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The Baha'i Faith
| Profile | Beliefs | Issues and Controversies | Links | Bibliography |

I. Group Profile
Name: The Baha'i Faith
Founder: Born Mizra Husayn-Ali, known by his followers as Baha'u'llah
Date of Birth/Death: November 12, 1817-May 29,1892
Birth Place: Tehran, Persia (present day Iran)
Year Founded: May 3, 1863.
Baha'u'llah had his first revelation in 1852 while imprisoned in Persia; his announcement was not made until 1863.
In 1844, Sayyid Ali' Muhammad, a Shi'ite Muslim, deemed himself the "Bab" (Arabic for "door"). (Cole, 1998:26) In Shi'ite Islam his title means that he has special access to the Twelfth or Hidden Imam. The Bab was arrested and imprisoned for heresy which led to his execution in 1850. The early years for the Babis, as the Bab followers were called, were filled with conflicts with the Persian administration. Persians disagreed with the Bab's interpretation that he was the promised Qa'im who "would start a new era in religious history." (Melton, 1986, p. 19) His proclamation founded a new religion and many Shi'ite Muslims did not accept Bab's belief that he fulfilled the scriptures. This debate caused great persecution of Babis and those who later followed Baha'u'llah. (This turbulence is still present today in Iran.) Yet despite all the animosity, the Bab was not proclaiming himself the fulfillment of the ultimate prophecies. Before the Bab died he foretold the coming of someone much greater than he, known as "The Promised One of All Ages." (Melton, 1986:19)
In 1852, two followers of the Bab attempted to assassinate the Shah. Baha'u'llah (Arabic for "Glory of God"), known before as Mizra Husayn-Ali, was imprisoned because he was the spirtual leader of the faith even though he did not condone violent action. While in prison, Baha'u'llah received a revelation from God proclaiming that he was the Promised One and thus, he founded the Baha'i Faith.
Baha'u'llah publicly announced his calling in 1863, immediately before his departure from Baghdad for Istanbul. (Melton, 1996A:837) During his lifetime he was repeatedly exiled from one city to the next. He was exiled from Istanbul to Edrine (now Adrianople) where he proclaimed to the world through a series of letters to world leaders that he was the Promised One foretold by the Bab. In 1868, Turkish authorities exiled Baha'u'llah to Akka, a port city in Syria. Two years later, along with several of his followers, he was confined to an old house in Akka. (Cole, 1998:28-9) He and his followers faced incessant persecution for their unorthodox beliefs.
Baha'u'llah never committed any crime against the state but was persecuted for challenging Islamic beliefs. Yet despite the attempts to impede Baha'is growth, Baha'u'llah's following grew and has continued to spread throughout the world.
After his death in 1892, Baha'u'llah was succeeded by his son, Abbas Effendi. Known by his followers as Abdu'l-Baha, he oversaw the teaching and spread of the Baha'i Faith. His grandson, Shoghi Effendi became the "Guardian" of the Baha'i community upon his grandfather's death.
The Early History of the Baha'i Faith in America:
After immigrating to the United States, Ibrahim George Kheiralla established the Baha'i Faith in 1894. Having little income, Kheiralla purchased a diploma for $20 to give him the official title of "Doctor." Believing he had healing powers, Kheiralla began a healing practice to earn income. He used his practice to introduce the Baha'i Faith to his patients. (Stockman, 1985:31).
The founding Baha'i community in the United States consisted of Kheiralla and five converted Americans. They recognized themselves as the "First Assembly of Baba'ists in America-1895." (Stockman:37)
These converts brought their friends and relatives to meet Kheiralla. Most converts to the Baha'i Faith were introduced through personal contacts. Kheiralla would give lessons on this new faith to anyone who was interested. Since there was no communication with Abdu'l-Baha, the new converts turned to Kheiralla to answer their questions. He guided them with his knowledge and common sense. Kheiralla explained to his students that the Baha'i Faith was not "another attempt to reform and reformulate Christianity." (Stockman:49) He described the Baha'i Faith as new truths from the Orient from where all past prophets had come.
Kheiralla was the principal teacher of the early Baha'is in America. In the classroom there was no question of his authority on this subject. (Stockman:64) Of all the past religions, Christianity received the most attention from Kheiralla due in part to his Christian upbringing in Muslim Syria and the Protestantism in the United States.
