Important.ca Home
Important Events
Important Religions
Important Links

 
Important.ca Major Religions & Spiritual Beliefs
Home: Religion: Bahai: Bahai World Religion History.

History of the Bahá'í Religion

Bahá'í history is often traced through a sequence of leaders, beginning with the Báb's May 23, 1844 declaration in Shiraz, and ultimately resting on an administrative order established by the central figures of the religion. The religion had its background in two earlier movements in the nineteenth century, Shaykhism and Babism.

FEATURED BAHAI BOOK:

MORE BAHAI BOOKS

Bahai History and Background

Shaykism centred on theosophical doctrines and many Shaykhis expected the return of the hidden Twelfth Imam. Many Shaykhis joined the messianic Babi movement in the 1840s where the Báb proclaimed himself to be the return of the hidden Imam. As the Babi movement spread in Iran, violence broke out between the ruling Shi'a Muslim government and the Babis, and ended when government troops massacred the Babis, and executed the Bab in 1850.

Bahai Religion and God

The Bab had spoken of another messianic figure, He whom God shall make manifest. One of the followers of the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh was imprisoned by the Iranian government after the Bab's execution and then exiled to Iraq, and then to Constantinople and Adrianople in the Ottoman Empire. In 1863 in Baghdad, Bahá'u'lláh claimed to be the messianic figure expected by the Bab's writings. Bahá'ís consider the Baha'i religion to start from Bahá'u'lláh's statements in 1863.

At the time of Bahá'u'lláh's death the tradition was mostly confined to the Persian and Ottoman empires, at which time he had followers in thirteen countries of Asia and Africa. Leadership of the religion then passed on to `Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'u'lláh's son, who was appointed by Bahá'u'lláh, and was accepted by almost all Bahá'ís. Under the leadership of `Abdu'l-Bahá, the religion gained a footing in Europe and America, and was consolidated in Iran, where it still suffers intense persecution.
The Báb stood on this pulpit in the Masjid-i-Vakíl, addressing the populace of Shiraz in September 1846

After the death of `Abdu'l-Bahá in 1921, the leadership of the Bahá'í community was passed on to his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, who was appointed in `Abdu'l-Bahá's will. The document appointed Shoghi Effendi as the first Guardian, and called for the election of the Universal House of Justice once the Bahá'í Faith had spread sufficiently for such elections to be meaningful. During Shoghi Effendi's time as leader of the religion there was a great increase in the number of Baha'is, and he presided over the election of many National Spiritual Assemblies.

Shoghi Effendi died in 1957, and because he was childless he had found it impossible to appoint another Guardian after himself to succeed him. In 1963 the Universal House of Justice was elected. Since 1963 the Universal House of Justice has been elected every five years and remains the successor and leading institution of the religion.

Shaykhi movement

In Islam, the Mahdi is a messianic figure who is believed to be a descendant of Muhammad who will return near the end of time to restore the world and the religion of God. While both Sunni and Shi'a groups believe in the Mahdi, the largest Shi'a group, the Twelvers, believe that the Mahdi is the Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, who is believed to have gone into occultation since 874 CE.

In the Shi'a view the Twelfth Imam first went into a "Minor Occultation" between 874 and 941 CE where the Hidden Imam still communicated with the community through four official intermediaries. The "Greater Occultation" is then defined from the time when the Hidden Imam ceased to communicate regularly until the time when he returns to restore the world.

Bahai House of Worship in Wilmette Illinois
Symbols of many religions on a pillar of the Bahá'í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, U.S.

Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í: The Shaykhi movement was a school of theology within Twelver Shi'a Islam that was started through the teaching of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsá'í. Shaykh Ahmad's teachings included that the Imams were spiritual beings and thus, in contrast to the widespread Shi'a belief, that the Imams existed within spiritual bodies, and not material bodies. He also taught that there must always exist the "Perfect Shi'a" who serves as an intermediary between the Imams and the believers, and is the one who can visualize the consciousness of the Hidden Imam.

In 1822 he left Iran and went to Iraq due to the controversy that his teachings had brought. There he also found himself at the centre of debate, thus deciding to move to Mecca, he died in 1826 on his way there.

Siyyid Kázim-i-Rashtí: Before the death of Shaykh Ahmad, he appointed Siyyid Kázim of Rasht to lead the Shaykhí movement, which he did until his death in 1843. Siyyid Kázim formulated many of the thoughts that were ambiguously expressed by Shaykh Ahmad including the doctrine of salvation history and the cycles of revelation. His teaching brought a sense of millenarian hope among the Shaykhis that the Hidden Imam may return. Siyyid Kazim did not leave a successor, but before his death in December, 1843, he had counselled his followers to leave their homes to seek the Mahdi, who according to his prophecies would soon appear.

