THE BAHA'I FAITH AND ITS TEACHINGS
If there is a single word that describes the teachings of the Baha'i Faith, it is "unity." This emphasis on unity and oneness exists at all levels, from its teachings about God to its social principles. Indeed, even the practice and administration of the Baha'i Faith reflect this emphasis on unity. Alone among the world's major independent religions, the Baha'i Faith has preserved its essential unity.
Baha'is follow the teachings of Baha'u'llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha'i Faith. Baha'u'llah (1817-1892) is regarded by Baha'is as the most recent in the line of Manifestations from God, a line that stretches back beyond recorded time and includes Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ, Muhammad and the Bab.
Baha'is believe that there is only one God and that the successive revelations of God's will through his messengers have been the chief civilizing forces in history.
The central theme of Baha'u'llah's message is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification into one global society. "The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens," wrote Baha'u'llah. Through an irresistible process, the traditional barriers of race, class, creed, and nation are breaking down, which will, in time, give birth to a universal civilization.
The principle challenge facing the people of the earth, Baha'is believe, is to accept as fact the oneness of the entire human race and work towards the creation of a unified world civilization.
Principles which the Baha'i Faith promotes as vital to the achievement of this goal of world unity include the following:
The Baha'i Faith had its beginnings in 1844. In that year, a young Iranian merchant, who became known as "the Bab." proclaimed the advent of a new religious revelation. Born on October 20, 1819, The Bab's given name was Siyyid 'Ali-Muhammad. The "Bab" means "Gate" in Arabic. His followers were called Babis. He declared that his purpose was to prepare humanity for the advent of a new messenger from God, one promised to all the people of the world.
The Bab and his followers were brutally persecuted by the clergy and government of Iran, who viewed the Bab's claim as heretical. He was beaten, imprisoned, and, on July 9, 1850, executed in the city of Tabriz. Over the years, more than 20,000 Babis perished in series of massacres throughout Iran when they refused to recant their faith.
Among the Bab's followers was a young man, named Mirza Husayn- Ali, who was born in Teheran on November 12, 1817. Known today as Baha'u'llah, which means "The Glory of God," he was a member of one of the great patrician families of Iran.
In becoming a follower of the Bab, Baha'u'llah turned his back on wealth and privilege, and, like other followers, became the victim of cruel persecution. In 1852, he was imprisoned and then banished to Baghdad. There, in 1863, he announced that he was the promised one foretold by the Bab.
In making this claim, Baha'u'llah explained that all of the world's great religions have foretold a day when peace and justice would be established worldwide. The past Manifestations of God--such as Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad and the Bab--consciously prepared humanity for this day, much as educators prepare children for ever more complex studies. For Baha'is, Baha'u'llah's appearance fulfills the promise of all the world's scriptures. The followers of Baha'u'llah became known as Baha'is.
As a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire, he was sent from Baghdad to Constantinople (Istanbul), then to Adrianople (Edirne), and finally to the prison city of Akka, in the Holy Land, where he arrived in 1868. The Baha'i World Center is situated in the twin cities of Haifa and Akka, in present-day Israel.
From his days in Baghdad until his passing near Akka in 1892, Baha'u'llah wrote hundreds of letters and books. These writings comprise the principal scriptures of the Baha'i Faith. Within these texts are found the principles, teachings, prayers, and laws that guide the Baha'i community.
The most distinctive feature of the worldwide Baha'i community is its unity. Unlike virtually every other significant religious or social movement, the Baha'i Faith has resisted division into factions or sects. This essential unity has been achieved in large part because detailed provisions for interpretation, succession and leadership have all been made in the Baha'i writings.
Baha'is believe that Baha'u'llah established a new Covenant between God and humanity which befits the maturity of the human race. The most tangible evidence of this Covenant is the specific leadership succession outlined by Baha'u'llah, a development that is unique in religious history and which assures that the unity of the Baha'i community will be preserved.
Before his passing, Baha'u'llah wrote his will and testament and appointed his eldest son, 'Abdu'l-Baha (1844-1921), as the leader of the Baha'i Faith. 'Abdu'l-Baha's writings are also viewed as an authoritative source of Baha'i teachings.
'Abdu'l-Baha, in turn, appointed his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1896-1957), to be the "Guardian of the Faith" and his successor. He led the Baha'i Faith from 1921 until 1957. With the passing of Shoghi Effendi, the line of hereditary leaders of the Baha'i Faith ended. In 1963, following written instructions of Baha'u'llah, 'Abdu'l-Baha, and Shoghi Effendi, an international convention was held at the Baha'i World Center in Haifa to elect the first Universal House of Justice.
Elected every five years by the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies, the Universal House of Justice directs the spiritual and administrative affairs of the worldwide Baha'i community. Endowed by Baha'u'llah with the authority to legislate matters not mentioned in the Baha'i scriptures, the Universal House of Justice is the institution that keeps the Baha'i community unified and flexible, able to respond to the needs and conditions of an ever-changing world.