Conversion to Baha'i was facilitated by way of a series of thirteen lessons taught by Kheiralla. The lessons' climax was when Kheiralla described the lives of the Bab, Baha'u'llah, and Abdu'l-Baha. Kheiralla preached the coming of Baha'u'llah as was foretold in all past prophecies. In his lessons, Kheiralla proved how past prophecies foresaw Baha'u'llah as the Promised One.
In 1899, conflict arose over the leadership of the Baha'i in the United States. Then in 1900, Abdu'l-Baha explained in a letter that no one "should expect to have themselves appointed a chief among the Behaists"(Stockman:167) because Baha'u'llah had proclaimed that there would be no clergy in the Baha'i Faith. Kheiralla denied his support for Abdu'l-Baha and in effect disaffected from the Baha'i Faith. Despite the original U.S. founder's disaffection, the Baha'i population in the United States continues to grow.
Sacred or Revered Texts:
The most holy text is the
Other important texts include:
The writings of the Bab, Baha'u'llah, and Abdu'l-Baha are all part of the Baha'i's sacred text.
Cult or Sect:
Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.
Size of Group:
The Baha'i World Official Web Page, states there are over 5 million followers of the Baha'i Faith, located in 235 countries and territories. According to J. Gordon Melton's 1995 statistics, there are 127,000 Baha'is living in the United States and there are over 2 million worldwide. (Melton, 1996A:838)

II. Beliefs of the Group
The Baha'i Faith believes there is only one God who is "unknowable" and indescribable. He is revealed throughout history by a number of divine Messengers. These Messengers include Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Krisna, and Muhammad. The latest of these divine Messengers was Baha'u'llah whose role, along with past Messengers, was to educate humanity. The Baha'i believe that God continually sends Messengers and the past prophets are all manifestations of the same spirit. Baha'u'llah is the most recent manifestation. Since all past religions and religious texts come from God, Baha'is study these texts to see how Baha'u'llah fulfills the prophecies.
1844 is the pivotal year in which the Bab received His message from God. For the Baha'is this year coincides with the maturation of humanity. Baha'is believe the old world orders are in the process of crumbling and giving way to a world in which the principles of Baha'i are established.
Some basic Baha'i Faith principles are:
There are no clergy in the Baha'i Faith, so members learn about their faith through reading and weekly gatherings. Work is an integral part of their faith and is considered part of their daily worship. Having a job is seen as serving mankind. Each member's duty is to study the faith and spread the teachings of the Baha'i. Each Baha'i takes on the role of a clergy member by individually reading and discovering the meanings of the texts. As the principle of Independent Search of Truth states each individual can offer their own interpretation of the Baha'i texts. Since there is no hierarchy in the Baha'i Faith, Baha'u'llah created the Administrative Order, a set of guidelines for the selecting and running of the Baha'i councils on local, national and world levels.
Baha'is follow the laws of the Ten Commandments. They also forbid gambling, alcohol, drug abuse, and gossip. They strive to live a life of high moral standards emphasizing honesty, trustworthiness, service to others, chastity, purity of motive, generosity, unity, and work as a form of worship. (The Baha'is, Last visited: 12/2/98)
The number nine has significant importance in the Baha'i Faith. The Arabic word baha's numerical value is nine. Nine is also the number of openings in the human body therefore, "an organizing principle of the entire universe."(Stockman:66) Celebrations include an annual fasting time and 8 other holy days in remembrance of events in the lives of the founders. New Year's Day is celebrated on March 21. (Melton, 1996A:837). On holy days, Baha'is do not work and this is considered a sacrifice.

