AskDefine | Define Bahaism

Dictionary Definition

Bahaism n : a religion founded in Iran in 1863; emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind; incorporates Christian and Islamic tenets; many adherents live in the United States; "Bahaism has no public rituals or sacraments and praying is done in private"

Extensive Definition

The Bahá'í Faith is a religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh in nineteenth-century Persia. There are an estimated five to six million Bahá'ís around the world in more than 200 countries and territories.
Bahá'í teachings emphasize the spiritual oneness of humanity and the underlying unity of the major world religions. Religious history is seen to have unfolded through the influence of a series of divinely-sent messengers, each of whom established a religion that was suited to the needs of the time. These messengers have included Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad and, most recently, the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. In Bahá'í belief, each messenger taught that other messengers would follow, and Bahá'u'lláh's claims and teachings fulfil the eschatological promises of previous scriptures. Humanity is understood to be involved in a process of collective evolution, and the need of the present time is for the gradual establishment of peace, justice and unity on a global scale.
The word "Bahá'í" (/bæhɒːʔiː/, /bəˈhai/, ) is used either as an adjective to refer to the Bahá'í Faith or as a term for a follower of Bahá'u'lláh, and the word is not a noun meaning the religion as a whole. It is derived from the Arabic Bahá’, meaning "glory" or "splendour". "Bahaism" (or "Baha'ism") has been used in the past but is fading from use.


The Bahá'í teachings are often summarized by referring to three core principles: the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of mankind. and is described as "a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty." Though inaccessible directly, God is nevertheless seen as conscious of his creation, with a will and purpose. In Bahá'í belief, God expresses this will in many ways, including through a series of divine messengers referred to as Manifestations of God or sometimes divine educators.
Bahá'í teachings state that God is too great for humans to fully comprehend, or to create a complete and accurate image, by themselves; human understanding of God is through his revelation via his Manifestations of God. In the Bahá'í religion God is often referred to by titles and attributes (e.g. the All-Powerful, or the All-Loving), and there is a substantial emphasis on monotheism, and an interpretation of such doctrines as the Trinity in a symbolic rather than literal sense. The Bahá'í teachings state that the attributes which are applied to God are used to translate Godliness into human terms and also to help individuals concentrate on their own attributes in worshipping God to develop their potentialities on their spiritual path.
Bahá'í beliefs are sometimes described as syncretic combinations of earlier religions' beliefs. Bahá'ís, however, assert that their religion is a distinct tradition with its own scriptures, teachings, laws, and history. Its religious background in Shi'a Islam is seen as analogous to the Jewish context in which Christianity was established. Bahá'ís describe their faith as an independent world religion, differing from the other traditions only in its relative age and in the appropriateness of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings to the modern context. Bahá'u'lláh is believed to have fulfilled the messianic expectations of these precursor faiths.

Human beings

The Bahá'í writings state that human beings have a "rational soul", and that this provides the species with a unique capacity to recognize God's station and humanity's relationship with its creator. Every human is seen to have a duty to recognize God through his messengers, and to conform to their teachings. Through recognition and obedience, service to humanity and regular prayer and spiritual practice, the Bahá'í writings state that the soul becomes closer to God, the spiritual ideal in Bahá'í belief. When a human dies, the soul passes into the next world, where its spiritual development in the physical world becomes a basis for judgment and advancement in the spiritual world. Heaven and Hell are taught to be spiritual states of nearness or distance from God that describe relationships in this world and the next, and not physical places of reward and punishment achieved after death.
The Bahá'í writings emphasize the essential equality of human beings, and the abolition of prejudice. Humanity is seen as essentially one, though highly varied; its diversity of race and culture are seen as worthy of appreciation and tolerance. Doctrines of racism, nationalism, caste and social class are seen as artificial impediments to unity. Most encyclopedias and similar sources estimate between 5 and 6 million Bahá'ís in the world in the early twenty-first century.
From its origins in the Persian and Ottoman Empires, by the early 20th century there are a number of converts in South and South East Asia, Europe, and North America. During the 1950s and 1960s vast travel teaching efforts brought the religion to almost every country and territory of the world. By the 1990s Bahá'ís were developing programs for systematic consolidation on a large scale, and the early 21st century saw large influxes of new adherents around the world.
According to The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2004: The Bahá'í religion was listed in The Britannica Book of the Year (1992–present) as the second most widespread of the world's independent religions in terms of the number of countries represented. Britannica claims that it is established in 247 countries and territories; represents over 2,100 ethnic, racial, and tribal groups; has scriptures translated into over 800 languages; and has seven million adherents worldwide [2005].



