Frequently Asked Questions
Who is Baha'u'llah?
Baha'u'llah is recognized by millions throughout the world as the Messenger of God for this age. The Baha'i Faith is founded on His teachings. Born in 1817 to a prominent family in Iran, Baha'u'llah showed unusual brilliance and spiritual insight from an early age although He wasn't formally schooled. He also demonstrated extreme devotion to helping the poor. Baha'u'llah's given name was Mirza Husayn Ali, but He identified Himself as Baha'u'llah, which means "Glory of God," a title bestowed by His Forerunner, the Bab. Because of His teachings, Baha'u'llah was exiled for 40 years and died in the Holy Land in 1892.
What is the Baha'i Faith?
Founded by Baha'u'llah in the mid-1800s, the Baha'i Faith is among the fastest-growing of the world's religions. With more than five million followers throughout the world, it is the second-most widespread faith, surpassing every religion but Christianity in its geographic reach. Baha'is live in more than 100,000 localities around the world, which reflects their dedication to the ideal of world citizenship.
What does 'Baha'i' mean?
Baha'i means a follower of Baha'u'llah, of or pertaining to Baha'u'llah's revelation.
What does the Baha'i Faith teach?
The Baha'i Faith teaches that there is one God, that all humanity is one family and that there is a fundamental unity underlying religion. Baha'u'llah affirms that this is the age in which world peace will be established. As anticipated in the sacred scriptures of the past, humanity will achieve its spiritual and social maturity and live as one family in a just, global society.
What are some basic teachings of the Baha'i Faith?
While retaining the basic spiritual teachings of all the Messengers of God, the Baha'i Faith brings new social principles relevant to the needs of a global society: the oneness of humanity, equality of men and women, the abolition of prejudice, the harmony of science and religion and the elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth.
Who is the Bab?
Baha'is believe that the Bab (1819-1850) was an independent Messenger of God, whose mission was to inaugurate a new cycle in humanity's spiritual development. His writings prepared the way for the mission of Baha'u'llah. The Bab was executed in 1850 at the insistence of Islamic clergy, who felt threatened by the principles He taught.
I've read in different places that the Baha’i Faith began in 1844 and in 1863. Which is correct?
Both years aresignificant: In 1844, the Bab announced the imminent coming of Baha’u’llah. The Bab is considered an independent Messenger of God who plays a role similar to John the Baptist in the founding of Christianity. In 1863, Baha’u’llah announced that He was the Promised One foretold by the Bab. Most often, we point to 1844 as the inception of the Baha’i Faith, but it was not until after Baha’u’llah’s declaration in 1863 that the Bab’s followers became known as Baha’is.
Where are the headquarters of the Baha'i Faith?
The Baha'i World Center is located in the Haifa/Akka area in northern Israel. Set among lush, extensive gardens, the center includes the Shrines of Baha'u'llah, the Bab, and Abdu'l-Baha, the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the International Teaching Center, the Center for the Study of the Texts and the International Baha'i Archives.
Who is the head of the Baha'i Faith?
Baha'u'llah created a system of democratically elected councils at the local, national and international levels. The head of the Faith is the Universal House of Justice, the nine-person international council elected by secret ballot by the members of national councils.
The Universal House of Justice, located at the Baha'i World Center in Haifa, Israel, guides the activities of the global Baha'i community. It was instituted by Baha'u'llah Himself as the supreme legislative organ of the Baha'i administrative order and endowed by Him with the authority to legislate on matters not specifically laid down in the Baha'i scriptures.
Before the Universal House of Justice was instituted in 1963, the Baha'i Faith was led by Shoghi Effendi, who died in 1957. He was the eldest grandson of Abdu’l-Baha, who was the son of Baha'u'llah and leader of the Faith upon the death of Baha'u'llah.
Baha'u'llah called members of the Universal House of Justice “the trustees of God among His servants.” The Universal House of Justice derives its provenance, authority, duties and sphere of action from the writings of Baha'u'llah. Thus, the Universal House of Justice has been ordained by Baha'u'llah as an instrument of divine guidance and is not to be considered as merely the international administrative body of the Baha'i Faith. However, only the corporate body itself has been endowed with divine guidance and not its individual members.
