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The Bahá'í religion is a medium-sized, but global, religion founded by Baha'u'llah, a nineteenth-century Iranian exiled to the Ottoman Empire. Its holy book is the Aqdas. Though emerging from Islam, the religion teaches that most of the major faiths are paths to God (Sikhism and Taoism are not so honored), and that religious wars are therefore unnecessary and unsightly to God. Each legitimate religion has been founded by a prophet--the list includes Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad--with each new prophet superseding his predecessors, in a process that is expected to continue into the indefinite future.
Historically, the Baha'i religion emerged from a short-lived mid-19th century millennarian movement in Iran called Babism (hence the Baha'i calendar begins in AD 1844), which in turn emerged from the equally millennial Shaykhi sect of 19th-century Shi'ism.
The religion tries to maintain a public image of being tolerant, progressive and liberal-minded. At the same time, a more authoritarian side can be observed:
- Despite claims to believe in the equality of women and men, the ultimate ruling body of the religion (the "Universal House of Justice") is restricted to men only.
- Baha'is follow a practice of shunning heretics and schismatics ("Covenant-Breakers"), though not to the extent of harassing them as Scientology does.
- They operate a group devoted to removing criticism of them from the Internet, the Bahá'í Internet Agency
- Despite opposing "every form of prejudice," Baha'is claim that homosexuality is immoral, and (following Shoghi Effendi) that a homosexual orientation can be cured through medical treatment and prayer.
Due to disputes over succession, the Bahá'í religion has split into a number of factions, few of which survive. The most well-known group, and the only one of any size, goes by the name of "the Bahá'í Faith" (note the diacritical marks); the other factions generally call the largest faction the "Haifan Bahá'ís," after their headquarters in Haifa, Israel.
Bahá'í can be spelt many different ways. This is because transliteration practices have evolved over the last century or so, while the Baha'is are kind of stuck with translations made by the great-grandson of their founder. Some spellings (e.g. "Behaism") have been made radioactive through their use by schismatic groups or critics. Since outsiders can rarely be bothered with the diacriticals, the use of the Baha'i "house style" is a reliable sign that a text was authored by Baha'is.
 Practices and beliefs
Baha'is believe that this era will see the emergence of world unity, including a world government), and that this has been willed by God. This carries a strong anti-racism component, and indeed, the Baha'is are consciously and proudly multi-ethnic.
Another tenet of the Bahai faith is the "unity" of science and religion. It is stated that "Science without religion is destruction, Religion without science is superstition." However, several leaders of the faith who are credited with a degree of infallibility, have also made statements which seem to be scientifically incorrect or at least questionable. For example, Baha'u'llah's son 'Abdul-Baha seems to have denied that humans evolved from animals, though he did accept evolution in a wider sense.
Much as Islam sees itself as the most recent and ultimate of a series of divine revelations that includes those that originated Judaism and Christianity, so too Baha'is believe that their faith is a natural successor of other religions. The Bahá'í Faith, however, is somewhat more accommodating of other religions than Islam, and makes a point of at least attempting to present itself as compatible with non-Abrahamic faiths as well. At the same time, although Buddha is said to have been a "manifestion" (prophet) of "God," there is little of Buddhism in the Baha'i religion, and the suspicion naturally arises that the Baha'is merely wish to lay a claim to Buddhism's authority and cachet.
It is very strongly organized in an administrative sense, with a well-defined hierarchy and regular meetings in most cities where there are more than a handful of Bahá'ís. Indeed, Baha'is may be "disenrolled" for falling afoul of these bodies, and those who deny their legitimacy are declared to be "covenant breakers" who must be shunned. (It seems that respect for other religions does not extend to rival Baha'i denominations.)
Bahá'í Doctrine tends to emphasize Abrahamic beliefs, most notably the concept of a God Almighty, and to downplay doctrinal conflicts among the various religions and faiths which it claims to want to honour and succeed (explicitly including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam).
- SourceWatch's page on Bahá'í Faith, with many inconvenient facts the Bahá'í do not want you to know
- ↑ http://www.religionfacts.com/bahai/beliefs/prophets.htm
- ↑ http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/23/us/23religion.html
- ↑ http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Baha%E2%80%99i_Internet_Agency
- ↑ God speaks again: an introduction to the Bahá'í Faith
- ↑ A concept they call progressive revelation. See the Wikipedia article on Progressive revelation (Baha'i).