Principles and Practices
To become a Bahá'í is to respond to the call of God for this day and to join a global fellowship committed to helping humankind reach the long-promised age of global peace, justice and unity. A person becomes a Bahá'í by recognizing Bahá’u’lláh as the Messenger of God for this age and striving to follow His laws and teachings. (To become a member of the Bahá'í Faith, go to join.bahai.us. Outside of the United States, visit the international Bahá'í website for contact information in your country.)
Some of the features and requirements of living a Bahá'í life are outlined below:
- Laws of personal behavior and moral principles
- Governance and leadership
- Teaching the Bahá'í Faith
- Giving to the Bahá'í funds
Laws of personal behavior and moral principles
The Bahá'í teachings include laws and prescriptions for the spiritual and moral life of the individual and for the governance and development of society. The laws for one’s personal life include daily prayer, observing a period of fasting, abstaining from partisan politics and engaging in a trade, craft or profession. Other moral principles include prohibitions against backbiting, extramarital sex, gambling and the nonmedical use of alcohol or drugs.
Marriage, which Bahá’u’lláh called “a fortress for well-being and salvation,” is an integral part of the Bahá'í Faith. Bahá'ís consider monogamous marriage to be the building block of human society, and a husband and wife as equals. The Bahá'í Faith encourages interracial marriage as a concrete expression of the oneness of humanity. Marriages are not pre-arranged, but once a partner is chosen, both sets of parents are required to grant consent to the marriage, based on the understanding that the marriage should be a source of unity on a societal level.
Individuals are not expected to obey all the laws perfectly upon becoming a Bahá'í, but rather to be committed to working toward this standard. Bahá’u’lláh tells us that His laws are "the lamps of My loving providence among My servants, and the keys of My mercy for My creatures.”
Governance and Leadership
There is no clergy, or professional pastoral or missionary work, in the Bahá'í Faith. Instead, Bahá’u’lláh has provided a framework for administering the affairs of the Faith through a system of elected lay councils at the local, national and international levels. The Universal House of Justice is the nine-member, elected governing body of the worldwide Bahá'í community. Endowed by Bahá’u’lláh with the authority to legislate on matters not specifically laid down in the Bahá'í scriptures, the Universal House of Justice keeps the Bahá'í community unified and responsive to the needs and conditions of an evolving world.
All Bahá'í elections are held by secret ballot and plurality vote. There are no candidacies, nominations or campaigning. Bahá'í governing bodies (assemblies) make decisions using a non-adversarial form of collective decision-making known as consultation to make decisions. Bahá'ís believe these governing bodies, which are part of the Administrative Order, provide a model for the effective functioning of a unified global society and the spiritual and material well-being of the world’s peoples. Bahá'ís 21 and older enjoy the right to vote in Bahá'í elections and serve as members of Bahá'í administrative institutions.
The Nineteen Day Feast serves as the basic gathering for worship, community decision-making and fellowship. On the first day of each of the 19 months in the Bahá'í calendar, local Bahá'í communities gather for spiritual devotions, administrative consultation and fellowship. Devotions include reading texts from the Bahá'í Faith as well as those from other faiths. Following devotions, the community usually has a period of open consultation to allow members of the community to voice their opinions on community affairs and make recommendations to the Local Spiritual Assembly.
Teaching the Bahá'í Faith
Bahá'ís are enjoined to take individual initiative in teaching the Bahá'í Faith to others. However, the Faith forbids any form of psychological pressure or material inducements to effect conversion, based on a profound belief that each person has the right and responsibility to investigate the truth for him or herself. Bahá'ís strive to share Bahá’u’lláh's message with their family, friends, neighbors and co-workers, with the understanding that "that which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith."
Another avenue for Bahá'ís to teach the Bahá'í Faith is to move to another country or community as a "pioneer.” Bahá'í pioneering differs from traditional missionary work in that those undertaking it are expected to pursue their own careers, be self-supporting and integrate themselves into their adopted communities.
For Bahá'ís, service to others gives life meaning and purpose. Any work or profession carried out in a spirit of service to humanity is considered the highest form of worship. Educating one's children and caring for one's family also are considered laudable forms of service and worship.
In addition to these personal forms of service, the Bahá'í community undertakes collective service projects in accordance with priorities and goals set by the Universal House of Justice. Such acts of service may include tutoring adult study circles, teaching children’s classes, mentoring youth groups and hosting devotional programs. Bahá'ís are also involved in a wide variety of social and economic development projects to uplift the material and spiritual well-being of humanity.
Many Bahá'í youth spend a year or two after high school or during their college years in service to the Bahá'í Faith, although they are not required to do so. Bahá'ís may choose from many service opportunities in community development, education and other forms of social service in the United States and abroad. Before undertaking a service commitment, an individual is encouraged to pray about it and consult with one’s family and Local Spiritual Assembly.
Giving to Bahá'í funds
Giving to Bahá'í funds is considered a sacred obligation and privilege. It is also a private, voluntary act that is restricted to Bahá'ís; no funds or contributions are accepted from those who are not members of the Faith. The International Bahá'í Fund, administered by the Universal House of Justice, supports the growth and development of the Faith throughout the world. The Fund also helps maintain the Faith’s sacred shrines and other endowments at the Bahá'í World Center in Haifa, Israel National Bahá'í funds and local Bahá'í funds are administered, respectively, by National Spiritual Assemblies and Local Spiritual Assemblies in every country and locality. The funds are used to support Bahá'í centers, schools, publishing trusts, educational and social service projects, and other activities.
Solicitation or assessment of personal donations are not permitted. Regularity in giving and a spirit of sacrifice are emphasized over the size of the contribution. As Shoghi Effendi stated: “Contributing to the Fund is a service every believer can render, be he poor or wealthy; for this is a spiritual responsibility in which the amount given is not important. It is the degree of sacrifice of the giver, and the love with which he makes his gift, and the unity of the friends in this service which brings spiritual confirmations…”
Bahá’ís view equality between the sexes and the full participation of women in every field of human endeavor as essential prerequisites to peace and human progress. …more
The worldwide Baha’i community has been working to effect a transformation at the grassroots level; one that encourages a move from a culture of consumerism to a culture of sustainability. …more
Science and religion are two systems of knowledge that are fundamentally in harmony, mutually reinforcing, and are both necessary to advance civilization. …more
Consultation is a distinctive, non-adversarial method of decision-making used by Bahá’ís in both their personal and community affairs. …more
A focus on independent investigation of reality, whether scientific or religious, is strongly encouraged in Bahá’u’lláh’s writings. …more
For Baha’is, service to others gives life meaning and purpose. Any work or profession carried out in a spirit of service to humanity is considered the highest form of worship. …more
From March 2-20, Bahá’ís worldwide rise before dawn to eat breakfast, pray and then abstain from eating or drinking until sunset in observation of the annual 19-day Fast. …more
Each year, thousands of Baha’i pilgrims come from around the world to pray and meditate in the Baha’i Shrines and holy sites in the Haifa/Acre area of northern Israel. …more
“To be a Bahá’í simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood.”— `Abdu’l-Bahá