In addition to its responsibility for guiding the growth and development of the global Baha'i community, the Universal House of Justice is counseled by Baha'u'llah to exert a positive influence on the general welfare of humankind. It is called on by Him to promote a permanent peace among the nations of the world so that "the people of the earth may be relieved from the burden of exorbitant expenditures," and freed from the "affliction" of "conflict."
What holidays do Baha'is observe?
Baha'is observe 11 holy days each year and abstain from work on nine of those days. Baha'i holy days include days associated with the lives of Baha'u'llah and the Bab; Naw-Ruz, the Baha'i new year, on March 21; and Ridvan, a 12-day festival in spring commemorating Baha'u'llah's declaration of His mission. Baha'is observe holy days by gathering for prayer, reflection and fellowship. The Baha'i calendar is made up of 19 months of 19 days each.
Do Baha’is celebrate Christmas?
The Baha'i Faith is an independent religion with its own holy days, so Baha’is generally do not celebrate Christmas in their own homes. However, because Baha’is recognize Christ as a Divine Messenger, we share in the season’s spirit of goodwill. Based on Baha’u’llah’s instruction to “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship,” Baha’is with Christian friends and family enjoy various Christmas activities. The Baha'i season of gift-giving is Ayyam-i-Ha, which takes place at the end of February. It is followed by the annual 19-day Fast and then the Baha'i New Year, Naw-Ruz, on March 21.
Did Baha’u’llah perform miracles?
In Baha’i history there are numerous accounts of what could be called miracles performed by Baha’u’llah and the Bab, the Founders of the Faith. At Baha’u’llah’s specific request, however, Baha’is do not stress such events or use them to teach the Faith. The reason is this: True physical miracles by a Divine Teacher can be meaningful only to those who witness them. Others can say such accounts are merely tall tales or clever manipulations. (Abdu'l-Baha discusses this topic further in Some Answered Questions, pg. 37.)
Do the Baha'is have a holy book?
The Most Holy Book of the Baha'i Faith is the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the book of laws written by Baha'u'llah. It is part of a large body of scriptures authored by Him. Comprising an estimated 100 volumes, these wide-ranging writings include laws and principles for personal conduct and the governance of society, as well as mystical writings on the progress of the soul and its journey toward God. The many writings of the Bab and those of Abdu'l-Baha also are a sacred source of reference for Baha'is. Moreover, Baha'is recognize the Bible, the Qur'an and the holy texts of the world's other revealed religions as sacred.
Why are Baha'i writings and prayers written in the style of the King James Bible?
When Shoghi Effendi translated the writings of the central figures of the Faith, he chose a slightly archaic form of English to act as a bridge between the formal Persian and Arabic style in which they were written and modern English.
He also chose a style similar to that of the King James Bible to convey the texts’ exact meaning and to evoke in the reader the spirit of meditative reverence, a distinguishing feature of the response to the writings of the Bab, Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha when they were originally revealed.
What does Baha'u'llah teach about God?
God is the ultimate Reality, Creator of the universe, Whose nature is unknowable and inaccessible to humankind. Such designations as God, Allah, Yahweh and Brahma all refer to the One Divine Being. We learn about God through His Messengers, Who teach and guide humanity.
There are so many differences between the religions. How can Baha'is claim that they are all "one?"
When Baha'is say that religions are one, they do not mean they all have the same creeds and organizational structure. Rather, Baha'is believe that there is only one religion and that all the Messengers of God have progressively revealed its nature. Together, the world's great religions are expressions of a single, unfolding Divine plan, "the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future." Baha'u'llah explains: "That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated."
What is the relationship of the Baha'i Faith to Islam?
Baha'u'llah was born into a Muslim family and society. Thus, in much the same way that Christianity grew out of Judaism, or Buddhism out of Hinduism, the Baha'i Faith emerged from an Islamic context. Like them, however, the Baha'i Faith is an independent religion with its own laws, teachings and institutions.
