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Baha’i World Faith

Baha’is, numbering more than 5 million, are found in over 200 countries. There are 110,000 Baha’is in the United States. South Carolina, California, Texas, Georgia and Illinois have the largest concentrations of Baha’is in America.

Mirza Husayn-Ali (1817-1892), known as Baha’u’llah, meaning the Glory of God (Allah)
World Headquarters
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U.S. Headquarters <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
Wilmette (near Chicago), Illinois
Adherents
Baha’is, numbering more than 5 million, are found in over 200 countries. There are 110,000 Baha’is in the United States. South Carolina, California, Texas, Georgia and Illinois have the largest concentrations of Baha’is in America.
Scriptures
The most important Baha’i scriptures are The Most Holy Book and the Book of Certitude, written by Baha’u’llah. Writings (called tablets) by the Bab and Abdu’l-Baha are also authoritative.
History
In 1844, Mirza Ali Muhammad, a Persian, took the name Bab, meaning “gate,” and declared he was the forerunner to the long expected 12th Imam, or leader, of Shi’ite Islam. The 12th Imam disappeared around A.D. 870. Belief arose he would return at the end of the world.
One of the Bab’s followers, Mirza Husayn-Ali, announced in 1863 he was the “manifestation” predicted by the Bab and took the title of Baha’u’llah. Most of the Bab’s followers accepted Baha’u’llah’s claim.            
Baha’u’llah was expelled from Persia and died in exile in Palestine in 1892. His son, Abdu’l-Baha, was appointed leader and served until his death in 1921. Upon his death, his grandson, Shoghi Effendi was named leader of the movement. After his death in 1957, the Universal House of Justice became the highest authoritative body for Baha’is.
Baha’is in modern Iran have been severely persecuted in the past 20 years. Baha’i schools and businesses have been closed, cemeteries destroyed and thousands of Baha’is imprisoned or killed. Muslims consider the Baha’i faith to be heretical because Baha’is hold Muhammad was not the last prophet of God.
Teachings
Baha’is affirm the reality of one Divine Being or God who is essentially unknowable, except through his manifestations or prophets.          
Whenever the need arises (about every 1,000 years), God sends prophets to serve as teachers. The nine prophets of God have been Krishna, Abraham, Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab and Baha’u’llah. Each of the nine prophets has been sinless and infallible. Baha’is believe Baha’u’llah is God’s appointed prophet for today. He claimed to be the fulfillment of all Christian prophecies, as well as those of all other faiths.  
According to Baha’is, the spiritual teachings of the nine prophets have been the same; only their social teachings have varied. All religions are one; the Baha’i faith is the religion to this age. The next prophet of God will appear in another 860 years (around 2863).          
According to Baha’is, Baha’u’llah is the angel Michael in the Book of Revelation; the Bab is the Lamb in the Book of Revelation.            
Baha’is insist Jesus’ teachings should not be rejected, but neither should they be given special attention. According to Baha’is, Jesus was not the incarnation of God, but was a perfect, sinless man who reflected the essence of God. Christ came as a teacher, not a savior.           
Baha’is reject the resurrection of Christ, his second coming and the doctrine of the trinity. Baha’is may use terms familiar to Christians, but they redefine those terms.          
The human soul, which comes into existence at conception, survives physical death and continues to advance toward God. Our progress after death depends on our efforts on Earth.         
Heaven and hell are not places, but states of being. Heaven is nearness to God and hell is remoteness from him. Heaven and hell are experienced on Earth as well as after death.          
Sin, as rebellion against a holy God, is absent in Baha’i teachings.          
Equality of men and women is stressed and is a major appeal of the Baha’i faith, with women assuming many leadership roles. Marriage is commanded and divorce is strongly condemned.          
Baha’is do not wear any distinctive clothing. There are no ministers or clergy in the Baha’i faith. Baha’is avoid alcoholic drinks.           
The ultimate goal of the Baha’i faith is the unity of all humanity. This includes replacing all churches, synagogues and mosques with Baha’i spiritual centers. Another goal is a universal language. Baha’is emphasize education.           
Baha’i holy days include March 21, the Baha’i New Year; May 29, the anniversary of the “ascension” of Baha’u’llah; and Nov. 12, the anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah. Baha’is observe a 19-day fast from March 2-20. The Baha’i calendar consists of 19 months of 19 days each. 
The strongest appeal of the Baha’i faith is not its teachings as much as the fellowship and sense of community it offers.
Gary Leazer is the founder and president of the Center for Interfaith Studies, Inc.