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Shi'a Islam


Doctrines Baha'is follow the teaching of Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri (1817-1892) whose title is Baha Allah ('splendour of God'). Baha Allah believed himself to be the prophet foretold by Sayid Ali Muhammad Shirazi, the founder of the Babi movement. Baha Allah taught that God had become manifest in many different forms such as Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab and Baha Allah himself. Baha Allah is not, however, the final and definitive manifestation of God. Other prophets will come, but not for at least 1000 years. There are no initiation rites, priesthood or sacraments in the Baha'i religion. Baha'is are required to pray every day; to meet at the first day of each Baha'i month for celebration; to fast from dawn to sunset during the month of 'Ala; to avoid drugs or alcohol; to avoid membership of political parties; and to observe particular holy days such as the birth of Baha Allah and the martyrdom of the Bab. Emphasis is placed on the unity of humanity and the absolute equality of men and women. Baha'is see themselves working towards the establishment of a world government which will eradicate extremes of wealth and poverty. There is no single Baha'i sacred text. The writings of Baha Allah are, however, treated as sacred. The most important of these are: The Most Holy Book, The Book of Certitude, The Hidden Words, The Seven Valleys, and Epistle to the Son of the Wolf.

History Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri was converted as a young man to the teachings of the Babi. In 1852 he was thrown into Tehran prison during the first wave of persecution against the Babis. On his release in January 1853 he went to Baghdad where he became the de facto head of the Babi community there. In 1863 he proclaimed himself to be the messiah foretold by the Bab. Such was his influence that the Ottoman authorities decided to move him from Baghdad to Istanbul and from there to Edirne (in Turkey). In 1868 Husayn Ali and many followers were exiled to Acre in Palestine where Husayn Ali was imprisoned for nine years in the fortress in Acre. Shortly after his release he went to live in Bahji, near Haifa, where he remained until his death in 1892. On the death of Baha Allah, the movement came under the leadership of his eldest son 'Abbas Effendi (1844-1921), who acquired the title 'Abd al-Baha ("servant of the glory of God"). After a spell in prison under the Ottoman Turks he undertook three missionary journeys: to Egypt (1910), to Europe (1911), and to the United States and Europe (1912-1913). Lecturing to large audiences, he both consolidated Baha'ism in these parts of the world and systematised his father's teachings. 'Abbas Effendi was succeeded by his grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), who directed his energies into developing the Baha'i communities in Europe and North America. Under his leadership the Baha'i community came to be organised within a system based on local and national assemblies. When he died in 1957 he left no heirs, and the movement's organisation was placed under the jurisdiction of a body known as the Council of the Hands of the Cause. In 1962 the International House of Justice was established in Haifa. This body is reelected every five years. Today Baha'i communities can be found in almost every country in the world. In Iran they continue to represent the largest minority religious group, and have suffered particularly during the period of the Iranian revolution.

Symbols Baha'is believe that God's greatest name is Baha (glory, splendour). The name is used by Baha'is when they are addressing one another, and is often found on rings or wall hangings. A second expression, Ya Baha 'u' -l Abha (O Thou the Glory of the All-Glorious), is represented in the form of calligraphy. The number 9 is regarded as possessing important mystical properties and is sometimes used for decoration. The Baha'i place of worship is called in Arabic the mashriq al-adhkar (which means the "place where the uttering of the name of God arises at dawn"). The mashriq is a nine sided building in keeping with the mystical qualities of the number 9.

Adherents There are Baha'i communities in most countries of the world. It is estimated that there are between 3 to 4 million Baha'is in the world today (Harris et al 1994, 30). The largest Baha'i community is in India with about 1 million members. In Iran the Baha'is remain the largest minority group with about 300,000 adherents (ibid.).

Main Centre
 The international Baha'i centre is located in Haifa, Israel.