Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Jerome Sahabandhu: My Neighbor from the Baha'i Faith

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, Mission Theologian in Residence at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Rev. Dr. Sahabandhu's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.


This year Global Ministries headquarters in Atlanta has continued to invite various religious leaders to offer interfaith seminars in our Mission Dialogue Forums. Mr. Harold Edwards, a long-time teacher and practitioner at the Bahá’í Unity Center in Decatur, Georgia was present at Global Ministries office on the August 22, 2018 to lead an educative session for our staff.

There are 6 million Bahá'ís in the world in 235 countries. Around 6,000 live in Britain, and 150,000 live in the US. Each year, around one million people visit the Bahá’í Shrine, terraces, and gardens on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel. In Iran, where the Bahá’í Faith originated, there are now about 300,000 Bahá’ís, constituting the largest religious minority in that country.

Foundation of the Faith
The Bahá’í faith is based on the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh (Glory of God). Bahá’u’lláh, who is seen as a manifestation of God, is the prophet founder of the Bahá’í faith. He was born in 1817 in Tehran, the capital of Persia (now Iran). His coming was heralded by another who was called the Bab. Abdu’l-Bahá, the son and successor of Bahá’u’lláh, was the interpreter of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings. Abdu’l-Bahá spread Bahá’í teachings in Europe and North America and established the world headquarters of the Bahá’í’ faith in Haifa, Israel. He developed Bahá’í ideas of social reform and international justice and expounded on Bahá’í beliefs through thousands of talks and letters. From 1921, Shoghi Effendi continued the work of Abdu’l-Bahá as head of the Bahá’í faith and developed the administrative structure which currently directs Bahá’ís. Shoghi Effendi was the great-grandson of Bahá’u’lláh.

Fundamental of Bahá’í Faith
Oneness of God - One of the fundamental teachings of the Bahá’í faith is the principle that the universe and all that is within it has been created by one God who has absolute control and knowledge over this creation. Human beings may call God by different names, but the Bahá’ís understand that all are speaking about the same unique being.

Oneness of religion - This fundamental teaching indicates that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin. From time to time in the history of humanity God has sent manifestations of God, who are principally the founders of the major revealed religions, to assist humanity in its collective evolution. These manifestations of God are the educators of humanity who, through their teachings and laws, establish social systems according to human beings’ level of maturity at the time. According to the principle of progressive revelation, Bahá’ís believe that when humanity reaches the next level of growth, God will send another manifestation to educate and guide humanity.

Oneness of humanity - This principle refers to the declaration that the entire human race is one unified species. It implies that everyone has the same basic God-given capacities which are, in essence, noble. The physical appearance of a human being does not make one ethnic group superior to another.

God’s Prophets
Bahá'ís believe that God's prophets or messengers (whom they call manifestations of God) provide the most complete knowledge of God available at their particular given time. The writings associated with these prophets are the means through which an individual can get a deeper knowledge of God. Bahá'ís believe that God reveals his divine purpose through his manifestations. Their writings give guidance for the spiritual progress of individuals and by doing so help to shape society. The Manifestations of God include Adam, Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, The Báb, Bahá'u'lláh.

Sacred Texts
The Bahá’í scriptures consist of the books, essays and letters written by the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and Abdu’l-Bahá. The Most Holy Book (Kitab-i-Aqdas) is the book of laws revealed by Bahá’u’lláh. Other well-known writings of Bahá’u’lláh are The Book of Certitude, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words, The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys.

Structure and Organization
The Bahá’í community has no clergy. Following an administrative framework set down by Bahá’u’lláh, the faith is organized around a set of elected governing councils which operate at the local, national and international levels. Election is by secret ballot. Election campaign is forbidden and there is no system of nominations. As the community grew the Bahá’í administrative institution was established. In 1963 the world governing body of the Bahá’í faith, the Universal House of Justice, was elected. The Universal House of Justice resides in Haifa, Israel and consists of nine members elected every five years from the Bahá’ís of the world through a democratic system.

Prayer Life
Prayer Daily private prayer is a religious obligation for all Bahá’ís from the age of 15. Bahá’ís must recite one of the three daily obligatory prayers in accordance with specific directions. The short obligatory prayer is recited once every 24 hours between noon and sunset. The medium obligatory prayer is recited three times a day, in the morning, at noon and in the evening. The long obligatory prayer is recited once every 24 hours at any time.

The Nineteen Day Feast
The Nineteen Day Feast is the monthly Bahá’í community meeting when followers get together to pray, discuss, consult on social issues and administrative matters, and plan social activities. The Feast is held every nineteen days in each Bahá’í community, usually on the first day of each Bahá’í month. The Nineteen Day Feast is the most important occasion for communication between Bahá’í administrative institutions and members of the faith.

Places of Worship
Most Bahá’í meetings occur in individuals’ homes, local Bahá’í centers or rented facilities. However, there are currently eight Bahá’í Houses of Worship in the world. Each House of Worship has its own distinctive design, but all Bahá’í Houses of Worship have nine sides and doors and a central dome. The number nine is significant in the Bahá’í faith. The Arabic word baha (splendor) has a numerical value of nine. Nine, as the highest single digit number, symbolizes completeness. For Bahá’ís, the number nine symbolizes completeness and fulfilment, concepts which they believe are embodied in their religion. The nine doors signify the faith’s openness to people of all religions.

Work for World Peace
Baha’is believe that peace is the result of determination and attitude. Before there can be world peace there must be a will among all nations to have peace on earth. This will come from spiritual and moral resources. War continues to be a terrible feature of modern times. All nations speak of the longing for peace, but they seem unable to achieve it. Baha’is identify the barriers to world peace as nationalism, racism, poverty, and religious strife. They believe that the Baha’i Faith offers a practical model for breaking down these barriers by working for universal humanity, harmony and justice.

Christian - Bahá’í Dialogue
From a conceptual level ‘Jesus the prophet’ and the ‘oneness of humanity’ offer good basis for dialogue. But I believe the most significant area of cooperation lies in our common challenge: the task of peace-making in the lager society as world faiths in building a better, more humane world and a sustainable environment for all living beings.

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