Q: Where and when was the Baha’i Faith founded?
A: The Baha’i Faith originated in Persia (now Iran) in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1844, a Persian named Siyyid Ali Muhammed, and later given the title of the “Bab” or “gate,” declared that he had received a revelation from God, and said that his mission was to alert the people to the imminent advent of another Prophet, “Him Whom God Shall make manifest.” The Bab gained a large following in Persia, and was ultimately executed by order of the Shah in 1850. Another Persian named Mirza Husayn Ali (later referred to as Baha’u’llah, a title meaning the “Glory of God”), one of the early followers of the Bab and a leader in the Babi community, publicly proclaimed in 1863 that he was the Prophet whose coming was foretold by the Bab. Baha’u’llah is considered the Prophet of the Baha’i Faith. Baha’is date the Baha’i calendar from the Bab’s declaration in 1844.
Q: Is the Baha’i Faith a sect of Islam?
A: No, the Baha’i Faith is an independent religion, which derives its spiritual authority from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith. The Baha’i Faith, however, recognizes that Muhammed was, like Baha’u’llah, a Prophet or Manifestation of God. Thus, the Baha’i Faith may be viewed as the successor to Islam, just as Christianity may be viewed as the successor to Judaism.
Q: Do Baha’is believe in one God?
A: Yes, Baha’is believe in a single, indivisible, omnipotent and essentially unknowable Divine Being, who is the creator and absolute ruler of the universe.
Q: Do Baha’is believe that any single Prophet of God is the “supreme” or “primary” Prophet?
A: No, Baha’is believe that all the Prophets of God have an equivalent station, that they all received a Divine Revelation from God and act as perfect mirrors of the divine attributes of God. Central to the Baha’i Faith is the concept of “progressive revelation.” Baha’is believe that God sends a new Prophet or “Manifestation” to mankind approximately every thousand years, to renew the central spiritual teachings which are common to all the
religions of God and to bring new social teachings which are appropriate to mankind’s social, cultural and technological development at that time. Baha’is recognize Baha’u’llah as the Manifestation for the current age. Among the prior Manifestations of God recognized by the Baha’i Faith are Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Christ and Muhammed.
Q: Do Baha’is believe in Christ?
A: Baha’is believe that Christ, like others before Him and after Him, was a Manifestation of God, that is, that he was the source of a direct revelation from God. Baha’is believe that all the Manifestations of God are the perfect mirrors of divine attributes, but that they remain human. Therefore, Baha’is do not accept the concept that Christ IS God, or the traditional concept of the Trinity.
Q: Do Baha’is believe in Satan?
A: No, Baha’is do not believe in the existence of any Being who is the embodiment of evil, or in evil as an independent force. In the Baha’i Writings, the terms “Satan” and “satanic” are used metaphorically to refer to the lower, base, selfish side of human beings, in contrast to their higher, virtuous, selfless side. Thus, the capacity for good or evil originates in man himself.
Q: Do Baha’is believe in the Bible?
A: Baha’is believe that the Bible is a divinely inspired compilation of prior revelations from God, and a source of the spiritual teachings found in all the religions of God. Baha’is do not believe, however, that the Bible in its entirety is to be viewed as literal history or that it is the sole source of spiritual truth. Baha’is believe that the founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, brought the most recent Revelation from God and that his Writings represent the authoritative statement of Divine teachings for this age.
Q: Do Baha’is have an equivalent of the Bible?
A: Unlike prior religions, Baha’is are blessed with authoritative copies of the writings of its founding Prophet. Baha’u’llah left numerous writings, preserved in His own handwriting or in transcriptions approved by Him, which guide Baha’is. Although there is no single book which contains all the teachings of Baha’u’llah, several books are recognized as especially important. Among these are the Kitab-i-Aqdas (the Most Holy Book), Baha’u’llah’s book of laws, and the Kitab-i-Iqan (the Book of Certitude), which is considered second in importance only to the Kitab-i-Aqdas.
Q: Is there a Baha’i clergy?
