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Journalists Guide to the Bah Faith

National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahs of the UK


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R e g i s t e r e d w i t h t h e S c o t t i s h C h a r i t y R e g u l a t o r ( S C 0 4 1 6 7 3 )
T h e A s s e m b l y a l s o r e p r e s e n t s t h e B a h c o m m u n i t i e s o f t h e I s l e
o f M a n a n d t h e C h a n n e l I s l a n d s

A Journalists Guide to the Bah Faith
Produced by the Centre for Faith and the Media of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Adapted for UK journalists by the Bah Community of the United Kingdom

A Journalists Guide to the Bah Faith


Produced by Adapted by
Centre for Faith and the Media Bah Community of the UK
P.O. Box 5694, Station A 27 Rutland Gate
Calgary, T2H 1Y1, Canada London, SW7 1PD, UK
+1 877 210 0077 Telephone: +44 (0)20 7584 2566
info@faithandmedia.org oea@bahai.org.uk
www.faithandmedia.org www.bahai.org.uk

Quick Facts
The Bahai Faith (incorrectly called Bahaism) is an independent world religion founded in
Persia (now Iran) in 1844. It has been described as the youngest of the worlds major
religions.

The word Bahai is used as an adjective, e.g. the Bahai Faith, or the Bahai
community. However, in reference to people, it can be used as either an adjective or
noun, e.g. he is a Bahai, or the Bahai speaker. The plural is formed by adding an s,
e.g. the Bahais of London. Spelling the word with acute accents over the second a and
i (Bah) is correct but not strictly required.

It is not a sect or branch of Islam.

According to membership lists of the national Bah community, there are between
5,000 and 6,000 Bahs in the United Kingdom.

The Bahai Faith arose from the Babi Faith, founded by Siyyid Ali Muhammad. Born in
1819 he assumed the title of the Bab (the Gate) and proclaimed himself to be the
Promised One of Islam, the Qaim. The Bab also told of the imminent advent of another
prophet. The Bab was executed in 1850 in Tabriz.

In 1863 the founder of the Bahai Faith, Mirza Husayn- Ali, declared that he was the
prophet foretold by the Bab. He became known as Bahaullah (Glory of God).

Bahais believe in one God, and that Bahaullah, like his predecessor, the Bab, was one
in a succession of prophets, including Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and
Muhammad, serving the same God.

The religions central belief is the unity and equality of the human race.

There are roughly 5 million adherents in some 236 countries, making the Bahai Faith the
second most geographically widespread religion, after Christianity.

There is no clergy and only a minimum of ritual.

The religions global headquarters, the Bahai World Center, are located in Haifa, Israel.
It is home to the seat of the Universal House of Justice (the governing body of the
worldwide Bahai community), and the gold-domed Shrine of the Bab.

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Bahais and What They Believe

The faiths central theme is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come
for humanitys unification into one global society. Service to humanity and social and
economic justice are upheld as two of the highest ideals.

The Bahai Faith teaches that the goal of the unity of humankind can be achieved
through the following beliefs and principles:

The oneness of God


The oneness of religion
The oneness of humanity
Equality of men and women
Elimination of all forms of prejudice
World peace
Harmony of religion and science
The need for universal compulsory education
Obedience to government
Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty
Moderation in all things

Perhaps the most common and enduring misconception about the Bahai Faith is that it
is an offshoot or sect of Islam. A better understanding is the analogy that the Bahai Faith
is to Islam what Christianity is to Judaism. It is rooted in Islam but is a fully independent
religion.

Bahais believe that Bahaullah was the latest in a series of Gods messengers, including
Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha and Krishna, all of whom are embraced
as divinely inspired. While the core spiritual teachings of all religions are one, their
teachings represent progressive stages in the revelation of Gods will to humanity. Each
messenger brought social teachings specific to the time and place in which they
appeared.

The Bahai Faith is monotheistic and its deity is the Judeo-Christian- Islamic God. But in
the Bahai Faith, God is regarded as unknowable, indescribable and transcendent. Gods
attributes can be known through the teachings and lives of the messengers and prophets
of God.

The Bahai Faith teaches the oneness of God, the unity of all faiths, the inevitable
unification of humanity, and the harmony of all people.

Bahai teachings also centre on the harmony of religion and science, the equality of men
and women, the independent investigation of the truth, and universal education.

Bahais believe in an afterlife and therefore treat the body with great respect after death.

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Cremation is not permitted. Burial should take place within an hours journey of the place
of death.

Who was Bahaullah?

Bahaullah, whose name means The Glory of God in Arabic, was born in 1817 in
Tehran, Persia (now Iran). The son of a wealthy government minister and nobleman, his
given name was Mirza Husayn-Ali and his family could trace its ancestry back to the
great dynasties of Irans imperial past.

Choosing a life of religious devotion over that of a wealthy courtier, Bahaullah became
an early follower of the Babi Faith, whose leader, Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, was a merchant
from southern Iran who announced in 1844, after a series of revelations, that he was the
Bab, (Gate) and the Imam Mahdi (the 12th Imam) of Shia Islam, inaugurating a new
revelation from God.

The Bab was executed for heresy in 1850. Two years later, Bahaullah was imprisoned
in a dungeon known as the Black Pit of Tehran. There, he received several revelations
that gave him a premonition of his future role.

Exiled to Ottoman Iraq, he withdrew to the mountains of Kurdistan, where he lived for two
years. Returning to Baghdad in 1856, he soon became a leading figure among the Babis,
alarming the Iranian government, which exiled him to Istanbul. Just before he left, in
Baghdad in 1863, in a spot that came to be known to Bahais as the Garden of Ridvan
(Paradise), Bahaullah declared that he was He whom God shall manifest the one
foretold by the Bab.

