For those investigating the Baha'i Faith through this site, I should make it clear that nothing can replace face to face and heart to heart contact in the exploration of spiritual truth. The Internet can give you information, and can lead you to the Word of God, which you can read and contemplate for yourself. If these words attract you and touch your heart, then go find a Baha'i, who can help you to go farther and deeper than a web site ever can. There are Baha'is just about everywhere if you look for them.
The following text is a simple explanation of the basics of Baha'i belief, or what someone really needs to know and accept if they want to become a Baha'i. The Baha'i Faith is open to everyone, but there are as many paths to the Faith as there are seeking souls, so one simple explanation is not suitable for everyone. Talking this over with someone will be much more effective and responsive to your needs than just reading it.
The Bahá'í Faith is:
A world religion
whose purpose is to unite all the races and all the peoples
in one universal Cause and one common Faith.
Bahá'ís are the followers of Bahá'u'lláh.
Bahá'u'lláh is the Promised One of all Ages.
Many traditions include the promise of a future when a world where peace and harmony will be established on earth, and where humankind will live in prosperity.
The promised hour has come
Bahá'u'lláh is the great Personage Whose Teachings will enable humanity to build a new world.
That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith.
Bahá'u'lláh teaches that God is unknowable in His Essence.
We should not make images of God in our mind, thinking of Him, for example, as a man. In general, that which has been created cannot understand its creator. For instance, a table cannot understand the nature of the carpenter who made it. The carpenter's existence is totally incomprehensible to the objects he makes.
God is the Creator of all things. He has made the heavens and the earth, with its mountains and valleys, its deserts and seas, its rivers, its meadows and trees. God has created the animals and God has created the human being.
The reason behind our creation, we are told by Bahá'u'lláh, is love:
O Son of Man! I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life.
Although God’s existence is far beyond our understanding, His love
touches our lives and our beings ceaselessly. The way this love flows to
us is through His Eternal Covenant. According to this Eternal Covenant,
God never leaves us alone and without guidance. Whenever humanity moves
away from Him and forgets His Teachings, a Manifestation of God appears
and makes His Will and Purpose known to us.
The word “manifest” means to reveal, to bring forth something that was not known before. The Manifestations of God are those special Beings Who reveal to humanity the Word and the Will of God; thus when we listen to Them, we are responding to the Call of God.
There is an example from the physical world that helps us to understand the concept of “Manifestation” as taught by Bahá'u'lláh. In this world, the sun is the source of all warmth and light, without which life would not exist on the planet. Yet the sun itself does not descend to earth, and if we tried to approach it, we would be totally consumed.
But suppose we take a well-polished mirror and point it towards the sun. In it we will see the image of the sun, and the more perfectly polished the mirror, the more perfect the image will be. The Manifestations of God are like perfect Mirrors that reflect the Light of God in all its Splendour. And all these Mirrors reflect the same light. While God is beyond our reach, these perfect Beings come to us from time to time, live among us, give us guidance, and fill us with the energy we need to progress, materially and spiritually.
There were several Manifestations in the past through whom God sent his Teachings to humanity. Jesus Christ was one of them, as were Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, the Buddha, and Muhammad, and most people were raised according to the Teachings of one of them. Now everyone can receive the Teachings of a new Manifestation, Bahá'u'lláh, whose title means the Glory of God. Bahá'u'lláh's Teachings, then, are in perfect harmony with the Teachings of the Manifestations of the past, but they address the condition of humanity today. If you think for a moment about the plight of humanity, you will agree that the time is right for another Manifestation of God to have appeared. The Writings of Bahá'u'lláh speak about the Day in which we live:
This is the Day in which God's most excellent favours have been poured out upon men, the Day in which His most mighty grace hath been infused into all created things. It is incumbent upon all the peoples of the world to reconcile their differences, and, with perfect unity and peace, abide beneath the shadow of the Tree of His care and loving-kindness.
The aim of the Bahá'í Faith is to unify humanity.
In Bahá'u'lláh's Teachings we are told that:
we are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.
Although we differ from one another physically and emotionally, although
we have different talents and capacities, we all spring from the same
root; we all belong to the same human family.
This is the concept of unity in diversity.
Humanity can be likened to a vast garden in which grow side by side flowers of every form, colour and perfume. The charm and beauty of the garden lie in this diversity. We should not allow the differences that exist among us in our physical characteristics, our temperaments, our backgrounds, our thoughts and opinions to give rise to conflict and strife. We should see the members of the human race as beautiful flowers growing in the garden of humanity and rejoice in belonging to this garden.
Although the oneness of humankind is an undeniable truth, the people of earth are so far from it that unifying them is no easy task. If you choose to join the Bahá’í community, you will participate in its efforts to build and maintain unity. Bahá'ís are all striving to bring their thoughts and actions in line with their belief in the oneness of humankind.