Baha'is are instructed to pray and meditate daily. How do Baha'is meditate and what are the intended effects?
Like prayer, meditation “puts man in touch with God,” said Abdu’l-Baha. During meditation, “The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened . . . through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. Through it he receives Divine inspiration, through it he receives heavenly food . . .Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries.” As to how to meditate, there is no prescribed form. Baha'is are enjoined to meditate, but the manner in which they do so is left entirely to the individual. More on this topic can be found in Abdu'l-Baha's 1913 talk in London.
What do Baha'is believe is the purpose of life?
Baha'u'llah taught that knowing and loving God is the basic purpose of human existence. If there were no Creator -- if humans simply were chance products of a thermodynamic system, as many in the world today assert -- there would be no purpose in life. Each human being would represent the temporary material existence of a conscious animal trying to move through his or her brief life with as much pleasure and as little pain and suffering as possible. It is only in relation to the Creator, and the purpose the Creator has fixed for His creatures, that human existence has any meaning. Baha'is believe life should be seen as an eternal process of joyous spiritual discovery and growth. After physical death, the individual continues to grow and develop in the spiritual world, and thus grow closer to God.
Do Bahá'ís believe in predestination?
Yes, there is predestination in the Baha'i teachings, however, it is not viewed as an absolute force governing every detail of human life. The Baha'i teachings assert that God, through His Will, through His Divine Messengers, and in response to human prayers, influences the course of human history and causes some events to happen according to His Will. Read more about this subject.
What does Baha'u'llah teach about Heaven and Hell?
Baha'u'llah explains that heaven and hell are not physical places, but rather spiritual realities -- allegories for nearness and remoteness from God. When we die, the condition of our souls determines our experience in the afterlife.
How do Baha'is spiritually approach death?
“With hope and with expectation,” replied Abdu’l-Baha when such a question . . . In the next world, man will find himself freed from many of the disabilities under which he now suffers. Those who have passed on through death, have a sphere of their own. It is not removed from ours; their work, the work of the Kingdom, is ours; but it is sanctified from what we call ‘time and place.’ Time with us is measured by the sun. When there is no more sunrise, and no more sunset, that kind of time does not exist for man. Those who have ascended have different attributes from those who are still on earth, yet there is no real separation.” For more information about this topic visit "Hidden Gifts" website.
How does the Baha’i Faith deal with the reality of suffering?
Suffering should be understood in the context of the purpose of life: Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha have shown us that one of the primary purposes of life is to prepare human souls for the afterlife, the world to come.
As John Hatcher, in his book The Purpose of Physical Reality explained, the Baha'i Writings teach that this world is like a classroom in which all of our experiences either directly or indirectly provide us with opportunities to learn. The main point of the lessons in this classroom is to acquire spiritual virtues, develop spiritual knowledge, increase in the love of God, promote unity, advance civilization and serve our fellow human beings in their endeavor to do the same.
A key aspect of these lessons is that human beings should learn to live fully in this world and yet be detached from it so as to be fully prepared - mentally, emotionally, spiritually - for the transition from this world into the next. As Abdu’l-Baha reminds us, “The earthly life lasts but a short time, even its benefits are transitory; that which is temporary does not deserve our heart's attachment.” Suffering plays a vital role in helping us learn the lessons we need to learn.
Suffering, especially in the path of God and for the sake of service to others, helps us let go of our limitations, develop our innate capacities to the fullest and serve as an example for others.
The Universal House of Justice reminds us that, “an essential characteristic of this physical world is that we are constantly faced with trials, tribulations, hardships and sufferings and that by overcoming them we achieve our moral and spiritual development.”
It is important to note that Baha'is are not taught to suffer needlessly or accept injustices simply because good often can come from suffering. Baha'is are neither masochistic nor ascetic. While the Baha'i teachings make clear that suffering for noble purposes is commendable, suffering needlessly is just simply tragic, and effective efforts should be made to remedy such pointless and harmful sorrows.
