who started the Baha'i faith or how did it come about?
Well, I suppose the shortest possible answer is that God did! :-)
This by sending a new Divine Messenger to reveal God's latest teachings to us.
Here's a general summary of the Faith, which begins with a brief history.
Enjoy, and do keep the questions coming! :-)
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*** THE BAHA'I FAITH ***
The Baha'i Faith (pronounced "ba HIGH") is the newest of the major world religions. It began in 1844 in Persia, and has now spread to literally every country. In terms of localities where members live, it is also the second most widespread religion on earth (Christianity is first) [source: Encyclopedia Britannica], and is also the fastest-growing religion among those already established in over 100 countries [source: World Christian Encyclopedia].
In 1844, a young man in Persia took the title Bab ("the Gate"), and announced that He was a divine Messenger and that another Messenger would soon appear. The Bab quickly amassed a large following, but opposition by Muslim clergy and government officials soon turned to oppression, and thousands (including the Bab Himself) were put to death.
One of the Bab's followers, a young nobleman, was imprisoned as part of this attempt to stamp out the infant faith. The Bab had given Him the title Baha'u'llah ("Glory of God"). While in prison, He received a vision that He was the new Messenger foretold by the Bab. Baha'u'llah and His family were exiled several times, and finally sent to the prison city of Akka, Palestine (now Israel), where He spent the rest of His life. During His ministry, He wrote over 100 volumes, and the number of His followers (now called Baha'is--"of Glory") increased.
Baha'u'llah died in 1892. In His will, He appointed his eldest son, 'Abdu'l-Baha, as His successor and the official interpreter of His writings. Eventually released from prison in 1907, 'Abdu'l-Baha traveled the world teaching the Faith (he visited the United States in 1912). 'Abdu'l-Baha wrote a number of books explaining and amplifying the teachings of Baha'u'llah.
The works of the Bab, Baha'u'llah, and 'Abdu'l-Baha, which comprise about 200 different volumes, comprise the Baha'i scriptures. Baha'is also recognize other books such as the Bible and the Qur'an, as scriptural.
Upon 'Abdu'l-Baha's death, his will appointed his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, to head the faith. During his lifetime, Shoghi Effendi worked to teach the Faith and to establish the Baha'i administrative order set out in the Baha'i scriptures. Since Shoghi Effendi's death in 1957, the Baha'i Faith has been run by the elected bodies of this administrative order.
The Baha'i Faith teaches that, for the individual, this life is a time of acquiring spiritual qualities in preparation for the afterlife. Existence-- both here and otherwise--is a gradual process of spiritual growth, of drawing closer to God. (We never attain the station of God or "become Gods.") What makes this life unique is that here, we have free will and control our own growth or lack thereof. After death, our progress is at God's will. While we have no details, our scriptures tell us that the next life will be inexpressibly wondrous!
Heaven and Hell are not places, but spiritual conditions: Heaven is nearness to God; Hell, separation. As such, they exist here and now as well as after death: which one any of us is in at any given moment is a function of where his/her head is at that moment. Just as a child in its mother's womb is acquiring the physical tools it will need here (and will be handicapped if it fails to do so), so we are acquiring the spiritual tools needed after death (and will be impaired then if we don't). The more spiritual, the "nearer" to God. Thus, although spiritual growth will indeed continue then, the awareness of one's spiritual station compared to what one might have been (i.e., the relative "nearness to" or "separation from" God) will seem a Heaven or Hell after death.
The most important spiritual teachings of the Baha'i Faith are what we call the �Three Onenesses."
1. The first is the oneness of God. There is only one God, known by different names in different languages and cultures. God is unknowable by human means; the only knowledge of God possible to humankind is that brought by His divine Messengers.
2. The second is the oneness of humankind: there is only one race, the human race, and we are members of one family.
3. The third is the oneness of religion. All the major religions of the world are divine in origin, sent by God as stages in a single evolving divine plan, the Faith of God.
Baha'is believe in what is called "progressive revelation." We believe that God made a Covenant with Abraham that humanity would never be left without Divine Guidance. In fulfillment of this, God periodically sends a Divine Messenger to renew religion (getting it "back on the rails" by eliminating man-made additions and alterations) and to bring humanity new teachings in accord with its abilities and needs at that time. (Such Messengers usually appear every 500-1,000 years.) A few have been: Moses, Jesus, Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Muhammad, and Baha�u�llah (our Founder); there will be more in the future.