He spent short periods of exile in Istanbul and Adrianople (1863-1868) before being sent
to the prison-city of Akka (Acre) in Ottoman Syria (now in Israel), where he lived out the
rest of his life in extended exile from 1868 to 1892. It was during this time that he wrote
many of the works that make up the Sacred Writings of the Bahai Faith.

Bahaullah died at Bahji, just north of Akka on May 29, 1892 and is buried there. His
shrine is today one of the focal points of the world Bahai community.

For almost 40 years, his teachings were shrouded in obscurity; today Bahaullah is
recognized by millions of followers around the world as the Manifestation of God, or
Divine Teacher, for this age.

A History of the Bah Community in the United Kingdom

The Times of London published an account of the new religion (founded in May 1844) on
1 November 1845. Irish physician Dr Cormick attended the Bb in Tabriz in July 1848. In
the 1870s Bahullh commented favourably on the British parliamentary system and
commended Queen Victoria for the ending of slavery by her government. And Cambridge

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University orientalist Edward Granville Browne was granted four interviews with
Bahullh, in the Holy Land, in April 1890.

Abdul-Bah visited Britain twice, in 1911 and again in 1912-13 and was knighted by the
British government in 1920. Shoghi Effendi was studying at Balliol College, Oxford, when
Abdul-Bah passed away in 1921; when he returned to Haifa from London he learned
that Abdul-Bah had appointed him Guardian of the Bah' Faith. Shoghi Effendi died in
London on 4 November 1957 and was laid to rest in the New Southgate Cemetery.

Early British Bahs

The first English Bah was Thomas Breakwell. He heard of the Bah' Faith in Paris in
1901, while on a vacation from the United States where he was working. After a
pilgrimage to Acre, he returned to Paris, where he died of tuberculosis in 1902.

The first people in England to become Bah's were Mary Virginia Thornburgh-Cropper
generally known as Minnie and her mother, Harriet Thornburgh. Both were Americans
living in London. In 1898 they were part of the first group of Western Bah pilgrims to
visit Abdul-Bah in the Holy Land. The pilgrimage was organised and largely funded by
their friend Phoebe Hearst, a wealthy American philanthropist who was herself a Bah.

Minnie Thornburgh-Cropper is considered to have been the first active Bah in England
and came to be seen as the mother of the British Bah community. She lived long
enough to serve on its first elected national governing council and carried out many
services during Abdul-Bahs visits to Britain. And though Minnie is remembered for so
many services to the early British Bah community, her mother Harriet was
posthumously honoured by Shoghi Effendi for her many services with the designation
Disciple of Abdul-Bah, thus ensuring she would not be forgotten.

The third of the three founders of the British Bah community, Miss Ethel Rosenberg,
was a professional miniature painter from Bath. She learned about the Bah Faith from
Harriet and Minnie and became a Bah' in about 1899. She served the Faith tirelessly
for the rest of her life. She learned Persian so that she could help Abdul-Bah (and later
Shoghi Effendi) with translations of the Bah Writings into English. She also wrote
introductions to the Faith.

The Bah community grew very slowly at first, but its growth accelerated when Sara,
Lady Blomfield, widow of the distinguished architect Sir Arthur Blomfield, became a
Bah in 1907. Lady Blomfield was a capable and inspiring organiser after the First
World War she co-founded Save the Children with Eglantyne Jebb. She became an
active Bah and, because of her high social standing and hard work, raised the status
of the British Bah community.

A small group of Bahs formed in London around Lady Blomfield.

Another group formed and became active in Manchester. Sarah Ann Ridgeway, a silk-
weaver from Pendleton, became a Bah in the United States in 1898 and contacted the
Bahs in London after her return to England in 1906.

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Sarah, together with a handful of others, became the core of a growing group of Bahs
in the Manchester area.

Another Bah group formed in Bournemouth where Dr. John E. Esslemont , the medical
superintendent of a tuberculosis clinic, became a Bah' in 1915. With assistance from
Florence George of London, friends, colleagues, and former patients of Dr. Esslemont
formed the Bournemouth group. When Dr Esslemont died in 1925, Shoghi Effendi
recognised him as an outstanding and senior figure in the Bah community.

Abdul-Bahs visits

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Abdul-Bahs visits to Britain. The early


Bahs in the West had little access to Bah scriptures or other literature. They
depended on word-of-mouth teaching by Bahs who had themselves been taught by
Middle Eastern Bahs sent by Abdul-Bah to the United States. Some teachings were
naturally lost in translation. Direct contact with Abdul-Bah, Bahullhs eldest son and
appointed Interpreter, was the only way these believers could gain a proper
understanding of the Bah teachings and cement their loyalty to the Bah community.

Abdul-Bah was in England from 3 September to 3 October 1911. Aged 67, He gave
His first public address on 10 September. At the invitation of the Revd R J Campbell He
spoke from the pulpit of the City Temple on Holborn Viaduct in London. On 17
September He addressed the congregation of St Johns in Smith Square, Westminster,
where Archdeacon Wilberforce, Chaplain to the House of Commons and Archdeacon of
Westminster, walked arm in arm with Him along the aisle of the church. During this visit,
Abdul-Bah also spent two days in Bristol.

Abdul-Bah spent much of 1912 with the Bahs of North America and returned to
Britain late in the year. He landed in Liverpool on 13 December after crossing from New
York on the SS Celtic. He visited Liverpool, London, Edinburgh, Oxford where he gave
a talk in the library of Manchester College and Bristol, and left London for Paris on 21
January 1913. His visit produced unprecedented publicity for the Bah' Faith and a
number of important persons became friends and supporters of the Faith.

