I am very excited to present this guest letter about the Baha’i faith. As I’ve mentioned before, I hang out on some online interfaith groups, and Bobby recently joined one of them, saying he’d like to learn more about other faiths. When he mentioned that he is Baha’i, I immediately asked to interview him for a guest letter.
Baha’i is a monotheistic faith, relatively recent in origin, that is not widely known. I only learned of its existence because of the beautiful Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, Israel, which I have seen from afar, but never visited.
So what’s the deal with these people? Who are they, and what do they believe? I asked Bobby, and as my understanding of the Baha’i Faith deepened I gained a sense that it has an extremely important message for people of all religions, especially those of us who believe in interfaith dialogue and connection. I hope you enjoy this letter as much as I did.
My name is Bobby, and I’m a Baha’i living in Missouri, USA. I wasn’t born into a Baha’i family–my family are all Christian–but when I was 14 my grandmother passed away and I started to think about religion more seriously, a friend of mine introduced me to the Baha’i faith and after investigation I realized that (for me at least) it’s the truth.
Tell us a little about the background of the Baha’i faith. What does the word “Baha’i” mean? Where, when, and how was it developed? What are its main theological principles?
Baha’i is a term used to describe followers of Baha’u’llah, whom we believe to be the messenger of God for this age. The word Baha’i comes from the word Baha which is the 100th and greatest of God’s names–it means Glory–and Baha’u’llah means The Glory of God. The Baha’i faith recognizes many Messengers of God, including:
The three central figures of the Baha’i faith are as follows.
The first is the Bab, who was the forerunner of Baha’u’llah, prophesying Baha’u’llah’s coming. The Bab declared in 1840 that he was the Mahdi, the 12th Imam of Islam that was prophesied to return before the coming of the Promised One.
The second is Baha’u’llah. He is the divine Messenger for our age.
The third is Baha’u’llah’s son Abdu’l-Baha. He was the leader of the Baha’i faith, writing many invaluable books about our faith.
Some of the most important principles of the Baha’i faith are: harmony between science and religion, equality between men and women, unity of humanity, and unity of religion.
I understand that the Baha’i faith recognizes all other monotheistic religions as stemming from the same spiritual source, and that it celebrates diversity of worship. Does that mean that the Baha’i faith recognizes all those other religions as being true, in the sense that Jews, Christians, and Muslims are all correct in their understanding and interpretation of God’s will? Or is it that the technical details don’t really matter, as long as we are devoted to serving God and humankind?
The Baha’i faith teaches that all religions are true and contain the seeds for the message of the next of God’s Messengers, but Baha’u’llah taught that the adherents of the previous religions erred when they created sects/denominations. Because God is a perfect unity, without division of any kind, his religion is one. The creation of division in religion and all the fighting it’s caused is harmful to the peace God wants us to obtain, but ultimately all religions are correct because the are the revealed divine will of God.
I can understand and get behind the idea of this as a sort of general principle–at the end of the day, we’re all trying to achieve the same thing. But it gets complicated when we talk about specifics. Because some beliefs in one religion absolutely contradict the beliefs in other religions. For example, Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah and a human manifestation of God. Muslims believe he was a prophet. Jews believe he was none of those things. This is far more than a squabble over a minor detail; it results in a completely different understanding of the will of God.
I am reminded of a classic Jewish joke, where two Jews go to their rabbi to settle a financial dispute. The rabbi listens carefully to the first Jew’s account and says, “You’re right.” Then he listens to the other Jew’s account and says, “You’re also right.” The first Jew says, “But rabbi! We can’t both be right!” And the rabbi says, “You’re also right!”
So, how can we all be right? 😉 If all religions are the revealed divine will of God, why does it appear to contradict itself?
The issue is not so much with the religion and the religious texts (which would cause the religion to not be the true word of God), but rather the problem is with how man interprets the writings. We believe that Jesus did fulfill the prophecies to be the Messiah, but not all Jews believe this because they interpret the prophecies in different ways than Baha’is. For instance, we believe that the prophecy that the whole world shall know God and worship him has nearly been fulfilled thanks to the spread of Christianity and Islam. If it weren’t for Jesus sending out his followers to spread the faith, the majority of the world would not believe in God.
Another prophecy is that when he [the Messiah] comes there will be a resurrection of the dead. This is one of the 13 principles of Jewish faith.1 We believe this happened spiritually rather than physically. The Jewish faith was in a great time of changing and turmoil 2,000 years ago with the Roman invaders, and Jesus’ coming caused the dead spirits of the Jewish people to come back to life. The Jewish people (speaking of those who rejected Jesus) really flourished in their writings and deeper understanding of Torah post Roman invasion up until not too long ago.
Now as for the Muslims, they have two classes of Prophets. The first is Nabi, the second is Rasul. A prophet is a Nabi, someone who is inspired by God, but the Rasul is the Divine Messenger of God (Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad are on this list), and they consider Jesus to be Rasul.