Do Baha’is believe in Jesus' virgin birth?
Yes. Baha’is believe, as the Bible teaches, that Jesus had a virgin birth. God’s power is beyond any limitation whatsoever. For an Omnipotent God, nothing is impossible, including – should He so decide – momentarily altering or transcending any one of the laws He established for the normal operation of His physical creation. (Responding: 101 Questions often asked of Baha’is)
Do Baha'is observe dietary restrictions?
Although there are no dietary restrictions in the Baha'i Faith, Baha'is are prohibited from consuming alcoholic beverages and using narcotic and hallucinogenic drugs.
Are Baha'is required to tithe a portion of their income?
As an element of their life of service, Baha'is contribute regularly, in accordance with their means, to the funds that support the work of the Faith. Contributing is considered a spiritual duty and a matter of individual conscience, and is performed without coercion or overview by the Baha'i community.
What is the Baha'i attitude toward homosexuality?
Baha'i law limits permissible sexual relations to those between a man and a woman in marriage. Believers are expected to abstain from sex outside matrimony. Baha'is do not, however, attempt to impose their moral standards on those who have not accepted the Revelation of Baha’u’llah. To regard homosexuals with prejudice would be contrary to the spirit of the Baha'i teachings.
Baha'is practice “independent investigation of truth,” but what exactly does that mean?
Baha'u'llah emphasizes the fundamental obligation of individuals to acquire knowledge with their "own eyes and not through the eyes of others" and therefore know why they adhere to a given ideology or doctrine.
When we blindly follow various traditions, movements and opinions, we tend to become intolerant of those who do not share them. This attitude - believing that only our own beliefs are right and everyone else is wrong - is one of the main sources of conflict in the world today. History has witnessed conflict and bloodshed over slight alterations in religious practice, or a minor change in the interpretation of doctrine.
Abdu’l-Baha explains that “God has given man the eye of investigation by which he may see and recognize truth…Man is not intended to see through the eyes of another, hear through another’s ears nor comprehend with another’s brain. … Therefore depend upon your own reason and judgment and adhere to the outcome of your own investigation…”
Baha’is believe that, as there is only one reality, all people will gradually discover its different facets and come to a common understanding and unity, provided they sincerely seek after truth. In this connection, Abdu'l-Baha said:
Being one, truth cannot be divided, and the differences that appear to exist among the many nations only result from their attachment to prejudice. If only men would search out truth, they would find themselves united.
Does the Baha'i Faith have rituals?
The Faith has a small number of simple rituals prescribed by Baha’u’llah such as daily obligatory prayer and practices that pertain to marriage and funerals. Beyond these, Baha’is strive to maintain the utmost simplicity and flexibility in matters of worship and avoid developing any system of uniform or rigid practices.
Are there Baha'i activities in which I can participate?
The public is invited to participate in Baha'i devotional gatherings and observance of holy days; study circles that explore Baha'u'llah's teachings; and social, spiritual and educational activities for children, youth and adults. Informal gatherings, sometimes referred to as "firesides," provide an open setting for asking questions and learning more about the Faith.
How do Baha'is relate to other religions?
Baha'u'llah called upon Baha'is to associate with the followers of all religions in a spirit of love and friendship. Baha'is see no intrinsic conflict with other religious communities because they believe that all the revealed faiths originate from the same source, God, and are essentially one.
How are Baha'i activities and projects funded? The work of the Baha'i Faith is entirely supported by voluntary contributions from its members. Giving to the Baha'i fund is regarded as one of the priviledges of membership; the Faith does not accept outside contributions. Giving to the Baha'i fund is considered a spiritual duty and a matter of individual conscience, with no coercion or oversight from the Faith's elected institutions.
What is the role of the individual in the Baha'i Faith?
