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The Origin, Beliefs and Purpose of the Baha'i Faith

I write on diverse religious issues, often analysing perspectives from the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Bahá’í).

Not long ago, I had the chance to give a presentation on my religion, the Bahá’í Faith, to the “Interfaith Conversations” WhatsApp group. Here follows a brief introduction to my faith, along the lines of what I had shared on that occasion in audio format:

Baha'i House of Worship in Santiago, Chile

Baha'i House of Worship in Santiago, Chile

What Is Baha'i Faith?

The first thing to say is that the Bahá’í Faith is a religion. It is in fact a new religion. It is an independent religion and not a sect or denomination of any religion. So, we say it is the latest of the independent world religions.

What makes the Bahá’í Faith an independent religion is that it has its own Founder, Bahá’u’lláh, whom we believe is a Messenger of God on a par with the other Founders of religions. Bahá’ís do use the term “Prophet” or “Messenger of God” when necessary but prefer “Manifestation of God”, meaning the one who makes God known to man. The name “Bahá’u’lláh” is actually an Arabic title and means “The Glory of God”.

In addition to its own Founder, the Bahá’í Faith has its own holy books as well as new teachings, laws, principles, institutions and even a new calendar. And these are the things that make it a new, independent religion.

Brief History of the Baha'i Faith

The ancient land of Persia, today’s Iran, is the place of origin of the Bahá’í Faith. In that country, in 1844, a young man arose and proclaimed himself a Manifestation of God, taking on the name of “The Báb”, an Arabic title meaning “The Gate” or “Door”. He explained that he was the gate to a new age in human history. But that was not all. His main mission, he went on to announce, was to prepare the people for the imminent appearance of an even greater Manifestation of God.

For his bold claims, the Báb was executed six years into his prophetic ministry. Some 20,000 of his followers also suffered a similar fate. Yet just over a decade later, Bahá’u’lláh—then known merely as a member of the new religious movement, albeit a very prominent one—declared in Baghdad that he was in fact the one whose coming the Báb had announced. And this was in 1863. Before that, he had endured imprisonment in his homeland Persia followed by exile to neighbouring Iraq for championing the cause of the Báb,

But Bahá’u’lláh went further than this declaration, asserting his coming had been anticipated in all the major religions of the world.

Bahá’ís regard Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God for today and the Promised One of all religions. They also hail the Báb as a Manifestation of God and the Forerunner of Bahá’u’lláh.

For this reason, Bahá’ís refer to Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God for today and the Promised One of all Religions. They also hail the Báb as a Manifestation of God and the Forerunner of Bahá’u’lláh. While Bahá’u’lláh is the recognized founder of the Bahá’í Faith, he and the Báb are known to Bahá’ís as Twin Manifestations of God and are even referred to on occasions as Twin Founders of the Bahá’í Faith.

For his extraordinary claims, Bahá’u’lláh suffered further exile from Baghdad and was sent to other locations within the Ottoman Empire: First to Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) and then to Adrianople (Edirne) before eventually ending up a prisoner in the fortified city of ‘Akká, At the time ‘Akká was also part of the Ottoman Empire but is now in present-day northern Israel. It is in the vicinity of this ancient city that he passed away in 1892 after a 40-year prophetic ministry, and where he is buried. His forerunner the Báb is also buried not too far away, on the slopes of Mount Carmel, in Haifa, northern Israel.

Today, the faith’s international community extends to practically every corner of the globe and comprises people of every religious, racial, national, and ethnic background.

Terraces leading to the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel, Haifa, Israel, where the Bab is buried.

Terraces leading to the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel, Haifa, Israel, where the Bab is buried.

Introduction to the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith

Bahá’u’lláh wrote over 100 volumes of books on diverse subjects of relevance to the contemporary world. His teachings are vast, modern, universal, and forward-looking.

Some Baha'i Beliefs

Bahá’u’lláh wrote over 100 volumes of books on diverse subjects of relevance to the contemporary world. His teachings are vast, modern, universal and forward-looking. Here follows a few of them:

