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What is the Baha’i Faith? Where did it come from? Who are the Baha’is, and what do they believe?
On one level, these questions all have simple and uncomplicated answers. But the most simple truths are often the most profound. The Baha’i teachings can be summarized with three basic ideas:
- The Unity of God: Baha’is believe in only one God — even though the followers of various religions call him by different names. The Baha’i Writings say that all of the peoples of the world worship the same God, an infinite and unknowable Supreme Being.
- The Unity of Humanity: Baha’is believe that all people are one. Perhaps the most profound and difficult of all Baha’i teachings, this idea involves the need for a new human identity. All the old barriers that have divided people from one another — all lesser identities of race, culture, language, nationality, caste, rank, class, gender, religion, and so forth — Baha’is believe we must set aside in the larger quest for unity among all people.
The Baha’i teachings pivot around this principle of the oneness of humanity. No mere expression of sentiment, nor just some pious hope for a happy future, the implications of the oneness of humanity go very deep. They ask that we, actively and in the present, accept all peoples of the world as members of one human family, that we seek world peace through world law, that we abandon prejudices of all kinds, and that we act always for the benefit of the whole human race. Humanity has never faced a greater opportunity or challenge than accepting and acting on these profound principles.
- The Unity of all Religions: Baha’is believe that all of the world’s great Faiths come from God. For many people, this simple principle challenges what they have believed about religion.
For Baha’is, there is no such thing as only one true religion. All religions teach deep spiritual truths. Baha’is accept the divine origins of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and all of the other great faiths. Baha’is revere the sacred scriptures of these faith traditions as holy, inspired books. Baha’is believe that the spiritual practices of all religions — their traditions of prayer, meditation, service, and sacrifice — will all lead to growth and enlightenment. Ultimately, Baha’is understand that there are many paths to the one true God.
Most importantly, Baha’is believe that all of the great world faiths were sent by God, at different times, and to different places with teachings tailored to the needs of the people. All of these religions have brought spiritual teachings for the spiritual guidance of the individual; and social teachings to carry forward an advancing civilization.
Baha’is believe that the spiritual teachings of all Faiths have an enormous amount in common — all of them teach us to love, to be kind and generous, to pray and to reflect on our lives. All of the world’s religious traditions share the teachings of mercy, compassion, generosity, trustworthiness, honesty, truthfulness, modesty, charity, and so forth.
And, naturally, all religions differ according to the needs of the society and the time in which they appeared. But these differences exist in the non-essential areas of language, ritual, clothing, teachings about food, social customs, etc. These outward differences should not blind us to the deeper spiritual unity to be found among all religions. All of the Prophets of God appeared in the world for the education of humanity: to develop our souls to maturity, to teach spiritual truths, to exalt moral principles, and to quicken the conscience of humankind. The Baha’i teachings accept them all equally.
These three primary ideas, and many more, all come from the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah. The Baha’i Faith is not just a collection of philosophical principles or an attempt to combine or conflate religions. The Baha’i community is not just a group of well-meaning people. Baha’is are followers of Baha’u’llah, who brought an entirely new, worldwide Faith to humanity.
Baha’is believe that God has given the world a new Prophet to guide humanity in this modern age. Baha’u’llah [pronounced: bah-HA o-LAH] stands at the center of Baha’i belief. Baha’is believe that this new divine teacher, this Manifestation of God, the successor to the Founders of the great Faiths, has brought us the spiritual tools by which we can construct a new world based on the principles of unity — the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of humanity.
Please follow along in this series as we outline and explain the powerful and profound spiritual revitalization Baha’u’llah’s new Faith has brought to the world.
Read the next article in the series: The Story of Baha’u’llah
Adapted from One With All The Earth, © Kalimat Press 2003, All Rights Reserved.