As the Faith has no clergy, individuals are responsible for building a united, functioning Baha'i community and acquainting others with the Faith. The role of the individual is important in the Baha'i Faith because the success of the Baha'i community depends ultimately on the individual's response to the teachings of Baha'u'llah. In addition to individual initiative, Baha'is work at the community and institutional levels. Baha'is are expected to pray and meditate daily, be wholly engaged with the world at large and place service to humanity as their highest goal.
What is the Baha'i view of marriage and family?
A stable, loving family is considered the basic unit of social life on which the progress of society depends. Monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is the foundation of family life. Baha'u'llah described matrimony as "a fortress for well-being and salvation" and identified the rearing of children as the fundamental, though not the only, purpose of marriage.
Are there sects or branches of the Baha'i Faith?
No. The Baha'i Faith is protected from division by a Covenant established by Baha’u’llah. It was instituted to preserve the unity of His followers and prevent schism after His passing. The Covenant calls on Baha’is to turn for guidance to Baha'u'llah's eldest son, Abdu’l-Baha, the appointed interpreter of His teachings; to Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Faith until his passing in 1957; and to the Universal House of Justice, the elected international council. Those who do not, or cease to, observe these provisions of the Covenant cannot legitimately claim to be Baha’is. Despite efforts by individuals to divert authority to themselves, the Baha'i community is a single, united body, free of schisms or factions. The Baha’i Faith is thus the first religion in history that has survived its critical first century with its unity firmly established. "Were it not for the protecting power of the Covenant to guard the impregnable fort of the Cause of God," said Abdu'l-Baha, "there would arise among the Baha’is, in one day, a thousand different sects as was the case in former ages." But in this Revelation, Baha'u'llah's Covenant is the magnet that draws the hearts of its followers together.
Where do Baha’is worship if they don’t live near a Baha'i House of Worship?
Baha'i Houses of Worship are intended as places of prayer and meditation for everyone. Unlike churches, no congregations are associated with them. Rather, Baha'is throughout the world gather for worship and other activities at their local Baha'i Center or in individuals’ homes. At this time, there are only seven Bahai Houses of Worship in the world; one is in Wilmette, Ill.
Why is there no clergy in the Baha'i Faith?
Baha’u’llah taught that in an age of universal education, there was no longer a need for a special class of clergy. Instead, He provided a framework for administering the affairs of the Faith through a system of elected councils at the local, national and international levels.
What kinds of activities are Baha'is involved in for the benefit of others?
Baha'i are dedicated to personal and social transformation, which Baha'u'llah said is the true purpose of religion. Specifically, as individuals and as a community, Baha'is are dedicated to improving society through social and economic development projects in education, agriculture and healthcare, among other fields. The ultimate goal is to unite humanity by eliminating prejudice, promulgating the equality of the sexes, adopting a universal standard of human rights, ensuring education for all, recognizing the harmony between religion and science, and establishing a world federated government. Baha'is work with other organizations, such as the United Nations, to achieve these goals.
What does the Baha'i Faith teach regarding participation in political affairs?
The Baha'i Faith encourages its members to take their civic responsibilities seriously. Members are required to uphold the authority of established governments through loyalty and obedience to the laws of their country. They are permitted to vote in government elections, but must abstain from partisanship or joining political parties. Baha'is may serve their government in administrative posts, but may not accept appointments to political or partisan positions. Baha'is may run as unaffiliated independents in elections for posts where no political party affiliations and no campaigning is required. This approach reflects the practice within the Baha'i community of holding elections -- entirely without nominations and campaigning -- for Baha'i administrative councils at the local, national and international level. More>>
What does the Baha'i Faith teach about patriotism?
The Baha'i Teachings do not seek to discourage or stifle reasonable, sane expressions of nationalism. However, if patriotism takes on selfish overtones that promote feelings of superiority over and prejudice against other peoples or nations, or if it otherwise encourages attitudes that seek to exploit or exclude others, then it is very problematic. (Responding: 101 Questions often asked of Baha’is)
Why are Baha'is persecuted in Iran?