After Abdul-Bahs death in 1921, the Bah' Faith in the United Kingdom declined in
activities and numbers until the mid-1930s, when an influx of young Bahs revived the
community.

The Bah Journal was published for the first time in 1936 and Bah summer schools
became part of the communitys annual calendar, as did a winter conference. The
communitys national governing council, the National Spiritual Assembly, was legally
incorporated in 1939. And as a result of visits and moves by Bah teachers,
communities were established in other parts of the country.

Mark Tobey, an American artist who lived in Britain from 1930 to 1938, began to hold
Bah' study classes at Dartington Hall, a school in Devon. He also gave lectures in
Torquay. As a result of this activity two famous artists became Bah's: Bernard Leach,
the renowned potter, in about 1940; and Reginald Turvey, the spiritual father of South

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Africa in 1936.

In 1946 a major movement of Bahs took the Faith to Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and
a growing number of English cities and towns. By 1950 some 60 per cent of British
Bahs had relocated across the UK, to help spread the Bah teachings. After this
success, in 1950 Shoghi Effendi gave the British Bahs the task of coordinating the
introduction of the Faith across Africa. This historic initiative was the first plan to call for
international cooperation in the Bah world.

Scotland

Elizabeth Jane Whyte, wife of Revd Alexander Whyte, Moderator of the General
Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, visited Abdul-Bah in Akk in 1906. Abdul-
Bah stayed with the Whytes in during His visit to Edinburgh in 1913. Mrs Whyte was
probably the first native Scot to become a Bah. She held Bah meetings in her home
in Edinburgh and was, in later years, part of the London Bah community.

In the late 1940s, more Bahs moved to Edinburgh, together forming the Local Spiritual
Assembly. Since then, the Bah community has spread all over Scotland, including the
Western Isles, Orkney and the Shetland Islands.

The Bah community is now well established and accepted in Scotland. Bah prayers
have been read in the Scottish parliament on more than one occasion, and there has
been considerable support from parliamentarians and religious leaders for efforts by
Bahs in Scotland to draw attention to the suffering of the Bahs in Iran. Bahs are
also noted for their commitment to good inter-faith relations and dialogue in Scotland.

Northern Ireland

The Bah community in Northern Ireland began to form in the late 1940s, when a
number of Bahs moved into Belfast and the Local Spiritual Assembly was formed in
1949. Bah communities have since developed in many parts of Northern Ireland, and
the Bahs have taken active roles in public affairs, including advocacy for gender
equality and efforts to bring about reconciliation and peace. Bahs have played a key
role in the improvement of inter-faith relations and dialogue in Northern Ireland.

Wales

As in Northern Ireland and Scotland, it was the late 1940s before the first Local Spiritual
Assembly was established in Cardiff. 1961 saw the formation in Pontypridd of the first
Local Spiritual Assembly, entirely of native Welsh Bahs. Some Bah prayers have
been translated into Welsh and some Bah literature has been published in Welsh. The
Bahs in Wales have also been dedicated workers for inter-faith relations. The greatest
concentration of Bahs is in South Wales, and there are smaller communities in North
Wales and other parts of the Principality.

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Engagement with wider society

Although the UK Bah community is still relatively small in numbers, it is increasingly


able to engage with society and has achieved an important degree of formal and informal
recognition.

The National Spiritual Assembly was first incorporated as an Unlimited Company in


1939. Its corporate status was later amended and it is currently a Company Limited by
Guarantee. It is also formally registered as a Charity.

Bahs in Northern Ireland and Scotland are able to have their marriages solemnised by
Bah marriage officers, appointed by the respective Bah Council. However, despite
efforts by the National Assembly to the contrary, Bahs in England and Wales must still
have separate civil and religious ceremonies.

The Bah community has been increasingly accepted by government and by non-
governmental organisations as a legitimate voice in matters of public policy. Sterling
efforts at the national level by a number of Bahs, in the years after the Second World
War, laid the foundations for the emergence of the community from obscurity. These
efforts have become professional in recent years. The National Spiritual Assembly
operates an Office of External Affairs, for relations with government and
parliamentarians, the media, and non-governmental organisations. The Office was
initially formed to address the urgent need to defend the human rights of the Bahs in
Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran.

The National Assembly has a long-standing relationship with the Foreign &
Commonwealth Office, whose support for the Bahs in Iran has been crucial. Relations
with other government departments, such as the Home Office and the Department for
Communities & Local Government, have benefited from the increasing prominence of
religion in the public sphere and from successive governments interest in consulting faith
communities in the UK.

Public evidence of this was seen in the Millennium year. The Bah community was one
of the nine faith communities to play a significant part at an official celebration of the
Millennium in the House of Lords on 3 January 2000. The Bah Faith thereafter was
accepted as one of nine major faith communities to be included in the governments
interactions with the voluntary, community and faith sector, its public policy consultations,
and at State and Royal events.

In 2000 the Office of External Affairs launched the All Party Parliamentary Friends of the
Bahs, an all-party group of MPs and Peers who wish to support efforts made to defend
the rights of the Bahs in Iran, or who are sympathetic with Bah principles. The all-
party group plays a crucial role in ensuring that the situation of the Bahs in Iran is
raised in Early Day Motions, Parliamentary Questions and relevant debates.

Londons position as a global media hub, and the UKs high profile in global diplomacy,
has enabled the UK Bah community to play a leading role in raising awareness,
around the world, of the persecution of the Bahs in Iran.

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Bahs have played and continue to play significant roles in a number of areas of public
life, including the advancement of women, human rights, social cohesion, and education.
Individual Bahs have become eminent practitioners in a range of professional fields,
such as the arts, medicine and science. And the community as a whole is dedicated to
providing an environment in which women, men and children from different strata of
society can find ways of flourishing.

