The Baha'i Faith is an Abrahamic religion that originated in Persia (now called Iran) in the 19th century. It is estimated to have 4-8 million adherents spread across the world.
The Baha'i Faith has its origins in Bábism, a religion that emerged in Persia in 1844, when Siyyid ʻAlí-Muhammad proclaimed himself the Mahdi, the prophesized second coming of the 12th Imam in Shia Islam, and adopted the title of Báb, meaning "gate". His claim, was, however, not accepted by most Shia Muslims, and he was branded a heretic, leading to his execution by firing squad for apostasy in 1850 under the orders of the Prime Minister of the Persian Empire. According the most accounts, the Báb survived the first firing squad, and was only killed by the second, and his survival after the first firing squad is considered by Baha'is to be a miracle made by God. The Báb is regarded by Baha'is to be the forerunner of their religion, occupying a role similar to the one John the Baptist does in Christianity.
Mírzá Ḥusayn-ʻAlí Núrí, a Persian nobleman, was one of the followers of the Báb. Following the Báb's arrest in 1848, at the Conference of Badasht, a meeting of the important Bábis of the time, Mírzá Ḥusayn-ʻAlí Núrí adopted the title Baháʼu'lláh, meaning Glory of God. Following an attempted assassination of the King of Persia by two young Bábis following the execution of the Báb, Baháʼu'lláh was arrested since he was one of the most prominent followers of the Báb, and was imprisoned in the dungeon of the king's palace in Tehran. When it became clear that Baháʼu'lláh was not involved in the attempted assassination of the king, he was released from the dungeon but exiled from Persia for life. Baháʼu'lláh thus moved to Baghdad, then part of the Ottoman Empire, and remained in the Ottoman Empire for the rest of his life. While living in Baghdad, Baháʼu'lláh claimed to have received a revelation from God during his imprisonment in Tehran that he was the promised Messiah prophesized by the Báb.
Baha'is believe that there is only one God, and that their religion was revealed in an orderly and progressive way through God's various manifestations, who founded or came as prophets of the world's major religions. Thus, in addition to the Báb and Baháʼu'lláh, Baha'is also honour Abraham, Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and numerous other figures from the world's other religions as prophets of the Baha'i Faith. The Baha'i Faith stresses the unity and equality of all peoples, explicitly rejecting sexism, racism and nationalism, and calls upon its followers to work towards a unified world order that ensures prosperity for all regardless of race, creed, class or nationality. Baha'is also do not have a clergy, and instead encourage every Baha'i to study the religious scriptures on their own; communal prayers in a Baha'i House of Worship may thus be led by any Baha'i. That said, there is the Universal House of Justice, based in Haifa, Israel, that serves as the central governing body of the religion, with its members elected every five years by members of the various National Spiritual Assemblies throughout the world. The members of the National Spiritual Assemblies are in turn elected by all Baha'is in each country.
The Baha'i place of worship is officially known as a House or Worship, though it is often referred to as a "temple" colloquially.
The Baha'i holy book is known as the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, often shortened to just Aqdas. Baha'is believe that the Aqdas supersedes and succeeds previous revelations by God such as the Bible and the Qur'an.
Since the religion's inception, Baha'is have been heavily persecuted in many Middle Eastern Muslim lands. In particular, the religion is illegal in Iran, its country of origin, where its followers have been branded heretics of Islam, and all Baha'i holy sites in the country were confiscated and demolished following the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
There are eleven holy days in the Baha'i Faith, the first nine of which require practising Baha'is to abstain from work. These are celebrated according to the Baha'i calendar, thus differing in date on the Gregorian calendar every year.
- Naw-Rúz — the Baha'i New Year
- First day of Riḍván — the most important festival in the religion, commemorating Baháʼu'lláh's arrival in the Garden of Riḍván in Baghdad and declaration the he was the Messiah prophesized by the Báb
- Ninth day of Riḍván — commemorates the arrival of Baháʼu'lláh's family in the Garden of Riḍván
- Twelfth day of Riḍván — commemorates the deparature of Baháʼu'lláh and his family from the Garden of Riḍván, and the start of their journey towards Constantinople
- Declaration of the Báb — commemorates the day the Báb announced himself as God's new messenger
- Ascension of Baháʼu'lláh — commemorates the death of Baháʼu'lláh
- Martyrdom of the Báb — commemorates the day the Báb was executed by the Persian Empire
- Birth of the Báb
- Birth of Baháʼu'lláh
- Day of the Covenant — commemorates Baháʼu'lláh's appointment of his son ʻAbdu'l-Bahá as his successor
- Ascension of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá — commemorates the death of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá
Besides the holy days, another important part of Baha'i tradition is the Nineteen Day Feast, held on the first day of the month in the Baha'i calendar (usually 19 days apart, hence its name). This is when the Baha'i community of each locality gathers to recite prayers together, discuss administrative matters and socialise with each other. The host is expected to serve refreshments to attendees at the social portion of the meeting, but this can be as simple as just serving water if the host is too poor to afford anything more. Non-Baha'is are not permitted to participate in the Nineteen Day Feast. Visiting Baha'is from other localities are permitted to participate, but may not vote on administrative matters.
