UNDERSTANDING THE BAHA'I FAITH
By Paul McKenna
The unique contribution of the Bahá'í faith to our contemporary world is its spiritual and social blueprint for a new global order rooted in peace, justice and unity. The central teachings of the Bahá'í religion are the oneness of God, the unity of all religions and the unification of the entire human family.
On May 23, 1844, in Shiraz, Persia (now Iran), a young Muslim merchant known as the Báb announced the future coming of a great messenger of God. This great messenger, it was predicted, would usher in a new era of justice and peace for all humanity.
The Báb saw himself as a forerunner. Because he foresaw the establishment of an independent religion, his message was immediately perceived as heretical by the Muslim clergy; he was beaten, imprisoned and finally executed by the Persian government in 1850 at the age of 31. But even before his death he succeeded in attracting numerous followers.20,000 of these were killed in various massacres throughout Persia.
One of those drawn to the teachings of the Báb was a young Persian nobleman named Bahá'ulláh (1817-1892). When he proclaimed himself a follower of the Báb he was arrested and tortured. He was exiled first to Baghdad where in 1863 he announced that he was the great messenger prophesied by the Báb. Subsequently, he was banished to various cities throughout the Ottoman empire. He spent almost 40 years of his life in exile and imprisonment, but during this time he committed his teachings to writing; the central theme of his message was the coming unification of the human family and the emergence of a global civilization. Even before his death his teachings had begun to spread beyond the Middle East.
Bahá'ulláh's son, Abdu'l-Bahá and his great-grandson, Shogi Effendi, were responsible for interpreting the founder's message and writings, for promoting Bahá'í unity, and for administering the affairs of the Bahá'í community which was quickly developing into an international religion. Shogi Effendi, who died in 1957, was the last individual leader of the Bahá'í faith.
Since 1963, the spiritual, legislative and administrative affairs of the international Bahá'í community have been managed by the Universal House of Justice. Located in Haifa, Israel, the House of Justice is a nine-member body elected at five-year intervals by Bahá'í governing institutions in each nation. Over a century ago, Bahá'ulláh had a prophetic intuition that correctly predicted the 20th century concept of "the global village" and the current reality of interfaith dialogue.
Unification of the Global Human Family
Bahá'ís believe that humanity is one single community. God, they believe, has set in motion historical forces that are currently breaking down the traditional barriers of race, class, sex, and nation. The principal challenge facing the peoples of the earth is to accept the fact that they are one family and to cooperate with the processes of unification.
Among the principles which the Bahá'í faith promotes as vital to the achievement of a just, peaceful and unified global order are:
- the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty;
- the equality of women and men;
- a code of human rights for all peoples;
- the protection of cultural diversity;
- universal compulsory education;
- the harmony of science and religion;
- the common foundation of all religions;
- the elimination of prejudice of all kinds be it racial, sexual, credal, classist or nationalist;
- a world government;
- an integrated mechanism for global communication;
- the coordination of the world's economy.
The Bahá'í faith is in a good position to be advocating global unity: Bahá'í communities can be found in over 166 countries. Although it is significantly smaller than the other world faiths Bahá'ís number 5.6 million worldwide the Bahá'í religion is second only to Christianity in terms of international presence and scope. Bahá'ís belong to 2100 different ethnic groupings. And Bahá'í scriptures and literature have been translated into over 800 languages and dialects.
There are currently 20,000 adherents in Canada. The first Bahá'í community in Canada began in Montreal in 1902.
For Bahá'ís, divine revelation is considered to be a continuing and progressive historical process religious history is a succession of revelations from God.
The chief means by which God intervenes in history is through chosen spokespersons or what Bahá'ís refer to as "manifestations of God". These special divine messengers are primarily the founders of the great religions: Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and others.
According to Bahá'ís, the essential spiritual teachings that each religion has given to humankind are the same: compassion, justice, the importance of prayer and meditation, the reality of the soul, reverence for the earth, self-discipline, and truthfulness.
For more information about the Bahá'í faith, contact: Department of Public Affairs, Bahá'í Community of Canada, 7200 Leslie St., Thornhill, ON, L3T 6L8. Ph: (416) 889-8168.
Ethical guidelines for members of the Bahá'í faith
Bahá'í sacred texts are composed of Bahá'ulláh's writings (he produced more than 100 writings and books) and the interpretation of these writings by his two successors his son and great-grandson.
Bahá'ís usually gather for worship in halls or rented facilities. Services are simple, consisting of prayers, meditations and scripture readings. There are no clergy, rituals or sermons in the Bahá'í religion.
Followers are obliged to pray daily, yet they consider their most important prayer to be the conduct of their daily lives religion is an attitude toward God that is reflected in daily existence. Prayer, meditation and work are to be performed in the spirit of service to humanity; each is an expression of the worship of God.