Inter-faith relations

One of the key contributions the UK Bah community has made to life in Britain over the
last century has been its dedication to the growing inter-faith movement.

The Bah Faith was represented at the conference on Living Religions within the British
Empire that took place during the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924. In July
1936, Viscount Samuel, British High Commissioner for Palestine, presided over a Bah'
session at the World Congress of Faiths, held at University College London. Canon
George Townshend presented a paper at the Congress on behalf of Shoghi Effendi.

In more recent years, the Bah community has been a founding member of the Inter-
Faith Network for the UK, the Faith Based Regeneration Network, and the Multi Faith
Group for Healthcare Chaplaincy. Individual Bahs are also members of the World
Congress of Faiths and are involved in activities at the St Ethelburgas Centre for
Reconciliation and Peace in the City of London. The Bah community also works with
inter-faith partners in local communities across the UK.

Friends in Parliament

The UK Parliament allows for the creation of all-party groups of parliamentarians with
particular interests. These All-Party Groups (APGs) must be registered with the
Parliamentary authorities and cover a wide range of subjects.

The All-Party Parliamentary Friends of the Bahs (details are on the Register of All-
Party Groups) has been active since 1999, working alongside the Bah community,
principally in the context of the international efforts to emancipate the Bah community
in Iran.

Non-partisanship

Non-involvement in party politics is a fundamental Bah principle. In practical terms, this


means that Bahs must work in a strictly non-partisan manner in the political world. The
All-Party Group, which by its constitution must contain minimum numbers of members
from different political parties, is an ideal vehicle through which the Bah community
can engage with Parliament and Government on issues of concern.

Defending the Bahs in Iran

The current membership of the Bah APG consists of over 45 MPs and Peers from five
different political parties. The Bah community is deeply grateful to members of the

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group, who take action to defend the Bah community in Iran from persecution by
raising this issue through Parliamentary Questions, Early Day Motions and Adjournment
Debates as well as private correspondence and meetings with Ministers and civil
servants.

The All Party Group also provides a forum for Parliamentarians to learn more about the
beliefs, the history and the activities of the Bah faith and what the Bah community of
the UK are doing to contribute towards the advancement of society.

Bahullhs words on parliamentary democracy

Parliamentary democracy, as a system of governance, enjoys a unique status in the


Bah Writings. In an epistle to Queen Victoria in 1870 Bahullh praises the Queen for
the British governments abolition of the slave trade and goes on to endorse the system
of governance.

We have also heard that thou hast entrusted the reins of counsel into the hands
of the representatives of the people. Thou, indeed, hast done well for thereby the
edifice of thine affairs will be strengthened

Bahullh called on elected representatives to have the interests of the whole of


humankind at heart and to act ethically. He also includes a prayer for parliamentarians.

It behoveth them, however, to be trustworthy among His servants, and to regard


themselves as the representatives of all that dwell on earth And if any one of
them directeth himself towards the Assembly, let him turn his eyes unto the
Supreme Horizon, and say: O my God! I ask The, by Thy most glorious Name,
to aid me in that which will cause the affairs of Thy servants to flourish, and Thy
cities to flourish. Thou, indeed, has power over all things!

Other contributions

Bahs in the UK are proud of their heritage as a mother community for national Bah
communities in a number of African countries, as well as in Guyana, Cyprus and the
Republic of Ireland. Many UK Bahs have travelled to countries with challenging
climates, cultures or political and religious regimes, to teach their Faith to others.

British-born and British-resident Bahs have made other important contributions to the
development of the global Bah community. Four members of the British community
were nominated, by Shoghi Effendi, as outstanding and senior members of the Bah
community. In the 1990s, young Bahs from the UK helped establish Bah
communities in the former Soviet bloc. Bahs from the United Kingdom are estimated to
have settled in 138 countries between 1951 and 1993. And they are still travelling to
many countries to support the community-building efforts of local Bahs.

The writing, publication and distribution of Bah literature has been an important part of
community life since the late 1930s. The Bah Publishing Trust now Bah Books UK
was set up in 1939 as an arm of the National Spiritual Assembly. A number of

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independent publishers which either focus on publishing books about the Bah Faith or
include Bah-related titles in their lists are also based in the UK. These include George
Ronald, established in 1943, Oneworld Publications, established in Oxford in 1986, and
academic publisher Intellect Books.

Some Key Dates

November 12, 1817: Birth of Bahaullah

October 20, 1819: Birth of the Bab

May 23, 1844: Declaration of the Bab in Shiraz, Iran.

July 9, 1850: Martyrdom of the Bab in Tabriz, Iran.

1852: While imprisoned for four months in an underground dungeon in Tehran,


Bahaullah receives the first intimations that he is the prophet foretold by the Bab.

January 12, 1853: Exile of Bahaullah from Tehran to Baghdad.

April 21-May 2, 1863: Declaration of Bahaullah in the Garden of Ridvan in Baghdad on


the eve of his exile to Constantinople.

August 31, 1868: Arrival of Bahaullah into the prison-city of Acre in the Holy Land.

May 29, 1892: Ascension of Bahaullah.

1893: First newspaper mention of the Bahai Faith in United States.

1898: First pilgrimage by Western believers to the Holy Land, where they visited with
Abdul-Baha in prison.

September, 1908: Abdul-Baha is released from exile and imprisonment at the age of 64.

April-December 1912: Travels of Abdul-Baha in North America.

1914-1918, World War I: Abdul-Baha writes the Tablets of the Divine Plan.

April 27, 1920: Abdul-Baha is knighted by the British Empire for his humanitarian work
during World War I.

November 28, 1921: Ascension of Abdul-Baha in Haifa.

1944: Publication of God Passes By written by Shoghi Effendi.

