The Bahá'í Faith is a monotheistic religion, whose members follow the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, their prophet founder. Bahá'u'lláh taught that there is one God who progressively reveals his will to humanity.
Each of the great religions brought by the Messengers of God — such as Moses, Krishna, the Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb - represents a successive stage in the spiritual development of civilization. Bahá'u'lláh, the most recent Messenger in this line, Bahá'ís believe, has brought teachings that address the moral and spiritual challenges of the modern world. As such, although the Bahá'í Faith is not traditionally included among the Abrahamic religions, it recognizes many of the same personages.
The Bahá'í Faith is the second most widespread of the world's independent religions in terms of the number of countries in which it is represented, established in 247 countries and territories throughout the world. Bahá'ís come from over 2,100 ethnic, racial, and tribal groups and are numbered at approximately six million adherents worldwide. The central works of the Bahá'í Scriptures have been translated into 802 languages.
Some consider the Bahá'í Faith as the youngest of the world's independent religions. Its central theme is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification in one global society.
In 1844 the Persian prophet Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad, who adopted the title "the Báb", which means "the Gate" in Arabic, established a new religion. It is distinct from Islam but grew out of the Islamic matrix in the same way that Christianity grew out of Judaism or Buddhism out of Hinduism. Followers of the Báb were known as Bábís and their religion as "the Bábí Faith." The Bábí Faith has its own scriptures and religious teachings, but its duration was very short. The Báb's primary purpose was to prepare the way for "Him whom God shall manifest," the One promised in the scriptures of all of the world's great religions.
The ecclesiastical and political authorities were alarmed by the large numbers of people who quickly became attracted to these new religious teachings. The Báb and his followers were persecuted relentlessly. The Báb was imprisoned and eventually executed by a firing squad in Tabriz, Persia (present-day Iran) on July 9, 1850. His mission lasted six years.
Mírzá Husayn-`Alí, to whom the Báb gave the title: Bahá'u'lláh, which is Arabic for "the Glory of God," was a Persian nobleman who became one of the early, prominent followers of the Báb. He was arrested and imprisoned during a period of severe persecution in 1852. While incarcerated in the dungeon of the Siyáh-Chál in Tehran, he received the first intimations that he was the One anticipated by the Báb. Nine years later, in 1863, while exiled in Baghdad, Iraq, he formally announced his mission to his family and a small number of followers.
The machinations of the Persian and Ottoman authorities took Bahá'u'lláh further and further into exile, from Baghdad to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), then to Adrianople (present-day Edirne), and finally, in 1868, to the penal colony of Acre, on the very edge of the Ottoman Empire. Bahá'u'lláh remained there until his passing on May 29, 1892, after forty years of exile and imprisonment. Bahá'ís regard his resting place outside the city as the holiest spot on earth, to which they turn in prayer each day.
The other important Bahá'í holy place in the Haifa/Acre area is the tomb or Shrine of the Báb, located on the slope of Mount Carmel in Haifa. The remains of the Báb were brought secretly from Persia to the Holy Land and were eventually interred in the Shrine built for them in a spot specifically designated by Bahá'u'lláh.
Bahá'u'lláh revealed the equivalent of more than one hundred volumes of divinely inspired writings in Arabic and Persian. The main repository of the laws of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation is the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, "the Most Holy Book".
Before his passing, Bahá'u'lláh appointed his eldest son, `Abdu'l-Bahá, as his successor and the sole interpreter of his teachings. Bahá'u'lláh designated him "Center of the Covenant" and directed all Bahá'ís to turn to `Abdu'l-Bahá as the Head of their Faith.
(In the Bahá'í Faith, "Covenant" refers specifically to the succession of authority from Bahá'u'lláh to `Abdu'l-Bahá, and from `Abdu'l-Bahá to the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice. Those who publicly deny and rebel against this established succession of authority are known as "Covenant-Breakers", and are subsequently expelled from the Bahá'í community. The purpose of the Covenant is to safeguard the unity of the Bahá'í community, protecting it from the influence of schismatics.)
