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Religion Library: Baha'i

Schisms and Sects

Written by: Moojan Momen

While other religions may have as their focus assent to a creed or the following of a holy law, the central focus of the Baha'i Faith is the doctrine of the Covenant, which requires that all Baha'is pledge their loyalty and obedience to the central leadership of the Baha'i Faith in each stage of its evolution; this is currently the Universal House of Justice. This latter body directs and coordinates activities in the Baha'i world and can legislate when this is needed. It does not however set doctrine.

This means that individual Baha'is are free to investigate and come to their own understanding of spiritual truth (one of the major teachings of the Baha'i Faith). They are not free, however, to assert that their understanding is the correct one or to try to form a sectarian group around themselves. Indeed the Baha'i institutions act to prevent the setting up of factions or parties with a political or sectarian platform. Those with separatist tendencies, such as those at the extreme ends of the fundamentalist or liberal spectrum, are encouraged to engage with the mainstream of the community rather than maintain an isolated dialogue with like-minded individuals, since the latter path is seen as likely to end in conflict with the main body and eventually secession. Dialogue and consultation are seen as the best way not only of resolving differences, but of generating creative energy leading to the unfolding of a higher level of truth: "The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions." However this result can only emerge if the "clash of differing opinions" occurs within an overall context of unity.

The operation of the Covenant at the present time means effectively that if any individual or group of Baha'is is in dispute or disagreement with any other, they should refer this to the Universal House of Justice, which is the ultimate arbiter of any such disputes and all must abide by its decision.

Study Questions:
     1.    The leaders of the Baha'i Faith have faced internal opposition to their leadership. What reasons have each of these opponents given for their opposition?
     2.    What success have these opposition groups had?
     3.    Explain the doctrine of the Covenant.
     4.    What maintains the unity of the Baha'i community?


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