1951: Eleven functioning National Spiritual Assemblies.

1951-1957: Appointment of 32 Hands of the Cause of God by Shoghi Effendi.

November 1957: Passing of Shoghi Effendi.

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1957-April 1963: Faith is guided by 27 remaining Hands of the Cause.

April 1963: Election, by secret, democratic ballot, of the first Universal House of Justice,
now head of the Bahai Faith worldwide, by representatives of 56 National Spiritual
Assemblies gathered in Haifa.

1979: Revolution in Iran brings to power a hard-line Islamic government; crackdown


against Bahais begins, resulting in on-going human rights violations.

Holy Days

There are eleven holy days on the Bahai calendar, which is divided into 19 months of 19
days each per year. On these days, Bahais are urged to suspend work and school, and
spend the day with family and community. The remaining four intercalary days (five in a
leap year), called Ayyam-i-Ha, are set aside for visits and gift-giving.

The 9 holy days when work should be suspended are:

March 21, New Year (the vernal equinox, known as Naw-Ruz).


April 21, First Day of Ridvan
April 29, Ninth Day of Ridvan
May 2, Twelfth Day of Ridvan
May 23, Declaration of the Bab
May 29, Ascension (Death) of Bahaullah
July 9, Martyrdom of the Bab
October 20, Birth of the Bab
November 12, Birth of Bahaullah

The Ridvan festival (April 21-May 2) marks the anniversary of Bahaullahs first
declaration of his mission in 1863.

The other 2 holy days are considered minor holidays when work is not suspended:

Day of the Covenant: November 26


Passing of Abdul-Baha: November 28

Special Observances

Bahai Fast

Bahais over the age of 15 fast for 19 days from sunrise to sunset. The fast period begins
at sunrise March 2 and extends until sunset March 20. This is a period of meditation and
prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the
necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate spiritual forces.
Fasting is seen as a reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires. Bahaullah
considered fasting, like obligatory prayer, as among the greatest of spiritual obligations.

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Children, expectant and nursing mothers, the sick, the elderly, travellers, persons
engaged in heavy labour and menstruating women are exempt from fasting.

Nineteen Day Feast

A three-part gathering held every 19 days, on the first day of each Bahai month. All
Bahais are encouraged to attend. The Feast always contains three elements: spiritual
devotion, administrative consultation, and social fellowship.

Devotional Life and Prayer

The Bahai Faith places great importance on an individuals relationship with God, but not
on formal ritual. Bahais have no priesthood or clergy, no initiation ceremonies, no
sacraments, and no worship rituals.

At the centre of Bahai community life are four core activities. Study circles are small
informal groups that get together to study spiritual and moral principles, learning how to
apply them to daily life. Devotional gatherings, like study circles, are informal, open to
anyone, and often take place in peoples homes. The gatherings allow friends to pray
and meditate together on the scriptures of the Bahai Faith and other religions. Childrens
classes provide an opportunity for the spiritual education and moral development of
children. Programs for junior youth are a fourth core activity to which the Bahai
community is dedicated.

Every Bahai is obliged to pray daily, read the sacred writings each morning and evening,
perform a pilgrimage once in their life if they are able to afford it, and support their faith
with material offerings. Bahaullah wrote hundreds of prayers for general use, healing,
spiritual growth, facing difficulties, marriage, community life, and humanity.

He also asked his followers to choose one of three obligatory prayers, said facing the
Qiblih (the shrine of Bahaullah at Bahji in present day Israel) for recitation each day.
The shortest of these prayers is just three sentences long.

I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to
worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to
my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in
Peril, the Self-Subsisting.

In addition to daily prayer, Bahaullah urged His followers to reflect at the end of each
day on their deeds and worth. Every Bahai is free to choose his or her own meditational
form.

Morality

The Bahai perspective on moral issues reflects to some extent moral understandings
and practices that have long been associated with the great religious traditions of the
world. Rejecting a moral relativism, Bahais do feel that the emergence in the modern era
of human rights and other moral ideals that embrace inclusive notions of society while

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A Journalists Guide to the Bah Faith
Produced by the Centre for Faith and the Media of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Adapted for UK journalists by the Bah Community of the United Kingdom

respecting the autonomy of the individual is also essential to a moral understanding that
is both progressive and universal. Among other moral dictums, the Bahai Faith
specifically forbids lying, promiscuity, gambling, gossip and backbiting while upholding
the virtues of honesty, trustworthiness, courage and compassion.

There are no dietary restrictions, but Bahais may not consume alcohol or abuse drugs.

Matrimony is considered a holy state. Marriage requires the consent of both parties and
their parents. Couples must remain chaste before marriage and be faithful to each other
in marriage.

Soliciting of funds from individuals is strictly prohibited, and Bahai institutions are
forbidden to accept contributions from people who are not Bahai.

Sacred Texts

There is no single, authoritative Bahai scripture, but Bahais accept as sacred all the
writings of Bahaullah, and adhere to the interpretation of those writings by his appointed
successors, Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. Bahaullahs writings are considered
divinely inspired, and are believed to contain Gods revelation for the present age.

Only a portion of Bahaullahs writings have been translated into English from the original
Persian and Arabic.

The seminal text is considered to be the Most Holy Book (Kitab-i-Aqdas) for its summary
of Bahai laws. It was revealed during his imprisonment in Akka.

Other texts include The Book of Certitude (Kitab-i-Iqan, 1862), which gives a clear
account of Bahaullahs main teachings and deals with the great questions that have
always lain at the heart of religious life: God, the nature of humanity, the purpose of life,
and the function of Revelation.

The Hidden Words is a collection of poetic statements containing religious and ethical
injunctions.

The Seven Valleys is a mystical work describing the stages of spiritual growth.

