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Today more than seven billion people live on our planet — and the vast majority have a belief system. The World Factbook says that approximately nine out of ten of Earth’s seven billion people identify themselves as believers in one of the major world Faiths – Christians (32%); Muslims (23%); Hindus (15%); Buddhists (7%); and other (which includes Jews, Baha’is and Zoroastrians, and some indigenous beliefs — 11%). Another eleven percent of the world’s population describe themselves as non-religious.
So curious seekers who discover the Baha’i Faith often ask: How many people are Baha’is?
Of all the world religions, the Baha’i Faith is the newest and the fastest-growing. According to The World’s Religions in Figures: An Introduction to International Religious Demography:
The Baha’i Faith is the only religion to have grown faster in every United Nations region over the past 100 years than the general population; Baha’i was thus the fastest-growing religion between 1910 and 2010, growing at least twice as fast as the population of almost every UN region. – p. 59.
So since the Baha’i Faith began in 1844, how many people have become Baha’is? And how many Baha’is are alive today?
The short answer? No one really knows. The exact number of Baha’is remains unknown, since most countries do not keep statistics on religion or require any religious designation in their records; since many people in different parts of the world and from different cultures follow the Baha’i teachings without a formal declaration of belief; and since births, deaths and new believers all mean the actual number of Baha’is worldwide constantly fluctuates. Many estimates exist — the official Baha’i World News Service at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel now estimates “there are more than 5 million Baha’is in the world.”
Other sources vary, some by large margins. No accurate global count has ever been possible, so every estimate involves some guesswork. Some observers say there are fewer than five million Baha’is, but many authoritative fact books and encyclopedias estimate that Baha’is number somewhere between six and eight million people worldwide:
- The World Religion Database says there were 7.3 million Baha’ís in the world in 2010.
- The World Factbook states that Baha’is make up 0.12% of the world’s population based on a 2007 estimate, corresponding to 7.9 million people.
- The 2005 Association of Religion Data Archives estimates 7.6 million Baha’is (based partly on World Christian Encyclopedia.)
- The CIA World Factbook reports 0.11% of the world are Baha’is, which in its 2010 estimate equals 7.8 million Baha’is.
- In 2005, the Encyclopedia of Religion, second edition, volume 2, pg. 739, says: “In the early twenty-first century the Baha’is number close to six million in more than two hundred countries. The number of adherents rose significantly in the late twentieth century from a little more than one million at the end of the 1960s.”
Most analysts recognize that the geographical spread and diversity of the worldwide Baha’i community across so many of the Earth’s nations makes an accurate numerical count hard to come by. Wikipedia says:
Statistical estimates of the worldwide Baha’i population are difficult to arrive at. The religion is almost entirely contained in a single, organized community, but the Baha’i population is spread out into almost every country and ethnicity in the world, being recognized as the second-most geographically widespread religion after Christianity… (Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica).
These divergent estimates prove that the very concept of Faith – which essentially means a conviction of the heart, mind and soul – resists quantification. In the end, do numbers count? The Baha’i writings say other, more mystical considerations really matter most:
Look ye not upon the fewness of thy numbers, rather, seek ye out hearts that are pure. One consecrated soul is preferable to a thousand other souls. If a small number of people gather lovingly together, with absolute purity and sanctity, with their hearts free of the world, experiencing the emotions of the Kingdom and the powerful magnetic forces of the Divine, and being at one in their happy fellowship, that gathering will exert its influence over all the earth. Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 80-81.