The Baha'i Faith, Iran’s largest minority religion, is not accepted as a legitimate religion in that country because Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, appeared after Muhammad. Muhammad is designated in the Qur'an, the Muslim Holy Book, as the Seal of the Prophets (along with other titles) and Muslims have interpreted this verse to mean that Muhammad is the final prophet of God. Therefore, any claim of prophethood after Muhammad is considered blasphemous by the Muslim religious leaders.
Although Baha'u'llah accepted that Muhammad is indeed the Seal of the Prophets just as the Qur'an stated, He explained that the Qur'an itself clarifies that the title does not mean that God will never again reveal Himself to mankind. Baha’is believe Baha’u’llah is the most recent Manifestation of God in a never-ending progression of revelations from God that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Christ, and Muhammad.
Consequently, Baha’is, who number more than 300,000 in Iran have been targets of discrimination and violence in that country since the religion began there in the mid-1800s. More than 200 Baha’is were killed in Iran between 1978 and 1998, the majority by execution. Thousands more were imprisoned.
Considered by the Iranian government as “apostates” and “unprotected infidels,” Baha’is in Iran have no legal rights. Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, they systematically have been denied jobs, pensions and the right to inherit property. More than 10,000 Baha’is have been dismissed from government and university posts, and Baha’i students have been denied access to higher education.
Baha’i cemeteries, holy places and community properties have been seized and none returned; many Baha'i sites of great historical significance have been destroyed. Baha’is also are not permitted to elect leaders in their national or local Baha’i communities.
Updates on the Baha'i situation in Iran are posted on the Persecution of Baha’is in Iran blog site.
What is the Baha'i position on the status of women?
The Baha'i writings clearly indicate that from a spiritual point of view there is no difference between women and men and no basis-moral, biological or social-for discrimination on grounds of gender.
How do Baha'is view the environmental crisis?
Baha'is see the environmental crisis as one of a number of issues requiring a profound change in human behavior. They believe that humanity is in a turbulent period of transition toward a unified global society. Humanity will be able to live in harmony with the environment when its spiritual and material potentials are treated with respect. Baha’i teachings stress that sustainable development depends on humanity’s acceptance of ethical and spiritual principles that foster economic, social and environmental well being.
How can abolishing the extremes of poverty and wealth -- one of the principles of the Faith -- be achieved?
The Baha'i Faith sees the present condition of society, in which a small number of individuals accumulate excessive fortunes while the masses live in dire need, as a grave imbalance and injustice. On the other hand, a state of complete economic equality is neither achievable nor desirable.
The Baha'i writings anticipate that extremes of poverty and wealth will be reduced gradually as the character of individuals—rich and poor—is reformed, and as the essential connection between the spiritual and material aspects of life is recognized.
At the personal level, the key is to recognize that every human being, regardless of social or economic status, has the innate capacity, as well as the right and obligation, to contribute to the continuous advancement of civilization. Idleness and begging are forbidden to Baha'is, while work performed in the spirit of service is elevated to the station of worship. The right to work, the right to contribute to society, takes on a spiritual dimension, and the responsibility to be productive applies to everyone.
Wealth is considered highly meritorious when used for the benefit of all. Abdu’l-Baha stated:
“Wealth is most commendable, provided the entire population is wealthy. If, however, a few have inordinate riches while the rest are impoverished, and no fruit or benefit accrues from that wealth, then it is only a liability to its possessor. If, on the other hand, it is expended for the promotion of knowledge, the founding of elementary and other schools, the encouragement of art and industry, the training of orphans and the poor—in brief, if it is dedicated to the welfare of society—its possessor will stand out before God and man as the most excellent of all who live on earth and will be accounted as one of the people of paradise.”
What does the Baha'i Faith teach about science?
The Baha'i Faith teaches that science and religion as complementary systems of knowledge, which throughout history have been the most powerful instruments for the investigation of reality and the advancement of civilization. Baha'is see the harmonious interaction of science and religion, each operating within its proper sphere, as one of the prerequisites for the establishment of a peaceful and just society.
Do you have a question about the Baha'i Faith that is not answered here?
Write to the Office of Communications at the United States Baha'i National Center.