Baha'i Faith

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The Bahá'í Faith was founded by Mírzá Husayn-`Alí of Nur, titled Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892). Bahá'ís (as its followers are called) recognize Bahá'u'lláh as the most recent in a series of divine "manifestations" that also includes Zarathustra, Krishna, Buddha, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and the Bab. Just as Islam claims to supersede previous Abrahamic religions, the Bahá'í religion claims to supersede Islam.

From its origins in the Persian and Ottoman Empires, the Bahá'í community expanded to India and Burma (1870s), Central Asia (1880s), North America and Europe (1894-1914), Australia, New Zealand, and Latin America (1919-44), East and South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania (1950-63), and the former iron-curtain countries (1990s). As a result it now enjoys a noteworthy geographic spread, with a membership drawn from hundreds of nations and ethnic groups.

Bahá'ís believe that Bahá'u'lláh's teachings herald the gradual rise of a new global civilization characterized by world peace. "The earth is but one country," wrote Bahá'u'lláh (in the Lawh-i-Maqsud), "and mankind its citizens."


The word "Bahá'í" (/baˈhaːʔiː/) comes from the Arabic word Bahá’ (بهاء), meaning "glory" or "splendor"--a term which forms part of Bahá'u'lláh's assumed title. Properly the term "Bahá'í" is either an adjective referring to the religion, or a noun for a follower of Bahá'u'lláh, but not a noun for the religion itself.

Members of the main body of Bahá'ís refer to their religion as the "Bahá'í Faith," preferring "faith" to "religion," and treating it as part of the religion's name. Names like "Baha'ism," "Bahaism," "Behaism," etc. are sometimes encountered in older material, or in material by dissidents, but are avoided by most Bahá'ís, partly because they object to being consider an "ism" ("Babism," however, meets with less objection). "Bahá'í religion" is a common usage in academic circles.

Bahá'í institutions express a preference for the orthography "Bahá'í" (i.e. with diacritical marks),[1] using a particular transcription system for Arabic and Persian based on a system used by academics in 1922, when the Bahá'í system was adopted. The academic systems have evolved considerably since, but the Bahá'í system, having been used in tens of thousands of pamphlets and books in all languages using the Roman alphabet, has acquired enormous momentum. The acute accents can also be written as horizontal lines (macrons) above the vowels. The "apostrophe" in "Bahá'í" stands for a 'hamzih or glottal stop; otherwise English speakers might be tempted to pronounce ai as a diphthong. The spelling "Bahai" is also occasionally encountered.


(CC) Photo: Michael Hoefner
Bahai House of Worship in Delhi, India

Attempts to estimate the number of Bahá'ís face problems common to many religions. Unlike most other religions, the religion's governing bodies register new members and add them to voting lists. This is essential because the governing bodies are elected by all adult believers. But no religion has a way to track people who drift away without officially resigning their membership. In a few nations and regions (such as Bolivia, where there is a popular Bahá'í radio station, and Northern Ireland), the government census actually gives a membership number larger than the official Bahá'í statistic. In countries where the Bahá'í Faith is illegal (as in some Muslim countries) or where national infrastructure is very limited, it is difficult to obtain a reliable count of the Bahá'ís. Recent estimates of the worldwide Bahá'í population range from more than a million[2] to upwards of seven million.[3] The official Bahá'í number is five to six million.[4]

Observers often notice a discrepancy between government and Bahá'í figures. Official Bahá'í statistics give a Bahá'í population in India of 2.2 million,[5] whereas the 1991 Indian census recorded a mere 5,575 Bahá'ís living there.[6] The World Christian Encyclopedia identifies the Bahá'í Faith as the second-most widespread religion in the world (Christianity being number one and Islam, number three).[7] Because nine adult Bahá'ís will form a local "spiritual assembly" but nine adult Christians or Muslims will usually not establish a church or mosque, Bahá'ís are often more visible than their numbers would suggest.

It has been said that the Bahá'í religion is the fastest-growing world religion, based on the rapid growth the religion experienced in the late sixties and seventies.[8] Mormons make a similar claim. Both claims refers to percentile growth rather than an absolute number of new believers; denominations and small religions often find it easier to achieve rapid percentile growth than larger ones. The Bahá'í Faith, historically, grows in spurts because of internal developments and external cultural factors. Its growth slowed in most areas of the world in the 1980s and 1990s, but has accelerated again since 2006. Overall, in the twentieth century its membership grew roughly fifty fold, from about 100,000 in 1900 to about five million in 2000.

Central Figures

Bahá'is conceive of human history in terms of prophetic dispensations of hundreds to thousands of years. The dispensation of Christ is held to have lasted from the time of Christ to 622 C.E.; that of Muhammad from 622 to 1844. Humanity is now living in the "Bahá'í Era," the "millennium" of Bahá'u'lláh which is to last at least a thousand years (until at least 2853 C.E. and the appearance of the next Manifestation). Within this dispensation, Bahá'ís distinguish between a "Heroic Age" of the religion (1844-1921) characterized by the ministries of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá, and a "Formative Age" (starting in 1921) of institution-building. A "Golden Age" of world peace and unity is expected to arise in the distant future.

The Forerunner, the Báb

(CC) Photo: John Abassi
Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, Israel.

Mírzá `Alí-Muḥammad, called the Báb, was born on October 20, 1819, in Shiraz to a well-known merchant of the city. His father died soon after his birth and the boy was raised by his uncle Ḥájí Mírzá Siyyid `Alí, who was also a merchant.[9]

Upon reaching manhood, he joined his uncle in the family business, a trading house, and became a merchant. In 1842 he married Khadíjih-Bagum and they had one son, Aḥmad, who died in infancy.[10] A contemporary described Him as "very taciturn, and [he] would never utter a word unless it was absolutely necessary. He did not even answer our questions. He was constantly absorbed in his own thoughts, and was preoccupied with repetition of his prayers and verses. He was a handsome man with a thin beard, dressed in clean clothes, wearing a green shawl and a black turban."[11]

In 1842 he married Khadíjih-Bagum (1820-1882), the daughter of a prominent merchant in Shíráz. They had one child, a boy named Ahmad who died the year he was born (1843).

On the evening of May 23, 1844, when he was 24 years old, he invited a young religious seeker into his house and announced that he was the promised one of Shi'ite Islam. He took the title of the Báb, meaning "the Gate," referring to the title of four successive spokesmen of the twelfth and last Imám of Shi'ite Islam. The title implied he claimed to be a spokesman or intermediary of the twelfth Imám, but he gradually made it clear that he was claiming to be the messianic return of that figure, whose advent was expected by some Muslims in that very year (the year 1260 in the Islamic calendar).

Gradually, the Báb attracted a group of followers. He also began to reveal texts, "reveal" referring to a process of rapid dictation or chanting. [12]He sent followers out with some of his texts to preach his message throughout the Shi'ite communities of Iran and Iraq. Because his messianic claim contradicted the commonly held understanding that Muhammad was the last of the prophets until the Judgment Day, the Báb's message was highly controversial. His followers were persecuted and sometimes killed and he was placed under house arrest, then exiled to government forts on the remote Turkish-Iranian border. But he was never denied writing materials and continued to compose texts. Nearly two hundred are extant today, though some exist in various scribal variants. Among them are the Qayyumu'l-Asmá, a metaphorical commentary on the qur'anic Surih of Joseph, and the Bayán or "Exposition," a book containing the laws and practices of the Báb's religion. A volume of extracts from his writings, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, was published in English in 1976.[13]

Among his major teachings was the advent of another messianic figure, "He whom God would make manifest," described as an even greater divine messenger than himself. Various texts hinted that the new figure would appear in nine or nineteen years, though other texts were later interpreted by a few followers to suggest the advent was hundreds of years in the future.

In July 1850, following Bábí uprisings in Tabarsi, Nayriz, and Zanjan, the premier, Amír Kabír, decided to execute the Báb, in order to eliminate his movement. This decision was 'for reasons of state': the Báb had not led these uprisings (he had been in prison in Chihriq for the past two years), but his existence was felt to fuel disorder. The decision was disputed, both in the capital and in Tabriz, where the governor wanted no part of it. Amír Kabír bypassed the governor and instructed his brother, secretary of the army in the province, to perform the execution. The latter obtained a religious sanction for the Báb's execution, on the grounds of apostasy, from three leading Muslim clerics. These appear to have been reluctant, but acted under pressure.[14] The Báb was executed by a firing squad in Tabriz. By then his movement embraced several tens of thousands of followers. It was particularly popular among young Shi'ite seminarians and clerics and the urban middle class, though it did attract rural villagers, a few tribesmen, and some Turkish-speaking Shi'ites. A large number of the Bábís had previously been members of the Shaykhís, a small Shi'ite sect that had expected the imminent return of the Twelfth Imam.

The Bábí community, which was under increased persecution, turned to other leaders: the nineteen "Letters of the Living" the Báb had appointed and a titular head of the community, a teenager named Mírzá Yahyá (1831-1912), who took the title of Subh-i-Azal. Another figure of considerable informal importance was Mírzá Husayn-`Alí, titled Bahá'u'lláh, son of a member of the Shah's court. Mírzá Yahyá was his younger half brother, lived in Bahá'u'lláh's house, and may have been appointed titular head of the community so that Bábís could consult Bahá'u'lláh without endangering him.

In 1852, two vengeful Bábís failed in an assassination attempt against Naserud-Din Shah, Iran's king. This led to a series of pogroms that produced the deaths of hundreds of Bábís and drove the community to near extinction. Ultimately, somewhere between two and twenty thousand Bábís were killed for their beliefs, often via ingenious public tortures.[15]

The Founder, Bahá'u'lláh

(CC) Photo: John Abbassi
Entrance to the Shrine of the Bahá’u’lláh

Bahá'u'lláh was one of those caught up in the general persecution of the Bábís following the attempted assassination of the Shah. Born on November 12, 1817, in Tehran, the capital of Iran, he was the son of Khadijih Khánum and Mírzá Buzurg, a prominent aristocrat and government official. Husayn-`Alí was raised in privilege and educated via tutors. His first marriage--arranged by his father--occurred just before his 18th birthday, to Ásíyih of Yálrúd, later called Navváb. They had seven children, three of whom survived to adulthood. About 1848 Bahá'u'lláh married a widowed first cousin, Fatimih, with whom he had six children (four surviving to adulthood). About 1862 Bahá'u'lláh took a third wife, Gawhar Khánum, with whom he had one child, a daughter. Islamic law allowed up to four wives, and it was customary for a wealthy aristocrat such as he to have more than one.

Bahá'u'lláh lived a happy life in Tehran and devoted time and resources to assisting the poor. In 1844 he heard of, and immediately accepted, the Báb. He quickly became a very active Bábí and emerged as an unofficial leader. In 1848 he was the host of a gathering at a small eastern Iranian hamlet named Badasht of Bábí leaders, for the purpose of discussing ways they might free the Báb from prison. After the attempted assassination of the shah in the summer of 1852, he was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the plot, all his extensive properties were confiscated, and he was confined in a pestilential subterranean dungeon for four months. While there he experienced a mystical encounter with the "Maid of Heaven," an event that symbolically marked the beginning of his ministry as a manifestation of God.

Cleared of all wrongdoing, Bahá'u'lláh was released from prison in December 1852, but to punish him for his involvement in the Bábí Faith, he was ordered into exile. He chose to go to Iraq. He was accompanied by his family; eventually Mirzá Yahyá joined them. After a year in Baghdad, Bahá'u'lláh retreated into the wilderness for two years, where he lived as a dervish. Returning to Baghdad, he began to organize that city's Bábí community and re-establish correspondence with the remnants of the Bábí community in Iran. More and more Bábís performed Shi'ite pilgrimage to the shrines of the Imams in southern Iraq, then came through Baghdad to meet Bahá'u'lláh and receive his advice and encouragement. He also began to reveal texts in the same manner as the Báb. He produced a short work of spiritual and ethical aphorisms, The Hidden Words. In response to questions posed by a Sufi master he composed The Seven Valleys, which talks about seven stages in the journey of the soul. The Four Valleys was a response to a different Sufi master and described the spiritual journeys of four different types of souls or personality types. When the Báb's uncle came through Baghdad in January, 1861, and asked Bahá'u'lláh a series of questions, Bahá'u'lláh responded by composing the Kitáb-i-Íqán or Book of Certitude--a 250-page book about Qur'anic and biblical prophecy, the relationship of the religions, and the spiritual development of the individual--in forty-eight hours. The works hinted at a divine source for his knowledge, but did not openly state a claim to prophethood.

In 1863, the Iranian government petitioned the Ottoman Turkish government to move Bahá'u'lláh farther from the Iranian border in order to reduce his influence in Iran. In response, Bahá'u'lláh was ordered to Istanbul, the imperial capital. On the verge of his departure, in a large garden named Ridván (paradise), Bahá'u'lláh announced his claim to be the promised one of the Báb, "He whom God would make Manifest," to a small group of his followers. Bábís were invited to accept him as the divine successor of the Báb; over the next decade, the vast majority did so and became Bahá'ís.