A Messenger has a dual station; He is both a man (who was born, died, etc.) and also a Manifestation of the eternal spirit of God. He may be likened to a mirror reflecting the sun. It is correct to point to the mirror and say, "That is the sun." It is also correct to say "That's not the sun, only a mirror." Thus Jesus said, "Why callest thou Me good? There is none good but God" (Jesus the man speaking), but also said "Before Abraham was, I am" and "No one comes to the Father but by Me" (the eternal spirit speaking, here called "Christ"). This latter "but by Me" quote refers to the fact that only through these Messengers can humankind know God, and it is the Holy Spirit investing all these Messengers that makes Them all one and all equal parts of this Only Way!
BTW, we see the Biblical "end of the world" prophecies as in fact a mistranslation. The word in the original Greek is "eras," which means "world" or 'age." IOV the translators used the wrong word, and these prophecies in fact refer to the end of the Age!
Baha'is see both humanity and religion as evolving over time. This process of the repeated appearance of many Messengers over time is how the Faith of God advances.
Spiritual teachings are eternal and unchanging (there is a God, don't murder, the Golden Rule, we are here for a reason, etc.). All the religions teach the same spiritual truths, though expressed differently or in greater degree as humankind's capacity increases. (Recall, for example, Jesus' amplifying "thou shalt not kill" into "unjustified anger is equivalent to murder.")
Social teachings are temporary. Each Messenger brings new social laws suited to humankind's situation and needs at the time, rescinding the old laws. Social laws deal with such things as marriage and divorce, diet, obligatory prayers, fasting, etc.. (Jesus abrogated the Jewish law of the Sabbath, for example.) Some of the Baha'i social teachings follow.
We see the Baha'i Faith as the fulfillment of the prophecies of earlier religions. Among others, this includes the promise of Jesus that He had more to tell us, and that He would send the Spirit of Truth to us. Baha'is believe that Baha'u'llah fulfills this promised Return of the Christ Spirit with the new name which the Bible prophesied. And further, we are certain that this religious process will, over the centuries, bring about the promised Kingdom of God on earth.
As humankind evolves, our capacities increase. Baha'u'llah tells us that humankind is now entering young adulthood. Because each person now has the ability to investigate the Truth him- or herself, each now has the obligation to examine the various religions, determine where the truth lies, and follow it (we call this "Individual Investigation of Truth"). No one has the right to tell another what to believe. Therefore, the Baha'i Faith has no clergy or hierarchy: everyone is "just a Baha'i."
Further, while parents have the obligation to instruct children (in all the great religions), they may not force them to become Baha'i: that decision is up to the child, and no stigma is attached to being Baha'i or not being Baha'i. (We don't say that we're right and everyone else is wrong.) Membership in the Faith is not inherited; upon reaching the age of maturity (15), one is only considered a Baha'i if one has requested such. Thus a 15-year-old may choose to become a Baha'i, to join some other religion, or to join nothing at all! And the parents must support this decision.
And it is in this spirit that we tell you and others about the Baha'i Faith: we hope you'll investigate it, learn about it from many sources, and come to your own informed conclusion about it. We have no desire or interest in having unthinking or uninformed followers!
The Baha'i Faith was the first to proclaim the equality of men and women in its original Revelation. In fact, one of the first Babis (followers of the Bab) was publicly executed for daring to remove her veil and proclaim this principle.
Now in the interest of full disclosure and because I don't want to be accused of misleading you, I will tell you up front that there is one-and only one-apparent anomaly in the Baha'i Faith. While we are indeed working for the equality of women, the Baha'i scriptures require that our world-level elected body (about which more below) be composed of nine men. We do not understand the reason for this (though they say we will someday), but as we do not have the right to alter our scriptures, we obey this.
In every other way, we do everything we can to promote women's advancement and equality! Not only do we have development projects the world around to advance women, but women hold many prominent and important positions throughout the Faith (with the sole exception of this one nine-member body); in addition, we are formal members of UNIFEM, the UN agency for women's equality-and indeed, recently chaired its meetings! In addition, the Baha'i scriptures give women-ALL women world wide-an important special privilege: every woman has precedence over men for receipt of education!
Another teaching of the Faith is universal compulsory education. This both allows learning a profession and enables one to read the various holy scriptures--needed for the investigation of truth described above. (And as I said earlier, if resources don't permit educating everyone at once, all girls and women have absolute priority over men for receipt of education.)
The Faith teaches the essential harmony of science and religion, and states that religion must be in accord with science and reason. The purpose of science is to tell HOW; that of religion to tell WHO and WHY. Ignoring either one, or using either in the other's place quickly leads to problems. Science without religion is gross materialism; religion without science is superstition and witch-burning.
