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The Bahá'í Faith began in 1844 in Persia (modern-day Iran). Its Founder is Bahá'u'lláh, whose chief message is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification in one global society. He called for the ending of conflict and injustice. There are about 6 million Bahá'ís around the world, 6,000 in the UK.

Early History

In 1844, a young man known as the Báb, which means 'gate' or 'door' declared Himself a Messenger of God, heralding One greater who would be the fulfilment of all previous religious messengers. Widespread support for the Báb angered the Persian authorities. He was executed in 1850 and His followers brutally persecuted. In 1863 a nobleman called Husayn 'Alí, now known as Bahá'u'lláh (meaning 'Glory of God'), claimed to be the One foretold. The authorities imprisoned Him, stripped Him of his wealth and exiled Him, first to Baghdad and later to Akka in Israel, where He died in 1892. In His will He appointed His Son 'Abdu'l-Bahá as the authorised interpreter of the teachings. He in turn appointed His grandson Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith. After the Guardian's death, legislative authority passed to the Universal House of Justice - an institution established by Bahá'u'lláh and elected by the national governing institutions of the Bahá'í world.

Religious Scriptures and Symbols

Bahá'í Writings are made up of all the writings of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá. These are believed to be the revealed message of God. Bahá'ís in the UK do not have their own places of worship, but meet in members' homes and rented rooms. Bahá'ís often use a nine pointed star as a symbol.

What Do Bahá'ís Believe?

Bahá'ís believe that there has only ever been one God and one religion, expressed in different ways at different times by a series of Messengers including Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ and Muhammad, all described as Manifestations of God. Bahá'u'lláh is seen as the fulfilment of their promise that one day a great Messenger would come and bring peace to the world. There will be further Messengers in the future. This concept is called progressive revelation: the idea that all the great religions have a single divine source and are part of a single historical process taking humankind from its beginnings to the coming global civilisation and beyond.

The purpose of human life is to know and worship God, for people to develop spiritually and fulfil their potential. After death, the soul passes on to the next world, where its spiritual development in this world affects its progress. Heaven is a state of nearness to God, and souls pass through many worlds on their journey towards Him. Spiritual life goes hand in hand with everyday life. Bahá'ís are expected to develop virtues such as trustworthiness, and to promote justice, peace and the ending of prejudice.

They see education as the entitlement of all, and participation in social and economic development activity as an expression of faith in action. They do not take part in partisan politics, but work for the unity of humankind. They foresee a future world order in which prejudice of race, gender and nationality will have ended, and extremes of wealth and poverty will have been eliminated. Religion and science are seen as complementary paths to truth.

In 2001 the UK Bahá'í community set up the Institute for Social Cohesion to promote research and practical programmes for improving cross-cultural relations. Nottingham Bahá'ís are much involved in this field. The Bahá'ís have been strong supporters of the inter-faith movement since its inception, and continue to be active in this arena.

What Do Bahá'ís Do?

All Bahá'ís aged over 15 are expected to say one of three 'obligatory' prayers each day. First they wash and then face the direction of Bahá'u'lláh's burial place in Israel. Every morning and evening they read extracts from the scriptures, and are encouraged to meditate for a period each day. There is no special day of the week for worship. There are seven large purpose-built Houses of Worship around the world and others in construction. Each has a dome, symbolising unity, and nine sides, and is open for prayer and meditation by people of all religions. There is no priesthood and very little ritual in the Bahá'í faith, nor are special symbols or d├ęcor required. An Arabic monogram representing the Greatest Holy Name is often displayed, and sometimes a photograph of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Communal worship is simple and consists of prayers, meditations, often music, and readings from the Bahá'í scriptures and those of other religions.

Bahá'ís are not restricted in what they may eat, but should not drink alcohol nor take addictive drugs, and are discouraged from smoking.

The Bahá'í community is organised through administrative bodies called Spiritual Assemblies, which work at local and national levels. Each has nine members elected annually by the Bahá'ís of its area from among their number. The international governing body is the Universal House of Justice, elected every five years by members of National Spiritual Assemblies and based in Haifa, Israel. Bahá'ís are generally keen to share their vision and belief with enquirers, but do not hold out the promise of reward or threat of punishment to gain converts. A person joins the community by applying to a Spiritual Assembly and satisfying it that he or she accepts the status of the faith's central figures, believes their message and understands the need to follow their laws.

Dates of Importance

The Bahá'í calendar has 19 months, each of 19 days. The local community comes together for a Nineteen Day Feast on the first day of each month, when members read prayers and holy Writings, consult on the affairs of the community and socialise. The new year begins at the vernal equinox so varies between March 20 and 21. Bahá'ís try to avoid working on their nine Holy Days, which include Naw-Rúz, the Bahá'í New Year, a joyful time, the Feast of Ridván, the most important festival, which marks Bahá'u'lláh's declaration of His mission, and the Anniversary of the Ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, a solemn day of prayer and contemplation commemorating His death. The Intercalary Days before the last month of the year are a time of festivity and giving of gifts, and keep the calendar in step with the solar year. Bahá'í adults in good health undertake a Fast in the last month of the year, when they refrain from food and drink between sunrise to sunset. It is a time for spiritual reflection.

Bahá'ís In Nottingham

At present most of the county's Bahá'ís live in greater Nottingham, where there has been a Local Spiritual Assembly for more than 60 years. There is also an Assembly in Carlton and groups in several villages. Regular meetings for enquirers are held. Local activities, open to everyone, include prayer and discussion meetings, children's classes and study circles on a variety of subjects.

Further information

Nottingham Spiritual Assembly - nottinghamspiritualassembly@gmail.com
Carlton Spiritual Assembly - secretary@carltonbahais.org.uk
For contact with the UK National Bahá'í Faith use this link, or telephone 0207 584 2566.
Bahá'í Faith worldwide