In Istanbul Bahá'u'lláh made contacts with many ambassadors, which enabled him to convey epistles to various European monarchs announcing his claim to be the Promised One. After some months in the capital, the Ottoman government sent Bahá'u'lláh to further exile in Edirne, a small city in Turkey near the modern borders of Turkey, Bulgaria, and Greece. There, Mírzá Yahyá Subh-i-Azal became increasingly hostile to Bahá'u'lláh, because his claim of prophethood undercut Azal's claim to authority over the Bábí community. Azal sought to hire an assassin to kill Bahá'u'lláh and attempted to poison him, sickening Bahá'u'lláh so severely that his hand shook for the rest of his life. The strife cause the Ottoman government to exile Bahá'u'lláh and most of his followers to Acre (Akko in Hebrew, `Akka in Arabic), a small prison city in what is today northern Israel. Subh-i-Azal and most of his followers were sent to Famagusta, Cyprus.

Bahá'u'lláh spent the rest of his life in or near Acre. The first two years involved a severe imprisonment that resulted serious illness sweeping the entire party; two of Bahá'u'lláh's followers died. Later his youngest son, Mihdí, died in an accident. In 1870 Bahá'u'lláh was allowed to live in a condition of house arrest within the city walls, then in 1877 in rented houses outside the walls. He devoted the remaining years of his life to revealing more texts and meeting with Bahá'í pilgrims, who spent months making the difficult journey to Acre.

His literary corpus eventually came to include some 15,000 works, covering a wide range of genres, including poetry (of several different types), theological treatises, polemical and apologetical essays, prayers, philosophical texts, and letters. His works are in Arabic, Persian, and a combination of the two. His most important work, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas or Most Holy Book (composed circa 1873), established the basic laws of personal conduct of his religion and many principles of social reform. Bahá'u'lláh’s other prominent works, in addition to the previously mentioned writings from the Baghdad period, include a series of epistles to kings, rulers, and the Pope; a series of treatises after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas that explained and amplified its provisions; several lengthy and beautiful mystical prayers; several works about the authority and station of his eldest son, `Abdu'l-Bahá, including a will and testament appointing him as Bahá'u'lláh’s successor; and Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Bahá'u'lláh’s last important work, which summarized many of his major teachings and reprised many of his most important passages.

The Master, `Abdu'l-Bahá

(CC) Photo: Lee Bey
Baha'i House of Worhsip in Wilmette, Illinois

Bahá'u'lláh’s eldest son, `Abbás, was born on May 23, 1844—the same day when the Báb declared his mission—and was raised in exile with his father. In 1872 he married Munírih, from a noble family in Iran. They had four surviving children, all daughters. When Bahá'u'lláh passed away in 1892, he was 48 and had served as his father’s assistant, secretary, and representative for three decades. In that role he anonymously authored three works: A Traveller's Narrative: Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Báb, a history of the Bábí and Bahá'í Faiths; The Secret of Divine Civilization, a work on the social and economic reform and development of Iran; and A Treatise on Politics, a work on government reorganization. Long addressed by Bahá'ís as “the Master” on Bahá'u'lláh’s command, he took the title of `Abdu'l-Bahá, “Servant of Bahá.” Bahá'u'lláh’s writings declared `Abbás the head of the Faith, exemplar of the Bahá'í life, and center of authority, which stirred jealousy and plotting on the part of his half brother, Muhammad-`Alí.

The Young Turk Revolution of 1908 freed Abdul-Baha from confinement in Acre. He was able to leave Ottoman territory for Europe and North America during the years 1911-1913. He spoke on the relationship between Bahá'í teachings and various liberal causes of the day (racial amity, women's suffrage, Esperanto) to universities audiences, peace societies, liberal Protestant and Reform Jewish congregations, theosophical lodges, Spiritualist churches, and women’s clubs. Khalil Gibran drew his portrait and was very impressed by him. Tens of thousands of North Americans and Europeans heard of the Bahá'í Faith for the first time and the Bahá'í communities, first established on those continents in the early years of his ministry, were greatly strengthened. While in the United States he laid the cornerstone of the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, outside Chicago. His talks were collected and published as The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Paris Talks, and `Abdu'l-Bahá in London, works that are of great interest in understanding Bahá'í teachings, but which nevertheless are not considered Bahá'í scripture because `Abdu'l-Bahá never reviewed the transcripts for accuracy. After he returned to Palestine, `Abdu'l-Bahá penned a series of epistles to the North American Bahá'ís titled Tablets of the Divine Plan, where he gave them the responsibility to take the Bahá'í Faith to every corner of the globe. He was a ceaseless correspondent, producing some 16,000 extant works, mostly letters to individuals and groups. Because Bahá'u'lláh stated that `Abdu'l-Bahá was authorized to interpret the Bahá'í teachings, his writings are part of Bahá'í scripture.

After `Abdu'l-Bahá’s passing on November 28, 1921, his Will and Testament was made public. Composed in the first decade of the twentieth century, it explained how the Bahá'í world was to go about electing the Universal House of Justice, a supreme governing institution for the Faith established by Bahá'u'lláh. It also established the institution of the Guardianship, delineated the process whereby each Guardian would appoint his successor, and defined the complementary functions of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice respectively as interpretation of the Bahá'í texts and legislating on matters in which the texts were silent.

Subsequent Leadership

The Guardian, Shoghi Effendi Rabbani

Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957) was the eldest grandson of `Abdu'l-Bahá, through his eldest daughter, who was married to an Afnán (a member of the family of the Báb). He served as `Abdu'l-Bahá’s secretary; when `Abdu'l-Bahá died, he was studying at Oxford University in order to perfect his English so that he could serve as a translator. He was shocked, upon his return to Palestine, to discover he had been appointed the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith. He took various major works by Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá—The Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Tablets of the Divine Plan, and Bahá'u'lláh’s Tablet of Carmel—as the mandates for his thirty-six year ministry.

Because the first two focused on organization of the Faith and expansion of its membership, respectively, they complemented each other. The membership of the American Bahá'í community had been flat at roughly 1,500 members for two decades. Within months of becoming Guardian, Shoghi Effendi wrote Bahá'í communities around the world and told them to elect nine-member local spiritual assemblies in order to organize activities. He asked Bahá'ís to establish National Spiritual Assemblies as well. Within a decade there were about 115 local spiritual assemblies outside Iran (statistics within the country were not yet collected) and nine National Spiritual Assemblies.[16]

The establishment of organization was not without controversy. Ahmad Sohrab, a prominent Iranian Bahá'í living in the United States, clashed with Bahá'í institutions over the role of his personal organization, the New History Society, took it outside the Bahá'í community, and used it as a vehicle to oppose the Faith. Luminaries such as Albert Einstein and Helen Keller spoke at the society's meetings in New York City. The organization, however, barely survived his death. Efforts by Ruth White, a very individualistic American Bahá'í, to oppose Bahá'í organization by claiming `Abdu'l-Bahá’s Will and Testament was a forgery, produced a brief independent Bahá'í group in Germany that soon dwindled away.

With organization came defined community life, systematic deepening of new members, and coordination of efforts to teach the Faith locally, hence membership began to increase. Greater human resources made possible systematic campaigns to establish the Faith in new countries, which brought new National Spiritual Assemblies in existence; by 1963 there were 56 National Spiritual Assemblies and a small but widespread number of Bahá'ís everywhere outside the Communist world.

Shoghi Effendi took Bahá'u'lláh’s Tablet of Carmel as a mandate to expand and beautify the Bahá'í World Center, with its holy places located in and near Acre and on Mount Carmel in nearby Haifa. Notable was the construction of the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel (`Abdu'l-Bahá having earlier brought the Báb’s remains to Palestine from Iran). He continued the task of translating that he had begun with `Abdu'l-Bahá’s encouragement, producing a series of new translations into English of most of Bahá'u'lláh’s major works. His translations became the standard for later translations into English and were used as the basis for translating Bahá'í scriptures into other languages outside the Islamic world, from Blackfoot to Vietnamese. He produced a constant flow of letters and essays answering the questions of individuals and interpreting the Bahá'í teachings; altogether, 25,000 letters have been collected. Some have been assembled into significant compilations, such as The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh; others were of sufficient length to be published as small books, such as The Advent of Divine Justice and The Promised Day is Come. Shoghi Effendi wrote one book, God Passes By (1944), a history of the Bahá'í Faith’s first century, and he edited, abridged, and translated Nabil’s Narrative, also called The Dawnbreakers, a major memoir by a Bábí who later became a close companion of Bahá'u'lláh.

The Hands of the Cause

Shoghi Effendi died suddenly on November 4, 1957. He left no will (which is a duty for Bahá'ís if they have property and descendants, which he did not). Based on a series of letters Shoghi Effendi wrote to the Bahá'í world about the importance of the Hands of the Cause of God, a group of distinguished servant-leaders of the Faith that he had appointed (based on guidance from Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá), the Hands took temporary charge of the Bahá'í Faith until 1963, when the ten year expansion plan Shoghi Effendi had set in motion in 1953 would end. They began to prepare for the 1963 election of the Universal House of Justice, a body described by Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá. This decision greatly disturbed one Hand, Charles Mason Remey (1874-1974), who gradually came to believe that Shoghi Effendi had named him the Second Guardian. When he announced his claim in 1960, he acquired a following of perhaps one or two hundred, but subsequently the Remeyites disagreed over various matters, including who should be the Third Guardian, and broke into several groups, two of which (the Orthodox Bahá'ís and the Bahá'ís Under the Provision of the Covenant) remain active today.

The Universal House of Justice

Bahá'u'lláh's writings refer often to the House of Justice of nine male members, to be established in every city and worldwide. `Abdu'l-Bahá stated that temporarily, local Houses of Justice should be called local spiritual assemblies so that no one would confuse them with a court or political body. His Will and Testament stated that all the members of the nine-member National Spiritual Assemblies (which are national Houses of Justice) would elect the Universal House of Justice. The first election occurred in April, 1963, and subsequently the Universal House of Justice drafted its own constitution, which specifies that elections to its membership should occur every five years. The April 2008 election was the tenth election of the body.

The Universal House of Justice continued the priorities set by Shoghi Effendi. They define the main goals of multi-year "plans" and deliver progress reports in the form of annual Ridván messages. They issue statements about various teachings of the Bahá'í Faith and coordinate the answering of thousands of letters written by Bahá'ís to them every year. They have established new Bahá'í institutions and continued development of the Bahá'í world center in northern Israel. The latter has included restoration and beautification of holy places and construction of a series of monumental structures to house the international administration.


The Bahá'í religion lacks a professional clergy (though some of its leaders and staff receive salaries), and is governed by its "Administrative Order," a hierarchy of elected councils. These include

  • Local Spiritual Assemblies (LSAs) — These consist of nine-member councils that are elected annually by and from among all adult believers in a civil locality (city, town, village, county). In very large Bahá'í communities the Universal House of Justice may approve an alternative election system whereby the adult Bahá'ís elect delegates, who elect the Assembly.
  • National Spiritual Assemblies (NSAs) — Nine-member councils with national rather than local responsibilities. NSA's are elected annually by delegates chosen by all the adult Bahá'ís resident in an electoral unit. The number of delegates is set by the Universal House of Justice; the NSA then divides its area of jurisdiction into electoral units, each with roughly the same number of adult Bahá'ís, the exception being large cities, which are kept as a single electoral unit that elects two or more delegates based on its Bahá'í population. (It should be noted that the term "national" is used loosely in Bahá'í parlance. All of South America originally elected a single "national" Spiritual Assembly, which was later subdivided into regional assemblies and finally one NSA for each country on the continent. It is common for islands, island groupings, and territories geographically detached from the main section of a nation to have their own "national" Spiritual Assemblies. Alaska, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Sicily are examples.)
  • Regional Bahá'í Councils — These nine-member bodies exist in certain countries, such as Canada, India, and the United States, as an intermediate level in between the LSA's and NSA. They are elected annually by all the members of the local spiritual assemblies in their region.
  • The Universal House of Justice — a global body, the religion's highest authority. Its members are elected every five years, by an electoral college consisting of all the members of the NSAs. In contrast to other Bahá'í bodies, only men are eligible for election to the Universal House of Justice. Its "Seat" (headquarters) is located on Mount Carmel, in a campus of neoclassical buildings and overlooking the city of Haifa, Israel.

Bahá'í elections take place through secret ballot. All mentioning of names, all campaigning, and all nominating is forbidden; electors pray and vote their conscience after considering the personal qualities of people they know and the diversity of the body they are electing. Such a system prevents the extensive voter manipulation and elaborate promises that characterize most electoral campaigns in civil society and thus remove from the Bahá'í system a major cause of polarization of the electorate. Those elected, having never issued promises to press for certain changes, are free to look at issues in an unbiased fashion and to brainstorm together freely.[17]

When an election is called, those eligible to vote have the option of voting by mail or in person (except regional council elections, which are almost always conducted by mail). Tellers count the votes and announce who received the plurality of votes. In the event of a tie, preference is given to members of minority groups.