The Báb

On May 23 1844 Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad of Shiraz, Iran proclaimed that he was "the Báb" (الباب "the Gate"), after a Shi`a religious concept. His followers were therefore known as Bábís. As the Báb's teachings spread, which the Islamic clergy saw as a threat, his followers came under increased persecution and torture. The conflicts escalated in several places to military sieges by the Shah's army. The Báb himself was imprisoned and eventually executed in 1850.

Bahá'ís see the Báb as the forerunner of the Bahá'í Faith, because the Báb's writings introduced the concept of "He whom God shall make manifest", a Messianic figure whose coming, according to Bahá'ís, was announced in the scriptures of all of the world's great religions, and whom Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, claimed to be in 1863. The Báb's tomb, located in Haifa, Israel, is an important place of pilgrimage for Bahá'ís. The remains of the Báb were brought secretly from Iran to the Holy Land and were eventually interred in the tomb built for them in a spot specifically designated by Bahá'u'lláh.

Shrine of the Báb in Haifa, Israel.

In mid 1850 a new prime-minister, Amir Kabir, ordered the execution of the Báb, probably because various Bábí insurrections had been defeated and the movement's popularity appeared to be waning. The Báb was brought back to Tabríz from Chihríq, so that he could be shot by a firing squad. On the morning of July 9, 1850, the Báb was taken to the courtyard of the barracks in which he was being held, where thousands of people had gathered to watch. The Báb and a companion were suspended on a wall and a large firing squad prepared to shoot. After the order was given to shoot and the smoke cleared, the Báb was no longer in the courtyard and his companion stood there unharmed; the bullets apparently had not harmed either man, but had cut the rope suspending them from the wall. The soldiers subsequently found the Báb in another part of the barracks, completely unharmed. He was tied up for execution a second time, a second firing squad was ranged in front of them, and a second order to fire was given. This time, the Báb and his companion were killed. Their remains were dumped outside the gates of the town to be eaten by animals.

The remains, however, were rescued by a handful of Bábis and were hidden. Over time the remains were secretly transported by way of Isfahan, Kirmansháh, Baghdad and Damascus, to Beirut and thence by sea to Acre, Israel on the plain below Mount Carmel in 1899. In 1909, the remains were then interred in a special tomb, erected for this purpose by `Abdu'l-Bahá, on Mount Carmel in the Bahá'í Holy Land in Haifa and remains an important place of pilgrimage for Bahá'ís.

While the Báb claimed a station of revelation, he also claimed no finality for his revelation. A constant theme in his works, especially the Persian Bayan was that of the great Promised One, the next embodiment of the Primal Will, whom the Báb termed He whom God shall make manifest, promised in the sacred writings of previous religions would soon establish the Kingdom of God on the Earth. In the books written by the Báb he constantly entreats his believers to follow He whom God shall make manifest when he arrives.

Before his death, the Báb had been in correspondence with two brothers, Bahá'u'lláh and Subh-i-Azal who, after the death of many prominent disciples, emerged as the mostly likely leaders. In a letter sent to Subh-i-Azal, then aged around nineteen, the Báb appears to have indicated a high station or leadership position. The letter also orders Subh-i-Azal to obey the Promised One when he appears; in practise, Subh-i-Azal, however, seems to have had little widespread legitimacy and authority. Bahá'u'lláh in the meantime, while in private hinted at his own high station, in public kept his messianic secret from most and supported Subh-i-Azal in the interest of unity. In 1863 in Baghdad, he made his first public declaration and eventually was recognized by the vast majority of Bábís as "He whom God shall make manifest" and his followers began calling themselves Bahá'ís.

Bahá'u'lláh

Mírzá Husayn `Alí Núrí was one of the early followers of the Báb, who later took the title of Bahá'u'lláh. He was arrested and imprisoned for this involvement in 1852. Bahá'u'lláh relates that in 1853, while incarcerated in the dungeon of the Síyáh-Chál in Tehran, he received the first intimations that he was the one anticipated by the Báb.

