Baha’i is one of the newest religions since it was created in the 1800s. The Báb (a name meaning “gate”) declared in Shiraz that he had been sent by God to prepare humanity for a new age. He believed that there was a messenger that would be appearing very soon. The Báb claimed that this messenger would be the universal manifestation of God sent to create an age of enlightenment. The Báb himself is considered to be both an independent messenger of God and a proponent of the glory of God.
Although his teachings spread rapidly, the Báb was viewed as a heretic. Because of this, the government of Persia executed over 20,000 of his followers in a series of massacres, and the Báb was killed on July 9, 1850. He was the predecessor of the founder of Baha’i, a man named Bahá’u’lláh, meaning the glory of God. He was born into a noble family and became a disciple of the Báb. During their persecution, he was arrested, beaten, and put into prison for four months before being sentenced to forty years of exile.
During the forty years of exile, Bahá’u’lláh revealed several books, tablets, and letters that comprise over 100 volumes about the nature of God and the purpose of human existence. They lay out the rules for the Baha’i people, and display ideas for the ideal society.
In 1863, Bahá'u'lláh and his followers announced that he was the universal messenger of God that had been predicted. They went to their Holy Land in Israel with about 70 followers and were sentenced to confinement by the Ottoman authorities. He ended up dying in a country home called Bahji, and after his death, that home became the holiest place on the planet for Baha’i followers.
After the death of Bahá’u’lláh, his successors became interpreters of his teachings and traveled to encourage Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to communities. These successors produced more scriptures that are sacred in the Baha’i faith. In 1963, the Universal House of Justice was created to direct the affairs of the international Baha’i community. Nine members are elected every five years by the national administrative bodies of Baha’i around the world. Today, there are about five million practitioners.
Baha’i is a monotheistic, Abrahamic faith. They stem from the original teachings of Abrahamic religions found in original scriptures. The central teachings of Baha’i are the unity of God, unity of religion, and unity of humanity. They believe that God reveals his will through divine messengers that transform humanity and develop moral and spiritual qualities within individuals. They believe that though other religions have covered ideals for the past, the writings of Bahá’u’lláh are God’s guidance for the modern-day.
Baha’i stresses that there is only one God, which they share with other faiths such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Each of the former religions are viewed as previous revelations that have dispensed small amounts of knowledge about God to humanity for each coming age, although they do not expect another revelation for another 1,000 years. They believe that the universe is eternal, and that God is not accessible directly, but rather through messengers called Manifestations of God.
They say that in order to comprehend God (which they claim is impossible), they must rely on revelations via his Manifestations. They help humans to identify attributes of God through human forms and encourage a relationship with God through prayer, reflection, and service to others.
Their holy text claims that humans have “rational souls” and that this allows humanity to understand our relationship with our creator and conform to the Messenger’s teachings. Through obedience to these teachings, they believe that the soul grows closer to God and that during the afterlife, the soul is separated from the body and judged based on their actions in the physical world. Heaven and Hell are locations that a soul may be sent to, but they are spiritual states differing in distance from God, not physical locations.
Baha’i holy texts also emphasize the equality between humans and the abolition of prejudice, where humanity should be viewed as one, with different cultures and identities being cherished and accepted. They also believe in different social ideals, such as the unity of the races and elimination of prejudice, the equality of men and women, universal education, the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty, a spiritual solution to economic problems, establishment of a universal auxiliary language, the harmony of science and religion, the independent investigation of truth, and the creation of a world commonwealth of nations that will keep the peace through collective security.
Baha’i followers must adhere to many rules about daily life. These rules govern prayer, marriage, prohibitions, work, places of worship, their calendar, symbols, and socio-economic development. Their sacred literature designates that anybody who professes faith in their God and accepts his teachings may be a member of their faith. There is no initiation, baptism, or clergy. Members of the Baha’i faith must pray daily, abstain from any substance that affects the mind (alcohol, narcotics, etc.), practice monogamy, obtain parental consent for marriage, and attend the Nineteen Day Feast on the first day of each month of the Baha’i calendar (contains 19 months).
On each of these days, everybody between the ages of 15 and 70 must fast from sunrise to sunset. On this day, the Baha’i community comes together to read scriptures, discuss community activities, and congregate. These promote their sense of fellowship amongst other members and require universal participation.
They also believe in a collective world government. This emphasis has prompted many Baha’i communities to contribute to global efforts through international organizations such as the United Nations and League of Nations.
Baha’i followers rely on the writings of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice for their sacred scriptures. The first two are regarded as divine revelations, and the other scriptures are authoritative interpretations. The Universal House of Justice creates legislation for their people to follow.
The religion of Baha’i encourages their followers to become literate and wishes for them to be able to read the holy texts themselves. Many of these early works include answers to doctrinal questions and letters to individuals or communities. The Universal House of Justice uses letters as a primary method of communication.
Baha’i followers don’t have churches, nor do they celebrate the Sabbath like other Abrahamic faiths. Besides members of the Universal House of Justice, there isn’t a strict hierarchy within their structure. Instead, Baha’i followers get together for the Nineteen Day Feast every nineteen days.
The feast has three different parts: a devotional for worship, prayers, and readings; an administrative factor to discuss community activities; and a social portion, full of food, music, and conversation. Congregants are told to free their thoughts from everything except for God. Some communities also have devotionals, which are held to pray or reflect on life. They are informal gatherings, and people can read scriptures and prayers from any faith, not just the Baha’i faith.