Shoghi Effendi, the appointed head of the religion from 1921 to 1957, wrote the following summary of what he considered to be the distinguishing principles of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings, which, he said, together with the laws and ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas constitute the bed-rock of the Bahá'í Faith:

Social principles

The following 12 principles are frequently listed as a quick summary of the Bahá'í teachings. They are derived from transcripts of speeches given by `Abdu'l-Bahá during his tour of Europe and North America in 1912. The list is not authoritative and a variety of such lists circulate.
With specific regard to the pursuit of world peace, Bahá'u'lláh prescribed a world-embracing Collective Security arrangement as necessary for the establishment of a lasting peace.

Mystical teachings

Although the Bahá'í teachings have a strong emphasis on social and ethical issues, there exist a number of foundational texts that have been described as mystical. It was first translated into English in 1906, becoming one of the earliest available books of Bahá'u'lláh to the West. The Hidden Words is another book written by Bahá'u'lláh during the same period, containing 153 short passages in which Bahá'u'lláh claims to have taken the basic essence of certain spiritual truths and written them in brief form. being universal and endless, and a "Lesser Covenant", being unique to each religious dispensation. The Lesser Covenant is viewed as an agreement between a Messenger of God and his followers and includes social practices and the continuation of authority in the religion. At this time Bahá'ís view Bahá'u'lláh's revelation as a binding lesser covenant for his followers; in the Bahá'í writings being firm in the covenant is considered a virtue to work toward. The Greater Covenant is viewed as a more enduring agreement between God and mankind, where a manifestation of God is expected to appear approximately every 1000 years.
With unity as an essential teaching of the religion, Bahá'ís follow an administration they believe is divinely ordained, and therefore see attempts to create schisms and divisions as efforts that are contrary to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. Throughout Bahá'í history schisms have occurred over the succession of authority. Bahá'í divisions have had relatively little success and have failed to attract a sizeable following. The followers of such divisions are regarded as Covenant-breakers and shunned, essentially excommunicated. Under the leadership of his son, `Abdu'l-Bahá, the religion gained a footing in Europe and America, and was consolidated in Iran, where it still suffered intense persecution. After the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1921, the leadership of the Bahá'í community entered a new phase, evolving from that of a single individual to an administrative order with a system of both elected bodies and appointed individuals.

The Báb

On October 23rd 1844 Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad of Shiraz, Iran proclaimed that he was "the Báb" ( "the Gate"), after a Shi`a religious concept.
Bahá'ís see the Báb as the forerunner of the Bahá'í Faith, because the Báb's writings introduced the concept of "He whom God shall make manifest", a Messianic figure whose coming, according to Bahá'ís, was announced in the scriptures of all of the world's great religions, and whom Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, claimed to be in 1863.


Mírzá Husayn `Alí of Núr was one of the early followers of the Báb, who later took the title of Bahá'u'lláh. He was arrested and imprisoned for this involvement in 1852. Bahá'u'lláh relates that in 1853, while incarcerated in the dungeon of the Síyáh-Chál in Tehran, he received the first intimations that he was the one anticipated by the Báb. Towards the end of his life, the strict and harsh confinement was gradually relaxed, and he was allowed to live in a home near `Akká, while still officially a prisoner of that city.
At local, regional, and national levels, Bahá'ís elect members to nine-person Spiritual Assemblies, which run the affairs of the religion. There are also appointed individuals working at various levels, including locally and internationally, which perform the function of propagating the teachings and protecting the community. The latter do not serve as clergy, which the Bahá'í Faith does not have. Any male Bahá'í, 21 years or older, is eligible to be elected to the Universal House of Justice; all other positions are open to male and female Bahá'ís.

Involvement in society


Monasticism is forbidden, and Bahá'ís attempt to ground their spirituality in ordinary daily life. Performing useful work, for example, is not only required but considered a form of worship. The importance of self-exertion and service to humanity in one's spiritual life is emphasised further in Bahá'u'lláh's writings, where he states that work done in the spirit of service to humanity enjoys a rank equal to that of prayer and worship in the sight of God.
The Bahá'í International Community has offices at the United Nations in New York and Geneva and representations to United Nations regional commissions and other offices in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Nairobi, Rome, Santiago, and Vienna. See this article for further information on the relationship between the Bahá'í International Community and the United Nations.