Scriptures of any of the worlds great religions may be read in prayer and contemplation.

The quantity of writings produced by Bahaullah is vast. Bahaullah himself estimated


that his collected works would amount to more than 100 volumes if all were bound in a
series of books.

Houses of Worship

Bahai Houses of Worship are few - there are only seven around the world. All are open
to all people. A nine-sided structure and central dome, common to all of them, symbolize
both the diversity of the human race and its essential oneness.

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A Journalists Guide to the Bah Faith
Produced by the Centre for Faith and the Media of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Adapted for UK journalists by the Bah Community of the United Kingdom

As well, Bahai Houses of Worship are known for their elaborate and lush gardens.

There is at least one House of Worship on each of the inhabited continents:

Wilmette, Illinois, U.S.A.


Frankfurt, Germany
Kampala, Uganda
Sydney, Australia
Panama City, Panama
Apia, Samoa
New Delhi, India

A new House of Worship for South America is being built in Santiago, Chile.

There are currently many other sites set aside around the world for future Houses of
Worship, but local Bahai communities tend to emphasize developing the social and
spiritual institutions of communal life rather than the construction of physical buildings.

Apart from these major centres, Bahai communities commonly have no specific places
of worship and often meet in members homes or in local community centres.

Succession, Structure and Governance

After Bahaullah died, leadership was passed to his son Abdul-Baha (1844-1921, born
Abbas Effendi and known to Bahais as the Master) who interpreted much of his fathers
writings. He is responsible for bringing the Bahai Faith to North America.

Abdul-Baha was succeeded by his grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957) who became
the Guardian of the Bahai Faith. Six years after his death, the first Bahai Universal
House of Justice was elected to serve as the head of the Bahai Faith. It has since been
the governing body of the Bahai world community. The Universal House of Justice is a
nine-person council that applies the laws of Bahaullah and is made up of elected
representatives.

There is no priesthood or clergy as such. Nine elected members of the community form a
Local Spiritual Assembly for the area. While responsible for promoting the faith, the
assembly has largely administrative duties and serves as liaison with the National
Spiritual Assembly.

All of these councils use a method of decision-making called consultation. It is a non-


adversarial method of group discussion and decision-making that relies on building
consensus and on the unity of decision and action in the group and community.

National Spiritual Assemblies are elected by delegates, who are themselves elected at
the local level. They are responsible for promoting the faith, stimulating and coordinating
activities of Local Assemblies, and communicating with the Bahai World Centre in Haifa,
Israel.

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A Journalists Guide to the Bah Faith
Produced by the Centre for Faith and the Media of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Adapted for UK journalists by the Bah Community of the United Kingdom

The Bahai World Centre consists of:

the Shrine of Bahaullah, the Bab and Abdul-Baha


holy sites associated with the lives of Bahaullah and Abdul-Baha
the seat of the Universal House of Justice
the International Teaching Centre
the International Archives Building
the Centre for the Study of the Texts

The Persecution of Bahais

Numbering 300,000, Bahais form the largest religious minority in Iran and have endured
severe persecution over many years. The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran
has condemned the religion as heresy.

According to the Bahai International Community office at the United Nations, between
1978 and 1998, the Iranian government executed more than 200 Bahais. Hundreds
more were subjected to arrest and imprisonment, and tens of thousands were deprived
of jobs, pensions, businesses, and educational opportunities.

International human rights agencies report that on-going violations include the
confiscation and destruction of Bahai holy places, seizure of assets, and the
harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention of individuals.

In December, 2005, for the 18th time since 1985, the United Nations General Assembly
passed a resolution put forward by Canada expressing serious concern over the human
rights situation in Iran, making specific mention of the persecution of the Bahai
community there.

The resolution noted the escalation and increased frequency of discrimination and other
human rights violations against the Bahai, including cases of arbitrary arrest and
detention, the denial of freedom of religion or of publicly carrying out communal affairs,
the disregard of property rights, the destruction of sites of religious importance, the
suspension of social, educational and community- related activities and the denial of
access to higher education, employment, pensions, adequate housing and other
benefits...

In March 2006, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion released information


about a confidential letter sent on 29 October 2005 by the Chairman of the Command
Headquarters of the Armed Forces in Iran to a number of governmental agencies
including the Ministry of Information, the Revolutionary Guard and the Police Force. It
stated that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, had instructed the Command
Headquarters to identify persons who adhere to the Bahai faith and monitor their
activities. The letter requested the recipients to collect any and all information about
members of the Bahai faith. This ominous news came in the wake of mounting media
attacks on the Bahais by government sponsored media. More Bahais were arrested in

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A Journalists Guide to the Bah Faith
Produced by the Centre for Faith and the Media of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Adapted for UK journalists by the Bah Community of the United Kingdom

2006, including 54 young people in Shiraz in May. The UN Special Rapporteur on


housing also issued a report in June 2006 indicating that more than 640 Bahai
properties had been seized since 1980. By July 2006 more than 125 Iranian Bahais
were awaiting trial, many without formal charges, solely because of their beliefs.

Contacts & Locations

The national website of the Bahs of the United Kingdom can be seen at
http://www.bahai.org.uk

There are two important Bah locations in London: Shoghi Effendis resting place and
the National Bah Centre.

Shoghi Effendis resting place

Shoghi Effendi was Guardian of the Bah Faith from 1921 until his death in London in
November 1957.

As Guardian, Shoghi Effendi was the authorised expounder and interpreter of the Bah
holy texts. He guided the development of Bah communities throughout the world; he
personally directed the laying out of the Bah gardens; and he oversaw the design and
construction of the first two substantial Bah buildings on Mt Carmel, the internationally
renowned Shrine of the Bb and the International Bah Archives.