III. Contemporary Issues and Controversies
Since the Baha'i Faith's birth it has faced resistance and persecution from Iran. Many Baha'is have become martyrs and many are imprisoned due to the Iranian's government intolerance. Since the time of the Bab, his followers dealt with opposition. Iranian clergy have felt threatened by the Baha'i Faith principles and have acted upon their fears. The Shi'ite clergy views the Baha'is as heretics. Some of the Baha'is views are in contradiction to Islamic beliefs such as the Baha'is beliefs that there are more prophets to come after Muhammad, that the Koran has been abrogated in favour of Baha'u'llah's writings, that women should play an active role in society, that there is no importance of the holy war (jihad), and that clergy are not essential due to increased literacy. (Cole, 1990:28)
Anti-Baha'i sentiment increased under Ayatollah Khomeini. Although in late 1988 oppression slightly lessened, Baha'is were still being accused of prostitution since their marriages are viewed as illegitimate, of spying since some of their conferences were in foreign cities, and of being Zionist supporters since their headquarters are in Haifa, Israel. Shi'ite clerics have arrested many Baha'is and tortured and executed them. (Cole, 1990:28-29)
In Iran, the Baha'is are viewed as threats to aspects of modernity. They are seen as ruthless financiers. Their emphasis on education places them in prominent occupations in society and this power and influence is threatening to Shi'ite clergy. They are viewed as heretics who threaten the purity of Muslim women. Baha'is deny the authority of Shi'ite jurisprudence and therefore the essence of Iran's government. (Cole, 1990:29) All these components of the Baha'i Faith cause tension within Iran. Although in Iran Christians and Jews are permitted to freely practice their religion, Baha'is are denied that right. (Ostling, 1984:73)

IV. Links to Baha'i Faith Web Sites
Baha'i World
The official web page of the Baha'i Faith. This page is a well designed page and a good introduction to the Baha'i's beliefs. The page contains information on Baha'i's central figures and institutions, spiritual truths, sacred writings, the Baha'i's vision, course of social action, and many other areas of interest.
Baha'i Faith
This page is a good place to find basic information and other links. This page clarifies a lot of the Baha'is beliefs about God, religion, and human nature.
Baha'i Faith: Dawn of a New Day
This page is designed to give you an overview of the Baha'i Faith. Areas discussed on this page include "A Global Faith, Spiritual Transformation, Community, History, and Scripture."
Prophecies Fulfilled
A discussion of past prophecies in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Zoroastrism, and Native American beliefs and their link back to Baha'u'llah. This page illustrates how Baha'ullah is the Promised one foretold by all the world religions. There are a lot of references to religious scriptures describing the coming of the Promised One.
A Baha'i Faith Page
Created by Glenn Little of Calgary, Canada. This page contains overviews about the Baha'i Faith and its teachings, links to Baha'i Writings, and links to Baha'i organizations and individuals.
Baha'i Computer and Communication Association
A reference for the communities and organizations of the Baha'i Faith around the world. This page includes many on-line references to the Baha'i Faith's writings.
Discover Baha'u'llah
This page has several good links to other sites. It has a section of the nine "Basic Facts" about the Baha'i Faith and becoming a Baha'i. There is a section which addresses the pronunciation of Baha'i words.
Baha'i Resources on the Internet
A fairly comprehensive list of links to other web sites about the Baha'i Faith.
The Baha'i WWW Magazine
An on-line version of The Baha'is. Published by the Office of Public Information of the Baha'i International Community, this magazine addresses many modern issues of the Baha'i Faith.
Juan R.I. Cole's publications of the Baha'i
Juan R.I. Cole is professor of history at the University of Michigan. His focus includes religious studies and spirituality. This page links to his publications and writings about the Baha'i Faith.
Wilmette Institute
The Wilmette Institute was established in 1995 to provide education for Baha'is. Check out this site to explore what courses are offered to better understand the Faith and its teachings.
Baha'i Faith Art
An illustrated history of the Baha'i Faith. These illustrations represent the early history of the Founders and their families.
The Baha'i Club at the University of Virginia
An introduction to the Baha'i Faith at the University of Virginia. There are many Baha'i organizations on campuses throughout the United States and the world.
The Orthodox Baha'i Faith
Every faith tradition that survives for very long develops sectarian splinters. This group claims to be the true faith and has appropriated unto itself the title of "orthodox." The page presents an introduction to the views of this Orthodox Baha'i Faith. A critical dimension of their departure from what they characterize as "heterodox" belief is the issue of how the guardianship of the faith was passed. Unfortunately, the page is not designed in a way to make either the beliefs or files very accessible. The page consists of several slow loading Adobe PDF files, and the content is not presented in a logical or coherent manner.
Ruhi's Garden - Baha'i Faith
An introducton to the Baha'i Faith from an American follower of the religion.
Scholarly Presentations
OCRT on the Baha'i Faith
Sound information about the Baha'i Faith from the OCRT's Religious Tolerance Page. Includes information on persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran, freedom of expression within the Bahá'í Faith, and divisions within the Bahá'í Faith.
Baha'i Faith: Handbook for Chaplains
This profile of the Baha'i Faith from A Handbook for Chaplains was prepared by The Institute for the Study of American Religion (J. Gordon Melton, Director) for the U.S. Army Chaplains in 1993 and published on-line (with updates) in 1999. Designed to assist chaplains in becoming sensitive to religious diversity, and how to deal with potentially sensitive issues of faith, the profile is a valuable summary for anyone interested in acquiring basic information about this group.
