The Baha'i Faith
by Robert Pardon
Co-Founders: Mirza Ali Muhammad (Bab); Mirza Husayn Ali (Baha'u'llah).
Founding Date: 1844.
Official Publications: The American Baha'i, The Baha'i Newsreel,
Brilliant Star (for children), One Country, World Order.
Organizational Structure: Universal House of Justice (nine members)
administrates the Baha'i Faith internationally. National Spiritual Assemblies
(nine members) administrate national Baha'i concerns. Local Spiritual Assemblies
(nine members) administrate Baha'i concerns on a local level. All governing
bodies are elected democratically.
Sacred Scriptures: Over 100 volumes written by the Bab, Baha'u'llah
and Abdu'l Baha. Some of the most notable are: Selections From the Writings
of the Bab, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, Kitab-i-Aqdas (Most Holy Book), Kitab-i-Iqan
(Book of Certitude), Baha'i Prayers, Some Answered Questions.
Unique Terms: Most Great Peace, Manifestation, He-Whom-God-Will-Manifest,
The roots of the Baha'i faith lie in the Shi'ite sect of Islam
which was led by 12 successive Imams, descendants of Muhammad's son-in-law,
Ali. The 12th Imam, as a child, withdrew from society to escape assassination,
the inevitable fate of his 12 predecessors. He would make contact with
the faithful through "Gates," individuals through whom he would give his
In 1844, Mirza Ali Muhammad (1819-1850) declared himself to be the "Gate,"
the "Bab" (pronounced Bob). He claimed he was not just a "Gate," but rather
the "Gate" of God, a major Manifestation of God equal to the prophet Muhammad.
For six years he gathered the faithful around him, proclaimed a new revelation
and the eventual appearance of the final Manifestation for this cycle of
human history. After numerous armed conflicts with Muslim authorities,
the Bab was martyred in 1850 and his followers scattered.
Before his death the Bab designated Mirza Yahya, a son of nobility,
as a caretaker to follow him. Another devoted follower of the Bab, Yahya's
half brother Mirza Husayn Ali, proclaimed himself to be "He-Whom-God-Will-Manifest,"
the major Manifestation of God prophesied by the Bab. He also changed his
name to Baha'u'llah, "Glory of God," and proclaimed that the Bab
was his forerunner. Mirza Yahya strenuously opposed this and both sides
appear to have been involved in assassination plots.
The original followers of the Bab who gave their allegiance to Baha'u'llah
became known as Baha'is. Baha'u'llah, a dynamic personality with great
force of will, wrote over 100 volumes of Baha'i scripture, entertained
dignitaries and maintained a large correspondence while under virtual house
arrest for decades.
A troubled period of transition followed Baha'u'llah's death in 1892.
He had designated his eldest son, Abdu'l' Baha ("Slave of Baha"),
as his successor. Abdu'l' Baha's brother, Mirza Muhammad Ali, challenged
the extent of his authority. Abdu'l' Baha retaliated by "excommunicating"
practically all his closest relatives and depriving them of their income
from Baha'u'llah's estate.
The Baha'i Faith became worldwide under Abdu'l' Baha's leadership, and
his mission trips to the West. However, upon his death in 1921, the transition
of power was once again very troubled. Shoghi Effendi, Abdu'l' Baha's grandson,
was designated the successor, the First Guardian of the Faith. With this
position ".his decisions were absolute and final and his words authoritative"
(The Baha'i Faith: Its History and Teaching, p.251). This brought
him into conflict with other family members and he soon excommunicated
every living relative, including his own parents. However, under Shoghi
Effendi's administrative skills the Baha'i Faith continued to grow until
his death in 1957. He left no designated successor and the Faith is now
under the administration of the Universal House of Justice, a group of
nine people who are elected democratically and oversee the Cause internationally.
It is a daunting task to find a consistent, clear picture of Baha'i
origins. Baha'i historians and authorities have suppressed and denigrated
the earliest source materials and rewritten the early years of the Faith.