The Bahá'í scriptures place great emphasis on consensus--not in the Quaker sense of waiting for agreement, but in the sense that consultation should result in unanimity. If unanimity is not possible, however, a majority vote decides an issue. Those holding a minority position are urged to trust in and support the decision, because the only way to determine whether a decision was right is to implement it. If a decision is not supported, there may be no way to determine whether it failed because it was poorly made or because it could not be properly implemented.

One difficulty the Bahá'í system sometimes faces is generating membership turnover, because in a system without campaigning, incumbents have a natural advantage. This has caused criticism of the Bahá'í electoral system.[18] Secular systems, however, face a similar problem, with very high percentages of incumbents being reelected, often after bruising campaigns that leave a permanent tarnish on their reputation. It is common for members of Regional Councils or national committees--positions of great visibility--to be elected to NSAs. In the United States, historically, there has been a membership turnover on the NSA of one position (out of nine) two years out of three, usually because of retirement for health or personal reasons, though occasionally because the delegates voted for someone new.

In addition to the hierarchy of elected bodies, there is an appointed arm of Bahá'í administration. Every five years the Universal House of Justice appoints nine International Counselors, who serve as members of the International Teaching Center (ITC) in Haifa, Israel. The ITC serves as the right arm of the Universal House of Justice, encouraging the spread of the Bahá'í Faith and the development of its communities. The ITC also directs the Continental Counsellors, appointed by the Universal House of Justice every five years. Worldwide there are 99 Counsellors, functioning in five regional jurisdictions (the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australasia, and Europe). They in turn appoint Auxiliary Board members (ABMs) to five year terms. Currently there are 990 ABMs, each with jurisdiction over a region (in the United States, typically several states; in Europe it may be an entire country). ABMs usually work in pairs, one assigned responsibility for the propagation of the Bahá'í Faith, the other its protection against internal and external problems. They often appoint Assistants, who are assigned to a specific Bahá'í community or "cluster" (a group of localities) or to work with a specific population (like youth).

The Counselors and ABMs constantly travel to visit Bahá'í communities, find out how they are doing, encourage and inspire them, and remind them of the latest advice from the Universal House of Justice and International Teaching Center. They often speak at major events. Individuals and Bahá'í institutions often seek their advice and encouragement. Auxiliary Board members and their assistants play a major role in regional training institutes, agencies established regionally to educate Bahá'ís and train them in skills to expand the Bahá'í community.

The Bahá'í Administrative Order exists to organize and direct the Bahá'í community. Local Spiritual Assemblies own Bahá'í Centers, organize local Bahá'í events, coordinate efforts to serve the greater (non-Bahá'í) community through social and economic development projects, and provide pastoral care for individuals (often through designated individuals or committees). They oversee Bahá'í marriages and funerals and grant Bahá'í divorces to couples who have completed a civil divorce. They ensure the education of Bahá'í children, youth, and adults in the Bahá'í teachings and practices. Regional Councils appoint regional training institutes and other committees (such as to encourage youth). National Spiritual Assemblies design national plans, own national properties (Bahá'í Centers or Houses of Worship), advise and encourage local Spiritual Assemblies, publish books, operate charities, and carry out many of the other tasks that a national denomination must do. The Universal House of Justice provides global direction and sets global policy.

One inevitable task of Bahá'í institutions is to discipline members who violate the Faith's ethical norms. While most American Protestant churches no longer discipline members--the members can too easily switch churches--it was very common in the nineteenth century, and is still a feature of Catholicism, Mormonism, and some other denominations. Local spiritual assemblies try to counsel members who are violating a Bahá'í ethical norm (for example, drinking alcohol or living with someone of the opposite sex without the benefit of marriage). If the violation continues, the local assembly can recommend to the NSA that some or all of the individual's administrative rights (to attend Feast, give money to the Faith, vote in Bahá'í elections, be voted for in elections) be removed. The rights will be restored when the cause of the violation is resolved.

More complicated and difficult decisions must be made when a Bahá'í attacks Bahá'í institutions in print or insists that certain reforms to Bahá'í ethics and practices be made. The Bahá'í Faith provides many avenues for discussing such matters in a civil fashion, but sometimes civility breaks down. If that happens, it may be necessary to counsel and warn individuals about the tone and content of their communications, a task that falls on Auxiliary Board members or Counselors under the advice of the Universal House of Justice. Such efforts have become controversial on rare occasions.[19] In a few very rare cases, the Universal House of Justice has declared individuals to be non-Bahá'ís, effectively expelling them from membership of the Bahá'í community (though they would still be allowed to attend Bahá'í events open to the public). Equally rarely, if a Bahá'í demonstrates not just a criticial attitude, but a desire to oppose the Bahá'í Faith and its institutions, the Universal House of Justice can declare him or her a Covenant breaker. Because of the oppositional stance of such individuals, Bahá'ís should not associate them (though they can carry out business transactions with them).[20]

The Universal House of Justice has occasionally dissolved National Spiritual Assemblies and called for their reelection, and National Spiritual Assemblies have had to do the same to local Spiritual Assemblies.[21]


The term "scripture" can be used in various ways in the field of comparative religion. Three of those uses generally apply in the Bahá'í context: "scripture" as referring to sacred Bahá'í texts, "scripture" as works used scripturally in a devotional context, and "scripture" as texts used to determine one's faith and practice.

The Status of Bahá'í Texts

Since the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh are regarded as manifestations of God and thus as perfect revelators of the divine will, their writings are regarded as the revealed word of God and sacred. This understanding of the nature of their writings is grounded in statements in the writings themselves. Both the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh "revealed" texts according to a certain practice, typically reciting or chanting it as it came to them, with a secretary writing it down (Bahá'u'lláh's secretaries even developed a kind of Arabic shorthand to keep up). Subsequently the text, often called a "tablet" (lawh in Arabic), was rewritten in standard Arabic script by the secretary and presented to Bahá'u'lláh, who made any corrections and authorized its distribution. Virtually all of Bahá'u'lláh's works were a response to a written or oral question. About 15,000 works by Bahá'u'lláh are extant in the archives of the Bahá'í World Center in Haifa. The Báb, on the other hand, often wrote Qur'anic commentaries, prayers, and mystical treatises without the prompting of a letter or visitor. About 190 of his compositions have survived the chaos of persecution.

Bahá'u'lláh appointed his son, `Abdu'l-Bahá, his successor, termed him "the Mystery of God," enjoined Bahá'ís to follow him, and empowered him to interpret the revealed word. `Abdu'l-Bahá was not a manifestation of God, but he is regarded as more than ordinary human being, Thus his writings are not considered revealed word, but are regarded as sacred and as scripture. `Abdu'l-Bahá was immensely prolific, penning letters in Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish, or dictating them to a secretary; some 16,000 compositions are extant. `Abdu'l-Bahá also gave hundreds of talks in Palestine, Europe, and North America that were taken down by audience members, edited, and published. But because the written notes of his talks may contain errors, unless `Abdu'l-Bahá reviewed, modified, and approved them, they are not considered authoritative Bahá'í texts.

`Abdu'l-Bahá appointed as his successor and Guardian of the Faith his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, who he authorized to interpret the Bahá'í texts. Shoghi Effendi does not share the high station of his grandfather, but `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament does say that whatever Shoghi Effendi says is of God and must be obeyed. Thus Shoghi Effendi's writings--some 36,000 letters are extant--are not scripture, but they are authoritative interpretation and must be obeyed. The Universal House of Justice's writings are also authoritative and binding based on passages in `Abdu'l-Bahá's Will and Testament, but are not sacred or scripture.

"Scripture" in Devotional Context

Bahá'ís use the scriptures of other revealed religions--especially the Bible and Qur'an--in their devotional programs. In a worship context, they function equally to the writings of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, and `Abdu'l-Bahá. Writings by Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice are generally not used in devotional contexts and thus are not "scripture" in that sense.

Texts that Determine Faith and Practice

How one lives one's life, and the moral practices one follows, are determined by the texts of Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice. Each clarifies the meaning of the texts of the prior authors. The writings of the Báb might be used to define points of Bahá'í metaphysics, but many of the Báb's laws and religious practices were later modified by Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá. The Bible and Qur'an would not be used as detailed guides how to live one's life because so many of their specific practices have been updated or abolished (for example, tithing has been replaced by huququ'lláh).


Bahá'í literature often provides a list of ten to fifteen core principles formulated by `Abdu'l-Bahá during his tour of Europe and America. Particularly emphasized are the "three onenesses": the oneness of God, religion, and humanity.

The oneness of God

The Bahá'í religion is monotheistic. It views God as having attributes one can describe and discuss, such as omnipotence, mercy, justice, and omniscience. Bahá'í prayers often end with references to God's attributes, enabling worshippers to meditate on them and to cultivate in their spiritual lives. But God is also understood to transcend human understanding and to be "sanctified above all attributes."[22] This aspect of God, God's essence, is unknowable to limited beings such as humans.

God reveals Godself to the world through creation, for all created things reflect an attribute of God (human beings reflect all of God's attributes) and through revelation to prophets and Manifestations. Manifestations are rare human beings who are empowered to serve as God's mouthpiece on earth and reflect God's qualities perfectly. Knowing a Manifestation is tantamount to knowledge of God. Lesser prophets (such as Isaiah) receive revelation as well, but are under the shadow of a Manifestation (in the case of Isaiah, Moses). Other figures are also described as have special divine authority, but are not Manifestations, such as `Abdu'l-Bahá (Bahá'u'lláh's son), the Shi'i imams, and "seers." The Bahá'í concepts of God and the Manifestation are expansions and modifications of certain Shí'í understandings. They are somewhat different from the classic Christian doctrine of the trinity in that Christ, according to the Bahá'í sacred texts, is not part of the Godhead. He is viewed as occupying the spiritual station of the Manifestations, which is qualitatively different from the station of an ordinary human being. The trinity is seen as a useful metaphor for understanding God, but not as a literal description of the nature of God.

The Bahá'í scriptures also describe the spiritual reality of the next world. The spiritual development of human beings in the physical world is a basis for judgment and advancement in the spiritual world, conceived as an endless expanse of ever-higher realms through which a soul may advance. "Heaven" and "hell" respectively refer to nearness or distance from God. In an early writing, the "Tablet of All Food" (Lawh-i-Kullu't-Ta'ám), Bahá'u'llah utilizes common Sufi terminology to describe five levels between God and the physical world:

  • Háhút — "He-ness", i.e. God in his unapproachable essence
  • Láhút — roughly, "Divinity", the root being the same as the word for God (al-Lah Allah)
  • Jabarút — the world of "Spirits" (ruh), or archetypes
  • Malakút — "the Kingdom", the heaven of the angels
  • Násút — the mortal, human world.

The oneness of religion

Bahá'í scripture sees all the major religions of the world as having been inspired by a Manifestation of God (mazhar-i-iláhí), such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Zarathustra, Krishna, Buddha, the Báb, and Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'í scriptures also note that the Sabaean religion (an ancient Middle Eastern religion mentioned in the Qur'án) was founded by a Manifestation, whose name is lost. Two Arab tribal prophets, Sálih and Húd, may also be considered Manifestations; Noah and Adam may be considered legendary or mythic Manifestations. The names of many Manifestations and prophets from the distant past have been lost; other Manifestations are to arise in the far future, after at least 1000 years have passed from the inception of Bahá'u'lláh's ministry (1853).

The Bahá'í doctrine of progressive revelation holds that each successive Manifestation builds on the teachings of previous Manifestations in that part of the world, thereby guiding human social and spiritual evolution. Bahá'í scripture speaks of two types of teachings given by Manifestations: eternal spiritual teachings, such as marriage, and contingent teachings suitable for a particular time and place, such as how marriages are to be conducted and arranged. Historically, both types of teachings have undergone considerable development after the death of the Manifestation; the initial teaching may have been sketchy and required elaboration, and the cultural and social context of any religion's teachings constantly change. Hence a few statements of Jesus become the basis of the concept of the trinity; the concept of reincarnation, absent in the earliest Hindu scriptures, becomes highly developed; and the social teachings of Moses and Muhammad are amplified and codified in the talmud and sharí'ah. Bahá'ís view the differences in the forms of the major religions as arising from the different social teachings of the Manifestations, the language and terms initially used, and in the ways the traditions subsequently are elaborated over centuries.

Not all religions are included in the Bahá'í list of faiths founded on a revelation. Bahá'u'llah, `Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi were never asked about Jainism, Sikhism, and Taoism. `Abdu'l-Bahá described Confucius as an inspired philosopher. Tribal religions are assumed to contain divine truth, but the Bahá'í authoritative texts do not mention the names of particular Manifestations (though Bahá'ís often speculate about figures such as the White Buffalo Calf Woman and Deganawidah).

