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A summary Reprinted from the Encyclopaedia Britannica

Reprinted from the 1988 Britannica Book of the Year



Baha'i faith is a religion founded by Mirza Husayn 'Ali
(1817-92; known as . . . Baha'u'llah, Glory of God). The word
Baha'i derives from Baha ("glory, splendor") and signifies a
follower of Baha'u'llah. The religion stemmed from the Babi
faith -- founded in 1844 by Mirza (Siyyid) 'Ali Muhammad of
Shiraz, known as the Bab -- which emphasized the forthcoming
appearance of "Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest,"
a new prophet or messenger of God. The Babi faith in turn
had sprung from Shi'ah Islam, which believed in the forthcoming
return of the 12th imam (successor of Muhammad),
who would renew religion and guide the faithful. This messianic
view was the basis of the teachings of the Shaykhi sect,
so named after Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsa'i. Shaykh Ahmad
and his successor, Siyyid Kazim-i-Rashti abandoned traditional
liberalism and gave allegorical interpretations to doctrines
such as resurrection, the Last Judgment, and the return
of the 12th imam. They and their followers expected the
appearance of the Qa'im (He Who Arises, the 12th imam) in
the immediate future.

On May 22,1844, in Shiraz, Persia, a young descendant <p2>
of Muhammad, Mirza 'Ali Muhammad, proclaimed to a
learned Shaykhi divine, Mulla Husayn-i-Bushru'i, that he
was the expected Qa'im, whereupon Mulla Husayn became
the first disciple of Mirza 'Ali Muhamad, who assumed the
title of the Bab ("gate," or channel of grace from someone still
veiled from the sight of men).

Soon the teachings of the Bab, the principal of which
was the tidings of the coming of "Him Whom God Shall
Make Manifest," spread throughout Persia, provoking strong
opposition on the part of the clergy and the government. The
Bab was arrested and, after several years of incarceration,
condemned to death. In 1850 he was brought to Tabriz,
where he was suspended by ropes against a wall in a public
square. A regiment of several hundred soldiers fired a
volley. When the smoke cleared, the large crowd that had
gathered at the place of execution saw ropes cut by bullets,
but the Bab had disappeared. He was found unhurt in an
adjacent building, calmly conversing with a disciple. The
execution was repeated, this time effectively. There followed
large-scale persecutions of the Babis in which ultimately
more than 20,000 people lost their lives.

History and Extent

Baha'u'llah, who had been an early disciple of the Bab,
was arrested in connection with an unsuccessful attempt on
the life of the shah of Persia, Nasiri'd-Din, made in August
1852 by two Babis intent upon avenging their master. Though
Baha'u'llah had not known of the plot, he was thrown into
the Black Pit, a notorious jail in Tehran, where he became
aware of his mission as a messenger of God. He was released
in January 1853 and exiled to Bag had. There Baha'u'llah's
leadership revived the Babi community, and an alarmed
Persian government urged the Ottoman government to
move both Baha'u'llah and the growing number of his <p3>
followers farther away from Persia's borders. Before being
transferred to Constantinople, Baha'u'llah spent 12 days in a
garden on the outskirts of Baghad, where in April 1863 he
declared to a small number of Babis that he was the messenger
of God whose advent had been prophesied by the Bab.
From Constantinople, where Baha'u'llah spent some four
months, he was transferred to Adrianople. There he made a
public proclamation of his mission in letters ("tablets")
addressed to the rulers of Persia, Turkey, Russia, Prussia,
Austria, and Britain, to the pope, and to the Christian and
Muslim clergy collectively.

An overwhelming majority of the Babis acknowledged
Baha'u'llah's claim and thenceforth became known as Baha'is.
A small minority followed Baha'u'llah's half brother, Mirza
Yahya Subh-i-Azal, creating a temporary breach within the
ranks of the Basis. Embittered by his failure to win more than
a handful of adherents, Mirza Yahya, assisted by his supporters,
provoked the Turkish government into exiling Baha'u'llah
to Akka ('Akko, Acre), Palestine. He became, however, a
victim of his own intrigues and was himself exiled to Cyprus.

For almost two years Baha'u'llah, his family, and a
number of disciples were confined in army barracks converted
into a jail. One of his sons and several companions
died. When the severity of the incarceration abated, Baha'u'llah
was permitted to reside within the walls of Akka and later in
a mansion near the town. Before his life ended in 1892,
Baha'u'llah saw his religion spread beyond Persia and the
Ottoman Empire to the Caucasus, Turkistan, India, Burma,
Egypt, and the Sudan.

