What is the Bahá’í Faith?
Founded a century and a half ago, the Bahá’í Faith is today among the fastest-growing of the world’s religions. With more than five million followers, who reside in virtually every nation on earth, it is the second-most widespread faith, surpassing every religion but Christianity in its geographic reach. Bahá’ís reside in more than 100,000 localities around the world, an expansion that reflects their dedication to the ideal of world citizenship.
THE BAHÁ’Í FAITH’S global scope is mirrored in the composition of its membership. Representing a cross section of humanity, Bahá’ís come from virtually every nation, ethnic group, culture, profession, and social or economic class. More than 2,100 different ethnic and tribal groups are represented.
Since it also forms a single community, free of schism or factions, the Bahá’í Faith comprises what is very likely the most diverse and widespread organized body of people on earth.
The Faith’s Founder was Bahá’u’lláh, a Persian nobleman from Tehran who, in the mid-nineteenth century, left a life of princely comfort and security and, in the face of intense persecution and deprivation, brought to humanity a stirring new message of peace and unity.
Bahá’u’lláh claimed to be nothing less than a new and independent Messenger from God. His life, work, and influence parallel that of Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, and Muhammad. Bahá’ís view Bahá’u’lláh as the most recent in this succession of divine Messengers.
The essential message of Bahá’u’lláh is that of unity. He taught that there is only one God, that there is only one human race, and that all the world’s religions represent stages in the revelation of God’s will and purpose for humanity. In this day, Bahá’u’lláh said, humanity has collectively come of age. As foretold in all of the world’s scriptures, the time has arrived for the uniting of all peoples into a peaceful and integrated global society. “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens,” He wrote.
The youngest of the world’s independent religions, the Faith founded by Bahá’u’lláh stands out from other religions in a number of ways. It has a unique system of global administration, with freely elected governing councils in nearly 10,000 localities.
It takes a distinctive approach to contemporary social problems. The Faith’s scriptures and the multifarious activities of its membership address virtually every important trend in the world today, from new thinking about cultural diversity and environmental conservation to the decentralization of decision making; from a renewed commitment to family life and moral values to the call for social and economic justice in a world that is rapidly becoming a global neighborhood.
The Faith’s most distinctive accomplishment by far, however, is its unity. Unlike every other religion — not to mention most social and political movements — the Bahá’í community has successfully resisted the perennial impulse to divide into sects and subgroups. It has maintained its unity despite a history as turbulent as that of any religion of antiquity.
In the years since Bahá’u’lláh lived, the process of global unification for which He called has become well-advanced. Through historical processes, the traditional barriers of race, class, creed, and nation have steadily broken down. The forces at work, Bahá’u’lláh predicted, will eventually give birth to a universal civilization. The principal challenge facing the peoples of the earth is to accept the fact of their oneness and assist in the creation of this new world.
For a global society to flourish, Bahá’u’lláh said, it must be based on certain fundamental principles. They include the elimination of all forms of prejudice; full equality between the sexes; recognition of the essential oneness of the world’s great religions; the elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth; universal education; the harmony of science and religion; a sustainable balance between nature and technology; and the establishment of a world federal system, based on collective security and the oneness of humanity.
Bahá’ís around the world express their commitment to these principles chiefly through individual and community transformation, including the large number of small-scale, grassroots-based social and economic development projects that Bahá’í communities have launched in recent years.
In building a unified network of local, national, and international governing councils, Bahá’u’lláh’s followers have created a far-flung and diverse worldwide community — marked by a distinctive pattern of life and activity — which offers an encouraging model of cooperation, harmony, and social action. In a world so divided in its loyalties, this is in itself a singular achievement.
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