Counter-Baha'i Faith Links
One Muslim's Reflections on the Baha'i Faith
This website is created by a Muslim who opposes the Baha'i Faith beliefs. He states his opposition to the Baha'i Faith as a Muslim.
Answering Baha'u'llah
Another opposition page created from a Muslim's perspective. The creator aims to prove his "truth" and show the fallibility in the Baha'i Faith.

V. Bibliography
Adamson, Hugh C. 1998.
Historical Dictionary of the Baha'i Faith. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
Baha'Allah. 1978.
Tablets of Baha'u'llah Revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas. Wilmette: Distributed in US by Baha'i Pub.
Balyuzi, H.M. 1970.
Browne and the Baha'i Faith. Oxford: George Ronald.
Browne, Edward Granville. 1987.
Selections from the Writings of E.G. Browne on the Bab'i and Baha'i Religions. Oxford: Ronald.
Bryson, Alan. 1993.
Light After Death. New Delhi: Sterling.
Canton, Peggy. ed. 1987.
Equal Circles: Women and Men in the Baha'i Community. Los Angeles: Kalimat Press.
Cole, Juan R. I. 1998.
Modernity & the Millennium. New York: Columbia University Press.
Cooper, Roger. 1982.
The Bahais of Iran. Minority Rights Group.
Derkse, Rene. 1987.
What is the Baha'i Faith?. Oxford: George Ronald Publisher.
Esslemont, J.E., 1985.
Baha'ullah and the New Era: An Introduction to the Baha'i Faith Wilmette, IL: Baha'i Publishing.
Hatcher, William S. and Douglas J Martin. 1998.
The Baha'i Faith. Baha'i Distribution Service.
Hofman, D. 1992.
Baha'u'llah, Prince of Peace: A Portrait Oxford: George Ronald.
Gooljar, Mahendranath. 1986.
The Teachers of the Baha'i Faith. Vantage Press.
Miller, William M. 1984.
The Baha'i Faith. Library Publishers.
Melton, J. Gordon. 1986.
Biographical Dictionary of American Cult and Sect Leaders. Detroit: Garland Publishing.
Melton, J. Gordon, 1996A.
Encyclopedia of American Religions, 5th Edition. Detroit: Gale Research.
Melton, J. Gordon. ed. 1996B.
Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. Detroit: Gale Research.
Momen, Moojan. 1989.
A Basic Bahai Dictionary. Oxford: George Ronald.
Sheppherd, Joseph. 1992.
Elements of the Baha'i Faith. Baha'i Distribution Service.
Smith, Peter. 1987.
The Bahai and the Bahai Religions. New York: Cambridge.
Smith, Peter. 1995.
Short History of the Baha'i Faith. Oneworld Publications.
Stockman, Robert, 1985.
The Baha'i Faith in America. Wilmette, IL: Baha'i Publishing.
Balch, Robert W., et al 1997.
"Fifteen Years of Failed Prophecy: Coping with Cognitive Dissonance in a Baha'i Sect," in Thomas Robins and Susan J. Palmer, eds. Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem. New York: Routledge. pp 73-90.
Cole, Juan. 1990.
"The Baha'is of Iran." History Today. 40:24-29.
McGlinn, Sen. 1999.
"A Theology of the State from the Baha'i Teachings," Journal of Church and State. 41/4 (Autumn) 697-724.
Maneck, Susan Stiles. 1994.
"Women in the Baha'i Faith." Religion and Women. pp 211-227.
Mann, James. 1983.
"Iran's Holy War Against the Baha'is." U.S. News and World Report. 95:40.
Momen, Moojan and Peter Smith. 1989.
"The Baha'i faith 1957-1988: A Survey of Contemporary Developments." Religion. 19:63-91.
Ostling, Richard. 1984.
"Slow Death for Iran's Baha'is." Time. 123:76.
Ruff, Ivan. 1974.
"Baha'i: The Invisible Community." New Society 29:665-668.
Woodward, Kenneth. L. 1982.
"Iran's Holy War on the Baha'is." Newsweek. 99:73.

Created by Adele Skaff
For Soc 257, New Religious Movements
Fall Term, 1998
An earlier version of this page ws created by:
Elizabeth Williams, Spring Term, 1996.
Last modified: 06/21/01