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Baha'i Faith Introduction


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Archive-name: bahai-faith/introduction
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Last-Modified: 1-Oct-1996

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This periodically posted article is adapted from an introduction to
the Baha'i Faith prepared by Kamran Hakim and Mike Register.  Our
thanks to Kamran for permission to modify and use it here.

[An up to date version of this introduction can always be obtained via 
 anonymous ftp (give Name as "anonymous" and your login name as your 
 password) from rtfm.mit.edu in the directory /pub/usenet/soc.religion.bahai]

 
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                               CONTENTS
 
This article is comprised of the following sections.  For your
convenience in searching, all section headings start in column 1.
 
        BAHA'I TEACHINGS
        EARLY HISTORY
        RECENT HISTORY AND CURRENT STATUS
        REFERENCES
 
 
BAHA'I TEACHINGS
 
Some of the basic principles of the Baha'i Faith are:
 
1.  The oneness of humankind
 
"It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but
rather for him who loveth the whole world.  The earth is but one
country and mankind its citizens." --Gleanings from the Writings of
Baha'u'llah, p. 250.
 
2.  The oneness of religion
 
"All these divisions we see on all sides, all these disputes and
opposition, are caused because men cling to ritual and outward
observances, and forget the simple, underlying truth.  It is the
outward practices of religion that are so different, and it is they
that cause disputes and enmity -- while the reality is always the
same, and one.  The Reality is the Truth, and truth has no division.
Truth is God's guidance, it is the light of the world, it is love, it
is mercy.  These attributes of truth are also human virtues inspired
by the Holy Spirit."  --`Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 120-1.
 
3.  Independent investigation of truth
 
"Furthermore, know ye that God has created in man the power of reason,
whereby man is enabled to investigate reality.  God has not intended
man to imitate blindly his fathers and ancestors.  He has endowed him
with mind, or the faculty of reasoning, by the exercise of which he is
to investigate and discover the truth, and that which he finds real
and true he must accept." --`Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of
Universal Peace, p. 291.
 
4.  Religion as a source of unity
 
"He (Baha'u'llah) sets forth a new principle for this day in the
announcement that religion must be the cause of unity, harmony and
agreement among mankind.  If it be the cause of discord and hostility,
if it leads to separation and creates conflict, the absence of
religion would be preferable in the world." --`Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i
World Faith, p. 247.
 
5.  The evolutionary nature of religion
 
Baha'is view religion as a progressive, evolutionary process which
needs to be updated as humanity evolves mentally, socially, and
spiritually.  Every so often a new Prophet is sent to humanity to
update religion to the current needs of humanity.  These Prophets bring
essentially the same spiritual message to humankind; in a form that
meets the needs of the people of Their time.  Baha'is believe that
Baha'u'llah has brought an updated message for humanity today.
 
"There is no distinction whatsoever among the Bearers of My Message.
They all have but one purpose; their secret is the same secret.  To
prefer one in honor to another, to exalt certain ones above the rest,
is in no wise to be permitted.  Every true Prophet hath regarded His
Message as fundamentally the same as the Revelation of every other
Prophet gone before Him...
The measure of the revelation of the Prophets of God in this world,
however, must differ.  Each and every one of them hath been the Bearer
of a distinct Message, and hath been commissioned to reveal Himself
through specific acts.  It is for this reason that they appear to vary
in their greatness...
It is clear and evident, therefore, that any apparent variation in the
intensity of their light is not inherent in the light itself, but
should rather be attributed to the varying receptivity of an
ever-changing world.  Every Prophet Whom the Almighty and Peerless
Creator hath purposed to send to the peoples of the earth hath been
entrusted with a Message, and charged to act in a manner that would
best meet the requirements of the age in which He appeared."
--Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, pp.78-9.
 
6.  Harmony between religion, science, and reason
 
"Religion and science are the two wings upon which man's intelligence
can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress.  It
is not possible to fly with one wing alone!  Should a man try to fly
with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the
quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of
science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the
despairing slough of materialism."  --`Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks,
p.143.
 
7.  Peaceful consultation as a means for resolving differences
 
In the Baha'i Faith, difference of opinion is not squelched, in fact
it is encouraged.
 
"The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of
differing opinions." --Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Baha,
p.87.
 
However, differences of opinion can be expressed in a way that doesn't
humiliate another human being.  The Baha'i principle of consultation
requires that an individual be detached from his or her opinions and
always be open to the truth, from whoever or wherever it comes from.
 
