This video from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly shows two followers of Baha'i discussing why they chose to embrace the religion and its message of unity, equality and respect. It also covers Baha'i worship practices. Founded in Iran in 1863 by Baha'u'llah, Baha'i emphasizes the oneness of humanity. Worshippers believe Baha'u'llah is the most recent in a long line of divine messengers that also includes Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad.
The Baha'i faith is a monotheistic religion descended from Islam. It was founded in 1863 in Persia (Iran) by Mirza Husayn Ali, who later became known as Baha'u'llah, which in Arabic means "Glory of God." Baha'u'llah had been a leader in the Babist movement, which was started by a young Iranian who called himself the Bab. The Bab declared that a new divinely sent messenger would soon appear, a proclamation that was an affront to the Muslim state in which he lived and ultimately led to his arrest. After the Bab's execution in 1850, Baha'u'llah was imprisoned by government officials in Tehran. For months, he experienced divine revelations and wrote letters and books outlining his ideas for human harmony. After his release, he began a life in exile and in 1863 declared himself to be the new messenger of God prophesied by the Bab.Followers of Baha'i believe that Baha'u'llah is the most recent in a line of messengers of God that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Christ, and Muhammad. The central theme of Baha'u'llah's message is one of unity, equality and respect for every human being. Followers of Baha'i emphasize improving the quality of human life, which includes ending poverty, providing educational opportunities for all, and attaining equality between men and women. Baha'is do not drink alcohol, discourage smoking, and view family life as the basis of human society. Generally, they do not participate in partisan politics, but work with philanthropic organizations to improve society. For Baha'is, which means “follower of Baha’u’llah,” the main aim in life is to know and love God. Membership in the faith is open to all, and a person becomes a Baha'i when they accept Baha'u'llah as the most recent manifestation of God. Converts are not required to renounce their previous religion, but they cannot remain a member of it. The Baha'i faith has no clergy or sacraments, and there are virtually no rituals. The faith is governed by local, national and international assemblies, with an emphasis on individual prayer and meditation to promote personal development. Worshippers are encouraged to gather in small groups and conduct simple services, but since prayer is seen as a private matter, this communal worship plays only a small role. Because there are no congregational prayers or hymns, the services mainly include readings from the scriptures of all religions, and prayers composed by the Bab and Baha’u’llah. Today there are six million followers of the Baha'i faith worldwide, living in more than 200 countries. Each continent has a Baha'i house of prayer; the North American house of worship is in Wilmette, Ill. About 300,000 Baha'is still live in Iran, but they are closely monitored and cannot openly practice their religion.
JUDY VALENTE: It's a stunning cement structure set on a hill near Lake Michigan outside of Chicago—a monument on the national historic register. But this three-tiered building surrounded by lavish gardens is first and foremost a place of worship for a growing, but little understood religion.
The Baha'i House of Worship was dedicated in 1953 to accommodate the U.S. followers of Baha u llah, a Persian prince who Baha'is believe is the most recent in a long line of divine messengers that includes Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed.
JUANA CONRAD: They were divine educators who came with a particular message to the people at a particular time in history. We believe that Bahá u lláh is the latest of these chapters in a book, that his message is the divine message for this day and age, and that he will not be the last.
VALENTE: Bahá u lláh was imprisoned in Teheran in the mid-1850's for his religious beliefs. He eventually would espouse such revolutionary ideas as the unity of religions, racial equality, and a single, new international language.
Foremost of Baha'i beliefs is the oneness of humanity, including equality of the sexes and universal education.
Ms. CONRAD: The prophet founder stated that if the family cannot afford to educate all of its children, that the girl child should be the one to be educated because she is the mother of the next generation.
VALENTE: Today in the Middle East many Baha'is are still persecuted. The United Nations and the U.S. Congress have passed several resolutions seeking to end the repression.
NESREEN AKHTARKHAVARI: Members of my family in Iran are Baha'is and because of their belief in the Baha'i faith they were persecuted by the Islamic regime.
VALENTE: There are currently about five million Baha'is in the world, most of them in Asia and the Middle East. Nearly 150,000 live in the U.S., up from 25,000 just 30 years ago. Most American Baha'is are converts. Gwen Clayborne, an educator, grew up a Baptist, but was attracted by the Baha'is' emphasis on racial equality and religious unity.
GWEN CLAYBORNE: Baha'is did not feel they had the only religion. I think that probably was the turning point for me—that I didn't have to give up Christianity and my love for Christ. But I could also embrace my love for Mohammed, Moses, and Bahá u lláh.
VALENTE: Ronald Precht, a public relations executive, was Lutheran, but began reading Bahá u lláh's writings in college.
RONALD PRECHT: I never had the experience before of reading something and having it deeply affect me really to the core of my soul.
VALENTE: From dawn to dusk, each day of the week, visitors from around the world stop at the Baha'i house of worship for prayer and meditation.
Dr. ROBERT STOCKMAN: The pattern is very simple: Reading from scriptures and singing. There is no sermon. There is no collection. There's no plate that's passed around. There is a minimum of ritual.
VALENTE: Most Baha'is worship every three weeks in small faith groups that meet in private homes. There is no clergy, and they are prohibited from evangelizing.
Baha'is believe that crises are necessary to lead nations closer to God.
After the terrorist attacks last year, the Baha'is placed full-page ads in several newspapers, urging Americans to view the events as an opportunity to promote peace.
VALENTE: The answers for a struggling world, Baha'is say, are found in Bahá u lláh's simple message of unity, equality, and respect.
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