Baha'i Library Online

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TITLEThe Baha'i Faith (Part Two): Baha'u'llah and His Teachings
AUTHOR 1Filip Holm
PUBLISHED AS Let's Talk Religion
DATE_THIS2020-07-30
ABSTRACTPart two of an academically-minded yet accessible video essay on the Babi and Baha'i Faiths as a work of public scholarship by a religious studies scholar who is part of the popular 'Religious Studies YouTube' community.
NOTES Transcript prepared by Doug Couper from video online at youtube.com/watch?v=75jZKEY2aRo.

See also The Baha'i Faith (Part One): Origins and the Bab.

 
CONTENT

1. Transcript (see video below)

The Baha'i Faith (Part Two) - Baha'u'llah and His Teachings
youtube.com/watch?v=75jZKEY2aRo
uploaded by Let's Talk Religion
2020 July 30
24:11 minutes
Video description: This second insightful video on the Baha'i faith complements the first video on Babism.
Transcriber's comment: To reflect the importance of the concept of Manifestation in Babi and Baha'i writings, the transcriber prefers to capitalize Manifestation, and pronouns for a Manifestation, but not prophet (unless in a quote). Note the video narrator sometimes uses a present-tense verb to describe the past (and vice versa), singular verbs when the subject is plural, and the word 'here' when the implication is 'there'. Of the 815 comments about this video on YouTube's webpage, nearly all cite the scholarly objectivity of the research. An ex-Baha'i wrote: "This is probably the best collection of videos I’ve seen on the internet in regards to the faith. It gives a detailed history of the Faith’s ups and downs and doesn’t shy away from mentioning the criticisms the faith has collected over the decades."
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In the last episode we talked about the Bab and the movement that He started, which is known as Babism. Babism can certainly be viewed as a kind of religion that stands on its own, but when people talk about Babism, it is most often talked about as a kind of precursor to the Baha'i faith. In the years I talked about at the end of the last episode, the Bab made frequent reference to someone He calls 'He Whom God shall make Manifest' as a coming prophet or, as He called Them (a) Manifestation of God, and this is where our story picks up as this awaited figure was, according to some, just around the corner. You see there were two brothers in the Babi movement who would have a very important role to play in the years to come.

When the Bab died in 1850, He is said to have appointed the young Mirza Yahya Nuri as the person who would lead the Babis going forward, and he would do so under the name Subh-i Azal. However, his older brother, a man by the name Mirza Husayn-Ali Nuri would increasingly play the role of main administrator and organizer of the faith to the point that He eclipsed His brother's influence - and done some. He was given the Babi name Baha, which means glory, but would later become known as Baha'u'llah, which means the Glory of God and He is the prophet and central figure of the Baha'i Faith. Baha'u'llah was born in 1817 in Tehran in Iran and in whatever young age, in his twenties or so, he became a follower of the Bab and would come to play a significant role in the Babi movement. After the Bab's execution, and as I said in the intro, Baha'u'llah's brother Mirza Yahya Nuri became recognized as the official leader of the Babi movement after the Bab's death.

In any case, the Babis suffered a devastating blow with the death of the Bab, their prophet, and the movement basically fell apart after his death. Persecution and oppression of the remaining Babis continued and by these (same) state officials and religious clergy. Azal had to flee the country and go into hiding while his brother Baha'u'llah was thrown into (the) Siyah Chal, the black pit dungeon, as a kind of prison sentence in 1852. It was during this four months stay in the dungeons under immense discomfort, the looming threat of execution and being weighed down by heavy chains, that Baha'u'llah claims (sic) to have had several intense mystical experiences and visions, which changed his life trajectory in very significant ways.

In these mystical experiences, He's said to have been visited by a so-called maid of heaven, who floated midair in front of Him. This divine being told Baha'u'llah that He was the "best beloved of the worlds, the beauty, mystery, and treasure of God as well as the power of his sovereignty." He would keep these experiences and the implications of them a secret for many years afterwards. After being released from the black pit, Baha'u'llah was exiled and left for the city of Baghdad in Ottoman-controlled Iraq. He arrived in the city in April 1853 and while staying here, He continued to be a significant administrator and religious leader for the Babi movement.