Bahá'ís are told that:
when a thought of war enters our minds, we should immediately replace it with a thought of peace.
when a feeling of hate begins to take shape in our hearts, we should immediately replace it with a feeling of love.
we should do everything possible to overcome our prejudices.
prejudices of race, color nationality, culture, religion, and sex are among the greatest obstacles to building a better world.
So many passages in the Bahá'í writings teach us how to walk in the ways of unity and how to help others take the same path.
Bahá'u'lláh has drawn the circle of unity, He has made a design for the uniting of all the peoples, and for the gathering of them all under the shelter of the tent of universal unity. This is the work of the Divine Bounty, and we must all strive with heart and soul until we have the reality of unity in our midst, and as we work, so will strength be given unto us.
Bahá'u'lláh was born in 1817 in Tehrán, the
capital of Iran. From His early childhood, He showed signs of greatness.
He received some instruction at home, but did not need to attend school,
for He was endowed by God with innate knowledge. Bahá'u'lláh came from a
noble family and when he was a young man, was offered a high position in
the court of the King, but He refused it. He wished to dedicate His time
to helping the oppressed, the sick and the poor, and to champion the cause
There are two aspects of the life of Bahá'u'lláh which actually characterize the lives of all the Manifestations of God:
The suffering He endured.
The tremendous influence He had on the hearts and minds of people.
Bahá'u'lláh's sufferings began the moment He arose to proclaim the Cause of God. His life was one of exile, imprisonment and persecution. He was put in chains in a dark and dismal dungeon in Tehrán. He was exiled four times from land to land, finally being sent to the Prison City of 'Akká in the Ottoman Empire. So intense were His sufferings there that He has referred to Akká as the "Most Great Prison". In one of His Tablets, we read:
Remember My days during thy days, and My distress and banishment in this remote prison. And be thou so steadfast in My love that thy heart shall not waver, even if the swords of the enemies rain blows upon thee and all the heavens and the earth arise against thee.
About His own sufferings, He says:
The Ancient Beauty hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty. He hath drained to its dregs the cup of sorrow, that all the peoples of the earth may attain unto abiding joy, and be filled with gladness. This is of the mercy of your Lord, the Compassionate, the Most Merciful. We have accepted to be abased, O believers in the Unity of God, that ye may be exalted, and have suffered manifold afflictions, that ye might prosper and flourish. He Who hath come to build anew the whole world, behold, how they that have joined partners with God have forced Him to dwell within the most desolate of cities!
Every effort was made by two powerful courts – those of the King of Iran and the Ottoman Emperor – to oppose Bahá'u'lláh and His Teachings. But the Light of Truth is not easily extinguished. The very water that is poured on this fire to put out its flame turns into oil, and the fire burns with more intensity. Nothing could be done to stop Bahá'u'lláh's growing influence. The farther the authorities banished Him, the greater the number of people who were attracted to His Teachings and recognized His Power and Majesty. In spite of constant persecution, Bahá'u'lláh continued to reveal the Word of God for more than forty years and brought so much love and spiritual energy into this world that the final victory of His Cause is certain.
Bahá'u'lláh passed away in 1892. His Shrine, which we consider the Holiest Spot on earth, is located near the city of 'Akká. It is surrounded by gardens, and is a place of pilgrimage for Bahá'ís.
(for more about Bahá'u'lláh, click here)
Several years before Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed His Mission, God sent a special Messenger to announce His coming. This great Messenger took the title “The Báb” which means the gate. He was indeed a gate to the knowledge of God and to a new era in human existence. For six years He taught ceaselessly that the appearance of the new Manifestation of God was near and prepared the way for His coming. He told the people that they were witnessing the dawn of a new Age, the dawn of the Promised Day of God. He called upon them to purify their hearts from earthly vanities so that they could recognize Him Whom God would soon manifest.
Thousands upon thousands of people accepted the Message of the Báb and began to follow His Teachings. But the government of Iran and the powerful clergy who ruled over the masses rose against Him. His followers were persecuted and large numbers were put to death or tortured. The Báb Himself at the age of 31 was martyred by a regiment of soldiers who, at the orders of the government, suspended Him in a public square and opened fire on Him.
The following two prayers show how penetrating are the Words of the Báb. Many Bahá’ís know especially the first prayer by heart and say it either aloud or mentally in times of difficulties. It is easy to memorize.
"Is there any Remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding!"
"Say: God sufficeth all things above all things, and nothing in the heavens or in the earth but God sufficeth. Verily He is in Himself the Knower, the Sustainer, the Omnipotent."
