The history and teachings of the Baha’i Faith center around the inspiring person of its Founder, Baha’u’llah. The traits of character he displayed throughout the course of a long and turbulent life, his voluminous and comprehensive body of written works, and the impact that he has already had in the world qualify Baha’u’llah for a place in the firmament of history’s greatest religious luminaries.
Baha’u’llah, Whose name in Arabic means “The Glory of God,” claimed to be none other than the Promised One foretold in the sacred scriptures of all of the world’s great religions. Baha’u’llah’s spiritual and ethical teachings embrace all aspects of the human condition and offer us the means to achieve our age-old dream of world peace:
God’s purpose in sending His Prophets unto men is twofold. The first is to liberate the children of men from the darkness of ignorance, and guide them to the light of true understanding. The second is to ensure the peace and tranquility of mankind, and provide all the means by which they can be established. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 79-80.
Baha’u’llah taught that all humanity are the children of a loving God, Who has guided our spiritual and social evolution in progressive stages until the present era, which is destined to witness the unification of the world, universal justice, and the permanent establishment of peace. This is the age when God’s promise of peace, as foretold in the scriptures of the world’s great religions, will be fulfilled.
Baha’u’llah taught that each human being is endowed with an immortal soul. The purpose of this physical life is to develop the spiritual qualities necessary for the life hereafter. Yet this does not mean that we are to disdain this world. On the contrary, the means to spiritual life is through loving service to all of humanity, as well as through cultivation of personal faith and virtues.
The teachings of Baha’u’llah affirm the eternal truths taught by all of the great religions of the past. His teachings uphold the validity and divine inspiration of the great Prophets and Messengers such as Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, all sent by God for the purpose of guiding humanity. Baha’u’llah has given principles that address the needs of the present age. Among them is the oneness of humanity, a principle that, in and of itself, has vast moral and social implications. This principle of the oneness of humanity implies the equality of men and women as well as the equality of all races.
The harmony of science and religion is another essential teaching of Baha’u’llah, as is the principle of independent investigation of truth. Among others are the need for the elimination of all forms of prejudice, the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty, and the principle of compulsory education for all.
Yet another teaching of Baha’u’llah is that the time has come to establish a system of world order. Baha’u’llah designed a new system of governance, based upon the principles described above, that addresses the material and spiritual needs of humanity. This system is the nucleus and pattern for a new world civilization that will emerge in the fullness of time and will mark the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth.
At its heart, the Baha’i Faith addresses the innermost longings of the human spirit. It proclaims God’s continued presence in human affairs and the joyous news that the prophecies of ancient days are to be fulfilled. It tells of God’s infinite and abiding love for each one of us, His assurance that divine justice will indeed reign, and His open call to a purposeful life in this world and eternal happiness in the world to come.
Today the Baha’i Faith counts millions of followers in virtually every nation and territory on earth, firmly establishing it as a great new world religion. The achievements of this united global community, comprising the whole diversity of the human race, already portend the realization of mankind’s ancient hopes for world peace and universal happiness.
This series of essays focuses on several essential themes. First and foremost, it chronicles the life of Baha’u’llah and other central figures in the history of the religion so that the reader may better appreciate their extraordinary lives and their historical context. Interspersed with this history, several essays will deal with basic Baha’i beliefs and teachings. Other articles in this series will cover the specific relationship of the Baha’i Faith to Christianity; the rise and spread of the Baha’i Faith throughout the world; the Baha’i vision for world peace; and what being a Baha’i means for the individual. The aim here is simply to offer an overview that can serve as a starting point for further study.
The story of the Baha’i Faith — unique in the annals of religious history for the circumstances of its birth, the dramatic episodes that accompanied its rise and development, and the world-embracing character of its vision — begins in what might seem an unlikely time and place.
To order Gods Speaks Again by Kenneth E. Bowers