From here and onward it becomes difficult to talk about these events without promoting a certain viewpoint that could be biased and written by later sources. The community would see several divisions and schisms going forward and different people or different groups tell different stories about what actually happened. But it seems from certain sources, especially Baha'i sources, that Baha'u'llah came to play an increasing role as a leader for the Babi movement in general. Again I really want to emphasize that most books written on the Baha'i faith and studies made on the Baha'i faith are written by Baha'is themselves, and so naturally the information that I have is also for the most part based on those sources. That doesn't necessarily mean you should be skeptical (of) everything I say, but you should keep in mind that there may be a slight bias because of the sources and that there's always another side to the story. His brother, Subh-i Azal, who was the recognized leader of the community, was still in hiding and so Baha'u'llah played the role of a kind of outward or active leader and face for the Babi movement, and would eventually eclipse his brother completely in that regard. There also appears to have been internal strife and differences of opinion between these leaders. These tensions between the two brothers and within the community at large became so heated that Baha'u'llah eventually left Baghdad in 1854 to live in the mountains of Kurdistan as an ascetic or dervish, and had close contacts to the Sufis in the region. It is also during this period that he writes (sic) two of his works, The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, both of which could be termed Sufi works in a way, as they use Sufi terminology, psychology and metaphysics to explain the human soul's mystical journey to union with God through certain stages. When he eventually returned to Baghdad two years later, the community was in an even worse state than when he left it, and he again took on the role as leader.

Baha'u'llah wrote many works at this time in an attempt to revive the community. Important works include the Hidden Words and the Kitab-i-Iqan, the Book of Certitude - and remember His status as a Manifestation of God or prophet was still not announced, so these books can be seen as a way to both revive the faith but also to prepare it for the next stage. In the Kitab-i-Iqan, we can read how He talks about the different prophets of the past and how they were always denied by their contemporaries, and that future prophets will also be denied in the same way. He also frequently refers to 'He Whom God shall make manifest' (so) as to prepare His community for their coming announcements - indeed the announcement did come on the night of April 21st 1863 in the Garden of Ridvan.

Right before he was about to leave for the Ottoman capital of Constantinople or Istanbul, Baha'u'llah revealed to a smaller group of followers that he was the new Manifestation of God. But it took another couple of years after intense conflicts with his brother and after his family had been exiled to Adrianople (now Edirne). In 1866, he made the public claim to be 'He Whom God shall make manifest' or I guess at this point He Whom God had made manifest. This was another turning point in history. In this announcement, He definitively rejected His brother's authority as leader of the Babis and in the process also founded an entirely new religion in a way - the followers of which became known as Baha'is. After this, Baha'u'llah and His family would continue to be exiled and sent around to different places as prisoners of the Ottoman Empire. Their final destination was Akka in Palestine where Baha'u'llah spent the rest of His life - first in a kind of barracks prison and then later on in a mansion, albeit still technically as a prisoner. In this last period, He continued to preach and spread the new religion and it seems that the majority of Babis had accepted Baha'u'llah as the new leader and the new prophet of this new religion, and thus He left His brother Azal with only a very small amount of Babis as followers.

He wrote His book of laws, the Kitab-i-Aqdas or the Most Holy Book, in which He lays down the Baha'i law and some of its practice. This is one of the most important books in the entire Baha'i faith. He also sent letters of proclamation to the world leaders including Napoleon III, Queen Victoria of Britain, Alexander II of Russia and even the Pope, declaring His role as a new prophet of God, and asking the leaders to leave their worldliness behind and join the Baha'i faith to create peace in the world. This was obviously a way to mirror the famous letters that the prophet Muhammad is said to have sent to different emperors of his age. There are also pictures or photographs taken of Baha'u'llah, namely two pictures taken at the same location, and these photographs are very special and sensitive to the Baha'is as they should always be looked at with the utmost amount of respect, so I will refrain from showing you these photographs in this video out of respect to the Baha'is and their prophet, but if you really want to see these images you can just Google it and it should show up there.