Many religions have embodied their foundational teachings in scripture, though the concept of scripture has varied widely among religions and within any particular religion throughout its history. The role of writing has changed over time; some cultures regarded religious teachings as too sacred to record in mundane writing systems, or their scriptures were written down at a time when there were no concepts of fixed authorship or the fixed nature of a text. Writing technology has evolved; cheap paper has provided a convenient medium, scrolls have been replaced by more convenient books, punctuation has made writing much clearer in conveying meaning, and the printing press has made standardized books possible. As a result, the quality and reliability of scriptures as a transmission system of the original teachings generally has improved over time. Scriptures have endured and proved their ability to inspire humans and societies. Bahá'ís respect and venerate the sacred nature of the scriptures of other religions and can utilize them in their worship. Shoghi Effendi, when asked about the reliability of the Qur'án versus the Bible, noted that the Qur'án was a more reliable record when the two works appear to contradict.

Most religions speak about a prophetic figure to come in the future to consumate the religious tradition and establish paradise on Earth. The Bahá'í authoritative texts identify the Báb and Bahá'u'llah as the fulfillment of the millennarian expectations of various other religions: the Second Coming of Christ, the Mahdí and Qá'im of Islamic eschatology, the future Buddha Maitreya, the Shah Bahram of Zoroastrianism, and "He Whom God Shall Manifest" of the Báb. Bahá'ís note that 1844 was the year of the "Great Disappointment" of the American Adventists, as well as marking the thousandth year after the occultation of the Shí'í Hidden Imám.

Bahá'u'llah urged his follows to "consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship" (second Taráz); and Bahá'ís have done so actively, taking part in numerous interfaith gatherings. Belonging to more than one religion is, however, forbidden.

The oneness of humanity

Shoghi Effendi describes the oneness of humanity as the "watchword" of the Bahá'í Faith. The principle emphasizes that humanity was created "from the same stock" and thus has a single origin. Humans are biologically one species; racial differences are relatively minor in importance. A common Bahá'í expression is that of "unity in diversity," like a garden consisting of numerous types of flowers. Related to the biological oneness of humanity is the need for social unity. The Bahá'í writings say that humanity, historically, is moving toward a global future with a world governing system to coordinate human affairs.

The equality of men and women

The Bahá'í Faith explicitly champions the equality of men and women as one of its major principles. While its major figures and recognized prophets have been exclusively male, Bahá'í history celebrates a number of prominent women including Tahirih (a Bábí heroine and one of the eighteen Letters of the Living), Navváb (Bahá'u'lláh's principal wife), Queen Marie of Romania, Bahíyyih Khánum (one of Bahá'u'lláh's daughters, who ran the Faith on several occasions when Shoghi Effendi had to be absent from Haifa), Martha Root (a prominent Bahá'í traveling teacher), and Lidia Zamenhof (daughter of the founder of Esperanto).

Bahá'u'lláh specially stated that all persons should have access to education and should acquire training for a profession, regardless of sex. Thus His notion of gender equality was not simply a principle that men and women were spiritually equal in the eyes of God; the equality extended to the social and cultural sphere as well. But equality does not mean sameness; the Bahá'í writings do speak of women having a greater tendency toward mercy and men toward aggression. A number of provisions of the Bahá'í religion differentiate between the sexes. While either the male or female may take on the home-making role, the Bahá'í writings acknowledge that women, as the bearers and sucklers of children, tend to play a greater role in their development. The male must provide a dowry to his future wife--a symbolic amount to indicate his commitment to support his family--but women have no corresponding obligation to their future husbands. In the case of intestate inheritance, if the deceased is a man the female heirs (other things being equal) receive less than their male counterparts, possibly to acknowledge the greater roles of sons as bread winners. (Shoghi Effendi, however, noted that Bahá'ís should draw up their wills as they wish and are free to divide up their estates among their male and female offspring equally; the intestate provisions are not viewed as normative). In the event that Bahá'í parents find themselves unable to afford to educate both sons and daughters, they are instructed to give priority to the girls, for the women are the first educators of the next generation.

A particularly notable feature of Bahá'í principle is that women may serve on local and national Bahá'í governing bodies (and have done so since the early twentieth century) but may not serve on the Universal House of Justice, its highest body, for a reason that will be clear in the future.

World peace and a world governing system

The teachings of Bahá'u'lláh have as one of their main purposes the establishment of a unified and peaceful world. Such a world would be based on the oneness of humanity, equality of men and women, universal education, and other Bahá'í principles. In the Lawh-i-Maqsud, Bahá'u'lláh writes: "Should any king take arms against another, all should unitedly arise and prevent him."[23] He called on the rulers of the world's nations to meet together and reduce their budgets for armaments. `Abdu'l-Bahá added that world leaders should "...establish a board of international arbitration; that from all nations and governments of the world there should be delegates selected for a congress of nations which should constitute a universal abitral court of justice to settle international disputes".[24] To summarize and promote the Bahá'í approach, the Universal House of Justice issued a statement, The Promise of World Peace, in 1986.

Bahá'ís anticipate the beginning of an era called the "Lesser Peace" when the nations of the world establish some of these mechanisms. This peace is not conceived in a utopian fashion: it is to be based on laws, a tribunal, and ultimately backed by force. The process began at least as far back as the establishment of the League of Nations and continues today in the creation of new intergovernmental bodies to regulate international matters, from postal systems to world trade.

The Lesser Peace is to be followed by "the Most Great Peace," a more distant time when "Warfare and strife will be uprooted, disagreement and dissension pass away and universal peace unite the nations and peoples of the world. All mankind will dwell together as one family, blend as the waves of one sea, shine as stars of one firmament, and appear as fruits of the same tree."[25] This era of human history is understood to result from a more complete acceptance and implementation of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings. It is not known what role the Bahá'í administrative bodies will play in the Most Great Peace, and what role governments will continue to play.

Harmony between religion and science

Bahá'ís view science and religion as two ways to investigate truth, and because truth is one they cannot ultimately be in conflict. Ideally, science and religion are complementary and reinforce each other. In Paris Talks Abdu'l-Bahá says: "should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism." When the two apparently contradict – something that inevitably will happen – Bahá'ís continue to investigate the truth, confident that eventually the apparent contradiction will be resolved. A lively discussion of `Abdu'l-Bahá's statements about the evolution of human beings illustrates the matter; the reliability of written accounts of oral statements attributed to `Abdu'l-Bahá, the meaning of the Persian words He used, and the roots of those meanings in Neoplatonism and medieval Islamic science have generated a variety of personal positions held by Bahá'ís. The principle of harmony of science and religion has inspired many Bahá'ís to become scientists and has stimulated numerous publications.

Independent investigation of truth

Both Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá emphasized the importance of each individual seeking the truth on his or her own. This obligation explains the emphasis in the Bahá'í Faith on education, for access to written information is essential to investigation. It relates to the abolition of clergy. It is an implication of the oneness of humanity, which includes the notion that all humans are equal and therefore must acquire the education to make their own contributions to human development (something they cannot do fully if they are forced to believe certain ideas unquestioningly). It is foundational to the process of consultation, which assumes that everyone is capable of contributing to a collective investigation of truth.

The principle does not cease to apply when someone becomes a Bahá'í because one never arrives at a full understanding of truth and always must refine one's understanding of it. If one's continued exploration of truth leads one to reject Bahá'u'lláh, no stigma is attached to resigning ones membership in the Bahá'í community. The principle also does not contradict the notion of one having faith, for no one ever understands reality in full and thus must take certain notions on faith until one can explore them more fully.[26]

Universal compulsory education

Bahá'u'lláh urged humanity to "regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom." Bahá'í parents have a duty to educate their children, and if they are not able the duty falls on Bahá'í assemblies. Education should include moral and spiritual instruction; reading and writing; training in a useful trade or profession; world citizenship; and in the universal auxiliary language, as soon as one is chosen. `Abdu'l-Bahá mentions foreign languages, mathematics, science, technology, commerce, industry, the liberal arts, and religion as subjects suitable for study. The purposes of education are to help the individual know and worship the Creator, develop his or her talents, obtain sufficient wealth to raise a family, and contribute to the advancement of humanity.

A universal auxiliary language

Bahá'u'lláh urged that the nations of the world, through representatives, agree on "one universal language and one common script" to supplement national and ethnic tongues. Bahá'u'lláh spoke highly of the Arabic language without recommending it directly. `Abdu'l-Bahá praised Esperanto, many Bahá'ís have learned it, and during the interwar period Esperanto clubs were an important medium for disseminating Bahá'í teachings in eastern Europe and Latin America. The religion's working language is English, supplemented by Persian, Spanish, French, and Arabic.

Obedience to government, non-involvement in partisan politics

Bahá'ís have an obligation to obey the government of the country in which they live, in all things except the renunciation of their faith (should this be commanded). They are forbidden to participate in partisan politics on the grounds that partisan behavior contradicts the Bahá'í emphasis on human unity. They may however accept appointment to nonpolitical positions such as judges, and are encouraged to vote in elections.

Faced with military conscription, Bahá'ís are instructed to request alternative service. Should this be denied, the principle of obedience to government then applies and the Bahá'í should accept military service.

The Universal House of Justice determines the extent to which Bahá'ís and Bahá'í institutions may participate in the political process. Many National Spiritual Assemblies have departments of External Affairs that concern themselves with issues related to the Bahá'í Faith, such as the persecution of Bahá'ís. As a result of the urging of Bahá'ís, many governments have condemned the persecution of Bahá'ís in Iran and Egypt. Bahá'í institutions have also become involved in the ratification of treaties that uphold Bahá'í principles, such as the protection of women and the condemnation of genocide. But if a political action becomes partisan, Bahá'ís avoid it. Efforts to pass bills condemning the persecution of the Bahá'ís are nonpartisan and cosponsored by members of many political parties (in the United States, both Democrats and Republicans). Because some activities sponsored by Amnesty International are partisan, the Universal House of Justice has told Bahá'ís not to become involved in the organization.

Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty

The Bahá'í Faith offers some basic economic principles but not an entire theory of economics. The Faith accepts the necessity of private property and the inevitability of some inequality of wealth. Men and women alike are urged to acquire vocational skills so that they can support their families and contribute to the advancement of humanity. Interest can be charged on loans, but loans without interest are praised. Charity is both exhorted and partly built into the Faith through the institution of zakat, the contribution of a minimum amount of one's income to charity (the law of zakat, however, has not yet become binding on Bahá'ís).


(CC) Photo: Shiraz Chakera
Bahai Temple in Kampala, Uganda.

Bahá'u'lláh's book of laws, the Kitab-i-Aqdas, prescribes a number of practices. The book represents a revision of Bábí law, which in turn revises Islamic law (fiqh). In it, Bahá'ís are enjoined to

  • Recite an obligatory prayer each day. There are three such prayers, among which one may be chosen. Each has its own instructions; the short obligatory prayer is to be said at noontime; the medium obligatory prayer is to be recited thrice daily; the long prayer once in twenty-four hours.
  • Recite the "greatest name" (of God) 95 times each day. This meditative practice somewhat resembles the Sufi practice of reciting dhikr.
  • Read from and meditate on Bahá'í scripture every morning and evening.
  • Avoid backbiting and gossip.
  • Engage in useful work.
  • Observe a nineteen-day sunrise-to-sunset fast (abstinance from food, drink, and tobacco) each year from March 2 through March 20. The fast is not binding on Bahá'ís under the age of 15 or over the age of 70 or who are ill, pregnant, traveling, nursing babies, or engaging in heavy labor.
  • Abstain from alcohol and drugs, unless prescribed by doctors.
  • Abstain from all sexual relationships outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage.
  • Receive the permission of all living parents in order to marry.
  • Observe a "year of waiting" before completing a divorce. During the year, efforts at reconciliation should be made.
  • Abstain from gambling.
  • Pay a religious tax called huququ'lláh (the "Right of God," analogous to the Shi'ite khums or "fifth") consisting of 19% of their surplus income (i.e. income left after paying for necessities).
  • Pay zakát (a payment to the poor similar to Islamic zakát, though the details are not finalized as the law is not yet in effect).
  • Make a pilgrimage (technically a "visitation") to Haifa and Acre at least once in their lives, if they are able.

While some of the laws from the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are applicable at the present time, others have yet to come into effect.

The observance of personal laws such as prayer or fasting, while a universal obligation, is the sole responsibility of the individual. Other laws may be enforced to a degree by the administrative order (such as laws regarding marriage and sexuality), while still others are dependent upon the existence of a predominantly Bahá'í society.


Bahá'ís are urged to attend "Feast" every Bahá'í month (nineteen days). Sponsored by the local Bahá'í community, Feast consist of a devotional portion (where Bahá'ís pray, recite scripture, and sing), a business portion (where reports about the local Bahá'í community's progress are made and discussed), and a social portion. Non-Bahá'ís may not attend some of the business portion, but may attend the other portions. Feast is the heart of Bahá'í community life, as the Bahá'í Faith does not require weekly gatherings for worship. In communities with a local Spiritual Assembly, it is the primary vehicle for the Assembly and the community to interact. In communities with hundreds or thousands of Bahá'ís, the community is divided into sectors, each holding its own feast.

