Although the Baha’i faith is one of the youngest world religions, it involves millions of followers in the exceptional geographically diverse community. Originating in the middle of the 19th century in Persia, now Iran, it spread to different continents, and now it is present in many countries. The unique nature of the Baha’i faith implies the acceptance and inclusiveness of all global religions as valid. In essence, the views of the Baha’is are founded on the teaching about the oneness of God, who sends the divine messengers like Muhammad, Moses, Zoroaster, or Jesus. The differences between religions are interpreted through the fact that they developed in different cultural and historical environments and fulfilled the societies’ needs in each period. However, modern reality requires different beliefs that focus on equality of all people, and see “the entire human race as one soul and one body” (“What Bahá’ís Believe”). While many religions rely on ancient doctrines, Baha’is prefer to face contemporary challenges of the global community. Thus, the celebration of other beliefs, social service, and humanistic values, make the Baha’i faith unique and unprecedented.
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The Brief History of Baha’i Faith
In comparison to most of the global religions, the Baha’i faith is relatively young, as it emerged only in 1844. The teaching was founded by Bab, who encouraged his small group of followers to seek truth without reliance on rituals and clergy (Momen “The Reading of Scripture” 137). The Bab announces himself to be the divine messenger of God who then inspired one of his followers Baha’u’llah to become the spiritual leader of the new faith. The latter is believed to be the founder of the entire global movement as he first put down all the prophecies of the Bab and the essential beliefs in his Writings. Today, these revelations are considered sacred texts of the Baha’i faith.
From the inception of the new religion, its followers have experienced persecution from the state. Baha’u’llah himself was imprisoned and then banished from the country, living many years in the mountains and gathering new followers. This exile to Kurdistan and later to Turkey helped the faith to spread abroad. For more than one and a half centuries, Baha’i of Persia has been through severe persecutions and even genocide of the national scale (Momen “The Baha’i Community of Iran”). According to Momen, The present Islamic government of Iran has been exceptionally hostile to the Baha’is, imprisoning and executing the leaders after secret trials (“The Baha’i Community of Iran”). Modern Baha’i religion is popular in many countries and has “an estimated global population of 5 million” (Momen “The Baha’i Community of Iran”). Over the years, the faith was led by Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi – its spiritual leaders and the successors of Baha’u’llah. However, today it is governed by the Universal House of Justice and its regularly elected nine members.
Baha’i Teaching and Beliefs
The sacred texts of Baha’u’llah are considered the essential source among the religion’s followers. The Scripture reflects the core values of the religion, where Baha’u’llah has “formulated its laws and ordinances, enunciated its principles, and ordained its institutions” (UHJ). Momen summarizes these writings in the three fundamental viewpoints – the oneness of God, the universalism of religion, and the wholeness of humanity (“The Reading of Scripture” 137). One God is believed to be sending prophets who become the founders of different religions and reveal his message to people. Although world religions differ, the Baha’is believe that they all are the manifestations of the same faith, which has evolved in different epochs and in different cultures to correspond to the needs of people. The Baha’is believe that modern global society needs to become united under the commonly shared values that are based on equality and humanism.
The views of Bab’s followers were revolutionary in Persia of the 19th century as he proclaimed the equality of all people, including gender equality that was non-conforming to the Muslim beliefs. According to Zabihi-Moghaddam, the equal rights of men and women were seen as a “fundamental spiritual, moral, and social principle” (137). Today, Baha’is see marriage as the spiritual union of a man and a woman who foster love, harmony, and respect for each other. Unlike the Muslims believe, there is no subordination between partners, and parents cannot influence the decisions. The Baha’is share humanistic values, such as the worthiness of each human being, social justice, or equal access to education. Their world-embracing vision is reflected in the symbolism they use in their temples. The nine-pointed star is the global symbol of the Baha’i faith, emphasizing the meaning of completeness assigned to this number. However, they also use other images of different world religions, such as a cross or the Star of David.