International plans

In 1939 Shoghi Effendi launched a seven year plan for the Bahá'ís of North America , followed by another in 1946. In 1953, he launched the first international plan, the Ten Year World Crusade. This plan included extremely ambitious goals for the expansion of Bahá'í communities and institutions, the translation of Bahá'í literature into several new languages, and the sending of Bahá'í pioneers into previously unreached nations. He announced in letters during the Ten Year Crusade that it would be followed by other plans under the direction of the Universal House of Justice, which was elected in 1963 at the culmination of the Crusade. The House of Justice then launched a nine year plan in 1964, and a series of subsequent multi-year plans of varying length and goals followed, guiding the direction of the international Bahá'í community.

Current international plan

Since the late 1990s the House of Justice has been directing communities to prepare for large-scale expansion, organizing localities into "clusters", creating new institutions such as Regional Councils and strengthening the various "training institutes". The recently completed five-year plan (2001–2006) focused on developing institutions and creating the means to "sustain large-scale expansion and consolidation" (Riḍván 158). Since 2001 the Bahá'ís around the world have been specifically encouraged to focus on children's classes, devotional gatherings, and a systematic study of the religion, known as study circles. A new focus was added in December 2005 with the addition of "junior youth" classes to the core activities, focusing on education for those between 11 and 14.
The second five-year plan (2006–2011) was launched by the Universal House of Justice in April of 2006; it calls upon the Bahá'ís of the world to establish advanced patterns of growth and community development in over 1,500 "clusters" around the world. It also alludes to a possible tier-election process for Local Spiritual Assemblies in localities with many Bahá'ís. The years from 2001 until 2021 represent four successive five-year plans, culminating in the centennial anniversary of the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá. The "study circles" are intended to be sustainable and self-perpetuating on a large scale. Participants complete a sequence of workbooks in small groups, facilitated by a tutor, and upon completion of the sequence a participant can then go on to facilitate study circles for others.
The most popular study program is the Ruhi Institute, a study course originally designed for use in Colombia, but which has received wide use. The first book studies three themes: the Bahá'í writings, prayer, and life and death. Subsequent themes include the education of children, the lives of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, service, and others. Bahá'u'lláh has provided for the progressive application of other laws that are dependent upon the existence of a predominantly Bahá'í society. The laws, when not in direct conflict with the civil laws of the country of residence, are binding on every Bahá'í, and the observance of personal laws, such as prayer or fasting, is the sole responsibility of the individual.

Places of worship

Most Bahá'í meetings occur in individuals' homes, local Bahá'í centers, or rented facilities. Worldwide, there are currently seven Bahá'í Houses of Worship, basically one per continent, with an eighth under construction in Chile. Bahá'í writings refer to an institution called a "Mashriqu'l-Adhkár" (Dawning-place of the Mention of God), which is to form the center of a complex of institutions including a hospital, university, and so on. Interracial marriage is also highly praised throughout Bahá'í scripture.
Bahá'ís intending to marry "should study each other's character and spend time getting to know each other before they decide to marry, and when they do marry it should be with the intention of establishing an eternal bond." Although parents should not choose partners for their children, once two individuals decide to marry, they must receive the consent of all living biological parents, even if one partner is not a Bahá'í. The Bahá'í marriage ceremony is simple; the only compulsory part of the wedding is the reading of the wedding vows prescribed by Bahá'u'lláh which both the groom and the bride read, in the presence of two witnesses.


The official symbol of the Bahá'í Faith is the five-pointed star, but a nine-pointed star is more frequently used. The ringstone symbol and calligraphy of the Greatest Name are also often encountered. The former consists of two stars interspersed with a stylized Bahá’ ( "splendor" or "glory") whose shape is meant to recall the three onenesses. The Greatest Name is Yá Bahá'u'l-Abhá ( "O Glory of the Most Glorious!"), rendered in Arabic calligraphy.


