his days as a prisoner in Acre in Palestine. He spent most of his time as a prisoner writing the Bahai scriptures. Baha Ullah claimed to be the founder of a new religion superseding all before him. He claimed to be a mirror reflecting the true nature of the unknowable God. His numerous writings are considered to be revelations. His most important book the Kitab i Aqdas (The Most Holy Book) contains detailed instructions for the Bahai life.

Bahai Beliefs: Bahai faith is very practical giving almost complete attention to ethical and social teachings. However, it does address some major theological issues:

  • Monotheistic: there is One all loving and creative force. God in himself is a completely unknowable essence who, however, manifests himself in a number of ways most especially in the creation of the world as a continuous process.
  • One Religion: there is really only one religion which is a gradual and developing process of knowing the essence of God expressed in different ways during history according to peoples’ capacity to understand throughout the ages.
  • Progressive Revelation: This knowledge has been gradually revealed by certain divine teachers beginning with Adam the first prophet, then through Abraham, Zoroaster, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, The Bab, and Baha Ullah basically updating information already available. To Bahai’s, Baba Ullah is the latest prophet and whose message supersedes all the previous prophets and is adapted to modern conditions and will endure into the future for at least 1,000 years. Each prophet in the series foretold the coming of the next one but usually most followers of the predecessor scorned the next prophet. There is no end to this process, no final revelation, no final prophet.
  • Changeless Faith: There is a changeless faith of God revealed by Baha Ullah, eternal in the past, present and in the Future, but a progressive revelation of this ultimate knowledge. Universal Truths taught by the Divine teachers: 
  • The unity of the human race, therefore Bahai rejects all racial, religious, political or other prejudice and insists upon equality of the sexes.
  • World peace is an important goal and therefore Bahai’s are pacifists and will not do military service.
  • Bahais believe that both poverty and wealth should be eliminated and therefore there is a 19% tithe on wealth for charity.
  • The ultimate goal is a type of world government in which the principles of equality and justice will prevail. To this end Bahais advocate an international language and the establishment of an international tribunal. They therefore strong supporters of the United Nations and its agencies.
  • Bahais should practice the Golden Rule to love one another as yourself.
  • Bahais believe in spiritual immortality. There is a deeper reality behind the physical though they give little attention to the hereafter and consider heaven and hell to be only symbols of man’s progress or lack of it in spiritual development.
  • Man has a dual nature: an animal nature that will not make us happy and spiritual nature that we can develop through prayer, meditation, good deeds, and spiritual striving which can lead to true bliss.
  • There is a big emphasis on ethics and the right and wrong of each situation we encounter in life.
  • Divine Physicians: Baha’Ullah taught that the prophets are what he called, ‘Divine Physicians’, and that different ages have different problems which require different ‘remedies. We should therefore be concerned with the problems the age that we live in and the remedies required: ‘Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age you live in”.
  • The differences that divide us must be healed. Therefore, Bahais should work to eliminate racism, economic injustice, gender equality and justice, science and religion in harmony are like ‘two wings of a bird and we need both wings to fly’: “Religion without science is superstition, Science without religion is materialism.”
  • Baha Ullah is the Divine Physician for this age. He encouraged all Bahais to bring love and harmony to an ailing planet, fight for social justice from a spiritual perspective. Live true lives of service.

Bahai Scriptures: The Bahai look at all the writings of Baha Ullah and his successors as scriptures. Most writings are in Persian, some in Arabic and a few in English.

The most important is the Kitab al-Aqdas meaning ‘The Most Holy Book’ which gives the fullest account of the laws and ordinances instituted by Baha Ullah, the Kitab-I Iqan: ‘The Book of Certitude’, Haft Wadi: ‘The Seven Valleys’. The writings of his predecessor, The Bab, ‘The Statement of Explanation’ (the Bayan) is considered to have been superseded by the revelations of Baha Ullah, as have the previous scriptures.

Bahai Faith in Practice: Bahais should read the sacred scriptures in the morning and evening:

  • They should say ‘God is most Glorious’, 95 times a day – “Allah-Abha”.
  • They should say a short prayer between noon and sunset: “I bear witness, O my God, Thou has created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify at this moment to my powerlessness to Thy might to my poverty and to Thy wealth that there is none other God but Thee: the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.”
  • Bahai does not encourage you to abandon your religion but rather to ‘Declare’ your adherence to Bahai teachings.
  • April 21st a message to all Bahais from their central administration, the Ridian Message, which gives advise to all Bahais for the year to come.
  • Fast each March.
  • 19% tithe on wealth for charity.
  • The world will grow more spiritual through the education of children, therefore there is a great emphasis on the importance of education.
  • Bahais are discourage from gossiping, don’t drink alcohol, no sex outside marriage, anti-gay, avoid politics, banned from begging, ban on monks and an ascetic lifestyle, encourage work ethic.

Summary of Bahai Beliefs: Shoghi Effendi, the head of the religion from 1921 to 1957, wrote the following summary of what he considered to be the distinguishing principles of Baháʼu’lláh’s teachings, which, he said, together with the laws and ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas constitute the bedrock of the Baháʼí Faith:

“… The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind—these stand out as the essential elements [which Baháʼu’lláh proclaimed].” – Shoghi Effendi: God Passes By, 1944.

Organization: There are no priests, though the community builds temples in various places, one of the most important being in Wilmette, Illinois, besides Lake Michigan in the USA.

  • Local spiritual councils with national spiritual assemblies, chosen by election, and culminating in a universal spiritual assembly known as the Universal House of Justice.
  • The Universal House of Justice has administrative, judicial, and legislative functions, and has the right to frame new rules for situations not provided for in the teachings of Baha Ullah.
  • Instruction and interpretation of doctrine for the Bahai community is provided by the ‘Guardian of the Cause of God’. The Guardian is assisted by a group called ‘Hands of the Cause of God’ whom he appoints.

A History of Persecution: Baháʼís continue to be persecuted in some majority-Islamic countries, whose leaders do not recognize the Baháʼí Faith as an independent religion, but rather as a group of heretics from Islam. The most severe persecutions have occurred in Iran, where more than 200 Baháʼís were executed between 1978 and 1998. The rights of Baháʼís have been restricted to greater or lesser extents in numerous other countries, including Egypt, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iraq, Morocco, Yemen, and several countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The severe persecution of Bahais in Muslim countries, especially Iran, has led to them migrating all over the world and spreading the Bahai faith to every corner of the world including Australia. The size and diverse composition of the Bahai community was boosted in the 1980s when Australia opened its doors to Baha’is fleeing the resurgence of persecution of their faith in Iran. Their subsequent settlement, integration and contribution to Australian life has been a major success story. In the 1990s, Baha’i centres were opened in Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and in some regional centres.

What Does the Bahai Faith mean To You? Asking a group of Bahai’s ‘What does being a Bahai mean to you?’ the following responses came back:

  • World peace is inevitable it will happen one day and do what we can to bring it about.
  • To be of service to humanity.
  • Everything reflects God. As humans we look after the world and we we look after animals.
  • Bahai provides solace and hope. It shines light on the Path and what I need to do to get there.
  • International cooperation.
  • Gender equality.
  • Climate change.
  • Equality of wealth.
  • Build our systems in mutual cooperation and love.