Questions of Faith, Part III

In the place of the Sunday Sermon, our next guest blogger, Rachel, gives us the scoop on Baha'i.

Baha'i House of Worship in Illinois

What faith do you espouse?
The Baha’i Faith

Who was the founder of your faith? When did he/she live?
Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, was born in Persia in 1817. His ministry lasted from 1863 to 1892, during which He was banished from Persia, then from Constantinople to Adrianople, and eventually to Akka.

What are the sacred texts of your faith?
Baha’u’llah revealed somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 million verses. The Most Holy Book, the Kitab’I’Aqdas, is the Book of Laws. Other significant texts include the Kitab’I’Iqan, the Hidden Words, and a collection of Tablets written to the rulers of the world. As you can imagine, however, the list goes on and on.

What is the central teaching of your faith?
Baha’u’llah emphasized unity. He taught that all people are created noble and therefore all prejudices of race, gender, socio-economic status, and so on are unfounded and must be overcome through love and understanding. Also central to this unity is the concept of “progressive revelation.” Basically, we believe that God has been providing mankind with guidance from the beginning, through various religious/spiritual Teachers, including but not limited to, Jesus Christ, Muhammed, Buddha, Abraham, Krishna, and Moses. A good metaphor for this is school. Each year students have a different teacher who applies social rules appropriate to the needs of that age, but continues to build on the universal lessons of math, literacy, and science. With each new grade level, the students’ understanding of these topics deepens just as humanity’s ability to understand their spirituality grows with each Divine Teacher, though the social practices of their religions differ.

How does your faith define sin? What are the major sins, and how is one absolved?
Sin is very simply not obeying the laws of God, which for Baha’is are outlined in the above mentioned Book of Laws. There are the basics like don’t kill, steal, or adulter, but the most serious sin is backbiting, that is, saying bad things about others, regardless of whether it is true. The absolution of sin comes largely from praying for forgiveness and amending one’s behavior. However, for certain transgressions there are specific penances that go along with prayers for forgiveness. Adultery, for example, is punishable with a hefty fine which doubles with each repeat occurrence.

Roughly how many adherents does your faith have?
Somewhere shy of 7 million. It’s pretty small for being the second widest spread religion in the world.

What does your faith teach about the afterlife? Is there heaven, and how do you get there?
A friend once described us as spiritual beings having a physical experience rather than physical beings having a spiritual experience. Baha’u’llah wrote,
“Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving kindness and bounty.”

The concept of heaven and hell comes into play in the discussion of nearness to God. We do no believe that there is a bad place where certain souls are sent for all eternity. Everyone progresses. However, the purpose of this life is to strengthen the attributes of the soul which draw us nearer to God (i.e. trustworthiness, honesty, love, kindness, humility, forgiveness, respect, justice etc.) which is heavenly joy. If we turn our back on God in this life than we are farther from God in the next, which is a misery that can be likened to hell and which makes the progress towards God more difficult.

Note: God is best described as “the Unknowable Essence” and the human soul is immaterial, therefore the description of nearness is metaphysical and not subject to physical distance.

What are the practices of your faith? (Daily, weekly, etc.)
On a daily basis Baha’is pray and reflect on the words of Baha’u’llah morning and evening, recite one of three obligatory prayers, and repeat the phrase “Allah’u’Abha,” meaning “God is Most Glorious,” 95 times. We attend the 19 Day Feast every, well, 19 days which is a time for Baha’is to come together, read the Writings, consult about community issues, and socialize. We also fast for 19 days in the spring (sunrise to sunset), and observe nine holy days each year. We go on pilgrimage, at least once in our lifetime, if we can afford it, to the Shrines in Israel. Lastly, we pay the Huququ’llah, 19 percent from inheritances or excess income, which will later be used for the welfare of those who are in need.

How is your faith organized? Are there priests and bishops and
archbishops, etc…?

There is no clergy. Instead we have elected bodies that govern and guide the communities. Each local community with 9 or more adult Baha’is has a Spiritual Assembly that is elected each year from the community. That group can then consult on matters of concern for individuals or the community, plan events, and give support to individual activities. There are National Spiritual Assemblies in most countries which perform the same function on the national scale, and to whom the local assemblies turn for guidance or assistance. And finally there is the Universal House of Justice which is elected every five years and provides the guidance and united force for the Baha’i communities around the world. Though members of any of these bodies are elected for their moral character, they have no authority or special station as individuals within the community (i.e. a member of the Universal House of Justice has no more authority than I do, though I suspect they have more wisdom, unless they are acting as a part of that institution).

Another interesting aspect of the Faith is the two figures who guided the Faith after the ascension of Baha’u’llah. In His will, Baha’u’llah specified that His son, Abdu’l-Baha was to act as the Center of the Covenant. He had the exclusive right to interpret Baha’u’llah’s writings. When he passed away, his will designated his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as the Guardian, who then took over the responsibility of interpreting Baha’u’llah’s writings. Individual Baha’is have the right and responsibility to determine how Baha’u’llah’s teachings apply to their own lives, and can thus interpret meaning for themselves, however, only the Shoghi Effendi and Abdu’l-Baha could make authoritative interpretations. The writings of both of these men remain as sources of further wisdom and explanation. This precaution has guarded the Baha’i Faith from splintering under clashes of individual opinion.

Are there regular services available to you locally? If so, where?
Because our community is small we hold Feast, Devotions, Holy Day observance and other Baha’i events in the homes of community members. We do have regular dinners and devotions which are open to anyone who cares to come. Larger communities frequently have centers for these events.

How did you come to be a believer?
I was raised a Baha’i. I always agreed with the social tenets of the Faith. But I didn’t really become a Baha’i until I was 14 and I began to look at other religions. I went to various churches with friends, meditated at a Buddhist center, celebrated Passover and Solstice, and read about Islam. I saw the value and truth in each one which led me back to the teachings of Baha’u’llah. As I studied the history of the Faith and read more independently, I became increasingly confident that being a Baha’i was right for me. .

What do you wish others knew about your faith?
I would just like for people to know about the Baha’i Faith. It is still a somewhat obscure religion in spite of its wide spread state and its continued efforts to promote justice and equality throughout the world. And while I’m at it, I guess I would like to clarify that the Baha’i Faith is not a sect of Islam, which is a common misconception due to its Persian origins.


As always, feel free to direct your comments here or to her blog. More private messages can be sent to the Email on my profile and I will forward them on to her.

Go in Peace.


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