Core Activities

Since 2003, the Universal House of Justice has urged Bahá'í communities to establish and progressively strengthen four core activities: devotional meetings, which can be sponsored by communities in their Centers or in rented facilities or by individuals in their homes; children's classes and youth classes, either community sponsored for the entire municipality or individually sponsored in one's home for one's neighborhood; and study circles, which involve groups of people coming together to study a systematic curriculum on the Bahá'í Faith. The current standard curriculum for study circles are the seven Ruhi Books, which cover basic Bahá'í concepts and develop basic skills, such as hosting home devotionals, childrens classes, youth classes, and carrying out home visits to fellow believers and inquirers. All core activities, including study of the Ruhi books, are open to the public, and Bahá'ís are encouraged to involve their neighbors and friends in them.

Firesides and Deepenings

A venerable Bahá'í activity is the fireside, an informal meeting in someone's home or in a public place to discuss the Bahá'í Faith, especially for inquirers. In some communities, firesides have been held weekly in a particular home for decades. A more in-depth study of a particular Bahá'í text or teaching is termed a deepening. They are sponsored either by individuals in their homes or by Bahá'í communities in Bahá'í Centers or rented public places.


The history of the Bahá’í community is dominated by three themes: expansion and diversification of membership, organizational innovation, and persecution. Expansion has been a constant priority from the beginning of the Báb’s ministry; Bahá'u'lláh revealed tablets and prayers underlining the importance of teaching the Faith; `Abdu'l-Bahá penned a series of tablets laying out goals for expansion of the Faith; and Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice promulgated a series of plans to take the Faith to every country, significant island, and minority group. The result has been a series of growth pulses followed by periods of consolidation and slower growth. Organizational innovation has involved creation of a series of community practices, institutions, and organizational bodies, which have also come in waves, followed by periods of maturation. The sociologist Peter Berger observed that whenever the head of the Faith changed and efforts were made to challenge the new leadership, the “winning party” was the innovative one and the “losing party” was the one that fell back into old patterns of autocratic leadership.[27] Persecution has been a pervasive theme in the Middle East and generally in Nazi and Communist regimes, a sporadic phenomenon in other countries, and a fairly minor problem in democratic nations.

Bahá'u'lláh’s Ministry, 1863-92

Bahá'u'lláh’s ministry began with a period of transition, as the Bábí community in Iran and Iraq gradually accepted him and became Bahá’ís, a process that ran from 1863 into the 1870s. Bahá'u'lláh’s exile to Istanbul, Edirne, and Akka resulted in Bahá’í communities in all those places, and support for pilgrims heading to Akka helped foster communities in Beirut, Alexandria, Cairo, and Port Said (on the Suez Canal). Bahá’ís in Egypt were exiled to Khartoum. Bahá’ís fleeing persecution in Iran established communities in the Russian Empire’s cities of Baku and Ashkhabat; the conviction of seven Muslims for murdering a Bahá'í in Ashkhabat in 1889 demonstrated that the Bahá'ís were safe from persecution in the Russian Empire.[28] Bahá’í merchants settled in Bombay, where the first Bahá’í community formed in India. Two Bahá’ís, Jamál Effendi and Sayyid Mustafá Rúmí, took the Faith to Rangoon and Mandalay in the late 1870s, where Burma’s two oldest Bahá’í communities were founded, and traveled throughout Southeast Asia and the islands of Indonesia, where a few persons reportedly became Bahá’ís. Jamál Effendi later traveled across Tibet to western China.[29] Within Iran, Bahá’ís taught their religion to Zoroastrians and Jews; a “substantial number” of Iran’s Jews eventually became Bahá’ís, while conversion of the Zoroastrian community may have run as high as half.[30] It was the modern-minded among both groups that were attracted. Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl, a Shi’i cleric who became a Bahá’í, played an important role in reaching the Zoroastrians; subsequently he moved to Russian Central Asia and Cairo, bringing new believers into the Bahá’í community in both places. The growth of the Faith among Iran’s Zoroastrians helped attract Parsees in India.[31]

In order to consolidate the growing community, Bahá'u'lláh appointed four individuals in Iran as Hands of the Cause of God and called on them to travel and teach the Faith. He gave other prominent Bahá’ís specific missions to go to certain cities and regions teach the Faith. He established the law of huqúqu’lláh, a nineteen percent tithe on one’s surplus income; obligatory prayer; clarified the Bábí law of fasting; and defined places of pilgrimage. These practices gave the Middle Eastern Bahá’ís, the vast majority of whom were Muslims or resided in Muslim societies, practices similar to the pillars of Islam, but distinctively different. He also established Bahá’í holy days, particularly the first, ninth, and twelfth days of Ridván commemorating the public beginning of his ministry. Bahá'u'lláh consulted with his son, `Abdu'l-Bahá, who produced an anonymous work about the reform of Middle Eastern societies titled The Secret of Divine Civilization, a work that proclaimed Bahá’í social principles to intellectuals. Bahá'u'lláh had The Secret of Divine Civilization and some of his tablets published in Bombay, the first Bahá’í books in print.

Persecution in the nineteenth-century Middle East tended to be sporadic and local. In Iranian cities where anti-Bahá'í clergy were influential, such as Isfahan and Yazd, the Bahá'ís suffered discrimination, imprisonment, and sometimes pogroms and executions. In places where the clergy were neutral or even secret Bahá'ís, the Bahá'í community suffered less or was tolerated. Migration tended to be from areas of greater persecution to areas of greater toleration, such as Tehran, Azarbaijan, Mazandaran, Fars, Ashkhabat, and greater Akka (where Bahá'u'llah resided).[32]

`Abdu'l-Bahá’s Ministry, 1892-1921

Two Lebanese Christians were attracted to the Faith in the 1880s in Egypt, and in the last months of Bahá'u'lláh’s life they headed to Europe and the United States, primarily for commercial reasons. Once `Abdu'l-Bahá became the head of the Faith in May 1892, he began to coordinate by letter the efforts to teach the Faith of one of them, Ibrahim Kheiralla. By 1899 Kheiralla had attracted about 1,500 Americans to the Faith, residing in 23 states, plus individuals in Ontario, Britain, and France. Kheiralla’s defection from the Faith—he attempted to set up an independent religion of his own—was a serious but temporary setback. Four Persian teachers, including Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl, visited the United States between 1900 and 1904 to consolidate the community and clear up confusion. `Abdu'l-Bahá visited Egypt in 1910, Europe in 1911, and Europe and North America in 1912-13, delivering hundreds of talks from Washington and Montreal to San Francisco and Los Angeles, and from London to Budapest. The result was the strengthening of dozens of Bahá’í communities. `Abdu'l-Bahá emphasized the importance of unity in diversity; African Americans first became Bahá’ís in 1898 and by the teens the American Bahá’í community included dozens of African Americans residing in at least four cities. The American Bahá’í community tended to be more female than male, but the community did include many family groups, especially in the Midwest. Many American Bahá’ís had left Christianity for “metaphysical” groups before becoming Bahá’ís, but others were evangelical Protestants or Catholics, and a few had been Eastern Orthodox and Jews. The community attracted both white and blue collar workers. The European Bahá’ís tended to be somewhat wealthier and less involved in Protestantism before conversion.

Expansion of the Bahá’í communities in Iran, the former Ottoman lands, Central Asia, India, and Burma continued. Jews, Zoroastrians, Sunnis, and Kurds were attracted to the Bahá’í community in Iran and Egypt. India saw the first Hindus and Sikhs join the Bahá’í community; Buddhists became Bahá’ís in Burma either during Bahá'u'lláh’s ministry or `Abdu'l-Bahá’s; Christians converted in the Caucasus.[33] `Abdu'l-Bahá sent Iranian Bahá’ís to North America and Europe and North American and European Bahá’ís to Iran, India, East Asia, and Burma to demonstrate the Faith’s global extent, proclaim its teachings to large public audiences, and knit the community together via bonds of friendship. American Bahá’ís moved to Mexico City, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, and China; in Shanghai they met Persian Bahá’í merchants. A short-lived Bahá’í community formed in Cape Town.

In 1916-17, `Abdu'l-Bahá addressed a series of fourteen tablets to the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada calling on them to take the Bahá’í Faith to every continent and region. The tablets included prayers to recite, advice about how to teach the Faith, and lists of hundreds of places that needed Bahá’ís. When the tablets were made public at the 1919 Bahá’í convention in New York City—their arrival having been delayed by the war—they electrified the Bahá’ís. One, Martha Root, left before the convention ended to wrap up personal affairs so she could began to travel and spread the Faith.[34] In the next two decades she visited every continent except Antarctica, stimulated hundreds of newspaper articles about the Faith in scores of languages, arranged for the translation of Bahá’í literature into dozens of languages, and garnered for the Bahá’í Faith thousands of sympathizers, some of whom went on to become Bahá’ís. Dozens of North American Bahá’ís began to move to other countries or travel to teach the Faith worldwide.

Serving the growing Bahá’í communities were organizations, both official and unofficial. `Abdu'l-Bahá consolidated the ever-growing Bahá’í community by developing institutions Bahá'u'lláh had established or mentioned. Ashkhabat elected a Bahá'í coordinating body in 1895-96.[35] In 1897 or 1898 he called on the four Hands of the Cause, who were residing in Tehran, to meet regularly as a consultative body to coordinate Bahá’í activities in Iran; 1899 he authorized them to select a group of electors in Tehran to elect additional members to the body.[36] North American Bahá’ís began to elect consultative bodies as early as 1900; in 1902 `Abdu'l-Bahá explained that the bodies should be referred to as “Spiritual Assemblies” rather than “Houses of Justice” so as to avoid confusion as to their purpose.[37] While the names remained diverse, consultative bodies gradually spread worldwide; the United States had formed bodies at one time or another in eleven different cities by 1920; Baku, Tiflis, Ashkhabat, Samarkand, Bombay, Akka, and Cairo, formed them; at least five Iranian cities apparently possessed bodies as well.[38] Resistance to organizing the Bahá’í Faith limited the effectiveness of consultative bodies in the United States, but they had a transformative effect in Iran, where they gave a persecuted community structure and the means to advance itself.[39]

Education was an early priority. The first Bahá’í school was established in Bahá'u'lláh’s day in the small, rural Iranian village of Máhfurúzak before 1882. Ashkhabat opened a school for boys in 1894-95. A small private school in Tehran, established in 1897, developed into an official Bahá’í school, the Tarbiyat School for Boys, by 1903; it added a Tarbiyat School for Girls in 1911. A flood of Bahá’í schools followed and by 1918-19, some sixty Bahá’í schools were educating ten percent of the children in Iran who attended modern primary and secondary schools. Usually, the Bahá’í schools were among the best; in some villages they were the only school available.[40] To assist the schools, American Bahá’ís established the Persian-American Educational Society in 1910 and the society sent American teachers and physicians to Iran to help with the development of the Bahá’í community and the country. A Bahá’í-sponsored clinic opened in Tehran and an investment fund was established that gave Iranian Bahá’ís a place to deposit money, receive interest, and obtain business loans, greatly fostering the community’s economic development.

Iranian Bahá’ís were not the only ones active in education: The Bahá’ís of Kenosha, Wisconsin, established a vocational school to teaching sewing and other skills, and in 1909 the Mandalay, Burma, Bahá’ís formed a “Young Men's Bahai Association” patterned after the YMCAs formed by Christian missionaries.[41]

The need to print literature resulted in incorporation of a private nonprofit, the Bahai Publishing Society, in Chicago in 1900. The relative freedom of the press in Ashkhabat, just north of the Iranian border, caused it to emerge as a center of Persian-language Bahá’í publishing (printing Bahá'í books in Iran remained banned). Cairo, Bombay, Rangoon, New York, London, Paris, and Stuttgart emerged as Bahá’í publishing centers.

In 1902 the Ashkhabat Bahá’ís, with `Abdu'l-Bahá’s permission, began to build a House of Worship, a large structure with a series of dependent agencies such as a hostel and a school. The Chicago Bahá’ís heard about the effort and requested permission to build a Chicago House of Worship. The effort became a North American project and prompted the establishment of a national organization, the Bahai Temple Unity, to oversee the construction. Because the Bahai Temple Unity held annual national conventions, it soon acquired other functions. The Bahai Publishing Society became its publishing agency about 1914, and in 1916 `Abdu'l-Bahá asked the Bahai Temple Unity to appoint a Publications Committee to review of all Bahá’í literature before its publication to assure its accuracy.[42] In 1920 it established a national teaching committee to coordinate American response to the Tablets of the Divine Plan.[43]

The North American Bahá’í communities began to observe Bahá’í holy days as early as 1901, possibly as a result of `Abdu’l-Bahá’s encouragement. He praised western Bahá’ís for observing the Fast. In 1905 he encouraged Bahá’í communities to begin nineteen-day Feasts.[44] Some tablets to western Bahá’ís stressed prayer.

