What is the What is the Baháʼí Faith?

Introduction to the Baháʼí Faith

The Baháʼí faith, founded in 1863 (in Iran), is a universalist tradition which is technically a brake-off of Shia Islam.

The name Baháʼí derives from an Arabic word, Bahá, and implies “light,” “glory,” or “splendor.”

The religion carries this name because its founder, an Iranian nobleman named Baháʼu'lláh (1817-1892), referred to himself as “Bahá”—meaning he perceived himself as the “glory” or “splendor” of God.

While an unfamiliar religion to most Westerners, and a fairly small one as well (having only 8 million members as of 2020), next to Christianity, the Baháʼí faith is the most widespread religion in the world, having a presence in more than 200 countries.

Historical Foundations

Baháʼí holds that an Iranian merchant, named Sayyed `Alí Muḥammad of Shiraz (1819-1850), was a “messenger” of God (the “all Merciful” One).

He was known as the “Báb,” meaning the “door” or “gate,” because he is believed to have been a “deputy” of the Mahdi or messianic figure (known as Muhammad al-Mahdi) in “Twelver Shia Islam.”

It is held that the “deputies” are those through whom the Twelfth (and invisible) Imam speaks to the Shia community.

Eventually, the Báb founded Bábism, a monotheistic religion (and breakoff of Shia Islam) which holds that there exists a single, incomprehensible, and non-corporeal deity, who appears (through theophanies) in order to reveal His will to humankind.

The founder of Bábism, the Báb, became one of the central figures of the Baháʼí tradition and, in his writings, he spoke of “He whom God shall make manifest”—namely, the messianic figure of Bábism, or a future prophet akin to Moses, Muhammed, or Jesus.

Baháʼu'lláh, the one credited with starting the Baháʼí faith, is widely believed to have been the fulfillment of the Báb’s prediction of a coming messiah or prophetic figure.

Baháʼu'lláh was a devoted follower of the Báb and, some thirteen years after the Báb’s death, he claimed to be the “Promised One” that had been predicted would soon come.

Core Beliefs

Among the most important beliefs of the Baháʼí faith are these: “The oneness of God, the oneness of religion, and the oneness of humanity.”

Regarding the “oneness of God,” Baháʼu'lláh (whose birth-name was Mirza Husayan-Ali) rejected polytheism and even trinitarianism.

As in Islam, he believed that there was only one God—whom he described as being of a “different” nature than human beings.

He also held that God was ultimately beyond comprehension.

Thus, while Baháʼu'lláh believed God was omnipotent, omniscience, and omnipresent, he held that we could only have an understanding of and relationship with God through His qualities, that of compassion, generosity, kindness, justice, love, majesty, mercy, patience, and self-subsistence.

All things reflect the attributes of God and humans can know and have a relationship with Him through developing and reflecting His divine attributes.

Regarding the “oneness of religion,” the Baháʼí faith teaches that humans need divine messengers (or “manifestations of God”) to lead and to guide humanity in the right way.

These “manifestations” are unique and set-apart souls whom God sends to teach humans truth.

They each lived before human beings were created, have a special relationship with the divine, and have direct access to revelation from God.

While they are born, grow, learn, and die, they always have an innate knowledge of God and God’s will for humanity.

The Baháʼí scriptures identify at least fourteen “Manifestations of God,” including Adam, Noah, Salih, Hud, Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Zarathustra, the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb, Baháʼu'lláh, and one unnamed Korean “manifestation.”

Because of the belief in these various figures, Baháʼí is a prophetic tradition—different from, but connected to the beliefs of the three Abrahamic traditions and their emphasis on prophetic messengers sent from God.

The Baháʼí tradition has been called a “progressively unfolding religion” that rolls forth in stages; but each stage is simply a more advanced version of the previous one (e.g., Judaism, leading to Christianity, leading to Islam, leading to Baháʼí, etc.)

Goals of the Baháʼí

Finally, regarding the “oneness of humanity,” Baháʼí believes in the unity and equality of all people.

Practitioners reject racism, sexism, or other “isms,” and are encouraged to seek fellowship with the followers of all religions, because they are all heirs to the divine guidance God has sent through His various “manifestations.”

While religions differ in their doctrines and practices, most have in common the ethical and even spiritual principles which stand at their core.

Thus, in the things which matter most, religions are generally in agreement—and should seek the unity that flows from the fact.

Consequently, the Baháʼí faith is formally apolitical (or non-partisan), and practitioners are not to join any political party.

Political parties create factions and divided loyalties—something Baháʼí seeks to overcome in the world.

Unity is the “key principle” that underlies nearly everything in the Baháʼí tradition.

Central to efforts at unity, are love and justice.

Love binds us all together—regardless of our race, gender, nationality, religion, political party, or sexual orientation.

Justice demands corrective actions to regulate (or change) behaviors which are outside of the teachings of the “manifestations of God”—behaviors which are harmful to unity and love.

The moral or ethical teachings of Baháʼí include the rejection of gossip, lying (or any kind of deceit), the use of alcohol or recreational drugs, and any sexual relationships outside the bonds of marriage.

While the movement is quite clear regarding its stand on these matters, it largely leaves the application of their “moral code of conduct” up to the practitioner—and it would caution believers about the impropriety of comparing one’s own sin to those of another person.

In the end, the world exists to be enjoyed, but in moderation, moral constraint, and with an attitude of detachment.

Sacred Texts

For scriptures, practitioners of the Baháʼí faith use the writings of Baháʼu'lláh, those of the Báb, and the writings of Baháʼu'lláh’s son (and successor), ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

While they will also use as “authoritative” texts the non-scriptural writings of Shoghi Effendi (the fourth leader of Baháʼí), his writings are not considered “sacred” (as the three previously mentioned texts are).

Similarly, in the Baháʼí tradition, believers will very often use or recite passages from the Qur’an, the Bible, or the sacred texts of other religious traditions.

However, they do not consider those to be “scripture” (or on par with the writings of Baháʼu'lláh, the Báb, or ‘Abdu’l-Bahá).

Nor do they use such texts to develop rules on how to live their lives—as some of the teachings in those non-Baháʼí texts have been superseded by the content of Baháʼí scripture.

Perhaps the most summative way to describe the Baháʼí faith and its people is “unifying.”

As in any other faith tradition, there are practitioners of Baháʼí who do not live up to the principles of their faith.

Nonetheless, the Baháʼí tradition consists of a century and a half of seeking peace, love, unity, and acceptance.

And, while most religious traditions command such behaviors, those in the Baháʼí faith worry less about theology (and who is “right” or “wrong” in their beliefs); instead, placing their emphasis on how we should live as religious people who claim to love God and want to please Him.

In this, they are unique in focus and uniquely successful in application.

Common questions of the Baháʼí Faith answered by Patheos: 

Does the the Baháʼí Faith believe in Reincarnation?

Does the Baháʼí Faith believe in God?

Do those of Baháʼí Faith drink alcohol?

Do those of Baháʼí Faith eat pork?

Do those of Baháʼí Faith fast?

Natalie Mobini explains what it means to be a Baha'i in today's world.

Quick Facts

Formed 1863
Adherents 5,000,000
Deity God (monotheistic)
Sacred Text The collected writings of Baha'u'llah, especially his Kitab-i-Aqdas
Origin Iran (Persia)
Headquarters Haifa and 'Akka (Acco), Israel
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