A religious faith with the belief that all of humanity is spiritually part of one family. The main goal of the Baha'i faith is educate humanity about its unity through diversity and thereby help establish an ever-advancing world civilization. The founder of the Baha'i faith was named Baha'u'llah. He lived in the Middle East during the 19th Century. The community of people who are Baha'i has members in every country and territory of the world.

I spent a brief time as a member of the Baha'i Faith, and I can say that it is definitely not Unitarian-Universalist. Baha'is have a very specific set of religious duties and a pretty strict moral code.

The Baha'i faith does make a real effort to encompass all the major world religions. Ba'hais believe that every major world religion was a stage in human development. So while they are the religion designed for this stage in history, they treat previous religions as incomplete, rather than fundamentally invalid. Their practices are designed to compromise between Muslim and Christian cultures--for example, Baha'is must pray every day, but there are two forms of this prayer--one similar to the Muslim daily prayer, the other to the Christian Liturgy of the Hours. Another example of compromise is that a Baha'i marriage requires the consent of the married parties and of their parents--this seems radical to a Western European urbanite and an Iranian peasant, but for different reasons.

One little-known fact about the Baha'is is that they actively plan for a future in which the Baha'i faith is a major (if not the major) world religion. For example, I was exposed to the faith through a Baha'i conference center in Davison, MI. The people there talked quite seriously about a future in which this modest center would be one of the world's great educational institutions, on a par with Harvard or Cambridge.

There are a lot of appealing elements to the Baha'i faith. It is governed through representative democracy, with elections at local, regional, and global levels. Their temples are very elaborate and full of symbolism, which is why there are only a few scattered around the world: the only one in the United States is in Wilmette, IL and is worth visiting.

Although I decided that I wasn't being called to join the Baha'i Faith, it's the most credible new religion I've seen.

At present, the official name for the religion of the followers of Bahá'u'lláh is simply "the Bahá'í Faith." The phrase "the Baha'i religion" is also sometimes used, or more rarely, "the Faith of Baha'u'llah." A frequently used shorthand is the word "Baha'i" all by itself. The term "Baha'ism" is almost never used by Baha'is themselves, but is sometimes used by others.

In its early phases in North America and Europe, the Baha'i Faith was often referred to as "the Baha'i Movement," but this usage faded out around the 1930s or 40s. "Baha'i World Faith" was another term frequently used, partly because a compilation of Baha'i sacred writings in English translation was widely distributed under that title. This term lasted until the 50s or 60s before being replaced by the simpler phrases in use today.

The single most important Baha'i belief is in the essential unity of all humankind. For this reason, Baha'is strive constantly to eliminate prejudice from their community, whether based on religion, race, economic or social class distinctions, or national origin.

Baha'is believe that God has revealed a single true religion to humanity, but through multiple sources. Baha'u'llah is not the only true Manifestation of God, but is simply the most recent in a long line of Messengers which stretches back long before recorded history, and will continue for as long as human beings continue to exist.

At intervals of approximately one thousand years, a new Messenger has been sent to provide guidance suited to the level of development which humans have reached. Baha'is believe that the creation of a global civilization, combining world peace with universal freedom and prosperity, is the stage we are about to enter. According to this belief, the specific details of Baha'u'llah's Message are designed to make our transition into that stage occur more quickly and less painfully.

Because of this strong emphasis on unity and peace, Baha'is are directly forbidden to do anything that will make religion into a cause of conflict. This prohibition is so emphatic that 'Abdu'l-Bahá, regarded by Baha'is as the Perfect Exemplar of their faith, stated that it would be better to abandon religion entirely than to use it as an excuse for conflict or violence of any kind.

A friend of mine, and his family are believers in the Baha'i Faith.

This lead to an interesting story that occured a few years past:

My friend's older brother was a UC Berkeley student at the time, and was going to have a large group of students over at the family house (a large house).

However, his parents were also hosting a large group of Baha'i monks (or whatever the equivalent is) from somewhere in the East at the same time.

So a large group of Cal students collide with a large group of Baha'i monks... and the result?

They ordered Chinese for all, and apparently had a great time.

This significantly increased my appreciation of members of that faith.

This word is from the Arabic language (also adopted into the Persian) and refers to a follower of Bahá'u'lláh or to the elements of the Baha'i Faith, the religion he founded. In modern usage, replaces obsolete terms such as "Bahaist."