Religious Practices of Baha’i Faith
The Baha’i practices do not include sermons or rituals, unlike most of the religions, and people mostly gather in the temples to hear the Scripture or sing. Such practices as daily prayer, meditation, reading from Scripture are encouraged but not required from each adult individual. Moreover, they are expected to reflect on the ways of how to implement the teaching in action and service. The Baha’is pursue the dual goal that implies the adherence to individual spiritual growth and service to other people (“What Bahá’ís Do”). According to Fozdar, the Baha’is demonstrate a solid work ethic, believing that “all forms of work are worship” (276). The leading religious practice of the Baha’is faith is service to others and the transformation of society. That is why they support many global initiatives and engage in different UN projects that aspire to transform and improve the world.
The structure of the Baha’is faith differs from other religions because of the absence of priesthood or clergy, making each individual be in charge of their spiritual growth and relationship with God. The governing responsibility lies on the United House of Justice – a global institution that is ruled by nine leaders from global religions, re-elected every five years. However, even these representatives do not have the ultimate power, as their influence and obligations are assigned by the constitution of JHU. According to the document, they are responsible for the protection of the Scripture, the promotion of the faith, and the application of laws and principles (JHU). Each follower of the Bab is therefore expected to adhere to these rules and become a valuable representative of the church through the service to society.
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Baha’i Religion and its Place in the World
Although the Baha’is are not so numerous as other religions, they claim to be a worldwide faith that embraces globalization. Currently, they are the second geographically diverse religion after Christianity and intend to become “the vanguard of a global community which will ultimately encompass the entire population” (Fozdar 275). The Baha’is have their temples in many of the world’s large urban areas, where they strive to make an impact in their communities and try to spread their beliefs appealing to different cultures and peoples. Today, the Baha’i faith connects people who come from different religious and cultural backgrounds motivating them to unite and serve the global community.
Many religions in world history have tried to become global, and their ambitions led to wars and human tragedies. However, the approach of the Baha’is faith is unique as it offers an entirely different way of globalization. Unlike many other religions, they do not aim to impose their rules and conquer the people, but rather accept the diversity of the cultures. The ways the Baha’is address contemporary social problems suggest that they aspire to become a modern religion that answers the needs of the people. Modern Baha’is cooperate with charity programs and NGOs to fight for universal education, global justice, and “the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty” (Fozdar 276). That is why the Baha’i faith offers an exceptional perspective of the world that does not hold onto traditionalism but embraces transformation for the better future of all people on Earth.
Although the Baha’i religion is relatively new, it grows fast in different countries, becoming a diverse and inclusive spiritual movement. Its followers adhere to the idea of the oneness of God and believe that there is the universal creator of the whole world represented by divine prophets. The Baha’is values emphasize practical service in addressing the world’s most pressing problems. Their unique vision of cultural and religious pluralism is unprecedented as it equally embraces all people and their beliefs and aims at achieving global unity.
Fozdar, Farida. “The Baha’i Faith: A Case Study in Globalization, Mobility band the Routinization of Charisma.” Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, vol. 28, no. 3, 2015, pp. 274–292. Web.
Momen, Moojan. “The Baha’i Community of Iran: Cultural Genocide and Resilience.” Cultural Genocide: Law, Politics, and Global Manifestations, edited by Jeffrey S. Bachman, Routledge, 2019.
—. “The Reading of Scripture: A Baha’i Approach.” Reading the Sacred Scriptures: from Oral Tradition to Written Documents and Their Reception, edited by Fiachra Long and Siobhan Dowling Long, Routledge, 2018, pp. 137-153.
UHJ. The Constitution of the Universal House of Justice, 2020. Web.
“What Bahá’ís Believe.” The Baha’i Faith, 2020. Web.
“What Bahá’ís Do: Response to the Call of Bahá’u’lláh.” The Baha’i Faith, 2020. Web.
Zabihi-Moghaddam, Siyamak. “Spousal Equality in Baha’i Law: The Emergence of Provisions on the Dissolution of Marriage in Iran, 1873–1954.” Journal of Women’s History, vol. 29, no. 3, 2017, pp. 137-160. Web.