Exploring the impact of religions and beliefs on how people live their lives;
Understanding and responding critically to beliefs and attitudes.
Bahá’ís see the major world religions as being chapters in the same one book. Each religion has an original Founder, often termed by Bahá’ís as a “Manifestation of God” or “Messenger of God”. The teachings he brings are built upon that which has gone before, but are invariably presented in a fresh, new way. His “Revelation” has a spiritual force which gradually unfolds its impact as the new religion spreads, and there is a certain flowering of civilisation. However, over succeeding centuries the religion loses its freshness and its impact, until a point is reached at which a new Manifestation appears.
In the case of the Bahá’í Faith, it is the very newness of the religion which gives it some of its impact. Although there are families which have been Bahá’ís for several generations (there are even fourth-generation British Bahá’ís), a large proportion of the believers have accepted this religion for themselves, not being from a Bahá’í background. This involves personal investigation, personal decision and personal commitment, sometimes in the face of open opposition. Naturally, this all strengthens the impact of the individual’s belief.
As Bahá’u’lláh teaches his followers to treat all human beings as members of one family, to abandon their prejudices, to “Consort with the followers of all religions with joy and with fragrance”, these teachings guide Bahá’ís to behave in an open and loving way towards all humanity. Bahá’ís are also exhorted to be kind to animals, to regard knowledge and education as praiseworthy, to be honest, truthful and loyal citizens. These teachings directly address many of the deficiencies in current society, and should have a very beneficial impact on the world.
The Bahá’í Faith also concentrates on the promotion of loving, united communities, and there is a clear structure to both Bahá’í consultation and Bahá’í administration. A democratic but non-confrontational system is gradually being built up, which the Bahá’ís will increasingly be able to offer as a model for the world, as humanity struggles to choose a collective way forward in an increasingly globalised set of structures.
For Bahá’ís the central principles of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, together with the laws and ordinances of the Faith, are to be found in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. His written work is very extensive, with a very large quantity of tablets, books and prayers. He refers to his Writings as an ocean. The Kitáb-i-Iqán, the “Book of Certitude”, is his main theological work, tackling many of the important questions facing Jews, Christians and Muslims in the interpretation of Holy Texts. “The Hidden Words” purports to include the essential spiritual teachings of all religions. The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the “Most Holy Book”, contains ordinances pertaining to the future. “The Seven Valleys” describes the progress of the soul in a mystical style. The book, “Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh” contains a number of tablets concerned with the social principles of the new religion. Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings are the repository of his teachings, and Bahá’ís are encouraged to read them for themselves. Bahá’u’lláh also appointed his son `Abdu’l-Bahá as the authorised interpreter of his teachings, and Bahá’ís treat his Writings as authoritative.
Some of Bahá’u’lláh’s main teachings could be summarised as: belief in one God, one Creative Force; the divine origin of all religions; the oneness of humanity; the elimination of prejudice; the equality of men and women; harmony between religion and science; the individual investigation of truth; the elimination of the extremes of poverty and wealth; world government; a world tribunal; a world police force; choice of a common world language; universal education.
Every Bahá’í should read something from the writings each morning and evening. The purpose is to understand and to think about how the teachings can be applied in action. Bahá’u’lláh wrote that it is better “to read a single verse with joy and radiance than to read with lassitude all the Holy Books of God”.
Within the community, scripture in used in commemoration of Bahá’í Holy Days, in the Nineteen-Day Feast, which is the principal community meeting, and in open devotional meetings, where music and readings from the writings of other faiths and other inspirational material may be used.
Great effort has been made to translate each of Bahá’u’lláh’s works into a similar, corresponding English style; so the lofty Biblical translations of the prayers and meditations are in some contrast to the plain language of some of the “Tablets”. A few specialist terms may be encountered. Alláh-u-Abhá means “God the most glorious”. The days of hospitality and the giving of gifts are the “Ayyám-i-Há”. The New Year is called “Naw-Rúz”, while the next world is frequently referred to as “The Abhá Kingdom”, (Abhá meaning “Most Glorious”).
There are also English words which are used in ways which might be unfamiliar to readers. The sayings and writings of the Founders of the world’s principal religions are spoken of as “revealed”. “Revelation” is used to denote the teachings and message of a Manifestation, while the period from one Manifestation to the next is called a “dispensation”.
Bahá’u’lláh’s works were either revealed in his own hand, or after a poisoning incident, through an amanuensis (secretary). Bahá’u’lláh checked through anything written by an amanuensis, and marked it as authentic with his seal. Many tablets were addressed specifically to individual Bahá’ís, others to enquirers, including Muslims, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and Sufis. He also, during the 1860s, wrote to the world’s principal rulers, urging them to resolve their differences and work for the unification of the world. The Bahá’í World Centre has collected and catalogued all these Writings. The original texts are preserved in Haifa, where there is a Centre for the Study and Interpretation of the Holy Texts. An individual believer is free to voice opinions on any interpretation, but if they wish, he or she may refer the matter to the Universal House of Justice.