Shortly thereafter he was expelled from Tehran to Baghdad, in the Ottoman Empire; then to Constantinople (now Istanbul); and then to Adrianople (now Edirne). In 1863, at the time of his banishment from Baghdad to Constantinople, Bahá'u'lláh declared his claim to a divine mission to his family and followers. Tensions then grew between him and Subh-i-Azal, the appointed leader of the Bábís who did not recognize Bahá'u'lláh's claim. Throughout the rest of his life Bahá'u'lláh gained the allegiance of most of the Bábís, who came to be known as Bahá'ís. Beginning in 1866, he began declaring his mission as a Messenger of God in letters to the world's religious and secular rulers, including Pope Pius IX, Napoleon III, and Queen Victoria.

In 1868 Bahá'u'lláh was banished by Sultan Abdülâziz a final time to the Ottoman penal colony of `Akká, in present-day Israel. Towards the end of his life, the strict and harsh confinement was gradually relaxed, and he was allowed to live in a home near `Akká, while still officially a prisoner of that city. He died there in 1892. Bahá'ís regard his resting place at Bahjí as the Qiblih to which they turn in prayer each day. During his lifetime, Bahá'u'lláh left a large volume of writings. The Kitáb-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book), and the Kitáb-i-Íqán (The Book of Certitude) are recognized as major theological works, and the Hidden Words and the Seven Valleys as mystical treatises.

`Abdu'l-Bahá

`Abbás Effendi was Bahá'u'lláh's eldest son, known by the title of `Abdu'l-Bahá (Servant of Bahá). His father left a Will that appointed `Abdu'l-Bahá as the leader of the Bahá'í community, and designated him as the "Centre of the Covenant", "Head of the Faith", and the sole authoritative interpreter of Bahá'u'lláh's writings. `Abdu'l-Bahá had shared his father's long exile and imprisonment, which continued until `Abdu'l-Bahá's own release as a result of the Young Turk Revolution in 1908. Following his release he led a life of travelling, speaking, teaching, and maintaining correspondence with communities of believers and individuals, expounding the principles of the Bahá'í Faith.

Abdul Baha Abbas

Bahá'í administration

Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Aqdas and The Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá are foundational documents of the Bahá'í administrative order. Bahá'u'lláh established the elected Universal House of Justice, and `Abdu'l-Bahá established the appointed hereditary Guardianship and clarified the relationship between the two institutions. In his Will, `Abdu'l-Bahá appointed his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as the first Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith.

Effendi throughout his lifetime translated Bahá'í texts; developed global plans for the expansion of the Bahá'í community; developed the Bahá'í World Centre; carried on a voluminous correspondence with communities and individuals around the world; and built the administrative structure of the religion, preparing the community for the election of the Universal House of Justice. He died in 1957 under conditions that did not allow for a successor to be appointed.

At local, regional, and national levels, Bahá'ís elect members to nine-person Spiritual Assemblies, which run the affairs of the religion. There are also appointed individuals working at various levels, including locally and internationally, which perform the function of propagating the teachings and protecting the community. The latter do not serve as clergy, which the Bahá'í Faith does not have. The Universal House of Justice, first elected in 1963, remains the successor and supreme governing body of the Bahá'í Faith, and its 9 members are elected every five years by the members of all National Spiritual Assemblies. Any male Bahá'í, 21 years or older, is eligible to be elected to the Universal House of Justice; all other positions are open to male and female Bahá'ís.

International plans

In 1937 Shoghi Effendi launched a seven year plan for the Bahá'ís of North America, followed by another in 1946. In 1953, he launched the first international plan, the Ten Year World Crusade. This plan included extremely ambitious goals for the expansion of Bahá'í communities and institutions, the translation of Bahá'í texts into several new languages, and the sending of Bahá'í pioneers into previously unreached nations. He announced in letters during the Ten Year Crusade that it would be followed by other plans under the direction of the Universal House of Justice, which was elected in 1963 at the culmination of the Crusade. The House of Justice then launched a nine year plan in 1964, and a series of subsequent multi-year plans of varying length and goals followed, guiding the direction of the international Bahá'í community.

Since 1996 the House of Justice has been directing communities to prepare for large-scale expansion, creating new institutions and training institutes. The Bahá'ís around the world are currently being encouraged to focus on children's classes, youth groups, devotional gatherings, and a systematic study of the religion known as study circles. The years from 2001 until 2021 represent four successive five-year plans, culminating in the centennial anniversary of the passing of `Abdu'l-Bahá.
 

 
Parts of the above article are licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from Wikipedia. Images courtesy FCIT

Copyright Important.ca © All rights reserved.