  1. Bahá’u’lláh teaches that God is only one, the same Omnipotent Being worshipped by the religious communities.
  2. He asserts that the religions have all come from God and are therefore also all one.
  3. The Bahá’í Faith teaches progressive revelation, the concept that the full measure of God’s word is being revealed to mankind only gradually and in stages. Bahá’u’lláh indicates that once every thousand years or so, God sends an Emissary to a specific area of the globe with religious lessons tailored to the needs of the people, lessons that take account of their level of maturity and of the time and place. And today, a new divine message has come to the whole of mankind through him.
  4. Yet another teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is that the world has now entered the age of maturity and for this reason, man is required to investigate truth for himself and not subscribe uncritically to every religious dogma, man-made doctrine or clergy-inspired creed he is exposed to nor blindly follow outmoded traditions inherited from the past.
  5. Another teaching of Baha’u’llah is that mankind is one, that despite the differences in our religious, racial, national or ethnic backgrounds, we are all the children of one heavenly Father.
  6. He affirms the principle of equal rights, opportunities and privileges for men and women; stresses that religion must reconcile and be in harmony with both science and reason; and advocates the need for the application of spiritual solutions to the world’s economic problems.
Baha'i House of Worship in the shape of a lotus flower, in Delhi, India

Baha'i House of Worship in the shape of a lotus flower, in Delhi, India

This is the time for the building of the Christ-promised Kingdom of God on earth.

The Purpose of the Baha'i Faith

The main mission of Bahá’u’lláh, the purpose for his appearance, is to unite all the diverse segments of human society—the races, nationalities, ethnicities, classes, castes, creeds, and so on—and usher in the long-awaited age of peace on the planet. It is this sacred mission that essentially informs the beliefs and practices of this young faith.

In his Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Bahá’u’lláh declares: “The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Daystar of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.”

And for those who think the world is going to end soon, Bahá’ís are adamant that this is not going to happen. This is the time for the building of the Christ-promised Kingdom of God on earth, Bahá’ís claim.

This, in brief, is what the Bahá’í Faith is about.

Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, USA

Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, USA

A Guide to Spiritual Development and Rightful Living

Reaction in the Interfaith Group

The above presentation, in audio format, closely follows what I had prepared and presented in the “Interfaith Conversations” WhatsApp group. On the platform, we share teachings and insights from our respective faiths, the overall aim being the promotion of love, fellowship, and mutual understanding amongst members of the diverse religious groups represented. It is a free space so people join of their own volition and leave as they wish.

We have had Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims as well as other unidentified groups, some of these faiths being seemingly represented by a multiplicity of sects and denominations. The Bahá’í Faith which I represent is relatively small and not as well-known as the others. That does not stop me from commenting and sharing insights from my religious perspective, on issues that arise from time to time in the discussions that are posted on the platform. As a matter of fact, my religion has a lot to say on many of the religious and social issues that are sources of bafflement, tension, or disagreement amongst members of other religions.

That audio presentation on the Bahá’í Faith was my first major intervention on the platform. Others had also given presentations of their respective faiths as a way of introducing members to the basic teachings of each of the religious traditions on the platform.

After my presentation, the reaction on the platform was muted, as it usually is on most occasions; but just the other day, a new arrival to the Group insisted on knowing what Bahá’í was after I had posted a Bahá’í song in audio format on the platform. When I responded with a brief, summarized version of the above presentation in text format, his reaction, which came in three successive posts, was swift, harsh and uncompromising.

“I have never seen a fool like you in my life,” were his abusive words. “And you believed?” “Fool Man”.

I refrain from mentioning his religious background here out of respect for the faith he claims to follow and out of consideration for his coreligionists, many of whom would likely have been taken aback as I was and embarrassed by his outburst. Of course, he was summarily removed from the platform, as it has zero tolerance for insults and provocations of any kind. But I wonder what could have been the trigger for his anger. Could it really have been the above noble teachings of the faith, or it was perhaps the idea of a new Messenger from God?

If it was the latter, no surprise there—because no Messenger has ever been welcomed with open arms on his appearance. Just think of the rejection of Moses by the Egyptian Pharaoh and his loyal subjects, the denunciation and crucifixion of Jesus by his Jewish compatriots, and not forgetting the violent opposition against Muhammad by the unruly tribes of Arabia at the launch of his religious mission.

Yet I must be grateful that his outburst was limited only to mere words, no matter how vile and unwarranted. Years ago, I got threatened with death by another fanatic (of the same religious persuasion, incidentally) for also sharing the teachings of my faith with him during a supposedly friendly conversation, at an airport of all places, as we both waited in the transit lounge for our connecting flights. But that is another story.

It does seem, when all is said and done, though, that when it comes to religion and matters of the spirit, the more the world changes and advances with the passage of time and the revolution of ages, the more man remains the same. Sadly.

  • Bahá’í Reference Library | The Bahá’í Faith
    The principal works of Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb, in addition to other authoritative texts of the Bahá’í Faith, in English (and other major languages), all available for free downloading.
  • What Baha'is Believe
    The website of the worldwide Bahá’í community: An introductory article at the official website of the Bahá’í Faith, with links to other thematic areas of Bahá’í belief.

© 2021 Kobina Amissah-Fynn