Following His martyrdom, the remains of the Báb were recovered by His followers and taken from place to place, always hidden from the enemies of the Faith. Finally, they were transferred to Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. His Shrine is in Haifa, and there are other Holy Places in that city and in 'Akka, which is across the bay. These twin cities are today the spiritual and administrative world centers of the Bahá'í Faith – the spiritual center because it is here that the Shrines of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, as well as many other Holy Places, are located, and the administrative center because the Seat of the supreme governing body of the Faith, the Universal House of Justice, is also on Mount Carmel.
The idea most central to the lives of Bahá'ís is that they have entered into a Covenant with Bahá'u'lláh. In all other religions, after the passing of the Manifestation, His followers had thousands of disputes among themselves and, as a result, split the religion into many sects. The cause of disunity was sometimes the desire for leadership of certain ambitious individuals. But, when differences of opinion arose between even sincere believers about what the Words of the Manifestation meant, no one had been authorized by the Manifestation Himself to settle the disagreements, and this contributed to conflict and dissension. Each set of interpretations led to the creation of a different sect.
Bahá'u'lláh has protected His Faith against such division by endowing it with a unique power, the power of the Covenant. Before His passing, He stated in the clearest terms, in writing, that after Him, all Bahá'ís should turn to 'Abdu'l-Bahá. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, His oldest Son, was thus named the sole Interpreter of His Words and the Centre of His Covenant. He had been raised by Bahá'u'lláh Himself, had recognized His Station even as a child, and had shared the sufferings of His Father. He was a most precious gift given to humanity, the perfect Exemplar of all Bahá'í Teachings.
'Abdu'I-Bahá lived on this earth for 77 years. He was born on the same night the Báb declared His Mission in 1844 and passed away in November 1921. His life was filled with affliction, but to everyone who entered His presence He brought the greatest joy and happiness. After the passing of His Father, the responsibility for the Bahá’í community fell on His shoulders, and He laboured day and night to spread the Faith throughout the East and the West. He wrote thousands of Tablets to individuals and groups everywhere and clarified the Teachings of His Father. His interpretations are now an essential part of the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith.
By focusing on 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the Center of Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant, the Bahá'ís of the world remain united in their efforts to live a Bahá'í life and to create a new civilization. We remember that as part of our promise to Bahá'u'lláh, we are to love one another and, in 'Abdu'l-Bahá, we see the perfect example of one who loves. We remember that we must uphold justice, that we must be generous, that we must overlook the faults of others, and from the example of 'Abdu'l-Bahá we learn justice, generosity and forgiveness. More than anything else, by keeping our focus on 'Abdu'l-Bahá, we are always aware of our covenant with Bahá'u'lláh that we will not allow the unity of His followers to be broken and that, united as a worldwide community, we will labour until the oneness of humankind has been firmly established.
In His Will and Testament, 'Abdu'l-Bahá named His grandson the Guardian of the Faith and after His passing, Shoghi Effendi became the authorized interpreter of the Teachings. For 36 years, he continued the work of His Grandfather, clarifying the Words of the Manifestation and firmly establishing His Faith in all parts of the planet.
Five and half years after the passing of Shoghi Effendi, the Bahá'ís of the world elected the Universal House of Justice, as envisioned by Bahá'u'lláh and clearly described by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and the Guardian. The Universal House of Justice is the supreme institution of the Faith to which all the Bahá'ís of the world now turn.
A most important aspect of every religion is the laws that the Manifestation brings to humanity in order to guide it in the right path. Some of these laws and commandments are eternal, others changes as humanity progresses and evolves. In the Faith we are taught that we should not think of Bahá'í laws as a series of do's and don'ts. Bahá'u'lláh tells us that His laws are
...the lamps of My loving providence among My servants, and the keys of My mercy for My creatures.
Nor should we obey these laws out of fear of punishment, for He clearly has stated in His Most Holy Book:
Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty.
The following are a few examples of Bahá'í laws.
In the physical world, human beings have to eat every day. This is a requirement of the human body; if we don't, we will get sick and quickly die. We can say, then, that eating daily is a law of physical existence which has to be obeyed. In the same way one of the commandments of Bahá'u'lláh is that we should pray every day. Like our body, our soul needs constant nourishment, and prayer provides the nourishment for our spiritual growth. There are many beautiful prayers revealed by the Báb, by Bahá'u'lláh and by 'Abdu'l-Bahá which we can say when we are alone or recite in meetings. Some of these prayers are special, and some are obligatory. One obligatory prayer is recited by Bahá’ís every day sometime between noon and sunset. It is a short and beautiful prayer and is easy to memorize. It says:
"I bear witness, 0 my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting”.
In another commandment, Bahá'u'lláh prohibits backbiting and calumny. This is important because one of the greatest enemies of unity is backbiting. And unfortunately, it has become an established practice among most of humanity to talk about other people's faults in their absence. Everybody seems to be concerned with everybody else's shortcomings, which are made bigger and bigger as they are constantly mentioned. 'Abdu'l-Bahá tells us to do just the opposite. If we see ten good qualities in someone and one fault, we should concentrate on the ten, and even if a person has ten faults and only one good quality we should focus on that one quality.