"They must then proceed with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity,
care and moderation to express their views.  They must in every manner
search out the truth and not insist upon their own opinion, for
stubbornness and persistence in one's views will lead ultimately to
discord and wrangling and the truth will remain hidden.  The honored
members (of the consulting body) must with all freedom express their
own thoughts, and it is in no wise permissible for one to belittle the
thought of another, nay, he must with moderation set forth the
truth..."  --Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Baha, p.88.
 
8.  An international auxiliary language
 
"It behoveth the sovereigns of the world -- may God assist them -- or
the ministers of the earth to take counsel together and to adopt one
of the existing languages or a new one to be taught to children in
schools throughout the world, and likewise one script.  Thus the whole
earth will come to be regarded as one country." --Baha'u'llah, Tablet
of Bisharat (Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 22.)
 
9.  Universal education
 
"Unto every father hath been enjoined the instruction of his son and
daughter in the art of reading and writing and in all that hath been
laid down in the Holy Tablet.  He that putteth away that which is
commanded unto him, the Trustees of the House of Justice are then to
recover from him that which is required for their instruction, if he
be wealthy, and if not the matter devolveth upon the House of Justice.
Verily, have We made it a shelter for the poor and needy.  He that
bringeth up his son or the son of another, it is as though he hath
brought up a son of Mine; upon him rest My Glory, My Loving-Kindness,
My Mercy, that have compassed the world." --Baha'u'llah, Tablet of
Ishraqat (Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p.128).
 
10.  The elimination of all forms of prejudice
 
"...again, as to religious, racial, national and political bias: all
these prejudices strike at the very root of human life; one and all
they beget bloodshed, and the ruination of the world.  So long as
these prejudices survive, there will be continuous and fearsome wars."
--Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Baha, p.249.
 
11.  Equality of men and women
 
"To accept and observe a distinction which God has not intended in
creation is ignorance and superstition.  The fact which is to be
considered, however, is that woman, having formerly been deprived,
must now be allowed equal opportunities with man for education and
training.  There must be no difference in their education.  Until the
reality of equality between man and woman is fully established and
attained, the highest social development of mankind is not possible."
--`Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.76.
 
12.  The abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty
 
"O Ye Rich Ones on Earth!
The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not
intent only on your own ease."  --The Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah,
p.41.
 
"We see amongst us men who are overburdened with riches on the one
hand, and on the other those unfortunate ones who starve with nothing;
those who possess several stately palaces, and those who have not
where to lay their head.  Some we find with numerous courses of costly
and dainty food; whilst others can scarce find sufficient crusts to
keep them alive.  Whilst some are clothed in velvets, furs and fine
linen, others have insufficient, poor and thin garments with which to
protect them from the cold.
 
This condition of affairs is wrong and must be remedied.  Now the
remedy must be carefully undertaken."  -`Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks,
p.151.
 
13.  Universal peace
 
"The time must come when the imperative necessity for the holding of a
vast, an all-embracing assemblage of men will be universally realized.
The rulers and kings of the earth must needs attend it, and,
participating in its deliberations, must consider such ways and means
as will lay the foundations of the world's Great Peace amongst men.
Such a peace demandeth that the Great Powers should resolve, for the
sake of the tranquillity of the peoples of the earth, to be fully
reconciled among themselves.  Should any king take up arms against
another, all should unitedly arise and prevent him.  If this be done,
the nations of the world will no longer require any armaments, except
for the purpose of preserving the security of their realms and of
maintaining internal order within their territories."  --Gleanings
from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 249.
 
 
EARLY HISTORY
 
In May of 1844, a young Persian by the name of Siyyid `Ali Muhammad
declared that He was the promised Qa'im of Shi'ah Islam.  He assumed
the title of The Bab (Gate).  The Bab's mission was twofold: He first
announced to the people of His native land His own station as an
independent Messenger and He also prepared the way for the coming of
another Manifestation (messenger) of God, a Prophet who would announce
His station soon after The Bab.
 
The next six years marked a dramatic increase in both the number of
persons who became followers of the Bab and in the energy spent by the
Shi'ah clergy of Iran to stamp out this new religion.  Eventually
20,000 Babis would be put to death for their beliefs.  The Bab Himself
was imprisoned and was executed in July of 1850.
 