Connections with Britain

Shoghi Effendi had close ties to Britain. He studied at Balliol College, Oxford, where he
mastered English and added it to his other languages, Persian, Turkish, Arabic and
French.

Shoghi Effendi translated many passages of Bah scripture into peerless English. He
also chose to write his commentaries, expositions and histories of the Bah Faith in
English. His output of writing alone would have constituted a lifetimes work for most
authors.

Passing & funeral

Shoghi Effendi passed away in London in 1957. His death at the age 60 came as a huge
shock to the Bahs worldwide. He had been head of their community for 36 years.

Thousands of Bahs attended the funeral. The British Bah community came en
masse, as did Bahs from many other countries.

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A Journalists Guide to the Bah Faith
Produced by the Centre for Faith and the Media of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Adapted for UK journalists by the Bah Community of the United Kingdom

Resting place

His resting place is in the New Southgate Cemetery, Brunswick Park Road, New
Southgate, London N11 1JJ (in north London). It is a special place of prayer for Bahs
from all over the world.

UK National Bah Centre

The United Kingdoms National Bah Centre is situated at 27 Rutland Gate, London
SW7 1PD. The building is significant for Bahs not only because of its obvious
administrative functions but also because it was the place from where the Guardians
funeral cortege departed in 1957.

What goes on at the Bah Centre?

The building serves a number of purposes:

it is the seat of the National Spiritual Assembly, the communitys national


governing council
the National Assemblys administrative offices are housed here
meetings of many different kinds arranged by Bah agencies and by other
organisations take place and can accommodate up to 40 people
a well-stocked bookshop serves the needs of all those who would like to
purchase a wide range of Bah literature

Although one of the rooms is designated as a worship room, the Bah Centre is not a
place of worship nor is it generally a place where Bahs come together for community
activities. Most Bah activities take place in localities and neighbourhoods.

The Bah Centre is open to visitors on weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The building is open on Sundays from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., except when the National
Spiritual Assembly is meeting. Telephone the Centre for further information.

The closest Tube station is Knightsbridge on the Piccadilly Line (which connects
Heathrow Airport with Arnos Grove, the closest station to Shoghi Effendis resting place.

Bus routes 9, 10 and 52 also pass Rutland Gate.

Getting in touch

The telephone number for the Centre is 020 7584 2566 from within the UK and +44 20
7584 2566 if dialling from abroad.

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A Journalists Guide to the Bah Faith
Produced by the Centre for Faith and the Media of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Adapted for UK journalists by the Bah Community of the United Kingdom

Glossary

Abdul-Baha (Servant of Baha) (1844-1921): Eldest son of Bahaullah. Designated


by Bahaullah as the authorized interpreter of his fathers writings. Born Abbas Effendi;
also known as Centre of the Covenant, Most Mighty Branch, and the Master.

Ablutions: a ritual washing of hands and face Bahaullah required as part of the daily
obligatory prayer.

Administrative Order: all the institutions that administer the affairs of the Bahai Faith.
Created by Bahaullah and developed by Abdul-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal
House of Justice.

Akka: The one-time prison city in present day Israel where Bahaullah was kept for the
last 20 years of His life. He died while still a prisoner, and is buried on the outskirts of
Bahji. Also known as Acre and Akko.

Ascension of Abdul-Baha: November 28, a Holy Day when work is not suspended.

Ascension of Bahaullah: May 29th a Holy Day when work should be suspended.

Auxiliary Board: an appointed administrative body created by the Universal House of


Justice. Members are appointed on the basis of their wisdom, maturity, and experience
and act as advisors to Local Spiritual Assemblies and individuals in their areas. Assists
the work of the Continental Board of Counsellors.

Ayyam-i-Ha (The Days of H Ha is the Arabic letter H): a four day period (five in
leap year) of gift exchange. Also known and Intercalary Days (February 25-March 1)
immediately before the period of fasting.

Bab, the (the Gate): (1819-1850) Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, the Prophet-Founder of the
Babi Faith and Herald of the Bahai Faith. His ministry ended with his public execution
on July 9, 1850 in Tabriz, Persia.

Bahai Calendar: a solar calendar consisting of 19 months of 19 days, with four


intercalary days.

Bahai Era: The period since the declaration of the Bab until the next manifestation of
God.

Bahai World Centre: At Mount Carmel in Haifa (Acre) Israel. Home to the seat of the
Universal House of Justice, the Shrine of the Bab and other buildings. Also close to the
Shrine of Bahaullah.

Bahaullah (Glory of God): (1817-1892) Mirza Husayn-Ali, the Manifestation of God for
this day. He spread the message of unity and peace, and authored over 100 volumes to
form the core of the Bahai holy writings. He spent his 40-year ministry in prison and
exile.

Bahji: The area where Bahaullah spent his final years (1879-1892). Bahaullah is

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A Journalists Guide to the Bah Faith
Produced by the Centre for Faith and the Media of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Adapted for UK journalists by the Bah Community of the United Kingdom

buried in a shrine at Bahji, the holiest spot on Earth for Bahais.

Bayan (Book of Laws): The major work of the Bab.

Birth of the Bab: Oct. 20, a holy day when work should be suspended.

Birth of Bahaullah: Nov. 12, a holy day when work should be suspended.

Centre of the Covenant: a name given to Abdul-Baha.

Continental Board of Counsellors: An appointed administrative body created by the


Universal House of Justice. Members are appointed on the basis of wisdom, maturity,
and experience and primarily act as advisors to National Spiritual Assemblies in their
areas.

Covenant: an agreement between God and humanity. Bahais believe in two covenants:
The Greater Covenant is the belief that God will continue to send manifestations of the
divine to Earth. The Lesser Covenant is specific to the Bahai Faith and involves
Bahaullahs assurance that the unity of his followers will be maintained.

