The Baha'i religion began in the nineteenth century in Iran under the influence of its founder Sayid Ali Muhammad. On May 23, 1844, he declared himself the Bab ("Gate"), the eighth manifestation of God and the first since the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
Because of his claimed supremacy over the prophet Muhammad, the Muslims of his time persecuted Sayid and his followers. Sayid was executed in 1850, only six years after making his claims. Before his death, Sayid spoke of a future prophet through whom God would manifest himself. In 1863, one of his followers, Mirza Husayn Ali, claimed to be the fulfillment of Sayid's prophecy. He called himself Baha'u'llah ("the glory of God") and taught he was also the second coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Holy Spirit, the Day of God, the Maiytrea (from Buddhism), Krishna (from Hinduism), and the fulfillment of the coming prophet in Shia Islam.
Since Baha'u'llah's time, successors have come by appointment rather than through divine manifestation. He first designated his son Abbas Effendi as leader of the Baha'i faith. Later, the Universal House of Justice was founded as the governing body for the religion. This location, constructed in Haifa, Israel, continues to serve as the movement's headquarters and hosts a major annual conference in support of its beliefs.
What are the major beliefs of Baha'i? Their eleven key practices include:
1) Adoration of one God and the reconciliation of all major religions.
2) Appreciation of the diversity and morality of the human family and the elimination of all prejudice.
3) The establishment of world peace, equality of women and men, and universal education.
4) Cooperation between Science and Religion in the individual's search for truth.
To these may be added certain implicit beliefs and practices:
5) A Universal Auxillary Language.
6) Universal Weights and Measures.
7) God who is himself unknowable nevertheless reveals himself through manifestations.
8) These manifestations are a kind of progressive revelation.
9) No proselytizing (aggressive witnessing).
10) The study of different Scriptures besides simply Baha'i books.
11) Prayer and worship is obligatory and much of that according to specific instructions.
The Baha'i Faith website claims more than five million members worldwide, including more than 169,000 in the United States. Baha'i literature has been translated into more than 800 languages and has been established in nearly every major country. While it is a relatively new religious movement, its quick growth has given it great influence in a short time.
How does Baha'i's teachings compare to biblical Christianity? As an inclusive religion, its views differ in many ways. Of primary importance is its view of God that does not include the teaching of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Further, its view of salvation is inclusive, in direct contrast with the Bible that teaches Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) and the only way to the Father (Acts 4:12). Further, its view of the Bible is much different as it views the Bible as one of many holy writings rather than the Bible alone as inspired as sufficient for Christian living.
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