Baha’i is a religion founded in Iran in the second half of the 19th century. The Baha’i faith sees itself called to unite spiritually all the peoples of the world.
During the 1840s a religious ﬁgure in Iran known as the Bab (“gateway”) predicted the coming of “the one whom GOD shall reveal.” In 1863, one of his followers, now known as Baha’ullah (1817– 92), claimed to be that one.
The teachings of the Bab and of Baha’ullah threatened the authority of orthodox Islamic scholars. As a result, Baha’ullah spent much of his life in exile and in jail. From 1868 until his death he lived in what is now Israel. For that reason, the centre of the Baha’i community is located in Israel.
When Baha’ullah died, control of the community passed to his son, known in the Baha’i community as Abd al-Baha (1844–1921), and his grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1899–1957). It then passed to a board known as the Council of the Hands of the Cause (1957–62) and ﬁnally to an elected assembly, the International House of Justice (1962–present).
The Baha’i faith first attracted widespread attention with the missionary travels of Abd alBaha. By the end of the 20th century it had roughly two million adherents.
TEACHINGS, PRACTICES, AND ORGANIZATION
The Baha’i faith sees itself as continuing the revelation of God found in JUDAISM, CHRISTIANITY, and ISLAM. The prophets of each of these traditions, it teaches, were genuine messengers from God. Each of them fulﬁlled the task assigned by God. But Baha’is insist that the process of God’s revelation will never end. Neither MOSES nor Jesus nor MUHAMMAD was the last of God’s messengers. For the contemporary world there is a new messenger, Baha’ullah. He was made known a new task: to unite spiritually all people.
Baha’is are enjoined to pray in private every day. In addition, local communities gather together on the first day of every month. (Baha’i months are 19 days long). A major Baha’i festival is Noruz, New Year’s. In accordance with Persian practice it is celebrated on March 21, the time of the spring equinox. During the month prior to Noruz, Baha’is observe a fast. They neither eat nor drink from sunup to sundown; they eat and drink at night. (Muslims observe a similar fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan. Moreover, Baha’is are never permitted to drink alcohol.
During the 20th century a leading initiative of the Baha’i community was the construction of major houses of WORSHIP, one on each continent. The design of each house of worship reﬂects signiﬁ cant elements of its location. For example, the house of worship in New Delhi, India, is in the form of a LOTUS, a sacred plant in India. The brickwork of the house of worship in Panama reﬂects stonework in the ancient temples of middle America. At the same time, all Baha’i houses of worship share certain features. For example, they have nine doorways and nine-sided domes. Baha’is see the number nine as a sign of the highest unity. Therefore, the doors and domes emphasize the unity that Baha’is believe characterizes God, all people, and all religions.
- John Ferraby, All Things Made New: A Comprehensive Outline of the Baha’i Faith (London: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1975);
- Peter Smith, The Babi and Baha’i Religions (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987);
- ———, AS Babylonian religion Concise Encyclopedia of the Baha’i Faith (Oxford: Oneworld, 1999);
- ———, A Short History of the Baha’i Faith (Oxford: Oneworld, 1997).