By the end of His life, Baha'u'llah had gathered a significant following of Baha'is - maybe around 100,000. He died on May 29, 1892, and at the age of 74. After His death, Baha'u'llah was succeeded by His son Abdu'l-Baha as leader of the faith, but not as a prophet, obviously. He was very instrumental in spreading the faith outside the Middle East to places like the United States and Europe, for example, and he led the religion during some of its most formative years. He died in 1921. Again after this, his grandson Shoghi Effendi took over as "Guardian" of the faith, translated many of the scriptures into English and laid down some of the central administrative bodies of the religion before his death in 1957. After Effendi's death, there is (sic) no longer any one human leader of the faith. Instead, they established the so-called Universal House of Justice which is an administrative body that still, to this day, is the central authority to the Baha'i faith. While the writings of the prophets like the Bab and Baha'u'llah is (sic), of course, the most significant - being considered divine revelation; the writings and interpretations of Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi as well as the Universal House of Justice is (sic) seen as authoritative, and as very important sources for the religion where many of its central ideas are expressed or at least further developed.

But what did Baha'u'llah and these successors teach? What are the main beliefs of the Baha'i faith? As they, in a way, branched off from Babism, they share a lot of characteristics with that movement as well as with Islam generally, but they also have some very unique and interesting features. Sometimes the basics of the Baha'i faith is (sic) summarized in three points - Number One: the unity of God, Number Two: the unity of religion and Number Three: the unity of humanity. Coming out of Shia Islam and with strong connections to the Abrahamic religions in particular, the Baha'i faith is a strictly monotheistic religion. This means that there is only one God, and that God is One. This God has been called by many names including Allah, Yahweh, Elohim Brahman and so on. God in his essence is completely unknowable to human beings and transcends all understanding. Much like in other religions, He's named by a few attributes like Almighty, All-Loving, All-Knowing and so on, but none of them can actually give us an actual understanding of what God is truly. Instead human beings are required to listen to and follow the Manifestations of God or the great prophets in order to know him - to at least to some degree know God.

And this conveniently brings us to that second point which is the unity of religions. To the Baha'is, there is only one religion. All major religions in history although it isn't entirely clear which ones are included, are actually the same religion that has been adjusted and interpreted by different people in different ways. This is connected to what some consider to be the most characteristic belief, and an idea in the Baha'i faith, which is the idea of progressive revelation. (An) essential idea in the Baha'i faith, as it was in Babism, is the idea of the Manifestations of God, or in other words the great prophets of history. According to Baha'i belief there have been many Manifestations of God in history, all of whom have brought a new revelation or new religion that has been suited for a specific time and place. These Manifestations or prophets include Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab and Baha'u'llah.

This idea of the same religion being preached by different famous prophets is similar to the idea expressed in Islam where the earlier prophets of Judaism, Christianity and sometimes Zoroastrianism is (sic) considered to have revealed the same message, but that these communities, the Christians and Jews, have corrupted or misinterpreted this message as time went by, and that Islam now comes as the pure original version of these religions. The Baha'i faith is similar to this. You can see that it stems from a similar idea, but it is also quite different.

The Baha'is have their own spin on this concept. Firstly, they firmly include as Manifestations of God figures like Zarathustra, the prophet of Zoroastrianism, as well as the Buddha and Krishna and others. This isn't unheard of in Islam but in the Baha'i faith, it is widely accepted doctrine. The number of prophets are in sets so there are many other individuals who are considered prophets as well, including the native American reformer known as the Great Peacemaker among many others. The Baha'i is believed that humanity is constantly evolving and that revelation has come in stages. In other words, new prophets appear every now and then to update the revelation and the religion according to new situations or new circumstances, but also to extend the message based on humanity's continual spiritual evolution. So humanity is constantly evolving spiritually.

