Written by: Moojan Momen
According to the Baha'i teachings, God has sent messengers to the world whenever a new message has been needed. The social changes and developments that occur in human history as well as the fact that humanity tends to alter and corrupt the divine message necessitates that from time to time, a new messenger should bring a renewal and updating of the divine message. Thus in one sense, the whole religious history of humanity is the background and context of the beginnings of the Baha'i Faith, since Baha'u'llah (1817-1892) claimed to be the latest (but not the last) in a series of messengers that God has sent to the world.
According to the Baha'i view of human history, social conditions had changed sufficiently by the 19th century that humanity was in need of further guidance from God. While lesser degrees of unity had been achieved, up to and including the bringing together of peoples to create a nation, what was now needed was the divine guidance necessary to move humanity forward to the next stage of its development: global unity. Indeed, the messenger that was now to come was the culmination of all of the religions that God had sent to different regions of the world.
Baha'u'llah considered himself to be the fulfillment of the promises, made in every religion, that a messianic figure would one day come and bring an age of justice and peace. He stated: "The time foreordained unto the peoples and kindreds of the earth is now come. The promises of God, as recorded in the holy Scriptures, have all been fulfilled." Thus Baha'is believe that the founders and prophets of all of the world's religions—including Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad—had all predicted the coming of a future savior, a Promised One who would bring justice and a Golden Age.
Baha'is point out that the 19th century was a period in which there was a great expectation among the followers of many religions that their Promised One was about to come. Among Christians, there were such movements as the Millerites in America and the Templers in Germany. Among Muslims, there was the rising of the Mahdi in the Sudan among the Sunnis and the Shaykhi movement among the Shi'i Muslims. Even as far away as China, Buddhists of the White Lotus movement were in expectation of the coming of the Maitreya Buddha. Baha'is believe that Baha'u'llah is the fulfillment of these prophecies: the Kalki Avatar for Hindus, the Shah Bahram or Saoshyant for Zoroastrians, the Messiah for Jews, the Maitreya Buddha for Buddhists, the return of Christ for Christians and also for Muslims. Baha'is also believe that the forerunner of Baha'u'llah, the Bab, was the prophesied return of Elijah in Jewish and Christian scriptures and the Mahdi for Muslims.