Baha'u'llah appointed his eldest son, 'Abdu'l-Baha ("Servant
of the Glory," 1844-1921), as the leader of the Baha'i
community and the authorized interpreter of his teachings.
'Abdu'l-Baha not only administered the affairs of the movement
from Palestine but also actively engaged in spreading
the faith, traveling in Africa, Europe, and America from 1910 <p4>
to 1913. 'Abdu'l-Baha appointed his eldest grandson, Shoghi
Effendi Rabbani (1897-1957), as his successor, Guardian of
the Cause, and authorized interpreter of the teachings of
Baha'u'llah, thus assuring the continued unity of the believers.

During 'Abdu'l-Baha's ministry, Baha'i groups were
established in North Africa, the Far East, Australia, and the
United States. Since then the movement has spread to virtually
every country in the world, with particularly large and
vigorous communities in Africa, Iran, India, the United
States, and certain areas of Southeast Asia and the Pacific....
Since the 1960s ... the Baha'i faith has undergone
a period of rapid expansion.[1] By January 1989 Baha'is
resided in more than 118,000 localities throughout the world,
with 148 national spiritual assemblies (national governing
bodies -- two more are to be elected in April 1989) and 20,000
local spiritual assemblies. Baha'i literature has been translated
into more than 800 languages.
[1. The remainder of this paragraph has been revised to reflect current membership statistics. -- ED.]

Sacred Literature

Baha'i sacred literature consists of the total corpus of
the writings of Baha'u'llah and their interpretation and amplification
in the writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi.
Baha'u'llah's literary legacy of more than 100 works
includes the Kitab-i-Aqdas ("The Most Holy Book"), the
repository of his laws; the Kitab-i-Iqan (The Book of Certitude),
an exposition of essential teachings on the nature of God and
religion; The Hidden Words, a collection of brief utterances
aimed at the edification of men's "souls and the rectification
of their conduct"; The Seven Valleys, a mystic treatise that
"describes the seven stages which the soul of the seeker must
needs traverse ere it can attain the object of its existence"; <p5>
Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, his last major work; as well as innumerable
prayers, meditations, exhortations, and epistles.
The Baha'is believe that the writings of Baha'u'llah are
inspired and constitute God's revelation for this age.

Religious and Social Tenets

Baha'u'llah teaches that God is unknowable and "beyond
every human attribute, such as corporeal existence,
ascent and descent, egress and regress." "No tie of direct
intercourse can possibly bind Him to His creatures.... No
sign can indicate His presence or His absence...." Human
inability to grasp the divine essence does not lead to agnosticism,
since God has chosen to reveal himself through his
messengers, among them Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster,
Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and the Bab, who "are one and
all the Exponents on earth of Him Who is me central Orb of
the universe...." The messengers, or, in Baha'i terminology,
"manifestations," are viewed as occupying two "stations," or
occurring in two aspects. The first "is the station of pure
abstraction and essential unity," in which one may speak of
the oneness of the messengers of God because all are manifestations
of his will and exponents of his word. This does not
constitute syncretism since "the other station is the station of
distinction.... In this respect, each manifestation of God
heath a distinct individuality, a definitely prescribed mission...."
Thus, while the essence of all religions is one, each
has specific features that correspond to the needs of a given
time and place and to the level of civilization in which a
manifestation appears. Since religious truth is considered
relative and revelation progress he and continuing, the Baha'is
maintain that other manifestations will appear in the future,
though not, according to Baha'u'llah, before the expiration of
a full thousand years from his own revelation.

In Baha'i teachings God is, and always has been, the
Creator. There was, therefore, never a time when the cosmos <p6>
did not exist. Man was created through God's love: "Veiled
in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My
essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee."
The purpose of man's existence as taught by Baha'u'llah is to
know and to worship God and "to carry forward an ever
advancing civilization..." Man, whom Baha'u'llah calls
"the noblest and most perfect of all created things," is endowed
with an immortal soul which, after separation from
the body, enters a new form of existence. Heaven and hell are
symbolic of the soul's relationship to God. Nearness to God
results in good deeds and gives infinite joy, while remoteness
from him leads to evil and suffering. To fulfill his high
purpose, man must recognize the messenger of God within
whose dispensation he lives and "observe every ordinance of
him who is the desire of the world. These twin duties are
inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other."

