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24 November 2008

The religion of God

Academic and human rights campaigner Nazila Ghanea explains the basic tenets of Bahá’í belief

By Nazila Ghanea

Despite its relatively brief history of some 165 years, the Bahá’í faith is the second most geographically widespread religion in the world after Christianity. The Bahá’í community numbers some six million followers living in more than 100,000 localities around the world.

As a Bahá’í, I believe that there is but one God, a Supreme Being that has continually sent divinely-inspired ‘Messengers’ – or ‘Manifestations of God’ – to impart to humanity the knowledge and spiritual impetus for its social evolution.

Therefore, Bahá’ís believe that there is only one religion – the religion of God – and the various Manifestations who have appeared throughout history are equally valid, but different.

They are teachers in the same school, providing the world with the lessons it needs to learn to move to the next stage of its development. The Bahá’í faith sees itself as the latest in this ongoing unfolding of knowledge, known as ‘progressive revelation’.

In Persia, in 1844 and then 19 years later, two such Manifestations, known to history as the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, claimed to be the recipients of revelations from God and founded the Babí and Bahá’í faiths, respectively. As Bahá’ís we consider both as twin revelations bearing the same essential message for this age.

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What this understanding of progressive revelation means for me is that I see no conflict in the essential purpose of any of the religions. They are fundamentally one and the same. It is not some kind of gimmick – it is part and parcel of our very religious belief: that God is one, and as such the religious messages he has conveyed to humanity are also one.

This does not mean that any claim to ‘religious truth’ is necessarily authentic, however. Nor does it mean that Bahá’ís have somehow taken the ‘best bits’ of the other faiths and syncretised a new one. There are two essential aspects to religious truth: one, spiritual truths – which the great religious traditions have in common and are unchanging over the centuries and two, social teachings – which change according to the needs of the age.

My religion has a clear response to the challenges of our times. Bahá’u’lláh’s writings – and those of his authorised successors – provide the principles by which pressing problems such as civil war, famine, nuclear power, religious extremism, birth control, penal reform, environmental degradation, racism, adoption and surrogacy can be addressed.

The Bahá’í faith has no clergy and very few formal rituals. Bahá’í communities worship, socialize and hold activities either in purposely-acquired buildings, or in believers’ homes or in hired facilities.

There are currently Bahá’í Houses of Worship in Sydney-Australia, New Delhi-India, Apia-Samoa, Kampala-Uganda, Frankfurt-Germany, Panama City-Panama, Chicago-USA and one currently under construction in Santiago-Chile. These Houses of Worship are open to all people.

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