`Abdu'l-Bahá had shared his father's long exile and imprisonment. This imprisonment continued until `Abdu'l-Bahá's own release as a result of the "Young Turk" revolution in 1908. Shortly after his release, `Abdu'l-Bahá traveled to Europe and America, proclaiming the teachings of his father and nurturing the fledgling Bahá'í communities that had sprung up in various centers in Europe, the United States and Canada. Many of his talks were recorded and have been published in books entitled "Paris Talks" and "The Promulgation of Universal Peace." Another important work of `Abdu'l-Bahá, which set the course of the expansion and consolidation of the Bahá'í world community, is a series of documents called "Tablets of the Divine Plan". He also carried on a voluminous correspondence with Bahá'í communities and individuals over a period of many years, and many of these letters, or "Tablets", have been translated and published in various languages.
The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh and division
Baha'i theology asserts that any permanent schism in the Baha'i Faith is impossible, even while recognizing that attempts would, as in prior religious history, be made in this direction. Efforts to break away or take over the Baha'i Faith have existed since the faith's inception and with the passing of each central figure or authority. Bahá'ís belonging to the majority group headed by the Universal House of Justice in Haifa believe that through the history of the Faith, each of these attempts to attack the Faith have faded away into obscurity through the protection of the "Covenant", which is essentially the written Will and Testaments of the respective Centers of the Covenant. Thus, the Faith of God is protected from division by the Covenant. The following quote of Abdu'l-Bahá brings light to this in unequivocal terms.
However, other passages, including some from 'Abdu'l-Bahá make clear that people would make such attempts:
The most recent attempt at schism dates from 1960 when Charles Mason Remey called for the Bahá'í community to recognize him as the head of the faith. A small group accepted Remey's claim, while the vast majority rejected it and followed the Universal House of Justice in Haifa. The Remey group split into factions with the larger segment referring to themselves as the Orthodox Bahai Faith. Since Remey's death in 1974 the minority group has undergone further splits. Some of these are described at Minor Baha'i divisions.
A history of these disputes according to the perspective of the Universal House of Justice is also available here (http://bahai-library.com/?file=uhj_mason_remey_followers.html).
`Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament is the charter of the Bahá'í administrative order. In this document `Abdu'l-Bahá established the twin institutions of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice, and he appointed his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith. Again, because of the clear directions in the Will and Testament, there was no question as to the succession of leadership in the Faith.
Shoghi Effendi, who was a student at Oxford University at the time of his grandfather's passing, served as the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith until his passing in 1957. For thirty-six years he developed the Bahá'í community and its administrative structure in order to prepare it to support the election of the Universal House of Justice. Because the Bahá'í community was relatively small and undeveloped when the Guardian assumed the leadership of the Faith, it took many years to strengthen it and develop it to the point where it was capable of supporting the administrative structure envisioned by `Abdu'l-Bahá. Shoghi Effendi pursued this goal energetically and systematically.
As outlined in the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá, the roles and functions of the institutions of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice were clearly complementary: the Guardianship's function was interpretive, while the function of the Universal House of Justice was legislative. Neither should infringe upon the role of the other. Throughout the period of the Guardianship, Shoghi Effendi exercised his interpretive function. He translated the sacred writings of the Faith; he developed global plans for the expansion of the Bahá'í community; he developed the World Centre of the Bahá'í Faith in Haifa; he carried on a voluminous correspondence with communities and individuals around the world; and he built the administrative structure of the Faith, preparing the community for the election of the Universal House of Justice.
The Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá clearly anticipated that there would be a succession of Guardians, but this was not to be. `Abdu'l-Bahá had indicated that the first born of the Guardian should be his successor, but if that individual did not inherit the Guardian's spiritual qualities, then he should appoint another male descendant of Bahá'u'lláh. However, Shoghi Effendi did not have children, and through the years all of the members of his family had rebelled against the authority conferred upon him, becoming "Covenant-Breakers". Thus, it was not possible for him to appoint a successor as Guardian. It was also clear from `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament that only the Universal House of Justice had the authority to resolve questions not explicitly dealt with by either Bahá'u'lláh or `Abdu'l-Bahá, and this issue would obviously need to be taken up by that body. And so Shoghi Effendi had laid the foundations for the election of the Universal House of Justice. This nine-member body, which governs the international Bahá'í community, was first elected in 1963. That same year, it determined that there was "no way to appoint or to legislate to make it possible to appoint a second Guardian to succeed Shoghi Effendi."
