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Misc Baha'i : Brittanica article

A summary Reprinted from the Encyclopaedia Britannica


Reprinted from the 1988 Britannica Book of the Year

Page 1

Bahá'í faith is a religion founded by Mirza Husayn 'Ali

(1817-92; known as . . . Bahá'u'lláh, Glory of God). The word

Bahá'í derives from Bahá ("glory, splendor") and signifies a

follower of Bahá'u'lláh. The religion stemmed from The Bábi

faith -- founded in 1844 by Mirza (Siyyid) 'Ali Muhammad of

Shiraz, known as The Báb -- which emphasized the forthcoming

appearance of "Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest,"

a new prophet or messenger of God. The Bábi 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

Page 2
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 Báb ("gate," or channel of grace from someone still

veiled from the sight of men).

Soon the teachings of The Báb, 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

Báb 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 Báb 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 Bábis in which ultimately

more than 20,000 people lost their lives.
History and Extent

Bahá'u'lláh, who had been an early disciple of The Báb,

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 Bábis intent upon avenging their master. Though

Bahá'u'lláh 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 Bahá'u'lláh's

leadership revived The Bábi community, and an alarmed

Persian government urged the Ottoman government to

move both Bahá'u'lláh and the growing number of his

Page 3

followers farther away from Persia's borders. Before being

transferred to Constantinople, Bahá'u'lláh spent 12 days in a

garden on the outskirts of Baghad, where in April 1863 he

declared to a small number of Bábis that he was the messenger

of God whose advent had been prophesied by The Báb.

From Constantinople, where Bahá'u'lláh 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 Bábis acknowledged

Bahá'u'lláh's claim and thenceforth became known as Bahá'ís.

A small minority followed Bahá'u'lláh'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 Bahá'u'lláh

to Akka ('Akko, Acre), Palestine. He became, however, a

victim of his own intrigues and was himself exiled to Cyprus.

For almost two years Bahá'u'lláh, 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, Bahá'u'lláh

was permitted to reside within the walls of Akka and later in

a mansion near the town. Before his life ended in 1892,

Bahá'u'lláh saw his religion spread beyond Persia and the

Ottoman Empire to the Caucasus, Turkistan, India, Burma,

Egypt, and the Sudan.

Bahá'u'lláh appointed his eldest son, `Abdu'l-Bahá ("Servant

of the Glory," 1844-1921), as the leader of the Baha'i

community and the authorized interpreter of his teachings.

`Abdu'l-Bahá 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

Page 4

to 1913. `Abdu'l-Bahá appointed his eldest grandson, Shoghi

Effendi Rabbani (1897-1957), as his successor, Guardian of

the Cause, and authorized interpreter of the teachings of

Bahá'u'lláh, thus assuring the continued unity of the believers.

During `Abdu'l-Bahá'í ministry, Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í faith has undergone

a period of rapid expansion.[1] By January 1989 Bahá'ís

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. Bahá'í 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

Bahá'í sacred literature consists of the total corpus of

the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and their interpretation and amplification

in the writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi.

Bahá'u'lláh's literary legacy of more than 100 works

includes the Kitáb-i-Aqdas ("The Most Holy Book"), the

repository of his laws; the Kitáb-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";

Page 5

Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, his last major work; as well as innumerable

prayers, meditations, exhortations, and epistles.

The Bahá'ís believe that the writings of Bahá'u'lláh are

inspired and constitute God's revelation for this age.

Religious and Social Tenets

Bahá'u'lláh 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 Báb, who "are one and

all the Exponents on earth of Him Who is me central Orb of

the universe...." The messengers, or, in Bahá'í 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 Bahá'ís

maintain that other manifestations will appear in the future,

though not, according to Bahá'u'lláh, before the expiration of

a full thousand years from his own revelation.

In Bahá'í teachings God is, and always has been, the

Creator. There was, therefore, never a time when the cosmos

Page 6

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 Bahá'u'lláh is to

know and to worship God and "to carry forward an ever

advancing civilization..." Man, whom Bahá'u'lláh 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, Bahá'u'lláh teaches, has evolved to the

point where unity of mankind has become the paramount

necessity. The Bahá'í 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,

Page 7

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 Bahá'í community is open to all who

profess faith in Bahá'u'lláh and accept his teachings. There

are no initiation ceremonies, no sacraments, and no clergy.

Every Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í calendar. The Nineteen Day Feast,

originally instituted by The Báb, brings together the Bahá'ís

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, Bahá'ís 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.]

Page 8

The Bahá'ís use a calendar established by The Báb and

confirmed by Bahá'u'lláh, 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 Bahá'u'lláh's mission (April 21, April 29, and

May 2), the declaration of the mission of The Báb (May 23), the

birth of Bahá'u'lláh (November 12), the birth of The Báb

(October 20), the passing of Bahá'u'lláh (May 29), and the

martyrdom of The Báb (July 9).
Organization and Administration

The Bahá'í community is governed according to general

principles proclaimed by Bahá'u'lláh and through institutions

created by him that were elaborated and expanded by

`Abdu'l-Bahá. These principles and institutions constitute

the Bahá'í administrative order, which the followers of the

faith believe to be a blueprint of a future world order. The

governance of the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í community. Each year

Bahá'ís 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 Bahá'u'lláh'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 Bahá'u'lláh

and legislates on matters not covered in the sacred texts. The

seat of the Universal House of Justice is in Haifa, Israel in the

Page 9

immediate vicinity of the shrines of The Báb and `Abdu'l-Bahá,

and near the shrine of Bahá'u'lláh at Bahji near Akka.

There also exist in the Bahá'í faith appointive institutions,

such as the Hands of the Cause of God and the

continental counselors. The former were created by

Bahá'u'lláh and later assigned by `Abdu'l-Bahá 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 Bahá'í institutions

and individuals are auxiliary boards appointed by the counselors

and serving under their direction.

The classic introduction to the Bahá'í faith, giving a

general view of its history and teachings, is J. E. ESSLEMONT,

Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, 4th rev. ed. (1980). The most

recent survey of the Bahá'í faith is WILLLAM S. HATCHER and J.

DOUGLAS MARTIN, The Bahá'í Faith: The Emerging Global Religion,

1st ed. (1984). GEORGE TOWNSHEND, The Promise of All Ages, 3rd

rev. ed. (1973), approaches the Bahá'í faith from a background

of Christianity. The history of the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'í faith in North America are

traced in ROBERT H. STOCKMAN, The Bahá'í Faith in America: Origins,

1892-1900 (1985). The most important source for the

study of the Bahá'í faith is the writings of Bahá'u'lláh and

their interpretation and application by `Abdu'l-Bahá and

Page 10

Shoghi Effendi. Several of Bahá'u'lláh's major works are

available in excellent English translations. The Kitáb-i-Iqan

(1950, reprinted 1981) is indispensable for understanding

Bahá'í 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 Bahá'u'lláh, end ed. (1976) is a representative

selection. `Abdu'l-Bahá'í 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 Bahá'u'lláh,

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.)
Page 11
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 Bahá'í 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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