The Bahá'í Faith: a world leader in social ethics and justice
This month, as part of our ongoing series of faith features, we look at the Bahá'í Faith. Here is a simple, but hopefully interesting, overview of their origin and beliefs.
Less well known than most other world religions, the Bahá'í Faith was formally founded in the 1800s in Iraq, by the prophet Bahá'u'lláh.
It is a monotheistic Abrahamic faith, which means that Bahá'ís believe in one God and also acknowledge the Biblical prophet Abraham and his sons as important spiritual figures and influences.
While Bahá'ís believe that Bahá'u'lláh received a message from God, they do not believe he was the only person to receive such. Bahá'u'lláh taught that other prophets, such as Jesus, Moses, Abraham, Krishna and the Buddah, were all inspired by God to carry specific messages to their people. These prophets are known within the Bahá'í Faith as “manifestations of God” and without these manifestations, humanity would not know God.
Bahá'u'lláh wrote many books and letters which are revered within the faith and used for guidance. Bahá'ís also use the writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi as a complement to the writings of Bahá'u'lláh. However holy books inspired by other prophets, such as the Bible and the Qur’an are also valued within the faith.
Through these collective writings the fundamental beliefs of the Bahá'í faith were developed. Some of these beliefs include the following: there is only one God, all the great religions have the same source, God treats all humans as equal, and prejudices should be fixed.
The faith has no formal priesthood and does not observe rituals in its worship. Bahá'ís are organised in a worldwide community. Each person is responsible for their own prayers and for reading their holy books and educating themselves on the faith. This is referred to as a personal investigation of faith.
Bahá'ís elect leaders within each community to help organise activities and make decisions on matters that are not clearly outlined in scripture. These groups of leaders are called Spiritual Assemblies and are elected annually.
Members of the faith do not ordinarily gather in temples or churches. Instead, they regularly meet in each other’s homes and throughout the community. There are only eight Bahá'í temples in the world – located in the United States, Uganda, Australia, Germany, Panama, Samoa, India and Chile. Other countries may have a National Bahá'í Centre, which is generally used for community meetings and classes.
The origin and organisation of the faith are fascinating, and I encourage anyone to do more personal research. However, it is the fundamental beliefs of the Bahá'ís faith that I find the most interesting and personally transformative for my own faith.
The principal of unity – or oneness – of religion and humanity is an integral part of the faith and truly sets it apart from most other religious views. The belief in the oneness of religion is radical, as it acknowledges all the founders of the world’s great religions and views each one as valid and important for our collective spiritual development.
Unity of religion implies that all religious belief came from the same source, has the same foundation, and serves the same purpose for humanity. In short, Bahá'ís believe that one God has inspired all of humanity through various prophets. These prophets have given us moral and spiritual guidance required to grow and navigate through life.
Throughout history differences in religious belief have contributed greatly to division at personal and national levels. In our modern world religion continues to fragment humanity. However, for a Bahá'í, the same source transcends all of these differences and brings unity instead of division.
Additionally, Bahá'ís belief in the oneness of humanity positions the faith as a leader in issues of social ethics and justice. A large portion of its teachings is concerned with the abolition of racial, class and religious prejudices. Many of their members are active in the community as they endeavour to not only live a life of personal fulfilment but to also contribute to the advancement of society.
Social justice matters such as gender equality, the wealth gap and access to education for all people, are just a few of the issues that Bahá'í teachings focus on. Other, more broader ideas include the harmony of science and religion and removing religion from politics.
The Bahá’í Faith was established in Bermuda in the 1950s. While its membership is smaller in relation to other religions on island, there is a felt presence. The Bahá'í National Centre is located on Brunswick Street in Hamilton and other community hubs can be found across the parishes.
Its members engage in various activities including, devotionals, fireside gatherings and study circles. These activities are open to everyone and provide opportunities to not only learn about the faith but to also learn how to build a stronger, broader community.
I look forward to sharing more about the Bahá'í Faith, their members and the work they do in Bermuda.
For more information or to connect with Bahá'ís in Bermuda visit bermudabahai.org