The Bahai faith is not a sect of Islam but is an offshoot of the Babi religion, a group in Persia that broke away from the Shia branch of Islam in 1844. The leader of the Babis was Mirza Ali Mohammad of Shiraz, who proclaimed himself the Bab (the gate) and the Imam-Mahdi (rightly guided leader) from the line of Muhammad peace be upon him. He was executed by the Persian authorities in 1850. In 1863 Mirza Hoseyn Ali Nuri, a prominent member of the Babi group, declared himself to be the person whom GOD will make manifest, whom the Bab had foretold. He also took the name Bahaullah (Glory of GOD) and formed a new religion, the Bahai faith.
Bahaullah was banished from Persia and was eventually imprisoned in Akka-Palestine. There he wrote his main work, al-kitab al-aqdas (The Most Holy Book), and developed the doctrine of the Baha’i faith into a comprehensive teaching. At Bahaullah’s death, the leadership of the fledgling religion passed to his son Abdu’l Baha, then to his great grandson, Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, and in 1963 to an elected administrative body known as the Universal House of Justice.
Bahais believe that GOD has revealed Himself to man by means of Divine Manifestations, including Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab, and Bahaullah. They believe that these messengers were provided to guide mankind through an evolutionary process in which the appearance of the Bab initiated a new age for mankind. The Baha’is say that to date this message is the fullest revelation of GOD’s will and that it is the primary GOD given instrument that will make world unity possible.
One of the basic precepts of Baha’is is that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony. They differ only in their nonessential aspects of their doctrines.
Baha’is beliefs include the oneness of GOD, the soul’s immortality, and the evolution (biological, spiritual, and social) of mankind. On the other hand, they reject the common concept of angels. They also reject the Trinity, and the reincarnation teaching of Hinduism.
The brotherhood of man and equality of women are major features of Bahai belief. Bahais practice monogamy. At least once a day, they pray any one of three prayers revealed by Baha’u’llah. They practice fasting from sunrise to sunset during the 19 days of Baha’i month of Ala, which falls in March. The Bahai calendar consists of 19 months , each having 19 days.
The Bahai faith does not have many set rituals, nor does it have clergy. Any who profess faith in Baha’u’llah and accept his teachings may be enrolled as members. They meet for worship on the first day of every Bahai month.
The Baha’is see themselves as having the mission of the spiritual conquest of the planet. They try to spread their faith through conversation, example, participation in community projects, and information campaigns. They believe in absolute obedience to the laws of the country in which they reside, and though they vote, they abstain from participation in politics. They prefer non-combatant duty in the armed forces when possible but are not conscientious objectors.
As a missionary religion, Bahai has experienced rapid growth in the last few years. The Bahais estimate that there are nearly 5 million believers worldwide, though actual adult enrollment in the faith is presently about almost half of the number of believers.