Friday, August 5, 2011

Religion Friday: Baha'i

The Baha’i faith developed in the Middle East like many of the monotheistic religions, but it’s not from thousands of years ago. It was founded by Baha’u’llah in 1863. He was an Iranian nobleman who left the comforts of his rich life to preach the message of unity. Baha’is believe his coming was foretold by the Bab, a prophet that split from Islam just a few years before Baha’u’llah announced his message. The words Baha’i and Baha’u’llah both derive from the Arabic baha meaning “glory.” Though founded in Iran, persecution pushed the new religion out, and the international headquarters of the religion is now in Isreal.

Baha’is believe that every major era of civilization is given a messenger by the one God to guide that generation. Zoroaster, Moses, Krishna, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, and Baha’u’llah are all messengers for their time. Because of this belief, they see all of humanity as part of one culture that should strive to be unified. Three principles include: The Oneness of God, the Oneness of Religion, and the Oneness of Humanity.

There are no priests in the faith. Local assemblies look over communities, and Baha’is elect representatives to an annual national convention. National assemblies sometimes gather for international convention to elect the Universal House of Justice, which legislates on matters related that affect the whole faith, such has positions on sacred writings. For worship they read the writings of Baha’u’llah and focus on prayer and meditation. The relationship with God is seen as personal and not ritualistic. They celebrate two major holidays: the Baha’i New Year at the spring equinox and the Ridvan festival in late April, marking the declaration of Baha’u’llah’s mission in 1863.

Houses of Worship are built to be open to people of all religions to pray. All Houses of Worship have a dome and are shaped in a nonagon, with a door on each side. There are no images inside. All of this is so the houses are open to people of different faiths and represents the global view Baha’is have. Baha’i law does not allow sermons in Houses of Worship but does allow scripture or accapella music of other religions. There are only seven completed worldwide. Most Baha’is gather in small groups or study circles to worship. Today there are an estimated 7 million Baha’is all over the world.

I can see how the Baha’i faith grew out of the time that it did. As the world began to globalize, it was easy to establish a faith that incorporated the faiths of the past. I admire the democratic structure of the Baha’i faith. But I also feel that in attempts to be so universal, it lacks structure. While there are common writings and prayers to unify the faith, I think ritual and worship service is important too. With only seven Houses of Worship, most don’t get to have that experience, certainly not on a regular occasion. Still, it is a interesting spin on how religion can relate to modern times.

[Nine plays an important role in the Baha’I faith. Nine, as the highest single-digit number, symbolizes completeness. The nine-pointed star is the simplest symbol of the importance of nine to the faith.]

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