Civilization, Baha'u'llah teaches, has evolved to the
point where unity of mankind has become the paramount
necessity. The Baha'i faith, in the words of Shoghi Effendi,

proclaims the necessity and the inevitability of the unification of
mankind asserts that it is gradually approaching, and claims that
nothing short of the transmuting spirit of God, working through
His chosen Mouthpiece in this day, can ultimately succeed in
bringing it about. It, moreover, enjoins upon its followers the
primary duty of an unfettered search after truth, condemns all
manner of prejudice and superstition, declares the purpose of religion
to be the promotion of amity and concord, proclaims its essential
harmony with science, and recognizes it as the foremost agency
for the pacification and-the orderly progress of human society. It
unequivocally maintains the principle of equal rights,
opportunities and privileges for men and women, insists on compulsory
education, eliminates extremes of poverty and wealth, abolishes the
institution of priesthood, prohibits slavery, asceticism, mendicancy,
and monasticism, prescribes monogamy, discourages divorces,
emphasizes the necessity of strict obedience to one's government, <p7>
extols any work performed in the spirit of service to the level
of worship, urges either the creation or the selection of an auxiliary
international language, and delineates the outlines of those institutions
that must establish and perpetuate the general peace of mankind.


Membership in the Baha'i community is open to all who
profess faith in Baha'u'llah and accept his teachings. There
are no initiation ceremonies, no sacraments, and no clergy.
Every Baha'i however, is under the spiritual obligation to
pray daily; to fast 19 days a year, going without food or drink
from sunrise to sunset; to abstain totally from narcotics,
alcohol, or any substances that affect the mind; to practice
monogamy; to obtain the consent of parents to marriage; and
to attend the Nineteen Day Feast on the first day of each
month of the Baha'i calendar. The Nineteen Day Feast,
originally instituted by the Bab, brings together the Baha'is
of a given locality for prayer, the reading of scriptures, the
discussion of community activities, and the enjoyment of
one another's company. The feasts are designed to ensure
universal participation in the affairs of the community and
the cultivation of the spirit of brotherhood and fellowship.
Eventually, Baha'is in every locality plan to erect a house of
worship around which will be grouped such institutions as
a home for the aged, an orphanage, a school and a hospital.
By the early 1980s there were houses of worship in Wilmette,
Illinois; Frankfurt am Main, West Germany; Kampala, Uganda;
Sydney, Australia; and Panama City, Panama. Houses of
worship were under construction in New Delhi, India, and in
Apia, Western Samoa.[1] In the temples there is no preaching;
services consist of recitation of the scriptures of all religions.
[1. The House of Worship in Western Samoa was dedicated in 1984;
the House of Worship in India was dedicated in December 1986. -- ED.]

The Baha'is use a calendar established by the Bab and
confirmed by Baha'u'llah, in which the year is divided into 19
months of 19 days each, with the addition of four intercalary
days (five in leap years). The year begins on the first day of
spring, March 21, which is a holy day. Other holy days on
which work is suspended are the days commemorating the
declaration of Baha'u'llah's mission (April 21, April 29, and
May 2), the declaration of the mission of the Bab (May 23), the
birth of Baha'u'llah (November 12), the birth of the Bab
(October 20), the passing of Baha'u'llah (May 29), and the
martyrdom of the Bab (July 9).

Organization and Administration

The Baha'i community is governed according to general
principles proclaimed by Baha'u'llah and through institutions
created by him that were elaborated and expanded by
'Abdu'l-Baha. These principles and institutions constitute
the Baha'i administrative order, which the followers of the
faith believe to be a blueprint of a future world order. The
governance of the Baha'i community begins on the local level
with the election of a local spiritual assembly. The electoral
process excludes parties or factions, nominations, and campaigning
for office. The local spiritual assembly has jurisdiction
over all local affairs of the Baha'i community. Each year
Baha'is elect delegates to a national convention that elects a
national spiritual assembly with jurisdiction over the entire
country. All national spiritual assemblies of the world periodically
constitute themselves an international convention
and elect the supreme governing body known as the Universe'
House of Justice. In accordance with Baha'u'llah's writings,
the Universal House of Justice functions as the supreme
administrative, legislative, and judicial body of the Baha'i
commonwealth It applies the laws promulgated by Baha'u'llah
and legislates on matters not covered in the sacred texts. The
seat of the Universal House of Justice is in Haifa, Israel in the <p9>
immediate vicinity of the shrines of the Bab and 'Abdu'l-Baha,
and near the shrine of Baha'u'llah at Bahji near Akka.