The Bahá'í calendar is based upon the calendar established by the Báb. The year consists of 19 months of 19 days, with four or five intercalary days, to make a full solar year. The marginalization of the Iranian Bahá'ís by current governments is rooted in historical efforts by Shi`a clergy to persecute the religious minority. When the Báb started attracting a large following the clergy hoped to stop the movement from spreading by stating that its followers were enemies of God, and these led to mob attacks and public executions. In one case in Yazd in 1903 more than 100 Bahá'ís were killed. Later on Bahá'í schools, such as the Tarbiyat boys' and girl's schools in Tehran, were closed in the 1930s and '40s, Bahá'í marriages were not recognized and Bahá'í literature was censored.
During the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, due to the growing nationalism and the economic difficulties in the country, the Shah gave up control over certain religious affairs to the clergy of the country. This resulted in a campaign of persecution against the Bahá'ís. They approved and coordinated the anti-Bahá'í campaign to incite public passion against the Bahá'ís started in 1955 and included the spreading of anti-Bahá'í propaganda in national radio stations and official newspapers. Bahá'ís were portrayed as economic threats, supporters of Israel and the West and popular hatred for the Bahá'ís increased.
Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 Iranian Bahá'ís have regularly had their homes ransacked or been banned from attending university or holding government jobs, and several hundred have received prison sentences for their religious beliefs, most recently for participating in study circles.
According to a US panel, attacks on Bahá'ís in Iran have increased since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights revealed an October 2005 confidential letter from Command Headquarters of the Armed Forces of Iran to identify Bahá'ís and to monitor their activities. Due to these actions, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights stated on March 20, 2006, that she "also expresses concern that the information gained as a result of such monitoring will be used as a basis for the increased persecution of, and discrimination against, members of the Bahá'í faith, in violation of international standards… The Special Rapporteur is concerned that this latest development indicates that the situation with regard to religious minorities in Iran is, in fact, deteriorating."
The Bahá'ís in Egypt have also faced hardship; on December 16 2006 the Supreme Administrative Council of Egypt ruled the government may not recognize the Bahá'í Faith in official identification numbers. The ruling left Egyptian Bahá'ís unable to obtain government documents, including ID cards, birth, death, marriage or divorce certificates, or passports, all of which require a person's religion to be listed. They also could not be employed, educated, treated in hospitals or vote, among other things. On January 29, 2008 Cairo's court of Administrative Justice, ruling on two related court cases, ruled in favour of the Bahá'ís, allowing them to obtain birth certificates and identification documents, so long as they omit their religion on court documents, however as of April 22, 2008 the Egyptian Ministry of Interior has yet to implement the ruling, and Bahá'ís remain without identification cards.


Bernard Lewis states that the Muslim laity and Islamic authorities have always had great difficulty in accommodating post-Islamic monotheistic religions such as the Bahá'í Faith, since the followers of such religions cannot be dismissed either as benighted heathens, like the polytheists of Asia and the animists of Africa, nor as outdated precursors, like the Jews and Christians. Moreover, their very existence presents a challenge to the Islamic doctrine of the perfection and finality of Muhammad's revelation.



External links

Bahaism in Afrikaans: Bahá'í
Bahaism in Arabic: بهائية
Bahaism in Aragonese: Bahaísmo
Bahaism in Asturian: Baha'i
Bahaism in Azerbaijani: Bəhailik
Bahaism in Bengali: বাহাই ধর্ম
Bahaism in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Багаі
Bahaism in Bosnian: Baha'i
Bahaism in Bulgarian: Бахайство
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Bahaism in Czech: Bahá'í
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Bahaism in Estonian: Baha'i usk
Bahaism in Modern Greek (1453-): Μπαχάι Πίστη
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Bahaism in Esperanto: Bahaa Kredo
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Bahaism in Korean: 바하이 신앙
Bahaism in Hindi: बहाई धर्म
Bahaism in Croatian: Bahá'í
Bahaism in Ido: Bahaa Religio
Bahaism in Indonesian: Baha'i
Bahaism in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Fide Bahá'í
Bahaism in Icelandic: Bahá'í trúin
Bahaism in Italian: Bahaismo
Bahaism in Hebrew: הדת הבהאית
Bahaism in Georgian: ბაჰაიზმი
Bahaism in Cornish: Fay Bahá'í
Bahaism in Kongo: Kibaha
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Bahaism in Malay (macrolanguage): Bahá'í
Bahaism in Dutch: Bahai
Bahaism in Japanese: バハーイー教
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Bahaism in Polish: Bahaizm
Bahaism in Portuguese: Fé Bahá'í
Bahaism in Romanian: Credinţa Bahá'í
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Bahaism in Scots: Bahá'í Faith
Bahaism in Sicilian: Fidi Baha'i
Bahaism in Simple English: Bahá'í Faith
Bahaism in Slovak: Bahájska viera
Bahaism in Slovenian: Bahajstvo
Bahaism in Serbian: Бахаи вера
Bahaism in Serbo-Croatian: Bahaizam
Bahaism in Finnish: Bahá'í
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Bahaism in Tamil: பஹாய் சமயம்
Bahaism in Thai: ศาสนาบาฮาอี
Bahaism in Turkish: Bahailik
Bahaism in Ukrainian: Бахаїзм
Bahaism in Urdu: بہائی مت
Bahaism in Chinese: 巴哈伊教
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