The great questions of life will vary from one individual to another, but often include whether the universe was deliberately created, and whether there is a deity of some sort; what the purpose of creation might be; whether there is a spiritual aspect to man, and whether the spirit survives after death; why there is evil in the world, and why innocents suffer; and why life has been confined to one planet when there are incalculable billions of galaxies.
On every one of these questions the Bahá’í Faith offers at least a partial answer, although proper answers to these sort of questions are beyond the scope of this brief overview. The universe was created by an Unknowable Essence, which knew its love for us, and therefore created us. Each human has a soul, which learns through experience, including through suffering. Evil does not exist as an independent force, it is the absence of good, in the same way that darkness is merely the absence of light. Without “evil” good could not be recognised. Bahá’u’lláh explicitly states that there is life on other planets.
Bahá’u’lláh attempts to show humanity the futility of trying to describe the Ultimate Reality: “To every discerning and illuminated heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the Divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery. He is, and hath ever been, veiled in the ancient eternity of His Essence, and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men.” Instead, titles which exalt his attributes are used, such as the Omniscient, the Almighty and the Ever-Forgiving.
The individual is in essence spiritual in nature, and only when living in the spirit is he truly happy. The soul associates with the body at the point of conception, and through the matrix of life it acquires virtues, so that when the body ceases to function, the soul continues to progress, through the next world(s). After death, souls recognise other souls which they have known in this world.
Although it is impossible for the finite mind to fully grasp the infinite, the transcendent, this is one of the supreme privileges and challenges for the human being, and is in itself one of the many things which the entire human race has in common.
There are nine full Holy Days, eight of which commemorate specific events in Bahá’í history. On these nine days, work should be suspended. Children are usually granted absence from school for these days.
New Year (“Naw Rúz”) is at the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, and usually falls on 21st March. There are no Bahá’í rituals as such, but the month of fasting comes to an end at Naw Rúz, so there is often a big party.
Bahá’u’lláh was born in Teheran on November 12th, 1817, into a noble family. His father was a minister in the court of the Shah. The date of Bahá’u’lláh’s birth is often celebrated with a party, beginning with prayers and finishing with refreshment and entertainment.
The Báb was born on October 20th, 1819. His birthday is celebrated on this day, often with readings from his own Writings and from accounts of his childhood in Shiraz.
The Báb declared that he was the promised Qa’im which Shi’a Muslims were expecting, in his own home in Shiraz, Persia, after sunset on 22nd May, 1844. This event is therefore celebrated within the same 24 hours – late on 22nd or during daylight on 23rd. Passages from the story, as related by his first disciple, are often read. [It is of historical interest that Bahá’u’lláh’s eldest son, `Abdu’l-Bahá, was born at some time within the same 24 hour period.]
Noon on 9th July, 1850 was the time of the “Martyrdom of the Báb”. An entire regiment was lined up, in three ranks, to shoot him and one of his disciples. This is commemorated at noon on this date, and is naturally a more solemn event.
There are three holy days in the Ridván period: The First Day of Ridván (April 21st) celebrates the day in 1863 when Bahá’u’lláh first announced that he was the Messenger of God for this age. The Ninth Day of Ridván (April 29th) was the day his family was able to join him in the Garden of Ridván, near Baghdad. The Twelfth Day of Ridván (May 2nd) was the Day he and his family started on their enforced journey to their next exile, in Constantinople.
In addition to these nine, there are two other holy days commemorating `Abdu’l-Bahá, but work need not be suspended on these. All of these events can be held in private homes, but for larger numbers a town hall, community centre or school may be hired.
There are nineteen months in the Bahá’í year, and nineteen days in each month. This totals 361 days, not the astronomical 365. The remaining four days (five in a leap year) are called the “Ayyám-i-Há”, and are special days for exchanging presents, visiting friends and having parties.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 1972. Paris Talks: Addresses given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Paris, 1911-1912. London: UK Bahá’í Publishing Trust.
Esslemont, J.E., 2006. Baha’u’llah and the New Era. Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing.
Garst, H., 1996. From Mountain to Mountain: Stories about Bahá’u’lláh. Oxford: George Ronald.
Hatcher, W.S. & Douglas Martin, J., 1990. Bahá’í Faith: the Emerging Global Religion. s.l.: Bahá’í Publishing.
Matthews, G.L., 1999. The Challenge of Bahá’u’lláh.Oxford:George Ronald.
Momen, M., 2007. Bahá’u’lláh: a short biography. s.l.: Bookwise International.
Momen, M., 2008. The Bahá’í Faith: A Beginner’s Guide. Oxford: Oneworld.
Randall, C., (ill.), 2008. The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh. Bristol: Intellect Books.
Vickers, P., 1992. The Bahá’í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld.
A set of photocopiable R.E. worksheets on the “The Bahá’í Faith”, and priced £5 per set, plus 66p postage available from www.warwickbahaibookshop.co.uk
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