The Baha’i faith is a dynamic world religion with approximately five million adherents in 188 countries.
Baha’u’llah is the central figure of the religion and followers consider him the last of the divine messengers. His writings underlie the Baha’i faith and promote peace and unity. He was born into an aristocratic family but spent most of his life in exile in the Ottoman Empire, because of his involvement in the Babi movement.
Baha’u’llah (1817-1892) was the founder of the Baha’i religion. This dates back to 1844, when Sayid Ali-Muhammad, a young man from Shiraz, Persia (now Iran), announced that he had been sent by God to prepare humanity for a new era and the inevitable emergence of another Messenger, even greater than himself.
Sayid Ali-Muhammad took the title of Bab (meaning “Gate” in Arabic) and said that he was an Epiphany, sent to herald the opening of a century of peace and enlightenment, as promised in all world religions.
Fast-spreading Bab’s teaching was regarded by the clergy and the government of Persia as heretical and more than 20,000 of his followers, known as Babi, died in a series of massacres across the country. Bab himself was publicly executed in the city of Tabriz on 9 July 1850.
The development of the Baha’i faith is divided into several periods:
Since the 1890s, the Baha’i faith has begun to attract a much larger number of followers beyond its origin. Baha’i teachers who settled in North America found a receptive audience to popularize Baha’I, and several active Baha’i groups were founded. The American Baha’is, in turn, spread the teachings in Europe.
In the Baha’i writings, firmness in the covenant is considered to be the highest virtue. The Lesser Covenant includes social practices which are interpreted as an agreement between God’s followers and his messenger. The Greater Covenant says that God sends a messenger to Earth every 1,000 years in the most challenging times (unrest, uncertainty).
The concept of God in Baha’i is monotheistic: the doctrine states that it is impossible to know the essence of God. The only connection with him is through the Messengers, who are called the Epiphanies.
Baha’i followers believe that there is a common belief in God, and all messengers in other religions reveal its meaning. All religions are one whole, but each of them is individual. In the Hindu sense, the Baha’i doctrine shows that Baha’u’llah is the incarnation of Krishna. For the followers of Christianity, it embodies Christ’s promise to unite all people.
Baha’is believe that the presence of a soul is the main difference between humans and animals, and that the physical body is only a form of existence on Earth. It is considered important to develop morally and intellectually for the further development of the soul beyond this planet. The soul develops and strengthens through communication with God via prayers and meditations. The final path of the soul ends successfully if it goes to heaven. Those who are distant from God go to hell.
Unity is the basic principle of Baha’i teaching. Following the God-defined order is the essence of the religion. Therefore, any attempt to create an offshoot of the true faith is regarded as an attempt to contradict the teachings of Baha’u’llah.
There are 12 principles in the Baha’i religion based on the faith of Baha’u’llah. In addition to the basic principle (unity), there are others, such as the abolition of all discrimination, compulsory education for all, and the striking harmony between science and religion.
In the north of Israel, the Bahaʼí World Centre can be found which is the spiritual and administrative center of the Baháʼí Faith. It is a place of pilgrimage for believers from all over the world. The Baha’u’llah Tomb in Bahji, Acre, is the holiest place for Baha’is.
Amazing in its architecture, the construction, which includes the Tomb of Baba (the Baha’i Temple), is located in the city of Haifa. The so-called “Baha’i Gardens” consist of four administrative buildings arranged in an arc:
Baha’i temples are called “Houses of Worship” or Mashriqu’l-Adhkár (from the Arabic— “Dawning-place of the remembrance of God”) and are distinguished by nine entrances and one dome, which symbolizes the unity of religions. The first Baha’i House of Worship was designed according to the project of a Russian architect in 1908 in Ashgabat but shortly afterwards was severely damaged by an earthquake. To date, eight Houses are spread across all continents and parts of the world: India (Asia), Australia, USA (North America), Germany (Europe), Panama (Central America), Uganda (Africa), Samoa (Oceania), and Chile (South America).
Every year, about four million people visit the most famous House of Worship which is located in India—the “Lotus Temple.”
The nine-pointed star, a symbol of the Baha’i, reflects the importance of the number nine for the faith and symbolizes the relationship between the human world, the Divine world, and the Holy Spirit. The number nine is the highest single digit, symbolizing the completeness and fulfilment of the expectations of all previous religions. The star is often depicted on the nine-cornered temples of Baha’i.
In addition to the nine-pointed star, there is a calligraphic rendering of the Greatest Name (Arabic يَٰبَهَاءُ ٱلْأَبْهَى Yá Baháʼu’l-Abhá—”O Glory of the Most Glorious!”), as well as the calligraphy of Baha (بهاء—”glory”).
The Baha’i faith has its own calendar—the Badíʻ calendar. It consists of 19 months of 19 days each (361 days), with the addition of four or five additional days to adjust the calendar according to the solar year. Days and months are named after the attributes of God.
Baha’is have obligatory and common prayers. Obligatory prayers are read only under the instructions that come in addition to the prayer.
The Baha’i International Community is registered with the United Nations as a non-governmental organization. It was accredited by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Economic and Social Council.
The Baha’i religion is the first serious attempt to unite all people regardless of skin color, social status, or religion. The basic idea of Baha’i is that people have divided themselves by giving different names to God and inventing rituals of worship. God is one for all people, and the faith should unite, not divide, all believers.