Persecution remained a sporadic threat in Iran during `Abdu'l-Bahá’s ministry. In 1903 a severe outbreak in Yazd resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Bahá'ís.[45] `Abdu'l-Bahá called on the American Bahá'ís to appeal to their government for diplomatic assistance, the first case of an international Bahá'í response to persecution. Prominent Persian Bahá'í teachers were often imprisoned and occasionally martyred. In many Iranian cities, however, conditions permitted the establishment of schools and the purchase of Bahá'í holy places and centers.

Shoghi Effendi’s Ministry, 1921-63

When Shoghi Effendi became head of the Bahá’í Faith, it was poised for large-scale expansion. `Abdu'l-Bahá’s Tablets of the Divine Plan provided a spiritual mandate for worldwide dissemination of the Faith; his Will and Testament provided a blueprint for taking the nascent consultative bodies he had encouraged and honing them into an efficient, well-organized system. Shoghi Effendi made the latter a priority during the first sixteen years of his ministry. In 1922 he called on the Bahá’ís to elect local spiritual assemblies (LSAs) in every locality where there were nine or more adult members (nine being the number of members on an LSA) and called on local communities to choose delegates who would elect nine-member National Spiritual Assemblies (NSAs). Three NSAs were established in 1923 (British Isles; Germany and Austria; India and Burma); another was formed in Egypt and Sudan in 1925, then one for the United States and Canada in 1925. Iraq elected an NSA in 1931; Persia in 1934; Australia and New Zealand formed a joint NSA in 1934.[46] The Feast, initiated by `Abdu’l-Bahá, often became the responsibility of the LSA, and Shoghi Effendi added to the devotional and social portions a business portion where the LSA could consult with the local Bahá’í community.

The institutionalization of the Bahá’í community was not without controversy, but western Bahá’ís accepted Shoghi Effendi’s guidance and overcame their qualms. The small numbers of withdrawals were quickly replaced because local spiritual assemblies established organized community life, systematic teaching through home meetings and public events, and careful deepenings to educate the new Bahá’ís. In the United States, Bahá’í membership, which had been more or less flat at 1500 members from 1900 to 1925, began to trend upward, especially after the Great Depression increased receptivity. Traveling Bahá’í teachers began to visit cities long enough to raise a local spiritual assembly, then move on. In the American south, traveling teachers such as Louis Gregory, who was later designated the first African American Hand of the Cause, helped establish multiracial Bahá'í communities.

By 1935, most of the world’s Bahá’ís were participating in the administrative system. But at that point new forces began to reverse many of the organizational gains. Soviet persecution destroyed the Bahá’í organizations and communities north of the Iranian border; the Nazis did the same in continental Europe; the Iraqi Bahá’ís were severely persecuted and Bahá'í properties confiscated; the growing power of the Pahlavi dynasty and its nationalist concerns limited the effectiveness of Bahá’í institutions in Iran and forced them to close all Bahá’í schools.

The community with the most resources available for expansion was North America’s, so in 1937 Shoghi Effendi gave the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada a Seven Year Plan (1937-44). It called for three main achievements: completion of the exterior of the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, Ill.; the formation of one LSA in every state in the United States and every province of Canada; and the opening of every republic in Latin America to the Faith. In 1937 Bahá’ís resided in perhaps half of the states and provinces and only a handful of Latin American republics. The latter goal required scores of North Americans to move south of the Rio Grande. All the goals were achieved.

After a two-year respite, Shoghi Effendi gave North Americans a second Seven Year Plan (1946-53). It called for completion of the interior of the Bahá’í House of Worship, election of three new NSAs (Canada, Central America, South America), and reestablishment of Bahá’í communities in ten war-torn European countries. In 1950, goals in sub-Saharan Africa were added. The National Spiritual Assembly of Germany and Austria was reestablished and a new NSA, for Italy and Switzerland, was formed. In 1953 the number of NSAs had grown to twelve. The British, Australian, Indian, and Persian communities were inspired to establish their plans patterned after the Seven Year Plan.

In 1953 Shoghi Effendi announced a Ten Year Crusade, giving goals to all twelve NSAs. The plan called for raising the number of NSAs to 57; 56 were achieved because a National Spiritual Assembly of Afghanistan proved impossible to elect. The number of countries, significant territories, and island groups with Bahá’ís doubled; the only areas lacking a Bahá’í presence were those lands under Communist rule. Thousands of Bahá’ís moved (“pioneered”) to achieve goals. They were not just western and Persian Bahá’ís; Indian Bahá’ís played a significant role in establishing Bahá’í communities in Southeast Asia; Enoch Olinga, a young Ugandan Bahá’í, pioneered to Cameroon. The pioneers had to find houses and jobs in their new localities and had no inherent authority in the Bahá’í community, though the local Bahá’ís often elected them to local and national spiritual assemblies. When the goal of building a Bahá’í House of Worship in Tehran proved impossible because of persecution, Shoghi Effendi set a goal of building three: in Uganda, Australia, and Germany. They were finished by 1964.

The steady growth of the Bahá’í community allowed its administrative institutions to gain maturity and experience. In January 1951 Shoghi Effendi appointed an International Bahá’í Council to serve as forerunner of the Universal House of Justice and to assist him with work in the Holy Land. He appointed the body’s officers and updated the membership when necessary. In December, 1951, Shoghi Effendi appointed a contingent of Hands of the Cause of God (the four appointed by Bahá'u'lláh had long since passed away, and `Abdu'l-Bahá never appointed any) and gave them responsibilities to inspire, encourage, and advise. In 1952 he authorized the Hands to appoint thirty-six Auxiliary Board members, individuals to serve as their deputies, assistants, and advisers. He called a series of international conferences and appointed Hands to represent him at each one. He raised the number of Hands eventually to 27 and in an October 1957 message he referred to them as “chief stewards” of the Bahá’í Faith.[47]

When Shoghi Effendi died unexpectedly on November 4, 1957, the Hands, as chief stewards, quickly assumed a coordinating role for the Bahá’í world. The Ten Year Crusade, nearly half over, gave them concrete teaching goals; the great increase in the number of NSAs made the election of the Universal House of Justice possible, for the NSA members were to be the electors of the supreme body. The Universal House of Justice was elected in April 1963 by the members of fifty-six National Spiritual Assemblies.

The Bahá’í Community under the Universal House of Justice, 1963-

The Universal House of Justice was immediately faced with two important decisions: whether there could be future Guardians of the Bahá’í Faith, and whether additional Hands of the Cause of God could be appointed. In October 1963, they ruled that there could be no more Guardians, a point they elaborated on in several subsequent letters.[48] Since only a Guardian could appoint Hands, that institution also could not continue, so in 1968 the Universal House of Justice announced the establishment of the institution of the Counselors, individuals to carry out the functions of the Hands, but who lacked the station of a Hand. In 1973 the House established the International Teaching Center, a body consisting of Counselors and Hands, to coordinate the work of the Counselors worldwide.

The Universal House of Justice faced no similarly urgent matters where spread of the Bahá’í Faith was concerned because the system of plans had worked so well and because the outside world was moving into a period of rebellion, experimentation, and openness to new ideas. The Nine Year Plan (1964-73) saw the number of National Spiritual Assemblies jump to 113 and the number of local spiritual assemblies increase from 3,500 to 13,900.[49] Some countries saw Bahá’í membership more than double; in the United States, membership increased six-fold from 1964 to 1973. Subsequent plans continued the pattern: the Five Year Plan (1974-79), Seven Year Plan (1979-86), Six Year Plan (1986-92), and Three Year Plan (1993-96).

The worldwide Bahá’í membership grew from less than half a million to about four million between 1963 and 1986. While many were attracted via informal meetings in homes (firesides) and public events, the big innovation involved new techniques for taking the Bahá’í Faith to rural populations, minority groups, and the poorer classes by going door to door with simple teaching materials. First developed in India and Uganda in the late 1950s, the efforts quickly spread globally and were steadily improved. In the United States it brought thousands of rural African Americans and hundreds of American Indians and migrant farm workers into the Bahá'í community.

But the new teaching techniques did not provide an effective way to consolidate the large numbers of converts into active members. As early as 1974, the Universal House of Justice began to focus on intense teaching and consolidation plans that could lead to entry by troops, that is, bringing in substantial numbers of new Bahá’ís and consolidating them successfully so that they remained committed members.[50]

The successive plans also saw an increase in the diversity of goals as central coordination from Haifa was replaced by goals set by each NSA. The plans lost focus and their importance in Bahá’í community life somewhat waned. The rapid growth in the 1960s and early 1970s was replaced by slower growth in more religiously conservative or apathetic environments; an exception was the rapid growth in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s, after the fall of communism. Mass teaching decreased in frequency because of the failure to retain many of new Bahá’ís. While growth slowed, immense internal consolidation occurred; three more Houses of Worship were built, three monumental buildings of the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa were completed, the terraced gardens on Mount Carmel were expanded, the volume of Bahá’í books published per year increased ten fold, Associations for Bahá’í Studies were established in a dozen countries, Bahá’í arts and music flourished, public relations efforts were greatly expanded, and social and economic development became an important new focus of Bahá’í resources.

The renewal of severe persecution in Iran after the Islamic revolution of 1978-79 was a crisis that forced many changes on the Bahá'í world. The Iranian Bahá'í community was forced to disband its institutions; saw its hospital, Bahá'í centers, even its cemeteries confiscated; thousands of Bahá'ís were imprisoned at different times; over 200 were executed. Their suffering galvanized many Bahá'ís to serve their Faith. Some thirty thousand Iranian Bahá'ís fled their homeland, settling all over the world. In Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the Persians substantially increased the size of the local Bahá'í community; in Africa and Latin America their arrival represented the influx of a substantial number of educated, talented new members. While integration of the immigrants presented problems, most Persians learned the local language quickly and many of them or their children intermarried with the local population. Bahá'í communities had to expand their resources devoted to public information to publicize the plight of their Iranian brethren and develop external affairs departments to implore national governments to pressure the Iranian regime. Satellite radio and television programs and, more recently, websites and blogs were created to explain the Bahá'í Faith to the Iranian public.

Starting in 1996 and the Four Year Plan (1996-2000), the Universal House of Justice inaugurated a new round of institution building in order to create the resources for widespread, sustained expansion. They called for the establishment of regional training institutes to create and deliver consolidation classes. The number of countries with regional councils (nine-member bodies below the National Spiritual Assembly but above the local spiritual assembly) increased, and the councils usually became bodies elected by all members of local spiritual assemblies. The Ruhi curriculum, a series of seven books to convey basic information and skills necessary to become an active Bahá’í, began to spread beyond Colombia, where it was created, to other nations, and it soon emerged as the primary curriculum for regional training institutes.

In 2001 the Universal House of Justice announced that the next twenty years would be divided into four Five Year Plans dedicated to achieving and sustaining entry by troops. A series of new institutions and policies were created. Natural demographic units such as metropolitan areas were designated clusters, a grouping that usually incorporated several local Bahá’í communities and their LSAs. Three “core activities” of the plan were designated: devotional meetings, children’s classes, and study circles. [51] (Later, youth classes were added as a fourth core activity.) The Ruhi books were adopted almost everywhere as the curriculum for study circles and were translated into dozens of languages. Moving the majority of Bahá’ís through a series of study circles and increasing the core activities became goals for each cluster and was measured in steps (C, B, and A clusters); increasing participation in study circles and advancement of clusters to A-status came to be termed the two “essential movements.”[52] A-clusters were to inaugurate intensive programs of growth (IPGs) focused on efforts to reach out to inquirers and friends, sometimes including direct teaching methods (such as going door to door). Cluster reflection meetings, held every three or four months, were to bring the local Bahá’ís together to focus their efforts on the two essential movements and IPGs. Regional Councils were to appoint Cluster Coordinators and Area Teaching Committees in each A cluster and some B clusters to coordinate and intensify the two essential movements; Auxiliary Board members appointed assistants to work with them.

When a new Five Year Plan began in 2006, the results were promising, but mixed. Some Bahá’ís thought they had to stop previously successful teaching efforts such as home-based firesides; others were pressured to drop social and economic development activities or interfaith efforts in order to focus on the plan. The reorientation of teaching efforts brought immediate success in some areas; in others, enrollment of new Bahá’ís temporarily declined. But by 2008, most misunderstandings had been cleared up and enrollment of new Bahá’ís began to show sustained increase almost everywhere. A series of forty-one conferences between November 2008 and February 2009 attended by 71,000 Bahá’ís refreshed their understanding of the new processes and allowed them to dedicate themselves to the goals. Anecdotal information suggests that the Bahá’í community is better focused, more active at reaching out to others, and more successful at attracting new members.

Places of Worship

Most Bahá'í meetings occur in individuals' homes, local Bahá'í centers, or rented facilities.