So there are no contradictions between the religions. It is a progressive revelation. The only issues are with interpretations. But from my understanding of Baha’i writings this is what God wants. He doesn’t want there to be only Christians or only Baha’is. He wants all of his religions to exist at the same time in harmony, with the understanding that they are one religion.
If you thought this was confusing you should hear me try to explain Jesus’s end times prophecies! 😀
I think I get it. You believe that all religions were meant to be the same, and Baha’i has its own understanding of the religious texts and how they all fit together. So it’s not so much that you think the Christians, Jews, and Muslims are all “correct” per se, but that the Torah, Christian Bible, Qur’an, and other holy texts are all the word of God, and the discrepancies between the religions are the result of the (according to you) erroneous ways we interpreted and applied them. Is that correct?
Simply put, yes, that is the belief. But to err is human, and the Baha’i writings say that no matter what one’s faith is, if he practices with conviction, he is in the right. So even a Jew who rejects Jesus is considered right in their practice of the religion of God, from my understanding, because they don’t have to accept Jesus to still have the (a?) correct religion 🙂 Many Baha’is go to synagogues, mosques, and churches every week to learn and commune with our spiritual brothers and sisters. We wholeheartedly believe that you all have the truth. It’s just your doctrine on certain things that we have a different understanding of.
I feel that we live in a world where a sort of “zealous ownership over religious truth” lies at the heart of the biggest and bloodiest conflicts. What do you, as a Baha’i, wish members of all these different religious groups would recognize about each other? How do you think we can navigate these differences in our belief systems, when they appear to be mutually exclusive?
As a Baha’i I wish that everyone would realize we all worship the same God, albeit in different ways. If we could realize that our seemingly different religions are actually the same, once you strip away the cultural influence and superstition, then, I think, we could end religious prejudice.
How do you practice the Baha’i faith on a day-to-day basis? What calendar do you follow, and what festivals do you celebrate?
The Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book of the Baha’i faith, is the record of the commandments of God for our age, it tells us our day to day responsibilities as Baha’is. Among these are the Obligatory Prayers in the morning, at noon and at sunset. Another command is for daily meditation while reciting Allah’u’Abha2 95 times.
We use the Badi calendar created by The Bab. This calendar has 19 months with 19 days each, also containing intercalary days that have became a gift giving holiday for the Baha’i called Ayyam-i-Ha. Some other holidays are Naw Ruz which is the Persian new year, the martyrdom of the Bab, the Ascension of Baha’u’llah, the Day of the Covenant, and others.
What is the significance of the Baha’i Gardens in Israel to your faith? Have you ever been there?
The Gardens of Haifa are a holy place in the Baha’i faith. They go up the side of Mount Carmel to the shrine of the Bab, and lead to the Shrine of Baha’u’llah in Bahji, Akka (a.k.a. Akko or Acre), Israel.
Baha’is make pilgrimage to these holy spots at least once in their lifetime if able, but sadly I have not had a chance.
According to Wikipedia, there are somewhere around 5-6 million Baha’is in the world. Are you part of a community? What is your experience of belonging to a faith that is relatively unknown, that many people you meet may never have heard of?
According to the latest enrollment numbers from The Universal House of Justice (the closest thing Baha’is of to a “church”) there are 7.6 million enrolled Baha’is around the world. Unfortunately none of them live near me! I would love to live in a community; Baha’is get together every nineteen days, that is, the first of every month on our calendar, for a feast. How wonderful community life would be! But a good thing is that I have many people to educate on the Baha’i faith around here.
What are some of your favorite things about being Baha’i?
My favorite thing about being a Baha’i is that I never have to say that I’m right and everyone else is wrong. My second favorite is that the Baha’i faith teaches that hell is a metaphor not a real place of torment.
Is there anything else you think is important for us to know about the Baha’i faith?
The Baha’i houses of worship (one on every continent!) are open to members of all faiths. I very much recommend visiting one! I adore the House of Worship in Chile.
1. For more about the Jewish concept of resurrection of the dead, see “The Vagueries of the Jewish Afterlife.“”↩
2. “Allahu’Abha” is the traditional Baha’i greeting that means “God is the most glorious.” It can be compared to Islam’s “Allahu’Akbar.”↩
Do you belong to a lesser-known faith, or a smaller sect of one of the major religions? Want to share your unique perspective? Write us a guest letter of your own!
1 thought on “Guest Letter from Bobby: On the Baha’i Faith and Its Call for Religious Tolerance”
Dear Bobby – I literally knew nothing about Baha’i Faith, and I am very happy to discover it is such an open religion. Also, i am relieved that I am now less ignorant in a faith so widely spread…
I appreciate you reaching out and open about your faith. You look like a kind human being. Keep it up!