A: No, there is no Baha’i clergy. Baha’u’llah taught that in this age, mankind has reached its spiritual adulthood, and each person should now be responsible for his or her own spiritual development. Consequently, all Baha’is are expected to read and study the Writings, and not to rely on others.
Q: Are there regular Baha’i worship services?
A: Baha’is do not have regular worship services like those of most Christian denominations. Instead, we have “Firesides” and “Feasts,” typically held at the homes of members of the local community or in a local Baha’i center, if the community is large enough to support a separate facility. A Fireside is simply an informal gathering of Baha’is to discuss the Baha’i Faith. Although there is no required format, Firesides are usually held on a weekly basis and a talk is often prepared for Fireside by a member of the community, which will serve as the springboard for discussion. Firesides are open to guests and members of the public.
“Feasts” are gatherings of the Baha’i community only, held once each Baha’i month. (The Baha’i year, which is equivalent to a solar year, consists of 19 months of 19 days each, with 4 (5 in leap years) “Intercalary Days” between the 18th and 19th months). The Feast consists of three parts. The spiritual part involves the recitation of prayers. The administrative portion of the Feast is the time during which the local community conducts any necessary administrative business. Finally, during the “material portion” of the Feast, the community shares simple refreshments.
Q: Are there Baha’i churches?
A: Baha’is do not maintain local facilities comparable to Christian churches, Jewish synagogues or Islamic mosques. Most Baha’i gatherings are held at the homes of members of the local community or other simple accommodations in communities large enough to support separate facilities. Baha’u’llah called for the construction of a special Baha’i temple, known as the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, on each continent, to be reserved for devotions and reading from the revealed Word of God. Each of these Temples is a nine-sided building surmounted by a dome. The North American Baha’i Temple is located in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Illinois.
Q: What do Baha’is believe about prayer and meditation?
A: Baha’u’llah commanded Baha’is to pray and to meditate, although not to excess. Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdul’-Baha revealed many prayers which Baha’is are encouraged to use. Baha’u’llah stipulated that Baha’is should recite one of three specific obligatory prayers every day. Except for the obligatory prayers, there are no special gestures or positions one must take up for prayer. Prayers may be read, recited, chanted or sung. There is no congregational prayer in the Baha’i Faith, except for the prayer for the dead, when the prayer is recited by one person while all others present stand. Baha’is do not generally recite prayers in unison. There is no set form of meditation in the Baha’i Writings and the manner of meditating is left entirely to the individual.
Q: Do Baha’is tithe?
A: All Baha’is are encouraged to contribute regularly to the Baha’i funds to support Baha’i activities, although the amount of the donation is up to the individual. Baha’is are also expected to donate, during their lifetime, the equivalent of 19% of their total assets (excluding their residence and certain other possessions) to the Faith. Contributions to Baha’i funds are not accepted from non-Baha’is.
Q: Do Baha’is believe in life after death?
A: Baha’u’llah taught that man’s spirit continues after death, in a realm which is essentially unknowable. Baha’is use an analogy to describe the next world. It is said that the next world is to this life as this life is to the child in the womb. Like the child in the womb, we are completely surrounded by a larger, more splendid realm, but remain largely unaware of its existence. As a mercy from God, the essence of the next world is hidden from mankind, for if we knew and understood the nature of the next world, we would not be able to bear to remain subject to the limitations of this world. The next world does not involve a physical existence like that of this life, but is freed from physical constraints of time and place, much like our dreams.
Q: Do Baha’is believe in Heaven and Hell?
A: Baha’is believe that Heaven and Hell do not exist as physical places to which people are sent by God after death. All people, regardless of their religious beliefs or behavior during their lives, move on to the next world, but their nearness to God in the next world is dependent upon their spiritual development in this life. Thus, Baha’is speak of Heaven as nearness to God and Hell as remoteness from God. Baha’u’llah also taught that in the next world, people will no longer be able to exercise their free will to deny spiritual truths and disobey the laws of God. Everyone will continue to make spiritual progress in the next world, starting at the level of development attained in this world.
Q: Do Baha’is believe in reincarnation?
