Universal Religion, Brotherhood, and Peace
A Sketch of the History and Teachings of the Bahai Movement
The object of the Bahai Movement is the establishment of universal religion, which will be the foundation of interreligious, interracial, and international brotherhood and peace. It offers to mankind a practical basis of unity, one which is in direct line with the great world needs of our time. It is paving the way for the great universal civilization which will evolve as people of all religions, races, and nations unite both spiritually and materially into one world order.
The Bab (The Gate)
This movement began in Persia in 1844, with the rise of a teacher known as the Bab, a John-the-Baptist figure, who proclaimed the coming of a greater teacher whose mission would be that of establishing universal religion, the brotherhood of man, and universal peace. The Bab, a reformer within Islam, was but the forerunner or herald of this greater teacher who was to come, and to this Promised One and to His cause the Bab and thousands of his followers testified by suffering martyrdom inflicted upon them by Muslims under the charge of heresy.
Baha’u’llah (The Glory of God)
Shortly after the martyrdom of the Bab, the great teacher and world reformer who was promised appeared in the person of Baha’u’llah (1863), from whom the movement now takes its name. His mission lasted forty years, during which time he was subjected to all manner of imprisonment and suffering at the hands of Oriental despots, because of his teaching, which brought freedom of thought and enlightenment to all people who heard it. Baha’u’llah was sent in exile as a prisoner from Iran to Baghdad, to Adrianople at the southern edge of Europe, and then eventually incarcerated in the Turkish penal colony of Akka, Syria, where, after having given His great teaching of universality to humanity, He passed naturally from this world in the year 1892.
Abdul-Baha (Servant of the Glory)
Abdul-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, was the one chosen by his father to further establish this great movement and to explain and demonstrate it before the world. He was constantly at his father's side during the exile and imprisonment of the latter, and was in every way Baha’u’llah’s chief disciple. For forty years Abdul-Baha was a prisoner in the fortress of Akka, held there by the Sultan of Turkey for no other reason than that his teaching was bringing enlightenment and freedom of thought to all who came within the radius of its power. With the fall of the old despotic regime of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the present constitutional rule, which occurred in the summer of 1908, he was liberated from prison. During the summer and fall of 1911, he visited England and France, where he spent some months in teaching his Interpretation of Baha'u'llah's Teachings for the modern world. From there he traveled to the United States, speaking across the country to early American Bahais and others from New York to Chicago, Iowa and San Francisco, and elsewhere, addressing people in churches, lecture halls, and universities. Abdul-Baha wished to be known as the servant of humanity. He sought no higher station. As the “Master” of Baha’u’llah’s Teachings, he set the Example of self-sacrificing love, compassion, and service to humankind that Bahais strive to emulate.
Abdul-Baha continued to pray at a mosque until the end of his life, even as he continued to teach and spread the knowledge of the universal teachings of Baha'u'llah and Bahai communities grew and developed in both the East and West. Reform Bahais believe it's a matter of individual conscience whether and how someone continues to worship with the traditional religious community of one's heritage. As recorded in Abdul-Baha in London, it is up to the individual to define his or her relationship to the Bahai Cause: "You can be a Bahai-Christian, a Bahai-Freemason, a Bahai-Jew, a Bahai-Muhammadan. The number nine contains eight, and seven, and all the other numbers, and does not deny any of them. Do not distress or deny anyone by saying 'He is not a Bahai!' He will be known by his deeds" (98).
The Bahai philosophy is simplicity itself. It is expressed in this short quotation from Baha’u’llah’s writings, “The root of all knowledge is the knowledge of God.” Each of the world’s great spiritual teachers has taught the same eternal Truth, revealing it in the measure and in terms applicable to the people of his time. This truth has ever been the mainspring and source of human advancement and civilization.
Relation of the Bahai Movement to the Religions of the Past
The people of each religion look for the coming of a prophet or teacher who will fulfill the hopes of their own teaching and establish the truth in the world. The Christians look for the coming of the Christ (spirit), and the establishment of Christ's Kingdom ; the Jews await the coming of their Messiah and God's Kingdom on earth; the Muslims believe that the Mahdi will come and prepare the way for the coming of the Lord and the Kingdom; the Zoroastrians have prophecies relating to the coming of Shah Bahram; the Hindus believe that the divine spirit Krishna will speak again to the world for the enlightenment of the people; and the Buddhists look for the coming of the great Fifth Buddha or Maitreya, whose mission will be that of bringing a general worldwide spiritual enlightenment.
Bahais believe that all the prophecies of all traditions have been fulfilled in the appearance of Baha’u’llah. His universal Teachings offer the spiritual and practical solutions for both the individual and the global problems of today. The Bahai teachings confirm all religious teachings which have gone before, and offer a practical philosophy which meets the present day spiritual needs of humanity, free from the exclusivism, triumphalism, and fanaticsim of past Dispensations.
Baha’u’llah wrote many books and epistles, in which He demonstrates the oneness of the spirit of all of the former religious teachings; also treating of the present teaching in its relations to the religions of the past. Many of these writings were in reply to special questions asked by men of learning and were therefore written from various points of thought, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, etc. The writings and example of Abdul-Baha are explanatory and interpretative of the teachings of Baha’u’llah, bringing them into the modern, democratic, pluralistic realm of the twentieth century, until his passing in 1921, and laying the foundation for a spiritual vision beyond even his own Islamic heritage, as well as that of the other religions, looking towards what is held in commond, truly universal, the transcendent heritage and oneness of humanity.
Social Reforms, Laws and Ordinances
In addition to the purely spiritual teachings of Baha’u’llah, He ordered certain changes in the manners and customs of people, through the observance of which the world in general will be helped both
materially and spiritually. He advises the Bahais to be tolerant, and in no way to separate themselves from other people, nor denounce those of other beliefs. All men are free to believe as they wish, but all are exhorted to unite in faith and to lay aside the prejudices and superstitions of past ages. Warfare should be abolished and international questions settled by arbitration, consultation, and negotiation. A universal language is favored as a means of bringing people together in unity. Legislation should be representative. The Bahais should be peaceful and law-abiding citizens. Their thought should be humanitarian before all else. Faith without works is not acceptable. One's worship should be supplemented by a pure and useful life in the world. Men and women should marry. Asceticism is discouraged. Monogamy is taught. Harshness and hatred are to be overcome by gentleness and love. Man should not use intoxicants as a beverage. Opium and kindred drug habits are denounced, as is also gambling.
The practical affairs of the Bahai movement are conducted by assemblies of consultation, composed of nine democratically elected members. Eventually there will be a general assembly of consultation composed of representatives from all parts of the world. This, when properly elected, will be known as “The Universal House of Justice.”
Adapted from Charles Mason Remey, 1912. (PDF or Print)
See About Baha'u'llah for further historical details.
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