One of the earliest and most important historical documents of the time,
the Nuqtatu'l-Kaf, was written by the Babi, Mirza Jani. Jani personally
knew the Bab and died for the Babi faith in 1852. Thus, his history was
completed after the martyrdom of the Bab and before his own death. It clearly
states that the Bab declared Mirza Yahya as his successor while also presenting
Baha'u'llah in a favorable, though inferior position to his brother. Since
that time the Baha'is have strenuously suppressed this fact, publishing
histories more favorable to their position. The history above may vary
from official Baha'i versions but is consistent with original source materials.
If the history of the Baha'i Faith reveals anything it is that the ethical
injunctions of love and tolerance were not frequently applied at the highest
levels. The bitterness, rancor, assassinations and lack of forgiveness
amongst the very founders of this faith do not demonstrate the reality
of its ethical teachings.
Despite that fact, in just 150 years Baha'is have grown to more than
5 million worldwide in 233 countries and territories, with 1,700 Spiritual
Assemblies in the United States alone. New growth is occurring at the rate
of 5.5% a year worldwide. By comparison, Christianity
is expanding at a rate of 2.3% a year. Baha'u'llah's writings have been
translated into 802 languages.
Baha'i theology, like Baha'i history, is very difficult to state concisely.
The Faith is still relatively new, yet there are hundreds of volumes of
written material. Symbolic meaning abounds, and interpretation of many
points is in flux. However, in the broad sweep of doctrine many things
can be said.
God: The nature of God is completely unknowable. He is transcendent
to the point of total inaccessibility. Baha'u'llah spoke of God as, ".the
unknowable Essence,. immensely exalted beyond every human attribute. He
is, and hath ever been, veiled in the ancient mystery of His Essence, and
will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men"
(Gleanings From the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p.46-47).
So transcendent is God that while He is the creator of all things He
is not their cause. He simply eternally emanates all that exists. God by
definition is the static, changeless One, forever separated from relationship
with His created order.
Divine Manifestations: The figure of the Manifestation of God is, by
far, the most important figure and concept of the Baha'i Faith. The great
500,000 year cycle of human history which began with Adam has been dominated
by nine manifestations about whom we have historical knowledge. These are:
Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, the Bab,
and Baha'u'llah. True Manifestations are identified by various criteria,
the most important being: their very person as a self-validating truth,
their sinless state, scripture ("a Book") revealed through them, etc. Baha'u'llah
is the apex of all previous Manifestations, they being Prophets who prepared
the way for him. Thus, he is the Universal Manifestation for this cycle
of human history. Other Manifestations will come but will be governed by
the revelation of Baha'u'llah.
According to Baha'u'llah, God is so transcendent He could never incarnate.
Rather, His human Manifestations act as pure mirrors to reflect the attributes
of God into this temporal existence. The Primal Will, an eternal emanation
from God, is the transcendent life force animating all Manifestations.
These "reflections" of God are so pure and complete that, "Were any of
the all embracing Manifestations of God to declare: 'I am God,' He, verily,
speaketh the truth." (Gleanings From the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p.54).
Though each Manifestation is said to perfectly reflect the same divine
attributes, somehow each Manifestation is more perfect than the previous
one. He therefore has authority to displace the teachings of the previous
Manifestation, which have become distorted. Thus, Baha'i theology teaches
the "relativity of truth;" that the teachings of any particular Manifestation
are "absolute" only for his dispensation.
Manifestations function essentially as teachers, not as Saviors in the
Christian sense. Baha'i Faith views the human soul as essentially good.
Ignorance has clouded the soul and separated man from God. God intends
the human soul to achieve the perfection of its humanity by each person
coming under the "shadow of the True Educator (Manifestation) and [being]
rightly trained." (Some Answered Questions, p.236). Those lacking proper
education to escape darkness may change in the next life through prayer
Jesus Christ: Baha'u'llah states, "Know thou of a certainty that
the Unseen can in no wise incarnate His essence and reveal it unto men"
(Gleanings From the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p.49). Thus Jesus cannot be
an actual incarnation of God. Still, it is appropriate to say that Jesus
Christ is God but not that God is Jesus Christ. He is one of many Manifestations
sent by God to assist humanity in its spiritual evolution.
Christ's tomb is interpreted symbolically as the "tomb of unbelief."