The formally proper transliteration is Bahá'í. Although the accent marks are often left out in any medium that cannot reproduce them, or is less formal (such as electronic mail), the apostrophe between the second a and the i is still included if at all possible. This may seem unnecessary, but it points back to the proper pronunciation.

English speakers usually say the word with two syllables, slightly mispronouncing the vowel sound in the first syllable, and placing a strong emphasis on the second: "Buh-HIGH." Baha'i communities in many parts of the world first learned the word from English speakers, and use a similar pronunciation until they come into contact with people who know how to pronounce it correctly.

Native speakers of Persian or Arabic usually pronounce it with three syllables, using a slightly shorter a sound in the first syllable, (closer to the a in "back" than the a in "bar"), and placing emphasis on the second and third syllables: "Ba-HAH-EE."

The suffix i is approximately equivalent to prefacing a word with the English word "of." The word Bahá is usually translated as "glory" in this context, although it can also be translated as "splendor" in some contexts. Hence, the term Baha'i could be translated as "(follower) of the Glory" when rendered in a literal sense, or "(follower) of the Light," in a more figurative sense.

However, in most Baha'i usage, the word "Bahá" refers to the person of Baha'u'llah, so the most common meaning of the word "Baha'i" is simply "a follower of Baha'u'llah."

Actually the Baha'i Faith doesn't have any clergy, monks or anything of the sort. Baha'i's believe that in this day people can investigate and judge truth for themselves -- so there is no longer a need for clergy (i.e. an educated class).

Along these lines ... Baha'i's also believe in the harmony of science and religion. Abdu'l-Bahá for example says regarding humankind:

"It cannot fly with one wing alone. If it tries to fly with the wing of religion alone it will land in the slough of superstition, and if it tries to fly with the wing of science alone it will end in the dreary bog of materialism." -- Abdu'l-Bahá, quoted in Esslemont, Baha'u'llah and the New Era, p. 210

Other principles include the belief that work is worship if it is performed in the spirit of service.

The Bahá'í Faith is indeed an organized religion. They not only elect their representatives (see ximenez's w/u), but also have a lot of structure, although they don't have priests of any kind. Local Communities in every town (or even every district of a larger City) have meetings at least every 19 days, called 19-days-fiest.

Since nine is the holy number of the Bahá'ís, this is also the number of people needed to form a spiritual assembly, which takes up the organizational duties of the local community, and elects people to take duties (such as secretary or treasurer). They further also meet with other spiritual assemblys from their province and nominate delegates for the election of the national spiritual assembly, which also constists of 9 people.

There also are national Conventions called "Summer-School" or "Winter-School" that are held more or less seasonal, featuring lecturers and communal prayers as well as musical performances and lots of fun stuff. They usually take place in a nice hotel, and there even are children-groups where the little ones are taught about Bahá'u'lláh and Shoghi Effendi.

A normal meeting of followers of Bahá'u'lláh usually begins with prayers, than there is some discussion, until finally everyone goes to raid the buffet. Free Food is usually the best way to attract new followers to any religion.

In spite of their liberal appearance, Bahá'u'lláh set strict laws for correct behaviour a Bahá'í should follow, or he may even be expelled. Some of them are different to what our liberal society is used to:

  • The Bahá'í Faith forbids premarital sex
  • No alcohol, because alcohol is evil evil evil *
  • Gambling is evil too
  • Nitpicking about someone behind his back is just plain bad
  • Hash and other drugs are bad (but he says nothing about smoking, though)

All together they're a simple man's religion with exact laws and traditions but a fairly liberal point of view.

* "It is inadmissible that man, who hath been endowed with reason, should consume that which stealeth it"
- Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 62


Ba*hai" (ba*hi"), n.; pl. Bahais (-hiz).

A member of the sect of the Babis consisting of the adherents of Baha (Mirza Husain Ali, entitled "Baha 'u 'llah," or, "the Splendor of God"), the elder half brother of Mirza Yahya of Nur, who succeeded the Bab as the head of the Babists. Baha in 1863 declared himself the supreme prophet of the sect, and became its recognized head. There are upwards of 20,000 Bahais in the United States.


© Webster 1913.

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