The Bahá'í writings refer to an institution called a Mashriqu'l-Adhkár (Dawning-place of the mention of God), which is to form the center of a complex of institutions including a hospital, university, and so on. Only the first Mashriqu'l-Adhkár in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, was built to such a degree, but was seized after the 1917 Russian Revolution and later destroyed by earthquake.

Worldwide, there are currently seven Bahá'í Houses of Worship with an eighth under construction in Chile.[53] They are nine-sided, domed structures surrounded by gardens. Several are noteworthy for their architecture.


The official symbol of the Bahá'í Faith is the five-pointed star, but a nine-pointed star is more frequently used.[54] The ringstone symbol and calligraphy of the Greatest Name are often encountered. The former consists of two stars interspersed with a stylized Bahá’ (بهاء , "splendor" or "glory") whose shape is meant to recall God, the Manifestations, and humanity.[55] The Greatest Name is Yá Bahá'u'l-'Abhá (يا بهاء الأبهى , "O Glory of the Most Glorious!")

Calendar and Holy Days

The Baha'i calendar is based upon the Badí` ("Unique" or "Peerless") calendar established by the Báb. The year consists of nineteen months of nineteen days (totaling 361 days), with four intercalary days (five in a leap year), to make a full solar year. Each of the nineteen months is named for an attribute of God; some examples include Bahá’ (Splendor), ‘Ilm (Knowledge), and Jamál (Beauty). Bahá'í communities gather each month, usually on the first day, at a meeting called a Nineteen Day Feast for worship, consultation, and socializing. The calendar begins with Bahá'í New Year, which corresponds to the traditional Persian New Year, called Naw Ruz. It occurs on March 21, after the month of fasting.

In addition, Bahá'ís observe nine Holy Days throughout the year on which work is suspended. The nine commemorate important anniversaries in Bahá'í history: three connected with the Báb (his birth, the declaration of his mission, and his martyrdom), five connected with Bahá'u'lláh (his birth, passing, and the first, ninth, and twelfth days of Ridván, the twelve-day festival commemorating the public declaration of his mission), and Naw-Ruz. The passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá is commemorated as a holy day, but Bahá'ís are not required to suspend work on that day. The Day of the Covenant is the final Bahá'í holy day and commemorates Bahá'u'lláh's appointment of `Abdu'l-Bahá as the head of his covenant. It is also a holy day on which the suspension of work is not required. `Abdu'l-Bahá established the Day of the Covenant because Bahá'ís wanted to celebrate his birthday, which falls on the Holy Day of the Declaration of the Báb.


Bahá'ís are persecuted in several Muslim countries, especially Iran, whose government claims that they are a heretical group with ties to Israel. The United Nations and various human rights groups regularly condemn Iran's treatment of its unrecognized Bahá'í minority, which numbers some 300,000.

Persecution of the Iranian Bahá'í community goes back to its founding in the mid nineteenth century. Severe outbreaks occurred in 1903 and 1955. From 1955 to 1978, the Shah's government largely ignored the Bahá'í community, which meant that discrimination was not prevented and anti-Bahá'í organizations were allowed to operate.[56] The founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979 brought systematic persecution of the Bahá'í community by agents of the state (police, prisons, courts). Some 201 Bahá'ís have been executed; fifteen more have disappeared and are presumed dead. Most of these deaths occurred in the first few years after the Islamic Revolution. The most recent execution was of Ruhollah Rohani in 1998 (supposedly for converting a woman to the Bahá'í Faith, a claim the woman repeatedly denied). Another Bahá'í, Zabihullah Mahrami, died in 2005 while serving a life prison term (allegedly for espionage on behalf of Israel).[16]

Several holy places relating to the Bábí or Bahá'í religions have been destroyed, including the house of the Báb in Shiraz. In 1993, a Bahá'í cemetery in Tehran was bulldozed in order to build a municipal center; subsequently several more suffered the same fate. In April 2004, Iranian authorities demolished the shrine and gravesite of Muhammad-Alí Bárfurúshí (Quddus), a Bábí leader. The following June, the Tehran house of Bahá'u'lláh's father was destroyed.

Bahá'ís have been barred from higher education in Iran since about 1980. International pressure on Iran has forced the university doors open for a very small number of Bahá'ís, many of whom were abruptly dismissed from university after a few months. In response, the Bahá'í community of Iran organized an "underground" university, the Bahá'í Institute of Higher Education, in 1987. The government made several attempts to break it up, most notably in 1998, when buildings used by BIHE were raided, computers, libraries, and laboratory equipment was confiscated, and faculty were arrested. Much of the university's teaching is now offered via the internet. Over one hundred of its graduates have been accepted into graduate programs outside Iran based on the strength of their education. Because of circumstances in Iran, BIHE cannot pursue recognition or accreditation.

Iranian Bahá'ís are subject to arbitrary arrest and detention. Fifty-four youth in Shiraz were arrested for proselytism in May 2006, even though their project was to bring literacy to a poor neighborhood and some of the youth volunteers were Muslims. The Muslims were immediately released; the Bahá'ís were jailed for days and in some cases, months. Bahá'í parents often find their children barred from attending local schools and must travel long distances to find another public school that will accept their children. Bahá'í school children are harassed in school and must endure verbal attacks on their Faith from teachers. Bahá'í marriages are not recognized, placing the status of families in legal jeopardy. Bahá'í physicians are unable to attend patients in hospitals. Bahá'ís may be denied insurance benefits when they make a claim and are denied pension benefits. Bahá'í-owned businesses may be boycotted or have their licenses revoted. Many businesses will not hire Bahá'ís; no government agencies will hire Bahá'ís. The results of such policies, after three decades, is the progressive impoverishment of the Iranian Bahá'í community.

A 2005 letter from an Iranian military official referred to instructions by Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the effect that Bahá'ís should be monitored, with a view to suppressing their rights.[17]

The Bahá'í religion has also been seriously persecuted in Egypt. The community received recognition from the Egyptian government in 1925, but this was withdrawn by Nasser in 1960. Periodic arrests of Baha'is made their lives very difficult. The situation of Bahá'ís in Egypt made a turn for the worse in 2006 and 2007.[18] The country's supreme court ruled that Bahá'ís do not have the right to identity cards bearing the name of their religion. (On qur'ánic grounds, only the three major Abrahamic faiths are recognized.) Whereas previously Egyptian Bahá'ís had been allowed to write in the name of their religion, or leave the line blank, the new system now compels them to either accept designation as a Jew, Christian, or Muslim, or forego identity documents. Without an identity card, an Egyptian citizen cannot open a bank account, apply for most jobs, obtain a driver's license or passport, attend university, and is subject to arrest. Bahá'ís sued in court for the right to leave the religion line on their identification cards blank and won the case, but the decision has not yet been implemented by the government. Their case has been taken up by Egyptian human rights organizations and extensively debated on Arab television and in newspapers.[19]

Not all Muslims countries limit the freedom of the Bahá'ís. In Pakistan they are relatively free; indeed, President Pervez Musharraf congratulated the Bahá'ís on the occasion of their celebration of the Feast of Ridvan in April 2008.[20] Restrictions on Bahá'ís still exist in a few formerly communist countries. Official government recognition of the Bahá'í Faith in Vietnam allowed that Bahá'í community to elect a National Spiritual Assembly for the first time in thirty-three years in March, 2008.[21]

Sect or religion?

Bahá'ís consider theirs to be an independent world religion whose relationship to Islam is similar to that of Christianity to Judaism, or of Buddhism to Hinduism. That is to say, while Bahá'ís recognize Islam as their parent religion, and the source of their basic theology and practice, they categorically reject a Muslim identity for themselves. Much Bahá'í literature insists on the religion's equal status with other major world religions (size notwithstanding). Terms such as "sect" are rejected on theological grounds as they tend to reduce the Bahá'í religion to a subset of Islam.

This perspective became normative under the leadership of Shoghi Effendi after 1921. Previously, some Bahá'ís of Muslim background saw themselves as Muslims, albeit of a special sect; whereas some early Western converts assumed the Bahá'ís to be an ecumenical group open to members of any religion. While a Muslim court in Egypt recognized the Bahá'ís as an independent religion in 1925, most Islamic authorities see them as apostates, former Muslims, and therefore worthy of death.

Because of its acceptance of the divine origin of the major world religions, the Bahá'í Faith is often assumed to be an example of syncretism. In addition to Shi'i Islam, whose similarity to basic Bahá'í theology and praxis is extensive, some secondary elements resemble aspects of Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism. This is partly by virtue of the societies in which the Bahá'í religion has developed. By contrast, few similarities with Hinduism or Buddhism can be identified other than the names of Krishna and Buddha--figures whom Bahá'ís regard as divine messengers. Bahá'ís recognize that their religion has parallels with the previous world's religions, but point out that the same can be said of Christianity (which derives its basic theology from Judaism and some practices and terms from Greek religion and culture) or any other religion, which must arise in, and interact with, a specific religious and cultural milieu. Bahá'ís see their religion as based on a divine revelation and subsequent divine guidance, where innovation involves the divine acceptance or rejection of existing ideas and practices.

The Bahá'í religion is sometimes treated as a New Religious Movement (NRM) by those who accept 19th-century movements as "new." As such it would be grouped with Tenrikyo or Caodaism--and indeed, constitutes one of the largest and most established of such groups. No other NRM claiming to be an independent religion can boast such a large, widespread, and diverse body of believers.

Ex-Bahá'ís sometimes accuse their former religion of qualifying as a cult in the pejorative sense. A comparison with Mormonism is particularly apt. Both groups are open about their beliefs, boast more than 150 years of tradition (though with major changes), and are now led by institutions rather than charismatic leaders. Catholicism and Mormonism have expelled some dissidents and liberal scholars, and taken various steps to maintain the authority of its leadership and the perceived integrity of its teachings.


An important concept in understanding Bahá'í history is the Covenant. The Greater Covenant encompasses previous dispensations and refers to the belief that each divine messenger promises a future divine teacher, a promise fulfilled by Bahá'u'lláh. The Lesser Covenant binds the major prophet and his followers. Examples of the latter would include Jesus's recognition of the primacy of the Apostle Peter and Muhammad's appointment of Ali as his successor, as per the Shi'a claim. In the Bahá'í case, Bahá'u'lláh appointed his son, `Abdu'l-Bahá, as his successor in several documents; `Abdu'l-Bahá wrote a will appointing his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as his successor; and Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi all defined the future nature, functioning, and establishment of a worldwide elected governing body, the Universal House of Justice, in their writings.

Because of the clearly defined written instructions about who would head the Faith and what authority they would possess, efforts to split the Bahá'í religion have had limited success. Consequently, the Bahá'í community can be viewed as a mainstream of the several million Bahá'ís who recognize the Universal House of Justice as their religion's supreme body, and a series of smaller groups with no more than a few hundred members who reject the Universal House of Justice. Groups that split from the mainstream when Bahá'u'lláh died (thereby rejecting the leadership of `Abdu'l-Bahá) or when `Abdu'l-Bahá died (thereby rejecting the authority of Shoghi Effendi) never acquired more than a hundred or so members, and are extinct. The one group that was established after Shoghi Effendi's passing has spun off as many as five groups, all claiming to be the legitimate Bahá'í Faith. None of the groups have been large enough to establish a publishing company; they have remained dependent on the mainstream for Bahá'í literature and have borrowed many innovations from them. Among the groups are:

  • The Free Baha'i Faith — It was based on the claims of Ruth White who, after the 1921 death of `Abdul-Bahá, accused Shoghi Effendi of forging `Abdul-Bahá's will naming himself as successor. Iranians familiar with `Abdu'l-Bahá's handwriting and style rejected her arguments, including those who had opposed `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi. White's claims were revived during the 1970s by Hermann Zimmer. It is also known as the World Union of Universal Religion and Universal Peace. It appears to be extinct.
  • The Orthodox Bahá'í Faith — It was established by Charles Mason Remey in 1960 when he claimed to be the Second Guardian (after Shoghi Effendi). The claim was based, among other things, on the fact that Shoghi Effendi had appointed Remey head of the International Bahá'í Council, a body intended to be an embryonic forerunner of the Universal House of Justice, which had the Guardian as its chair. The group grew to a few hundred members, primarily in the United States, France, and Pakistan. Remey had his followers organize national Bahá'í councils similar to National Spiritual Assemblies, but then disbanded the bodies. He also appointed a second International Bahá'í Council, which included Joel Bray Marangella as President. But Remey, in addition to writing a letter to Marangella appointing him the third Guardian, wrote a similar letter to Donald Harvey. On Remey's death the group split over the question of who to follow. Marangella gathered more members and proved more organizationally capable; the Orthodox Bahá'í Faith continues under his leadership. Marangella has appointed several Hands of the Cause and has encouraged his followers to elect national and local Bahá'í councils. They are active on the internet. Donald Harvey has died and his group has withered away.
  • Bahá'ís under the Provisions of the Covenant — It was established by Leland Jensen (1914-96), one of the followers of Mason Remey, who left the Orthodox Bahá'í Faith and claimed that Pepe Remey, Mason Remey's adopted son, was the Third Guardian (even though Pepe Remey rejected the claim). Jensen came to see himself as the de facto head of the Bahá'í Faith and promulgated a series of new teachings based on interpretation of biblical prophecy. Jensen issued many predictions of global cataclysm from the 1970s to the 1990s, mostly focusing on a Soviet nuclear attack (his group retreated to fallout shelters several times). He also said Halley's comet would collide with the Earth. After his death, a second International Bahá'í Council ran the BUPC until Neal Chase made a claim to be the fourth Guardian in 2001. Many rejected Chase's claim and the group, which perhaps numbered 100-200 members at its peak, split into two sects, both of which have subsequently shrunk.
  • The Reform Baha'i Faith — founded 2004 by Frederick Glaysher, who aspires to unite liberal, ex-, and "unenrolled" Baha'is under a common banner. Its activities are limited mainly to the internet. It is not clear the "group" includes anyone other than Glaysher.