A universal auxiliary language--either new or already existing--is necessary so that all peoples can communicate. This would be in addition to one's native tongue and culture.
While absolute equality is neither necessary nor desirable, extremes of wealth and poverty must be abolished.
Abolition of all forms of prejudice is also necessary, including--among others--racism, religious and class distinctions, and nationalism.
Work, done in the spirit of service to humanity, is raised to the status of worship of God.
The nations of the world must unite in a democratically-elected world government.
The Baha'i Faith teaches that truth is relative, and that the only absolute is God. Evil, while it exists, is a negative entity: the absence of good. In the same way, light exists and dark is its absence, not a separate existence: this is proven by the fact that you can bring light into a room, but not bring in dark.) Also, a thing may be good in one circumstance, but bad in another. God has no equal or rival! "Satan" merely refers to our lower, animal nature when we give it control instead of our higher, spiritual nature.
All creation is essentially good. Salvation consists of knowing and following God's purpose for mankind; it is to this end that God has sent and will continue to send Messengers. And our purpose here is twofold:
* As individuals, we are to acquire the spiritual virtues we need in both this life and the Next.
* In aggregate, we are to carry forward an ever-advancing, spiritually-based civilization.
And the purpose of religion is to show us HOW to go about this!
Here are just a few of the Baha'i ordinances and practices:
� As I said above, our primary goal is to work for unity, peace, love, harmony, and concord. In furtherance of this, and for our own spiritual well-being, backbiting and gossip are condemned in the strongest possible terms! (Indeed, the Baha'i scriptures describe backbiting as the one crime worse than murder.)
� Aggression and waging war are explicitly forbidden, with a single exception, specifically: if anyone attacks another nation, then it is the duty of every other nation in the world to bind together to stop him!
� Baha'is don't use recreational drugs or alcohol. There are no dietary restrictions or forbidden foods. Baha'is are commanded to see doctors when ill.
� Baha'is, while promoting unity, avoid partisan politics and divisiveness.
� Baha'is endeavor to obey the laws of the countries where they live, with the sole exception that they will not deny their Faith if commanded to do so.
� Baha'is observe a fasting period once a year, and celebrate eleven holy days based upon Baha'i history.
� There are no restrictions on dress save moderation, and Baha'is live and work ordinary lives like others: they don't live in communal groups or separate societies, and aren't in any way noticeable by their appearance.
� Art, music, and other forms of creative expression are appreciated and often practiced by Baha'is. Baha'is work in many professions just like others.
The goal of the Baha'i Faith is to foster unity. This is the purpose of the Baha'i administrative system, which is delineated in the Baha'i scriptures.
The Baha'i calendar consists of nineteen months of nineteen days (plus several extra days in February/March to make an even solar year).
On the first day of each month, the Baha'is of each community gather for the Nineteen Day Feast. The feast has three parts: prayers, readings, and often music; community business; and refreshments and fellowship. The feast is the primary gathering within Baha'i communities, and is the main opportunity for the assembly and the community to consult together. Baha'is have no rituals nor ceremonies, but the feast is the nearest analogy to the service in Judeo-Christian faiths.
Baha'i administration is geographically based: a Baha'i is automatically a member of the Baha'i community in whose area he or she resides.
Baha'is in each community of nine or more annually elect their nine-member administrative body, the Local Spiritual Assembly. The assembly's function is the spiritual well-being and leadership of the community under its jurisdiction.
Baha'i elections are non-political in nature. There is no nomination nor campaigning, and discussion of individual personalities is forbidden. Each individual, after prayer and meditation, votes by secret ballot for the nine persons he or she believes are best qualified to serve; the nine receiving the most votes are automatically elected. Thus, each person tends to vote for persons he or she personally feels are best qualified, and those so considered by the greatest number of persons tend to be elected.
In case of a tie, the position automatically goes to the minority individual (the definition of "minority" varies according to locale). If no minority is represented among those tying, or if there is uncertainty about whether the minority rule applies, a run-off vote takes place among those tying.
Because individuals have neither the right to "run for office," nor--except for reasons such as ill health--to refuse to serve once elected, the divisiveness of conventional politics is eliminated. Further, elected individuals have no special status; they are "just Baha'is." It is only the assemblies themselves, meeting officially, that have authority, not the individuals on them.
