The Bahá'í Faith is a religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh in 19th century Persia. Bahá'ís number around 6 million in more than 200 countries around the world.
According to Bahá'í teachings, religious history is seen as an evolving educational process for mankind, through God's messengers, which are termed Manifestations of God. Bahá'u'lláh is seen as the most recent, pivotal, but not final of these individuals. He claimed to be the expected redeemer and teacher prophesied in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions, and that his mission was to establish a firm basis for unity throughout the world, and inaugurate an age of peace and justice, which Bahá'ís expect will inevitably arise.
"Bahá'í" (/baˈha˝ʔi˝/) can be an adjective referring to the Bahá'í Faith, or the term for a follower of Bahá'u'lláh (Bahá'í is not a noun meaning the religion as a whole). The term comes from the Arabic word Bahá’ (بهاء), meaning "glory" or "splendor".
Three core principles of Bahá'í teachings are often referred to simply as: the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of mankind. Many Bahá'í beliefs and practices are rooted in these priorities; but taken alone these would be an over-simplification of Bahá'í teachings.
Bahá'ís believe in a single, imperishable God, the creator of all things, including all the creatures and forces in the universe. The existence of God is thought to be eternal, without a beginning or end, and is described as "a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty." Though inaccessible directly, God is nevertheless seen as conscious of his creation, with a will and purpose. Bahá'ís believe that God expresses this will in many ways, including through a series of divine messengers referred to as Manifestations of God or sometimes divine educators. In expressing God's intent, these manifestations are seen to establish religion in the world.
Bahá'í teachings state that God is too great for humans to fully comprehend, or to create a complete and accurate image. In the Bahá'í religion God is often referred to by titles (e.g. the All-Powerful, or the All-Loving), and there is a substantial emphasis on monotheism, rejecting such doctrines as the Trinity.
Bahá'í notions of progressive religious revelation result in their accepting the validity of most of the worlds' religions, whose founders and central figures are seen as Manifestations of God. These include, but are not limited to Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, and Buddha. Bahá'ís also believe that other religious figures, such as Adam, Noah, and Húd historically existed and were prophets of God. Religious history is interpreted as a series of dispensations, where each manifestation brings a somewhat broader and more advanced revelation, suited for the time and place in which it was expressed. Specific religious social teachings (e.g. the direction of prayer, or dietary restrictions) may be revoked by a subsequent manifestation so that a more appropriate requirement for the time and place may be established. Conversely, certain general principles (e.g. neighbourliness, or charity) are seen to be universal and consistent. Bahá'ís do not believe that this process of progressive revelation will end. They do, however, believe that it is cyclical. Bahá'ís do not expect a new manifestation of god to appear prior to 1000 years after Bahá'u'lláh's revelation.
Bahá'í beliefs are sometimes described as syncretic combinations of earlier religions' beliefs. Bahá'ís, however, assert that their religion is a distinct tradition with its own scriptures, teachings, laws, and history. Its cultural and religious debt to the Shi'a Islamic matrix in which it was founded is seen as analogous to the Jewish socio-religious context in which Christianity was established. Bahá'ís describe their faith as an independent world religion, differing from the other traditions only in its relative newness and in the appropriateness of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings to the modern context. Bahá'u'lláh is believed to fulfill the messianic expectations of these precursor faiths.
Bahá'ís believe that human beings have a "rational soul", and that this provides the species with a unique capacity to recognize God's station and humanity's relationship with its creator. Every human is seen to have a duty to recognize God through his messengers, and to conform to their teachings. Through recognition and obedience, service to fellow humans and regular prayer and spiritual practice, Bahá'ís believe that the soul becomes closer to God, the spiritual ideal in Bahá'í belief. When a human dies, the soul passes into the next world, where its spiritual development in the physical world becomes a basis for judgment and advancement in the spiritual world. Heaven and Hell are taught to be spiritual states of nearness or distance from God that describe relationships in this world and the next, and not physical places of reward and punishment achieved after death.
The Bahá'í writings emphasize the essential equality of human beings, and the abolition of prejudice. Humanity is seen as essentially one, though highly varied; its diversity of race and culture are seen as worthy of appreciation and tolerance. Doctrines of racism, nationalism, caste, and social class are seen as artificial impediments to unity. The Bahá'í teachings state that the unification of mankind is the paramount issue in the religious and political conditions of the present world.