Introduction to the Bahá'í Faith
Outline of beliefs
The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá'u'lláh is that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in the non-essential aspects of their doctrines, and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society.
The central theme of the Bahá'í Faith Is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification in one global society. God, Bahá'u'lláh said, has set in motion historical forces that are breaking down traditional barriers of race, class, creed, and nation and that will, in time, give birth to a universal civilization. The principal challenge facing the peoples of the earth is to accept the fact of their oneness and to assist the processes of unification.
The Bahá'í Faith upholds the unity of God, recognizes the unity of His Prophets, and inculcates the principle of the oneness and wholeness of the entire human race. It proclaims the necessity and the inevitability of the unification of mankind, asserts that it is gradually approaching, and claims that nothing short of the transmuting spirit of God, working through His chosen Mouthpiece in this day, can ultimately succeed in bringing it about.
It, moreover, enjoins upon its followers the primary duty of an unfettered search alter truth, condemns all manner of prejudice and superstition, declares the purpose of religion to be the promotion of amity and concord, proclaims its essential harmony with science, and recognizes it as the foremost agency for the pacification and the orderly progress of human society. It unequivocally maintains the principle of equal rights, opportunities and privileges for men and women, insists on compulsory education, eliminates extremes of poverty and wealth, abolishes the institution of priesthood, prohibits slavery, asceticism, mendicancy and monasticism, prescribes monogamy, discourages divorce, emphasizes the necessity of strict obedience to one's government, exalts any work performed in the spirit of service to the level of worship, urges either the creation or the selection of an auxiliary international language, and delineates the outlines of those institutions that must establish and perpetuate the general peace of mankind.
The aim of Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet of this new and great age which humanity has entered upon-- He whose advent fulfils the prophecies of the Old and New Testaments as well as those of the Qur'án regarding the coming of the Promised One in the end of time, on the Day of Judgment -- is not to destroy but to fulfill the Revelations of the past, to reconcile rather than accentuate the divergences of the conflicting creeds which disrupt present-day society.
His purpose, far from belittling the station of the Prophets gone before Him or of whittling down their teachings, is to restate the basic truths which these teachings enshrine in a manner that would conform to the needs, and be in consonance with the capacity, and be applicable to the problems, the ills and perplexities, of the age in which we live. His mission is to proclaim that the ages of the infancy and of the childhood of the human race are past, that the convulsions associated with the present stage of its adolescence are slowly and painfully preparing it to attain the stage of manhood, and are heralding the approach of that Age of Ages when swords will be beaten into plowshares, when the Kingdom promised by Jesus Christ will have been established, and the peace of the planet definitely and permanently ensured.
Nor does Bahá'u'lláh claim finality for His own Revelation, but rather stipulates that a fuller measure of the truth He has been commissioned by the Almighty to vouchsafe to humanity, at so critical a juncture in its fortunes, must needs be disclosed at future stages in the constant and limitless evolution of mankind.
The Bahá'í Faith revolves around three central Figures. The first was a youth, a native of Shíráz, named 'Ali-Muhammad, known as the Báb ("Gate"), who in May, 1844, advanced the claim of being the Herald Who, according to the sacred Scriptures, would announce and prepare the way for the advent of One Who would inaugurate an era of righteousness and peace. Swift and severe persecution followed, and precipitated successively His arrest, His exile to the mountains of Adhírbáyján, His imprisonment, and His execution, in July of 1850.
The second was Husayn-'Alí, surnamed Bahá'u'lláh ("Glory of God"), assailed by those same forces of persecution, was imprisoned in Tehran, was banished in 1852 to Baghdad, and thence to Constantinople and Adrianople, and finally to the prison city of 'Akká, where He remained incarcerated for no less than twenty-four years, and in whose neighborhood He passed away in 1892.
In the course of His banishment, He formulated the laws and ordinances of His Dispensation, expounded, in over a hundred volumes, the principles of His faith, proclaimed His message to the kings and rulers of both the east and the west, both Christian and Muslim, addressed the Pope, the Caliph of Islám, the chief magistrates of the republics of the American continent, the entire Christian sacerdotal order, the leaders of Shí'ih and Sunní Islám, and the high priests of the Zoroastrian religion.
The third was His eldest son 'Abbás Effendi, known as `Abdu'l-Bahá ("Servant of Bahá"), who was appointed by Bahá'u'lláh as His lawful successor and the authorized interpreter of His teachings. `Abdu'l-Bahá remained a prisoner until 1908, when, as a result of the Young Turk Revolution, He was released from His confinement. Establishing His residence in Haifa, He embarked soon after on His three-year journey to Egypt, Europe and North America, in the course of which He expounded before vast audiences, the teachings of His Father. In 1921 He passed away, and was buried on Mount Carmel.
Bahá'í faith is the newest, fastest growing and second most wide-spread of all the world's major independent religions, embracing more than five million members from 2100 ethnic, racial and tribal groups in over 200 countries and territories. It claims to be the most recent of God's revelations, uniquely designed to meet the needs of a rapidly maturing world.
There is no clergy in the Bahá'í Faith. Bahá'í institutions govern the administrative affairs of the Faith. In each locality, nine-member assemblies are elected annually. At the national level are National Spiritual Assemblies, consisting of nine members, elected annually by representatives of the Bahá'ís in each country. At the international level is the Universal House of Justice, centered in Haifa, Israel, elected every five years by members of the National Spiritual Assemblies throughout the world.
The Path to Peace
Peace is a natural and spontaneous outcome in human affairs once certain prerequisites are met. At all levels of human interaction, the most important condition which brings about peace is unity. Unity of the wife and husband is the cause of peace in the family; unity among the nations of the world will herald world peace. Unity rests on the elimination of prejudices, universal education, and the establishment of justice in the affairs of the peoples of the world.
The Bahá'í community has made a number of specific attempts to bring to the attention of the leaders and peoples of the challenge to achieve world peace. Bahá'u'lláh addressed a number of letters to the leaders and peoples of the world while in prison and exile in the nineteenth century, calling upon them to focus their attention to the issues of peace and justice. 'Abdul-Bahá likewise devoted his life and work to the cause of peace, traveling to Europe and North America in 1911-1913 and elaborating on various components of peace and unity. These writings are available for study.