Also, once elected, assemblies are not answerable to their communities for assembly decisions. This, with the secret ballot and lack of campaigning, eliminates the "I voted for you: now, here's what I want you to do for me" syndrome. (Of course, any assembly member abusing nonanswerability tends not to get reelected.)
Like local assemblies, National Spiritual Assemblies are elected annually. (Baha'is in area districts elect delegates who in turn vote for the National Assembly; any Baha'i in the national area is eligible for election.) National assemblies have jurisdiction over their assigned areas (which sometimes cover less or more than a single country, depending on geography and the number of Baha'is residing in a region).
Every five years, the National Assemblies elect the nine-man Universal House of Justice, the supreme administrative body of the Baha'i Faith.
Some countries (the US, Canada, the Philippines, and India are several) also have state or regional Baha'i councils; these are elected by the Local Spiritual Assembles of that area and serve as an intermediate administrative level between Local and National Assemblies.
As mentioned above, no elected member of an administrative body has any special status. A few especially gifted and learned Baha'is have been appointed as members of the Hands of the Cause of God or Continental Counselors. They advise the elected bodies, but have no administrative power. Thus, positions of renown and positions of power are separate.
The Baha'i Faith is funded entirely by voluntary, confidential contributions. Donating is a privilege reserved to members; non-members are not permitted to give to Baha'i funds. And no collection plate is ever passed.
There are currently over six million Baha'is worldwide, in every country on earth plus 49 significant islands and territories, with 182 National Spiritual Assemblies; there are about 13,000 Local Spiritual Assemblies. There are over 2,100 tribes and ethnic groups represented in the Faith, and Baha'i literature has been translated over 800 languages.
National Spiritual Assemblies currently manage over 900 development projects, the majority being grassroots efforts with little or no outside funding. These include activities in health and social services, communications, agriculture and forestry, plus community development projects such as medical centers, women's programs, credit unions, building renovation, cooperative fishing, and homes for refugees and for the aged. There are more than 500 Baha'i tutorial schools and training centers in Africa, Asia, and the Americas; Baha'i communities operate 29 formal primary and secondary schools.
Since 1947, the Baha'i International Community has had consultative status as a non-governmental organization with several agencies of the United Nations. We have seats on the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), UNICEF, WHO, UNIFEM (the women's development agency, and UNEP (the U.N. environmental program), and work closely with the U.N. Information Office. Baha'is have played major roles in various UN activities, such as the Earth Summit and the International Conference on Women.
In the past, ... spiritual teachings have been concerned primarily with individual actions--or with the harmony of relatively small groups of people. Moral concern has likewise focused mostly on individual behavior: do not steal; do not lie; love your neighbor.
Today, our understanding of spirituality must embrace not only personal and group life, but also the collective progress of humanity as a whole. Indeed, it is only because the human race has at last entered on its age of maturity that the age-old prophecies of an era of peace and justice can now be fulfilled.
[from The Baha'is,
an overview published by the Baha'i International Community]
The divine religions of the holy Manifestations of God are in reality one though in name and nomenclature they differ. Man must be a lover of the light no matter from what day-spring it may appear.
He must be a lover of the rose no matter in what soil it may be growing.
He must be a seeker of the truth no matter from what source it comes�. The word of truth no matter which tongue utters it must be sanctioned�. If we harbor prejudice, it will be the cause of deprivation and ignorance.
The strife between religions, nations, and races arises from misunderstanding. If we investigate the religions to discover the principles underlying their foundations, we will find they agree, for the fundamental reality of them is one and not multiple.
[The Promulgation of Universal Peace]
O SON OF MAN!
Thou art My dominion and My dominion perisheth not, wherefore fearest thou thy perishing? Thou art My light and My light shall never be extinguished, why dost thou dread extinction? Thou art My glory and My glory fadeth not; thou art My robe and My robe shall never be outworn. Abide then in thy love for Me, that thou mayest find Me in the realm of glory.
[The Hidden Words]
The above is just an overview. For more information, please visit: www.bahai.org
To see our scriptures and related materials, including our Peace Statement, Prosperity Statement, Race Unity Statement, and Destiny of America Statement:
(This site has includes a search engine.)
(Click "Baha'i Writings" for our scriptures.)
(This site is multi-lingual.)
(This also has videos and talking books.)
To use OCEAN, an online collection of the scriptures of many religions, with a searchable concordance: www.BahaiResearch.com
There's an excellent group of informal discussion areas about the Baha'i Faith at: www.planetbahai.org
For information on how the Baha'i Faith has fulfilled prophecies:
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