For Bahá'ís, to accept Bahá'u'lláh while rejecting any of his clearly designated successors is covenant breaking. Because of the clear nature of the succession, rejection or radical reinterpretation of the documents is seen as an egotistical and irrational act with grievous spiritual consequences. Members of different Bahá'í groups are generally instructed not to associate with one another. Since most groups that have broken from the mainstream focus much of their message on why the mainstream is wrong--a message of little interest to outsiders--if mainstream Bahá'ís refuse to associate with them, they have little hope of recruiting new members.

Some observers claim to see the rise of Bahá'í fundamentalism in recent years.[57] The Bahá'í writings incorporate classic liberal emphases (such as feminism and race unity) as well as conservative ones (such as obedience to authority). Because of the lack of nominations and campaigning in Bahá'í elections, the Bahá'í community exhibits few internal divisions, including a conservative / liberal split, and it is official Bahá'í policy to discourage the labeling of members.

Internal controversies

Because the Bahá'í Faith has an extensive scripture and institutions charged to direct the community's development, many potentially controversial subjects have been clarified and defined in authoritative texts by Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, or the Universal House of Justice. As a result, the Bahá'í Faith has had a greatly reduced tendency to establish sects or even internal factions. Controversies arise within the Bahá'í Faith primarily over behavior rather than beliefs, though the two are often hard to separate. Some controversies arise when Bahá'ís begin to discuss a matter not clearly defined by the Bahá'í texts previously (such as birth control). Someone asks the Universal House of Justice about the matter and sometimes some Bahá'ís disagree with their response. Other times controversy arises because of changes in Bahá'í culture, such as when the internet suddenly made international virtual communities possible. Bahá'ís respond to the controversies in various ways. Rarely, they attempt to create a Bahá'í group of their own; the small size and duration of such groups, historically, has discouraged that approach. Some withdraw from membership in the Bahá'í community; a few of them may become critics of the Bahá'í community. The vast majority of Bahá'ís, even in countries with high internet use, often are unaware or only dimly aware that a particular controversy even exists.

The great expansion in research and writing on the Bahá'í Faith that began about 1980 produced a new generation of Bahá'í scholars, and that posed new challenges to Bahá'í institutions, which are charged with the responsibility of reviewing all manuscripts before their publication. National Spiritual Assemblies found they had few reviewers with the expertise to evaluate scholarly works. In 1980 British academic Denis MacEoin quit the religion, complaining of a lack of freedom of speech and publication. Subsequently he published academic articles questioning "received" Baha'i historical understandings. Controversies over his works helped stimulate considerable quality research, develop scholarly resources in Middle East Studies (particularly in Britain), and stimulated responses to his articles that have overturned or clarified many of his conclusions.

In 1987, a magazine called Dialogue (published by a group of Bahá'í writers and publishers in California) submitted for " Baha'i review" an editorial by David Langness called "A Modest Proposal".[58] The editorial urged various reforms, including the abolution of review, term limits for members of Bahá'í institutions, and decentralization of Bahá'í institutions through the establishment of regional bodies. Some of the reforms subsequently happened; others were rejected by the Universal House of Justice. Controversy developed over whether the draft editorial was circulated to delegates to the annual national Bahá'í convention, prompting an investigation. In the end, the editorial board closed the magazine. But the magazine broke ground for publishing private Bahá'í magazines and was followed by El Ruisenior (a bilingual Spanish/English monthly) and Deepen (a monthly published for several years in Texas). A professional Review Office at the U.S. Bahá'í National Center was established in 1989 to raise the quality of review and reduce the difficulties authors had earlier faced.

The advent of the internet during the late 1980s and early 1990s created an entirely new medium of communication and allowed Bahá'ís with private interpretations or concerns to share them widely and seek like-minded associates. The Universal House of Justice determined that the earlier policies about prepublication review of manuscripts could not apply to the web, giving Bahá'ís the freedom to post anything they wished. The House of Justice promulgated a policy of encouraging Bahá'ís to create personal websites and blogs on Bahá'í subjects.

But the web also allowed efforts to renew controversies the House of Justice had already dealt with. A group of Bahá'ís, consulting privately on a listserv named Majnun, coordinated their discussion of controversial issues on a larger listserv of several hundred Bahá'ís called Talisman. When the Universal House of Justice sent representatives to meet with some of the members of Majnun, several of them reacted immoderately and accused the House of Justice of despotism. The owner of Talisman shut it down, but others immediately reestablished it elsewhere. Ultimately several persons resigned their membership in the Bahá'í community over the controversy.[59] Since then, three individuals have been removed from the Bahá'í membership rolls by the Universal House of Justice for insisting on positions the House views as incompatible with Bahá'í membership.[60] One has retained a Bahá'í identity as an "unenrolled Baha'i."[61]


  2. Juan Cole suggest 1.5 to 2 million in paragraph eight of ; the 1998 edition of the Academic American Encyclopedia gives two million.
  3. The Encyclopedia Britannica and both use figures from the World Christian Encyclopedia, which estimates a Bahá'í population in excess of seven million. This number is probably too high.
  4. [1]
  5. [2]
  6. [3], but it should be pointed out that in most villages, households are not surveyed; rather, the census worker ascertains a family's religion based on the names the family uses. There are no distinctive Bahá'í names, so many Indian Bahá'ís will be identified as Hindu or Muslim.
  7. [4]
  8. [5]
  9. Balyuzi, H.M. (1973). The Báb: The Herald of the Day of Days. Oxford, UK: George Ronald, pp. 30-41. ISBN 0853980489.
  10. MacEoin, Dennis (1989). "Bāb, Sayyed `Ali Mohammad Širazi". Encyclopædia Iranica.
  11. Hajji Muhammad Husayn, quoted in Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal: The making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1989), 132-33.
  12. Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal: The making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1989), 172.
  13. Selections from the Writings of the Bab An excellent survey of the Báb's major work and themes was just published by Nader Saiedi, Gate of the Heart: Understanding the Writings of the Báb (Hamilton, Ont: Wilfrid Laurier Press, 2008).
  14. Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal: The making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1989), 172.
  15. The exact number of killings is not known. Bahá'í sources usually give twenty thousand or occasionally thirty thousand. Some historians, counting the names of known martyrs, estimate two thousand, but they do not estimate the number of killings where names have been lost, or the numbers of women and children who subsequently died because their menfolk had been killed.
  16. The Bahá'í World: A Biennial International Record, vol. IV, 1930-1932 (New York City: Bahá'í Publishing Committee, 1933), 269-80.
  17. The theoretical bases of the Bahá'í electoral system is explored in Arash Abizadeh, "Democratic Elections without Campaigns? Normative Foundations of National Bahá'í Elections," World Order, vol. 37, no. 1 (2005), 7-49.
  18. [6]
  19. [7]
  20. This practice is usually referred to as shunning, but because Bahá'ís can conduct business transactions with Covenant breakers, the practice is not same as shunning by Amish and some other groups, which is total.
  21. [8]
  22. Long Obligatory Prayer, in Bahá'í Prayers: A Selection of Prayers Revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, and `Abdu'l-Bahá, 12.
  23. [9]
  24. Promulgation of Universal Peace. p. 203
  25. ibid., p. 145
  26. It has been suggested that the Bahá'í process of review of all publications by Bahá'ís contradicts independent investigation of truth, but this is not the case. Review is a temporary measure to protect the Bahá'í Faith from erroneous understandings of the Faith promulgated by Bahá'ís, which the public tends to assume knows their Faith accurately. Bahá'ís can continue to hold their views and can disseminate them on the internet – to which review does not apply – even if they cannot put them in printed form.
  27. Peter Berger, Ph.D. dissertation, New School of Social Research.
  28. M. Momen, "The Baha'i Community of Ashkhabad; Its Social Basis and Importance in Baha'i History," in Shirin Akiner, ed., Cultural Change and Continuity in Central Asia (London: Kegan Paul International, 1991), 283-84.
  29. Moojan Momen, "Jamál Effendi and the early spread of the Bahá’í Faith in South Asia," in The Bahá’í Studies review, vol. 7, 1999, pp. 47-80.
  30. Mehrdad Amanat, “Messianic expectation and evolving identities: the conversion of Iranian Jews to the Bahá’í Faith,” in Dominic Parviz Brookshaw and Seena Fazel, The Baha’is of Iran: Socio-historical studies (Oxford: Routledge, 2008), 22; Fereydun Vahman, “The conversion of Zoroastrians to the Bahá’í faith,” in Brookshaw and Fazel, 31, 33 .
  31. Vahman, 33.
  32. Moojan Momen, "The Baha'i Community of Iran: Patterns of Exile and Problems of Communication," in Asghar Fathi, Iranian Refugees and Exiles Since Khomeini (Costa Mesa, Cal., Mazda Publishers, 1991), 21-36.
  34. Mabel R. Garis, Martha Root: Lioness at the Threshold (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1983), 88.
  35. M. Momen, "The Baha'i Community of Ashkhabad; Its Social Basis and Importance in Baha'i History," 287.
  36. Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh: vol. 4, Mazra’ih and Bahjí, 1877-92 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1987), 290-91. Robert H. Stockman, The Bahá’í Faith in America: Early Expansion, 1900-1912, Vol. 2 (Oxford: George Ronald, 1995), 10.
  37. `Abdu’l-Baha to Chicago House of Spirituality, received 9 Sept. 1902, Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas (Chicago: Bahai Publishing Society, 1909), vol. 1, p. 6.
  38. Robert H. Stockman, The Bahá’í Faith and American Protestantism, Th.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1990, p. 168.
  39. Stockman, The Bahá’í Faith in America, Vol. 2, 385, 349.
  40. Moojan Momen, "Bahá’í Schools in Iran," in Dominic Parviz Brookshaw and Seena Fazel, The Bahá’ís of Iran: Socio-historical Studies (New York: Routledge, 2008), 101-03.
  41. Stockman, The Bahá’í Faith in America, Vol. 2, 385, 349.
  42. “Report of the Tenth Annual Convention of the Bahai Temple Unity,” in Star of the West, vol. 11, 1918, p. 65.
  43. “Report of the Twelfth Annual Mashrekol-Azkar Convention,” in Star of the West, vol. 11, 1920, p. 194-96.
  44. Stockman, The Bahá’í Faith In America, vol. 2, 245-49.
  45. Douglas Martin, "The Persecution of the Bahá'ís of Iran, 1844-1984," Bahá'í Studies, vol. 12/13, p. 14.
  46. Eunice Braun, From Strength to Strength: The First Half Century of the Formative Age of the Bahá’í Era (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1978), 7.
  47. Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Bahá’í World (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1958), 7, 18-21, 127.
  48. Geoffry W. Marks, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, 1963-86, The Third Epoch of the Formative Age (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1996), 14, 83, 156.
  49. The Bahá’í World: An International Record, vol. XVI, 1973-76 (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1978), 130.
  50. Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the United States, March 21, 1974
  51. Universal House of Justice to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 9 January 2001, par. 10-18.
  52. Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís gathered at the Eighth ASEAN Youth Conference in Thailand, 22 December 2001, par. 2
  53. (2001-05). Baha'i Houses of Worship. Retrieved on 2006-06-14.
  54. Effendi, Shoghi; The Universal House of Justice (1983). Hornby, Helen (Ed.): Lights of Guidance: A Bahá'í Reference File. Bahá'í Publishing Trust, New Delhi, India. ISBN 8185091463. 
  55. Faizi, Abu'l-Qasim (1968). Explanation of the Symbol of the Greatest Name. Bahá'í Publishing Trust, PO Box No 19, New Delhi, India. 
  56. Douglas Martin, 'The Persecution of the Bahá'ís of Iran, 1844-1984' (Ottawa, Ont.: Association for Bahá'í Studies, 1984), 13-29.
  57. [10]
  58. [11], [12]
  59. [13]
  60. [14]
  61. [15]