Bahá'í Faith

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Introduction

The Bahá'í Faith began in 1844, when a young merchant in Shiraz, Iran, known as the Bab (or Gate), declared himself to be the herald of 'Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest', a future Messenger of God, who would usher in a new era of peace. In the 6 years of proclaiming His message, the Bab attracted over 1 million followers, and the opposition of religious and government authorities. He was arrested, imprisoned and subsequently executed in Tabriz, Iran in 1850.

Mirza Husayn Ali (Bahá'u'lláh), a Persian nobleman who had become a leading supporter of the Bab, was born in Tehran in 1817. Bahá'u'lláh (the Glory of God) was also arrested, imprisoned and tortured. The Bab's enemies hoped that Bahá'u'lláh might die in prison, and agitated for His execution. However, the Shah of Iran was reluctant to do this and instead had Bahá'u'lláh and His family sent into exile.

During His exile in Baghdad, in the year 1853, Bahá'u'lláh revealed that He was the Promised One foretold by the Bab. As Bahá'u'lláh became the focus for the resurgent Babi community, the enemies of the new Faith pressed the Ottoman rulers to remove him still further. As a result of repeated pressure, Bahá'u'lláh, His family and a small group of followers were sent to Constantinople, Adrianople, and finally to the prison city of Acre in Palestine. A prisoner and an exile for most of His life, Bahá'u'lláh passed away in the Holy Land in 1892.

Bahá'u'lláh revealed many Tablets during His long period of exile, and wrote to the civil rulers of the day, urging them to "reconcile their differences," and "establish the Most Great Peace." One of the last Tablets revealed by Bahá'u'lláh was His Will and Testament, written by His own hand, in which He appointed His eldest son Abdu'l-Baha as His Successor and the Interpreter of His writings. Abdu'l-Baha had shared His father's sufferings and exile since the age of 9. In 1908, following the Young Turks Revolution, Ottoman rule collapsed and all political and religious prisoners in the Turkish Empire were released; Abdu'l-Baha was free. Although by now an old man, and in frail health, he travelled extensively throughout the United States and Canada, and also visited Paris, London, and Edinburgh, to bring his father's teachings to the world.

The shrine of the Bab and the seat of the Universal House of Justice (the international ruling body of the Bahá'í Faith) are located on Mount Carmel, Haifa, Israel. The shrine of Bahá'u'lláh, at Bahji, a few miles from Haifa, is a place of pilgrimage for Bahá'ís.

Sacred Text

Bahá'u'lláh revealed many Books and Tablets, all of which are viewed by Bahá'ís as sacred texts. The main texts are: the Kitab-i-Iqan (the Book of Certitude) and the Kitab-i-Aqdas (the Most Holy Book). As the Bahá'í Faith acknowledges the validity of earlier divine religions, other scriptures (e.g. the Bible and the Qur'án) are also regarded as sacred. Bahá'ís are therefore encouraged to read and study a diversity of religious sources, in addition to the Bahá'í scriptures, and may do so in Bahá'í Feasts, Holy days, and other meetings.

Beliefs

Bahá'ís believe in one God Who progressively reveals His will to successive generations through Manifestations of God (prophets or messengers) who provide guidance suitable for the time in which they appear. Bahá'ís recognise Zoroaster, the Buddha, Jesus Christ, the Prophet Muhammad, and others as Manifestations of God. Bahá'ís believe that Bahá'u'lláh is the Manifestation of God for today. He brings a message of unity and the promise of world peace.

The principles of the Bahá'í Faith include the oneness of humanity, independent investigation of truth, the harmony of science and religion, world peace upheld by a world government, the equality of women and men, spiritual solutions to economic problems, and a universal auxiliary language.

Practices

There is very little ritual in the Bahá'í Faith. There are no dietary restrictions, but consumption of alcohol is not permitted.

Bahá'u'lláh revealed an Obligatory prayer, which Bahá'ís should recite daily. This prayer has three forms, i.e. a short, medium, and long version, each of which is intended for a specific time of day, but any one of which is considered acceptable.

Bahá'ís observe a 19-day Fast at the end of each Bahá'í year, (from 2nd to 20th March). The hours of fasting are from sunrise to sunset and Bahá'ís must abstain from both food and drink during these hours. The Fast is obligatory for all Bahá'ís aged 15-70, but certain conditions, e.g. ill health, pregnancy, etc., permit exemption. The fasting period is essentially a time to focus on the spiritual side of life.

Other prescribed practices include the recitation of a specific marriage vow and of a special prayer for the dead.

Religious Festivals

The Bahá'í Calendar consists of 19 months of 19 days, with Intercalary days to make up a 365 day year. The Intercalary Days are devoted to hospitality, charity and the making of gifts, and preparation for the Fast.

There are 9 Holy Days: Naw Ruz (New Year's Day, March 21); the 1st, 9th and 12th Day of Ridvan (commemorating the period when Bahá'u'lláh declared His Mission); the Declaration of the Bab (May 23); Ascension of Bahá'u'lláh (May 29); Martyrdom of the Bab (July 9); Birth of the Bab (October 20); Birth of Bahá'u'lláh (November 12). If possible, Bahá'ís should not work on Holy Days, and Bahá'í children should seek permission not to attend school.

An important part of the Bahá'í calendar is the 'Nineteen Day Feast', a meeting which takes place once every 19 days in each community, when Bahá'ís come together to pray and read from the Scriptures, to consult on community matters, and to share fellowship.

To find out more visit: www.bahai.org/