The Baha'i Faith's holy book, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, was written in Arabic, though it has also been translated to various other languages of the world. In addition to Arabic, many early Baha'i writings were also in Persian, the native language of Baháʼu'lláh. While the Baha'i Faith does not explicitly define a sacred language, English is used as the de facto international lingua franca among Baha'is. Baháʼu'lláh had praised Esperanto and expressed a desire for an international auxiliary language to be widely adopted, though the language is rarely used in modern-day Baha'i meetings.
Although, the Baha'i pilgrimage as stipulated in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas includes sites in Iran and Iraq, those sites are not accessible to Baha'is as of 2022 because the governments of those countries have outlawed the Baha'i Faith and branded its followers heretics of Islam. Thus, the only Baha'i holy sites that are accessible for Baha'i pilgrimages are the ones in Israel.
- Akko — home to the 1 Shrine of Baháʼu'lláh, the final resting place of Baháʼu'lláh, and the holiest site in the world for Baha'is. Adjacent to that is the 2 Mansion of Bahjí where Baháʼu'lláh lived in his last days and died in 1892. The Shrine of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, which is intended to be the final resting place of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, Baháʼu'lláh's son and successor, who played a key role in spreading the religion around the world, is under construction.
- Haifa — home to the 3 Shrine of the Báb, the final resting place of the Báb, and the second holiest site in the Baha'i Faith; perhaps the religion's most iconic building. Also home to the seat of the 4 Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing body of the religion. ʻAbdu'l-Bahá's remains are temporarily interred in the Shrine of the Báb until the construction of the Shrine of ʻAbdu'l-Bahá in Akko is completed.
Baha'i Houses of Worship are generally divided into three classes, in descending order of hierarchy: continental, national and local. No national Baha'i Houses of Worship have been completed as of 2022, though two are under construction, one in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea and one in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- Wilmette, Illinois, United States of America — just north of Evanston, accessible using Chicago's public transportation network, home to the 5 Bahaʼi House of Worship for North America, the second one ever built and the oldest one still standing. It is a beautiful structure incorporating motifs from many of the world's major religions like Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism, and surrounded by immaculately-manicured gardens designed to evoke a sense of tranquility. What sets this Baha'i temple apart from the others is that ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, Baháʼu'lláh's son and successor, had personally visited the site and laid the ceremonial first cornerstone of the building.
- Kampala, Uganda — home to the main 6 Bahaʼi House of Worship for Africa, and popularly known as the Mother Temple of Africa.
- Sydney, New South Wales, Australia — the suburb of Ingleside is home to the main 7 Bahaʼi House of Worship for Australia.
- Hofheim-Langenhain, Germany — a village just west of Frankfurt, home to the main 8 Bahaʼi House of Worship for Europe.
- Panama City, Panama — home to the main 9 Bahaʼi House of Worship for Central America.
- Tiapapata, Samoa — in the hills just to the south of Apia, home to the main 10 Bahaʼi House of Worship for the Pacific.
- New Delhi, India — home to the 11 Bahaʼi House of Worship for South Asia, popularly known as the Lotus Temple due to its distinctive architecture inspired by the sacred lotus, which is popularly associated with the Hindu goddess Lakshmi.
- Santiago, Chile — the eastern edge of the eastern suburbs is home to the main 12 Bahaʼi House of Worship for South America, the most recent continental Baha'i House of Worship to be completed in 2016.
- Battambang, Cambodia — the 13 Baha'i House of Worship for Battambang is the first local House of Worship to be completed, and the first House of Worship in Southeast Asia. The building design incorporates many elements of traditional Khmer architecture.
- Agua Azul, Colombia — the 14 Baha'i House of Worship for Cauca, the first local Baha'i House of Worship in South America, is located here.
- Matunda Soy, Kenya — 15 Baha'i House of Worship for Matunda Soy, the first local Baha'i House of Worship in Africa, is located here. Its architecture is reminiscent of that of the traditional huts of the region. It is also notable for being the first Baha'i House of Worship to have been designed by a woman.
- Lenakel, Vanuatu — the 16 Baha'i House of Worship for Tanna is the first local Baha'i House of Worship in the Pacific islands. Its architecture is reminiscent of traditional Ni-Vanuatu architecture.
- Edirne, Turkey — the 17 house of Baháʼu'lláh, where he spent four years during his Ottoman exile.
- Montreal, Canada — the 18 house of May Maxwell, where ʻAbdu'l-Bahá had stayed on a 10-day visit to Montreal in 1912, is now a Baha'i shrine.
All Baha'i Houses of Worship welcome visitors of all faiths. That said, you are expected to refrain from taking photographs or talking while inside the main auditorium. Although lectures are forbidden, in line with the Baha'i doctrine of honouring the prophets of all religions, religious scriptures of all religions, not just Baha'i ones, may be chanted in the Baha'i House of Worship.