A: No. Baha’is believe that a person’s soul begins at the moment of conception, and continues into the next world as a non-physical being.
Q: Are there any special Baha’i burial laws?
A: Baha’is believe that the body is the temple of the spirit, and therefore it must be respected and treated with honor. Baha’i burial laws are designed to facilitate the natural passage of the soul to the next world, which Baha’is believe is neither effortless nor instantaneous. Baha’is are not embalmed or cremated following death, and may not be transported more than one hour’s journey from the place of death.
Q: Do Baha’is have any dietary restrictions?
A: No, Baha’u’llah did not impose any dietary restrictions on Baha’is.
Q: Why don’t Baha’is drink alcohol?
A: Baha’u’llah prohibited the consumption of intoxicants, including alcohol and narcotics, except when prescribed by a physician for medical treatment, because they cause the “disintegration of thought and the complete torpor of the soul.” Since his rational mind is what separates man from the animals, people should avoid any agent which disturbs or distorts that rational mind, unless necessary to treat a medical condition.
Q: What are the Baha’i requirements on fasting?
A: All Baha’is are required to observe the Fast from the age of 15, unless exempt due to illness or other exemptions recognized by Baha’u’llah. The Baha’i Fast requires the abstinence from food and drink between sunrise and sunset from March 2 through March 20 each year. The period of the Fast is a time of prayer and meditation, of spiritual recuperation and reinvigoration. Physical fasting is symbolic, and a reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires.
Q: May Baha’is marry non-Baha’is?
A: There are no restrictions on Baha’is marrying non-Baha’is. Both partners and their parents, however, must consent. When one partner is not a Baha’i, it is permissible to participate in the marriage ceremony of another faith as long as it does not involve a declaration of faith in another religion.
Q: Do Baha’is participate in political activities?
A: Baha’u’llah instructed all Baha’is to be good citizens, to obey the laws of their governments (other than such laws as would require breaking a basic spiritual law) and to vote if it can be done without identifying themselves with one party or another. Baha’is do not, however, participate in partisan politics, because of its divisive nature, and register to vote as unaffiliated with any political party.
Q: What do Baha’is believe about the death penalty?
A: Baha’is believe that, in order to protect society, the death penalty may be appropriate in certain cases. Since Baha’is believe that everyone passes to the next world and will continue to progress spiritually in that realm, death is not the end, but the beginning, for criminals who cannot or will not obey the rules of God and society.
Q: Who was Abdu’l-Baha and what is his role in the Baha’i Faith?
A: Abdu’l Baha, the eldest surviving son of Baha’u’llah, was appointed by his Father as the “Center of His Covenant” and the authorized Interpreter of His Writings.. In this capacity, unique in the history of religion, Abdu’l-Baha left many writings explaining and elucidating the teachings of Baha’u’llah. Although recognized as the “Perfect Exemplar” of Baha’u’llah’s teaching, Abdu’l-Baha was, nevertheless, essentially human and held a station radically different from that of Baha’u’llah.
Q: What is the difference between the Tarbiyat Baha’i Community and other Baha’i groups?
A: The only difference between the Tarbiyat Baha’i Community and the rest of the Baha’i world relates to the spiritual leadership of the Faith. The Tarbiyat Baha’i Community believes that the institution of the hereditary Guardianship, delineated by Abdu’l-Baha in his Last Will and Testament, is necessary to preserve the long-term integrity of the Faith. The Tarbiyat Baha’i Community believes that the Guardian must come from the bloodline of Baha’u’llah, and that a Guardian from the Holy Family will arise in due time. The largest Baha’i group, with American headquarters in Wilmette and international headquarters in Haifa, Israel, believes that the institution of the Guardianship terminated when the Faith’s first Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, died without children and, apparently, without appointing a successor Guardian.
Q: How does one become a Baha’i?
A: The minimum age at which a person is expected to obey the laws of Baha’u’llah is fifteen. There is no formal ceremony or ritual associated with becoming a Baha’i. If one wishes to become a Baha’i, the main requirement is that he or she declare belief in Baha’u’llah before Baha’i witnesses.