We are more spiritually evolved now than we were back in the seventh century according to Baha'is and thus Baha'u'llah's new message is suited, it is tailored to a humankind, a humanity that is more spiritually mature in a way. This is what is meant by progressive revelation. It's right there in the name. Revelation is progressive and changes or is updated when a new Manifestation appears. This also means that the unity of religions isn't necessarily pluralistic acceptance of all religions in the world as being equal, as it holds the idea that the Baha'i faith is the latest and thus the only truly correct religion in the world for the present age. Baha'u'llah saw himself as a divine physician whose job it was to diagnose the spiritual status of humanity and the world and to prescribe a certain treatment for the current condition. "The Prophets of God should be regarded as physicians whose task is to foster the well-being of the world and its peoples, that, through the spirit of oneness they may heal the sickness of a divided humanity. To none is given the right to question their words or disparage their conduct, for they are the only ones who can claim to have understood the patient and to have correctly diagnosed its ailments".

The above kind of explains the last principle - the unity of humanity. This means that all people in the world should be seen as part of a single tribe basically. Baha'u'llah Himself wrote, "It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens." Every human being is seen as equal before God and as being created in His image. This means that any ideology or idea that separates human beings like racism or nationalism is strongly rejected in the Baha'i faith. Indeed these things were some of the main things that Baha'u'llah diagnosed the current status of humanity with as being the central ailments of our time - racism, nationalism and these things. Instead we should see each other as a unified world community. One of the goals of Baha'u'llah and His successors was to create a kind of new world order in which there were no wars and everyone lived as equal members of a kind of world nation or world community. Granted this was mainly to be done through the eventual conversion of all the world citizens to the Baha'i faith. This is because Baha'u'llah saw religion as essential to the new world peace. It could only be achieved through the guidance of the current Manifestation of God and a rejection of modern materialism and other ideologies.

Another important thing that the Baha'is emphasize is the harmony between science and religion. Reason and the intellect is a gift given by God according to Baha'u'llah and His successors and should be used to understand religion better. Baha'u'llah Himself wrote, "Religion without science is superstition. Science without religion is materialism." But at the same time, if you remember the last episode, we talked about the strong esotericism of the Bab and Babism, and because Baha'is and the Bab are so closely connected, this of course also carries over to the Baha'i faith to some degree. In a similar way to Babism, the Baha'is interpret some of the basic Islamic teachings and concepts in very esoteric and unique ways - like, for example, that the Day of Judgement is not the literal end of the world, but that it is the metaphor for the coming of a new prophet, a new Manifestation and that Resurrection is not that the dead are to be raised, but it is a kind of spiritual revival of the community when this new prophet appears. Heaven and hell are not physical places but states of the soul after death on its journey back to increasing intimacy with God. If you want to know more about Baha'i beliefs and theology, I always leave a list of sources in the description from which you can find out more.

A rather unique aspect of the Baha'i faith is that its practice appeared to be relatively liberal. There is no clergy in the religion, there are no priests, no imams, nothing of the sort. Affairs of the faith is (sic) dealt with through the main administrative body which is the Universal House of Justice, and more locally in National Spiritual Assemblies in different parts of the world. Baha'u'llah did write a book of laws with the Kitab-i-Aqdas, but the faith's leaders have been adamant to show a leniency and tolerance in regard to how these laws are implemented. A good example is that the Baha'i faith technically forbids the consumption of alcohol much like Islam, but in regions of the world where alcohol consumption is a very strong part of culture, like in the United States or certain parts of Europe, this rule isn't that strictly applied; and instead the policy is to gradually apply these laws as people, the followers of the religion, become more and more assimilated into the faith. Many of the laws of the Baha'is are thus seen more as guidelines and general instructions rather than specific and particular laws like in some other religions.