Thomas seeing the risen Christ in John 20:28 is really only seeing the
"believers willing to suffer for Christ," (Preparing for a Baha'i/Christian
Dialogue: Understanding Christian Beliefs, p.142). Abdu'l Baha says the
resurrection, ".is a spiritual and divine fact, and not material." (Some
Answered Questions, p.104). The "raising of the body of Christ" was actually
the coming to life of Christ's teachings in the disciples, the restoration
of their beliefs and conviction. This is a critical Baha'i concept, as
a physical resurrection would elevate Jesus above the other Manifestations
by virtue of his victory over death.
God: If the essence of God eternally emanates all that exists, then
the material universe is co-eternal with Him and cannot logically be argued
to be truly separate from God. Baha'i scholars have admitted this tends
toward Monism (All is One). Baha'i scriptures affirming God's separateness
from creation are no solution; they only make Baha'i Faith self-contradictory.
The Bible clearly portrays God separate from His creation. Being the Changeless
One, eternally existent, He can create space and time without effecting
His essence (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 100:3; Isaiah 40:28; 42:5; 44:24; Colossians
1:15-17; Hebrews 1:2).
If God is utterly unknowable and incomprehensible, nothing truly can
be known about Him, not even by His prophets and divine Manifestations.
By contrast the God of the Bible reveals Himself (Hebrews 1:1-2), wants
to be known (Isaiah 45:22-25; Hosea 11:1-11), and invites relationship
(John 14:23; Rev. 3:20). He also makes false teaching about God evidence
of a false prophet, deserving punishment (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
Divine Manifestations: The infallible Center of the Covenant
(Abdu'l Baha) said that Confucius was a Manifestation (Promulgation of
Universal Peace, p.346). The infallible Guardian (Shoghi Effendi) states,
"Confucius was not a Prophet (Manifestation)" (Lights of Guiddance, p.349).
Both cannot be right. Likewise, it is logically incoherent to state infallibly
(i.e., as an absolute) that truth is relative, as Baha'u'llah does. This
statement is self-defeating, self-contradictory, and thus meaningless.
All the Manifestations are declared to be sinless by the Baha'i Faith.
Yet Muhammad is told in the Koran his sin will be forgiven by Allah (Sura
48:1-2). Nowhere does Baha'i theology adequately come to terms with the
nature and depravity of sin, nor the necessity, under justice, of its punishment.
The Baha'i Faith seeks to effect a moral transformation in man through
education and recognition of the Manifestation. It seeks to make bad men
good. Christianity seeks to make dead men live (John 10:10; Ephesians 2:1-6).
Shoghi Effendi writes, ".the great religions of the world are divine
in origin.they differ only in non-essential aspects of their doctrines"
(The Call to the Nations, p.xi). They should agree, then, regarding their
founder's teachings on the most foundational doctrine of God. They do not.
Either the Manifestations contradict each other (making discernment between
true and false Manifestations impossible), or the nature of God is contradictory
(an absurd impossibility), or, the Baha'i Faith is false.
Jesus Christ: Baha'is believe Baha'u'llah's teaching that 'God cannot
incarnate' is true "revealed word" simply because Baha'u'llah said it was.
This is circular reasoning, neither verifiable nor falsifiable, and of
According to the Bible, Christ is the outshining, the radiance of God's
glory, His very image - not simply a reflection (Heb.1:3). He existed as
God before taking on human flesh and living on earth (John 1:1-3, 14).
Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the
Father except through me" (John 14:6). His truth and salvation was not
for his time only, but for people of all times (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts
4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5; Philippians 2:6-11; Jude 3). Jesus resurrected physically
(John 20:17, 20, 27; Luke 24:15, 39-43), just as He promised (John 2:19-21).
The apostles proclaimed a physically risen Savior (Acts 2:24-32; 4:10;
17:31; Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Only the most extreme "spiritualizing"
of the clear intent of the text can render any other meaning.
Baha'i, by Francis Beckwith. Brief, yet remarkably thorough
treatment of the Baha'i Faith. Includes history, doctrine, and insights
on Baha'i misuse of the Bible. Softcover, 64 pages, footnotes, bibliography,
The Kingdom of the Cults, by Walter Martin. The classic
volume that set the standard in cult research and apologetics, updated
and revised. Chapter on Baha'i includes interview with a Baha'i teacher.
Hardcover, 544 pgs., footnotes, index, bibliography, $20.
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