Dawn-Breakers: The account by Nabil-i-Zarandi of the life of the Bab and the
development of the Babi religion. It was edited and translated into English by Shoghi
Effendi in 1932.

Day of the Covenant: November 26, a holy day when work is not suspended; a
celebration of Abdul-Bahas unique position in the Bahai Faith.

Declaration Card: A card that is filled out by someone wanting to become a Bahai.
Though the true definition of a Bahai is anyone who believes in Bahaullah, signing a
declaration card is the formalization of that belief. The declaration then registers the new
Bahai as a voting member of his or her community.

Declaration of the Bab: May 23, a holy day when work should be suspended.

Deepening: Studying the holy writings and sometimes other religions as well.

Fast: Bahais fast for a period of 19 days starting March 2nd in the last month of the
Bahai calendar. During the fast, adult Bahais refrain from eating and drinking between
sunrise and sunset. Children, the elderly, pregnant and nursing mothers and the ill are
exempt.

Feast: The Bahai Feast is held every 19 days. The Feast consists of three portions:
devotional, administrative, and social.

Fireside: A small meeting held in someones home for the purpose of educating people
about various aspects of the Bahai faith. Non- Bahais are welcome.

The Guardian: Official title of Shoghi Effendi, the great-grandson of Abdul-Baha.

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A Journalists Guide to the Bah Faith
Produced by the Centre for Faith and the Media of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Adapted for UK journalists by the Bah Community of the United Kingdom

Haifa: The administrative centre of the Bahai Faith, located in Israel. This is also the
location of the resting place of the Bab.

Hands of the Cause of God: A designation given by Bahaullah, Abdul-Baha, and


Shoghi Effendi to some 43 individuals in the history of the Bahai Faith whose role has
been to inspire and enlighten Bahais in the application of the Faiths teachings in their
daily lives.

Hidden Words: A work composed by Bahaullah in 1858. It consists of 71 Arabic and 82


Persian sections. Each section consists of an aphorism on an ethical or spiritual topic.

Holy Days: See individual entries.

Holy Land: Refers to Israel, specifically the Haifa, Akka, Bahji area. It is considered holy
because it is home to the resting places of the Bab, Bahaullah, and Abdul-Baha.

Pioneer: A Bahai who leaves his or her home and takes up residence in another area to
spread Bahaullahs teaching.

Kitab-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book of Bahaullah. Composed around 1873 and
contains the main laws and ordinances of the Bahai faith.

Kitab-i-Iqan: (Book of Certitude): Composed around 1873 and contains the main laws
and ordinances of the Bahai faith. It consists of interpretation of biblical and Quranic
terms, images, and prophecies, and contains many ethical and spiritual exhortations.

Knight of Bahaullah: The first Bahai to travel to a country or territory.

Lesser Covenant: Bahaullahs agreement with his followers that in exchange for their
obedience to his laws and institutions, he will protect the unity of the religion.

Local Spiritual Assembly: Elected body that administers the local affairs of a Bahai
community.

Lote Tree: In the Writings of Bahaullah, the Lote Tree generally means the
Manifestation of God, which ordinary humans can never be.

Martyrdom of the Bab: July 9, a holy day when work should be suspended.

The Master: A title for Abdul-Baha, given to him by Bahaullah.

Manifestation of God: A term for the founders of the major world religions, who are
seen as messengers of divine revelation and examples of a divine life.

Mirza Husayn-Ali: The given name of Bahaullah.

Mona Mahmudnizhad: One of 10 young Bahai female martyrs who refused to recant
their faith in Shiraz, Iran on June 18, 1983.

Most Mighty Branch: One of the names given to Abdul-Baha.

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A Journalists Guide to the Bah Faith
Produced by the Centre for Faith and the Media of Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Adapted for UK journalists by the Bah Community of the United Kingdom

National Spiritual Assembly: The elected body that deals with the affairs of the Bahai
Faith at a national level.

Naw-Ruz (New Year): First day of the Bahai New Year, March 21, when work should be
suspended.

Obligatory Prayer: a special prayer required by religious law. Bahaullah specified three
obligatory prayers, one of which Bahais choose to recite each day.

Progressive Revelation: The Bahai belief that God has sent successive revelations in
order to uplift and educate humanity.

Qiblih: The Shrine of Bahaullah at Bahji; the direction in which Bahais turn when
reciting the obligatory prayer.

Regional Council: An elected body of nine Bahais who assist in the growth of the
community at a regional level. It lies between a Local Spiritual Assembly and the National
Spiritual Assembly.

Ridvan, Festival of (Paradise): Twelve-day festival celebrating Bahaullahs public


declaration of his mission. The first, ninth and twelfth days of Ridvan are holy days when
work should be suspended.

Secret of Divine Civilization: A work composed by Abdul-Baha in 1875 detailing the


role of religion in social reforms that Iran should implement in order to become a modern
nation. It serves as one of the Bahai Faiths major treatises on social reform.

Seven Valleys: A major mystical work composed by Bahaullah between 1856 and
1862.

Shoghi Effendi: (1896-1957) Great-grandson of Bahaullah, appointed by Abdul-Baha


as the Guardian of the Bahai Faith.

Shrine of the Bab: Shrine in which the Bab is buried, located on Mount Carmel in Haifa,
Israel.

Siyyid Ali-Muhammad: The given name of The Bab.

Tablet: A letter (epistle) written by the Bab, Bahaullah or Abdul-Baha.

Universal House of Justice: The supreme administrative institution of the Bahai Faith.

Writings: The holy works of The Bab, Bahaullah, and Abdul-Baha.

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