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- Last Updated: March 6, 2013
- Originally Published: June 22, 2012
Baha’i, currently the eighth largest religion in the world, was founded in Iran by Mīrzā Ḥusayn ’Alī Nūrī (commonly known as). Adherents, called Baha’is, declare that all prophets of older religions were agents of a divine plan. Bahā’u’llāh was the latest in that line, a manifestation of God who taught that, despite appearances of difference, all religions taught the same truth. The Baha’i religion attempts break down barriers such as class, ethnic and national identity, race, and religious or philosophical belief to give rise to a universal civilization. Rather than being ritually oriented, the Baha’i religion is focused on social justice.
- God: The Baha'i God is not directly accessible, but he is aware of his creation. He is beyond human comprehension, and thus, man cannot create a complete and accurate image of him. Bahā’u’llāh refers to God by titles (such as “the All-Powerful” and “the All-Loving”) and sometimes in human terms, so that human beings may begin to understand him.
- Ritual: The Baha’i community has no spiritual rituals. In their place, adherents act individually as well as in groups towards social activism. This includes acting towards the advancement of moral and spiritual progress. The Bahā’ī seek basic moral reforms such as gender equality and an end to racial strife. Additionally, they work towards cultural reform, including economic justice, quality education for all, and establishing a global commonwealth. Finally, they emphasize the search for both scientific and religious truth.
- Prophets: God reveals his will to humanity through messengers that the Baha’i refer to as "Manifestations of God." The founders of large religions (such as Abraham, Moses, Zarathustra, the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad, among others) are all respected as Manifestations of God.
- Leadership: Shoghi Effendi, 'Abdu'l-Bahā's grandson, died before naming an heir. Because of this, the Universal House of Justice was established as the highest legislative body of the Baha’i faith. It is comprised of nine male members over age twenty-one who are elected every five years by the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies. The House and the Assemblies serve only as administrators only. The Baha’i’s have no actual clergy.
- Mirza Ali Muhammad (1819-1850 CE), known as the Bab, announced in Persia in 1844 that the rightly guided leader was about to appear.
- Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri (1817-1892), known as Bahā’u’llāh, publicly declared himself the Imām Mahdi in 1863, while living in Constantinople.
- 'Abbas Effendi (1844-1921), eldest son of Bahā’u’llāh, succeeded his father. He took the title "servant of Bahā" and was called the "Center of the Covenant." A world-traveling missionary until his death, he is seen by adherents as a perfect example of the Baha’i way.
- Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), 'Abdu'l-Bahā's grandson and a descendant of the Bab, was named "Guardian of the Bahā’ī" by his grandfather and led the faithful until his death. He shunned all titles and , and began the local focus of Baha’i leadership.
- Now numbering approximately six million adherents, with followers in many countries of the world, the Baha’i faith is world's seventh largest organized religion.
Some of the religious observances codified by Shoghi Effendi are as follows:
- Daily after reaching maturity (fifteen years old) is expected. The individual chooses each day's devotion from among three obligatory prayers.
- Daily meditation is observed.
- Healthy, adult Baha’is fast from sunrise to sunset daily for a nineteen-day period from March 2 through March 20. This is in preparation of the Baha’i New Year festival on March 21. Its original purpose was to abstain from everything except the love of the previous prophets that the Baha’i refer to as Messengers of God.
- Drugs—except by prescription—and alcohol are forbidden.
- Gambling, bickering, and gossip are prohibited and denounced.
- Abstinence from sexual intercourse is expected before marriage and absolute is expected after marriage. The marriage ceremony is simple—the one requirement is a reading of the wedding vow by the bride and the groom in the presence of two witnesses.