Bahá'í Faith/Introduction

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THE BAHÁ'Í FAITH

The Bahá'í Faith is an independent monotheistic religion with a worldwide population of some 5 million from more than 2,000 different tribal, racial, and ethnic groups and live in 235 countries and dependent territories. The Britannica Book of the Year (1992) referred to the Bahá'í Faith as the second-most geographically-widespread religion in the world, after Christianity. It originated in Iran in 1844 and has its own sacred scriptures, laws, calendar, and holy days.

The Bahá'í Faith teaches that the founders of the world's major religions, including Krishna, Guatama Buddha, Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, and Muhammad, are divine Teachers sent by one God to educate humanity through teachings and laws suited to its stage of development. The Bahá'í Faith recognizes two additional Teachers for this age: the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'ís believe that religious revelation will continue in the future to provide guidance to "an ever-advancing civilization."

In 1844 the Báb ("the Gate") founded the Bábí Faith or Bábísm. His main purpose was to prepare humanity for the imminent appearance of another divine teacher who would lead humanity into an age of universal peace. In 1863, one of his followers - Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Nuri - declared himself Bahá'u'lláh ("the Glory of God") and announced that he was the figure foretold by the Báb. The Faith's unity has been preserved through the provisions of a written "Covenant," which established the Faith's principles of succession and institutional authority; there are no clergy in the Bahá'í Faith. The Bahá'í community governs itself by elected councils at the local, national, and international levels, and only Bahá'ís are permitted to contribute to the funds of their faith. Bahá'ís in Iran have suffered persecution for their beliefs since the Faith's earliest days.

The main theme of Bahá'u'lláh's revelation is unity. He taught that "the earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens," emphasizing a oneness of all humans irrespective of national origin. His writings contain principles, laws, and institutions for a world civilization, including: abandonment of all forms of prejudice; equality between the sexes; recognition of the common source and essential oneness of the world's great religions; elimination of the extremes of poverty and wealth; universal compulsory education; responsibility of each individual to search independently for truth; establishment of a world federal system based on principles of collective security; and recognition that religion is in harmony with reason and scientific knowledge. Because of its commitment to these ideals, the Bahá'í community has been an active supporter of international organizations such as the United Nations. Service to humanity is another central teaching of the Bahá'í Faith, which has led Bahá'ís to initiate thousands of social and economic development projects - most of them modest, grassroots efforts such as schools, village health care campaigns, and environmental projects - around the world.

The Bahá'í World Centre in the Acre/Haifa area of Israel has been both the spiritual and administrative center of the Bahá'í Faith since Bahá'u'lláh was exiled here in 1868. The Shrines (burial places) of the Báb on Mount Carmel in Haifa and of Bahá'u'lláh near Acre are the two holiest places on earth for Bahá'ís.