Bahá'ís all over the world, loyal to the Covenant first established by Bahá'u'lláh and then carried forward by `Abdu'l-Bahá, accepted this decision made by what they believe is the divinely guided central authority of their Faith.
There is no clergy in the Bahá'í Faith. At the grassroots level, Bahá'í communities are governed by freely elected nine-member councils called "Local Spiritual Assemblies". Similarly, National Spiritual Assemblies direct and coordinate the affairs of national Bahá'í communities. The Bahá'í electoral process is unique. There is no system of candidature, electioneering or campaigning, and the purpose is to elect members who best possess those spiritual qualities that enable them to serve the community.
Teachings and laws
Bahá'u'lláh's primary teachings are these:
The following list of 13 "beliefs" are frequently listed as a quick summary of Bahá'í teachings. They are derived from a variety of such lists extracted from transcripts of speeches given by Abdu'l-Bahá during his tour of Europe and North America in 1912. The list is not authoritative and a variety of such lists circulate.
Bahá'ís believe that although the current age is quite dark, the future of humanity is gloriously bright and that world peace is inevitable.
To be a Bahá'í means that a person believes that Bahá'u'lláh is the manifestation of God for this time. A Bahá'í strives to follow his teachings, and observes his laws.
There are no rituals or traditions in the Bahá'í Faith (rigidity is seen as a quality that must be avoided). However, there are a few simple sets of laws that the Kitáb-i-Aqdas holds as obligatory:
Soliciting of funds from individuals is strictly prohibited, and Bahá'í institutions are forbidden from accepting contributions from people who are not registered Bahá'ís.
Laws and ordinances
The Bahá'í calendar was established by the Báb. The year consists of 19 months of 19 days, and 4 or 5 intercalary days, to make a full solar year. The New Year (called Naw Rúz) occurs on the vernal equinox, March 21, at the end of the month of fasting.
Bahá'í communities gather at the beginning of each month at a meeting called a "feast" for worship, consultation and socializing. While the name may seem to suggest that an elaborate meal is served, that is not necessarily the case. Sometimes refreshments are plentiful, but they can be as simple as bread and water.
Bahá'ís observe 11 Holy Days throughout the year, with work suspended on 9 of these. These days commemorate important anniversaries in the history of the Faith.
Most Bahá'í meetings occur in individuals' homes, local Bahá'í centers, or rented facilities. There are currently only seven Bahá'í Houses of Worship, with an eighth under construction. The name used in the Bahá'í writings for Houses of Worship is Mashriqu'l-Adhkár (Dawning-place of the Remembrance of God). The Mashriqu'l-Adhkár forms the center of a complex of institutions of the Bahá'í community.
Involvement in the life of society
Bahá'ís actively promote issues of social justice and spirituality wherever they are found, holding the concept of the unity of mankind as the standard for their actions. Bahá'ís have also become increasingly involved in projects of social and economic development around the world.
Bahá'u'lláh wrote of the need for world government in this age of humanity's collective life. Because of this emphasis Bahá'ís have actively supported the United Nations since its inception. The Bahá'í International Community has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and with the United Nations Children's Fund UNICEF, and has undertaken joint development programs with United Nations agencies. (See  (http://www.bahai.org/article-1-6-0-6.html) further information] on the relationship between the Bahá'í International Community and the United Nations.)
Usage note: The correct orthographies are "Bahá'í", "Bahá'ís", "Báb", and "Bahá'u'lláh". Because of typographic limitations, the forms "Bahai", "Bahais", "Bab", and "Bahaullah" are often used as a common spelling or as satisfactory for certain electronic uses.