There also exist in the Baha'i faith appointive institutions,
such as the Hands of the Cause of God and the
continental counselors. The former were created by
Baha'u'llah and later assigned by 'Abdu'l-Baha the functions
of propagating the faith and protecting the community.
The Hands of the Cause appointed by Shoghi Effendi
in his lifetime now serve under the direction of the Universal
House of Justice. The continental counselors perform the
same functions as the Hands of the Cause but are appointed
by the Universal House of Justice. Assisting the counselors
in advising, inspiring, and encouraging Baha'i institutions
and individuals are auxiliary boards appointed by the counselors
and serving under their direction.


The classic introduction to the Baha'i faith, giving a
general view of its history and teachings, is J. E. ESSLEMONT,
Baha'u'llah and the New Era, 4th rev. ed. (1980). The most
recent survey of the Baha'i faith is WILLLAM S. HATCHER and J.
DOUGLAS MARTIN, The Baha'i Faith: The Emerging Global Religion,
1st ed. (1984). GEORGE TOWNSHEND, The Promise of All Ages, 3rd
rev. ed. (1973), approaches the Baha'i faith from a background
of Christianity. The history of the Baha'i faith has
been studied by many scholars, but the most detailed and
poetic account is The Dawn-Breakers by MUHAMMAD-I-ZARANDI,
surnamed Nabil trans. and ed. by SHOGHI EFFENDI (1932, reprinted
1974; end ed., 1953); the latter's God Passes By (1944,
reprinted 1974), recounts to the end of the first Baha'i
century. The origins of the Baha'i faith in North America are
traced in ROBERT H. STOCKMAN, The Baha'i Faith in America: Origins,
1892-1900 (1985). The most important source for the
study of the Baha'i faith is the writings of Baha'u'llah and
their interpretation and application by 'Abdu'l-Baha and <p10>
Shoghi Effendi. Several of Baha'u'llah's major works are
available in excellent English translations. The Kitab-i-Iqan
(1950, reprinted 1981) is indispensable for understanding
Baha'i views of God, progressive revelation, and the nature
of religion. The Hidden Words (1954, reprinted 1980) and The
Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, 3rd rev. ed. (1978), deal
with man's spiritual life and the states of the soul. Gleanings
from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, end ed. (1976) is a representative
selection. 'ABDU'L-BAHA'S Some Answered Questions, 5th
rev. ed. (1981), is a record of table talks on various religious
themes. The Secret of Divine Civilization, end ed. (1970) uses
the problem of modernization and development to set forth
the spiritual prerequisites of true progress and civilization.
SHOGHI EFFENDI'S writings include The World Order of Baha'u'llah,
end rev. ed. (1974), an exposition of principles for the establishment
of universal peace and world civilization; and The
Promised Day Is Come, end ed. (1980), an examination of the
effects of manifestation upon the modern world.
(F. Ka.)
Reprinted from the
1988 Britannica Book of the Year


The 1987 table below gives details of the global spread
of the world's 16 largest faiths or ideologies. It illustrates the
articles on the various religions by showing each religion's
continental statistics in the overall global context. It also
demonstrates an extraordinary religious development of the
20th century religious pluralism.

As the right-hand column demonstrates, over 14 major
religious systems are each now found in over 80 countries.
Christianity, Islam, and the Baha'i World Faith are the most
global; agnosticism and atheism are also widespread. Hinduism
has recently spread to 88 countries, Buddhism to 86.

This 20th-century spread has brought the religions into
contact with each other as never before. Thus we find
Filipino Catholics and Korean Protestants in Saudi Arabia,
Gujarati Hindus in rural England, Tibetan Tantrists in Wales,
Muslim mosques in every capital of Western Europe including
Rome. The long-term effects of this mass proximity are
sure to be profound. They are certainly resulting in unprecedented
interest in other people's religions, expressed in
seminars, courses, discussion, dialogue, tolerance, and even
acceptance. (David B. Barrett)

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