"O Companion of My Throne! Hear no evil, and see no evil, abase not thyself, neither sigh and weep. Speak no evil, that thou mayest not hear it spoken unto thee, and magnify not the faults of others that thine own faults may not appear great; and wish not the abasement of anyone, that thine own abasement be not exposed. Live then the days of thy life, that are less than a fleeting moment, with thy mind stainless, thy heart unsullied, thy thoughts pure, and thy nature sanctified, so that, free and content, thou mayest put away this mortal frame, and repair unto the mystic paradise and abide in the eternal kingdom forevermore."
Bahá'u'lláh prohibits the drinking of alcohol and, of course, substance abuse. Drinking alcohol is really one of the greatest social ills that exists today in the world. It is one of the most common causes of violence and the ruin of healthy family life. It is hard to understand why people would take something that interferes with their minds and makes them lose their ability to think clearly. Drinking makes people capable of acting in shameful ways, when we have actually been created noble. The following is a beautiful quote from Bahá'u'lláh's Writings about nobility:
"O Son of Spirit! I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting."
Another commandment of Bahá'u'lláh is about the obligation of parents and society to educate children:
"Therefore, the beloved of God and the maid-servants of the Merciful must train their children with life and heart and teach them in the school of virtue and perfection. They must not be lax in this matter; they must not be inefficient. Truly, if a babe did not live at all it were better than to let it grow ignorant, for that innocent babe, in later life, would become afflicted with innumerable defects, responsible to and questioned by God, reproached and rejected by the people. What a sin this would be and what an omission!
"The first duty of the beloved of God and the maid-servants of the Merciful is this: They must strive by all possible means to educate both sexes, male and female; girls like boys; there is no difference whatsoever between them. The ignorance of both is blameworthy, and negligence in both cases is reprovable. 'Are they who know and they who do not know equal?'"
In becoming a Bahá'í you join a religion and do not just accept a collection of nice ideals. In fact, the Bahá’í Faith is a very organized religion whose aim is nothing less than the unification of the entire human race. You can think of the work of the Bahá'ís as the building of a world civilization. The Universal House of Justice tells us that there are three participants in this work, each with a very important role.
The first participant is the individual believer. It is the duty of this individual to remain firm in the Covenant, to strive daily to bring his or her life in line with Bahá'u'lláh's Teachings, and to serve humanity, always conscious of the fact that life does not end with death and that one's relation with God is eternal. After death, our souls become free and continue to progress towards God for all eternity. Our lives here are very much like the life of an infant in the womb of the mother. For some nine months the child develops faculties - eyes, ears, hands and so on - to be used later in this world. In the same way, we are to develop here the spiritual faculties that we need to progress in the other worlds of God. Of course, we do not achieve our purpose by just thinking about it. We have to work, serve our fellow human beings, and share the knowledge we gain with others.
The second participant is the community. Human beings were not created to exist alone. We live in communities and must work together to build the new civilization. The community closest to us is the local one which consists of the Bahá'ís of our village or town. It is in the local community where we learn to cooperate with one another, to grow together and become united. In addition to being members of the local community, we are also members of the national community and then the worldwide Bahá'í community which is constantly expanding and attracting people from every religious background, race, and nationality.
The institutions of the Faith represent the third participant in the building of the new civilization. Included in the commandments of Bahá’u’lláh are many related to the way society should be organized. In the past, the Manifestations of God have not said much about how their followers should organize themselves and people have had to discover how to do this by themselves. But in the case of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh has brought His own Administrative Order, which means that He has told us what institutions we must create, how they should function, and how humanity should be governed.
The supreme institution, the Universal House of Justice, has already been mentioned. In each country, Bahá'ís select once a year the National Spiritual Assembly, and in each locality, the Local Spiritual Assembly, the institution that most new Bahá’ís get to know the soonest. There are no priests or clergy in the Bahá’í Faith, and it is the Local Spiritual Assembly that guides the affairs of the community and watches over the well-being of the individual believers. A Local Spiritual Assembly consists of nine members elected in a prayerful atmosphere by secret ballot by all the adult believers in the community. Spiritual Assemblies are extremely important to Bahá’ís. Through them we learn how human affairs are to be administered and how a new order can be established in society, an order which is to be known as the World Order of Bahá'u'lIáh.
In closing this short presentation of the essentials of the Bahá’í Faith, here is a prayer by 'Abdu'l-Bahá:
"0 God! Refresh and gladden my spirit. Purify my heart. Illumine my powers. I lay all my affairs in Thy hand. Thou art my Guide and my Refuge. I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; I will be a happy and joyful being. 0 God! I will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life.
0 God! Thou art more friend to me than I am to myself. I dedicate myself to Thee, 0 Lord."