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Religion Library: Baha'i


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Baha'u'llah abolished the professional religious class, whether priests, gurus, mullahs, rabbis, monks, or nuns. Baha'is consider that while such people may have been useful in an earlier time when most people were illiterate and needed guidance, this usefulness has now passed. Education should be universal and compulsory and so all Baha'is should read the scriptures for themselves and come to their own understanding of their meaning. This is one of the features of the maturity of humanity—it no longer needs to be told by a cleric what is wrong and right; it can determine this for itself by study and consultation with others on the meaning of the text of scripture.

The leadership function of the clerical class has been taken over by the elected Baha'i institutions. These have the authority to provide direction to the Baha'i community in its community activities but they have no right to interpret the scriptures or to dictate beliefs. On the other hand, they have the duty to maintain the unity of the community, so if there were a dispute in the community over beliefs or interpretation of scripture, this would usually be referred to the Universal House of Justice for a decision.

The Universal House of Justice does not compel a Baha'i to believe anything but it may require a Baha'i to cease advancing a contentious belief if it is causing disunity. Baha'is have wide latitude to believe and act as they please. It is only at the extremes (activities causing dissension or bringing the Baha'i community into disrepute) that a Baha'i may face sanctions, and usually only after they have been warned several times. The usual form of sanction is withdrawal of administrative rights until that person corrects any misbehavior; such a Baha'i cannot vote, be elected onto Baha'i institutions, attend the Nineteen-Day Feast, or contribute to Baha'i funds.

A higher level of sanction is only applied when a person persistently and willfully tries to create a division in the community or defies direct instructions of the Universal House of Justice. Such a person can be declared a "covenant-breaker," which means that they are excommunicated from the Baha'i community. They are, however, free to ask for readmission and many have been readmitted. A small number of individuals who have demonstrated a failure to understand the requirements and commitment implied by membership in the community have had their membership of the Baha'i community withdrawn. They are then regarded exactly as anyone else who is not a Baha'i and they are also free to apply for readmission.

Responsibilities of the Elected Members of the Baha'i Institutions

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