Baha'is have obligatory daily prayers to perform called, like in Islam, Salat. They can choose to do one of three set prayers: a short one, a medium-length one, and a long one; and preferably, you should pray three times a day, depending on which prayer you choose. Prayer also comes with certain rituals like ablution or washing beforehand and movements like prostration during the prayer itself. When praying, Baha'i's face the tomb of Baha'u'llah, the prophet. The Baha'is actually have their own calendar. which consists of 19 months, all of which with 19 days, and for one of these 19-day months a year, the Baha'is are expected to fast from sunrise to sunset avoiding everything from food, drink, smoking - everything basically. This is in order to abstain from selfish desires and to reorient the soul through prayer and meditation. All Baha'is who can afford it, should also pay monetary payment to the head of the faith called Huququ'llah in order to support the work of the faith and bring the person closer to God.

And this is where we get to the less fun part, although it is a very important part, of course. As you know the Babi movement was greatly persecuted and oppressed by the Iranian regime in the 19th century for both political and religious reasons. Well, this has very much continued with the Baha'i faith. For most of the 20th century, the Baha'is in Iran and other parts of the Middle East have faced persecution and very oppressive policies. In some places, they aren't allowed the same protection as equal citizens, they can't hold certain jobs or places in society and sometimes also face active attacks. Baha'i graveyards have been destroyed and some Baha'is have been imprisoned and sometimes even executed. Much of this has been again for political reasons mainly, but religious factors also play an important role, of course. Many Muslim scholars in Iran view the Baha'is as apostates as many of them, most of them in the region at least converted from Islam to this new religion.

It's an unpleasant part of the story but it is an important one to know about. The persecution of Baha'is in Iran is one of the biggest stains on their (Iran's) human rights record according to international organizations. But in spite of this persecution, the Baha'is have had an impressive success in spreading the religion to different parts of the world, especially since the 1950s. Missionary activity has been great and there are Baha'i communities in basically every nation in the world with the exception of North Korea. According to some estimates, the Baha'i faith is the 9th largest religion in the world with about 7 million followers (The onscreen clarification states *Again, Baha'i sources. Many of these statistics are questioned by some) worldwide. From being largely confined to Iran, the largest communities of the faith are now in India and sub-Saharan Africa. There are also significant communities in North and South America, like in the United States for example. Baha'is are often active in spreading their faith through different forms of media. The American actor, Rainn Wilson, famous for his role in The Office, is a Baha'i and has been very active in talking about and promoting the religion in the last few years through things like lectures, podcasts and different videos.

But it isn't all sunshine and rainbows, of course, even if I made it seem that way. The Baha'i faith has been criticized, and many Baha'is have left the faith, including some academics, for various reasons. For example, as I mentioned at the beginning of the first part of this series of videos, the Universal House of Justice can be very restrictive and controlling when it comes to output of material on the faith in general. Baha'is aren't allowed to publish material about just anything, and academic accuracy has sometimes been compromised for religious dogma. Also some people including members of Baha'u'llah's family have been excommunicated from the religion and called covenant-breakers for not accepting a certain leader or for other reasons, and this has led some to claim or see (the) Baha'i faith as a little bit cultish, but nonetheless, we should avoid painting with (a) black or white kind of brush in any of the two extreme directions.

It certainly seems that the Baha'i faith is going to increase even more in numbers. There is clearly something about it that attracts a large number of people. What is clear is that what started as a unique movement that branched off from Shia Islam in the 19th century has grown into a world religion, one of the largest and most significant world religions in the world today. This series has been (an) attempt to give you a more comprehensive overview (and) history of the origins and development of the Baha'i faith. There are (sic) plenty of information online and many different books in which you can learn more, but just keep in mind that most of the books are written by Baha'is themselves, and so they tend of, course, to favor a certain narrative of events. This should always be kept in mind. In any case I hope you've enjoyed these videos. Let me know what you think in the comments and if you want to support this channel, you can do so through my Patreon page - link in the description, or you can simply like the video and subscribe to the channel. I'll see you next time.

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