Many Babis were also imprisoned.  Among them was Husayn-`Ali, entitled
Baha'u'llah (The Glory of God) by The Bab.  Imprisoned for several
months in 1853 in Tehran and then exiled to Iraq, in the city of
Baghdad in 1863 Baha'u'llah announced to the world His station as the
One for Whom the Bab had prepared the way.  The majority of the Babis
accepted Baha'u'llah's claim and became known as Baha'is (the
followers of Baha).
 
Shortly after His declaration, Baha'u'llah was again banished, even
further From His native land: from Baghdad to Constantinople, and then
to Adrianople.  Finally in 1867, Baha'u'llah was exiled for the last
time.  He was sent to the prison city of Akka (Acre) in Palestine.  He
would stay in and around Akka until the end of His life in 1892.
 
Before Baha'u'llah passed away, He appointed His eldest son,
`Abdu'l-Baha, to be the center of His Covenant and the interpreter of
His writings.  `Abdu'l-Baha was leader of the Baha'i Faith until His
own passing in 1921.  Although He is not considered to be a
Manifestation of God like the Bab and Baha'u'llah, `Abdu'l-Baha's
decisions are believed to have been divinely guided and His writings
(along with the Bab's and Baha'u'llah's) are considered a part of the
Baha'i sacred scripture.  After being released from the prison in
Akka, `Abdu'l-Baha made several journeys to the West, including a trip
to America in 1912.
 
 
RECENT HISTORY AND CURRENT STATUS
 
`Abdu'l-Baha stated in his Will and Testament that leadership of the
Baha'i community was to be passed on to his eldest grandson, Shoghi
Effendi, who became the "Guardian" of the Baha'i community after
`Abdu'l-Baha died.  Shoghi Effendi led the Baha'is until his passing
in 1957.  It was under Shoghi Effendi's leadership that the Baha'i
Faith spread to all corners of the world.  Today there are Baha'is in
over 200 countries and territories and Baha'i literature has been
translated into over 700 different languages.
 
Consistent with the Baha'i principle of independent investigation of
truth, according to which no individual Baha'i may offer an
interpretation of the Baha'i Writings by which others are bound, there
is no clergy in the Baha'i Faith.  Baha'i institutions govern the
administrative affairs of the Faith.  In each locality, nine-member
boards known as Local Spiritual Assemblies are elected annually.  At
the national level are National Spiritual Assemblies, also consisting
of nine members, elected annually by representatives of the Baha'is in
each country.  At the international level is the Universal House of
Justice, centered in Haifa, Israel (just across the bay from the
prison city of Akka, where Baha'u'llah and `Abdu'l-Baha were
imprisoned).  The Universal House of Justice also consists of nine
members and is elected every five years by members of the National
Spiritual Assemblies throughout the world.  The Universal House of
Justice has final responsibility for overseeing the international
Baha'i community.
 
 
REFERENCES
 
For those interested in reading more about the Baha'i Faith, a few
references are listed below.  Some of these volumes can be found at
your local public library.  In addition, many Baha'i communities have
lending libraries and, in varying degrees, bookstore capabilities.
 
General
 
  Hatcher, W.S. and Martin, G.D. "The Baha'i Faith: The Emerging
    Global Religion", Harper & Row, New York, 1986.
 
Baha'i Sacred Writings
 
  "Baha'i World Faith: Selected Writings of Baha'u'llah and
    `Abdu'l-Baha", Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, IL, 1956,
    reprinted 1976.
 
  "Tablets of Baha'u'llah revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas", Baha'i
    World Center, Haifa, 1978.
 
  "Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah", translated by Shoghi
    Effendi.  Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, IL, 1939, 3rd ed.
    1976.
 
  "The Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah", Baha'i Publishing Trust,
    Wilmette, IL, 1939, 11th ed. 1980.
 
  "Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Baha", Baha'i World Center,
    Haifa, 1978.
 
  `Abdu'l-Baha. "Some Answered Questions", Baha'i Publishing Trust,
    Wilmette, IL rev. ed. 1981.
 
  `Abdu'l-Baha. "Paris Talks: Addresses Given by `Abdu'l-Baha in Paris
    in 1911-12" Baha'i Publishing Trust, London, 11th ed. 1969.
 
  `Abdu'l-Baha. "The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered
    by `Abdu'l-Baha During His Visit to the United States and Canada
    in 1912", Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, IL, 1982.
 
Baha'i History
 
  Effendi, Shoghi. "God Passes By", Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette,
    IL, 1944.
 
  Balyuzi, H.M. "Baha'u'llah, the King of Glory", George Ronald,
    Oxford, 1980.

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