“Let your vision be world embracing…” — Bahá’u’lláh
Throughout history, God has sent to humanity a series of divine Educators—known as Manifestations of God—whose teachings have provided the basis for the advancement of civilization. These Manifestations have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Bahá’u’lláh, the latest of these Messengers, explained that the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.
Bahá’ís believe the crucial need facing humanity is to find a unifying vision of the future of society and of the nature and purpose of life. Such a vision unfolds in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh.
“He Who is your Lord, the All-Merciful, cherisheth in His heart the desire of beholding the entire human race as one soul and one body.”
In thousands upon thousands of locations around the world, the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith inspire individuals and communities as they work to improve their own lives and contribute to the advancement of civilization.
Bahá’í beliefs address such essential themes as the oneness of God and religion, the oneness of humanity and freedom from prejudice, the inherent nobility of the human being, the progressive revelation of religious truth, the development of spiritual qualities, the integration of worship and service, the fundamental equality of the sexes, the harmony between religion and science, the centrality of justice to all human endeavours, the importance of education, and the dynamics of the relationships that are to bind together individuals, communities, and institutions as humanity advances towards its collective maturity.
The Bahá’í Faith began with the mission entrusted by God to two Divine Messengers—the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. Today, the distinctive unity of the Faith They founded stems from explicit instructions given by Bahá’u’lláh that have assured the continuity of guidance following His passing. This line of succession, referred to as the Covenant, went from Bahá’u’lláh to His Son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and then from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to His grandson, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice, ordained by Bahá’u’lláh. A Bahá’í accepts the divine authority of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh and of these appointed successors.
Baha’u’llah’s Revelation affirms that the purpose of our lives is to know God and to attain His presence. Our true identity is our rational soul, whose free will and powers of understanding enable us to continually better ourselves and our society. Walking a path of service to God and to humanity gives life meaning and prepares us for the moment the soul separates from the body and continues on its eternal journey towards its Maker.
The Bahá’í Writings explain that the reality of God is beyond the understanding of any mortal mind, though we may find expressions of His attributes in every created thing. Throughout the ages, He has sent a succession of Divine Messengers, known as Manifestations of God, to educate and guide humanity, awakening in whole populations capacities to contribute to the advancement of civilization to an extent never before possible.
Realization of the principle of the oneness of humanity is at once the goal and operating principle of Bahá’u’lláh’s revelation. Bahá’u’lláh compared the world of humanity to the human body. Within this organism, millions of cells, diverse in form and function, play their part in maintaining a healthy system. Similarly, harmonious relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions serve to sustain society and allow for the advancement of civilization.
The teachings of Baha’u’llah are vast in their scope, exploring as they do such themes as the nature and purpose of Revelation, the inherent nobility of the human being, the cultivation of spiritual qualities, and humanity’s interactions with the natural world. The Bahá’í Writings are also replete with references to universal peace—“the supreme goal of all mankind”—as well as explanations of the social principles with which this peace is associated.
Among these principles are the independent search after truth; the oneness of the entire human race, which is the pivotal principle of the Bahá’í Faith; the abolition of all forms of prejudice; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of humankind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; and the confirmation of justice as the ruling principle in human affairs. Bahá’ís do not view these principles as mere statements of vague aspiration—they are understood as matters of immediate and practical concern for individuals, communities, and institutions alike.
“The cup of knowledge is overflowing; blessed are they who partake in draughts! The fountain of life is issuing forth; blessed are they who drink!”
Since the inception of the Bahá’í Faith in the Nineteenth Century, a growing number of people have found in the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh a compelling vision of a better world. Many have drawn insights from these teachings—for example, on the oneness of humanity, on the equality of women and men, on the elimination of prejudice, on the harmony of science and religion—and have sought to apply Bahá’í principles to their lives and work. Others have gone further and have decided to join the Bahá’í community and participate in its efforts to contribute directly to the realization of Bahá’u’lláh’s stupendous vision for humanity’s coming of age.
Bahá’ís hail from all walks of life. Young and old, men and women alike, they live alongside others in every land and belong to every nation. They share a common goal of serving humanity and refining their inner-lives in accordance with the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. The community to which they belong is one of learning and action, free from any sense of superiority or claim to exclusive understanding of truth. It is a community that strives to cultivate hope for the future of humanity, to foster purposeful effort, and to celebrate the endeavours of all those in the world who work to promote unity and alleviate human suffering.
A pivotal concept in the Bahá’í teachings is that the refinement of one’s inner character and service to humanity are inseparable facets of life. Shoghi Effendi, in a letter written on his behalf, states:
We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.
In light of this, Bahá’ís have come to appreciate the operation of a two-fold purpose that is fundamental to their lives: to attend to their own spiritual and intellectual growth and to contribute to the transformation of society.
This two-fold purpose helps to shape the endeavours of Bahá’ís in all areas. Thus, for example, they are not only expected to pray and reflect daily in their personal lives, but also to make efforts to infuse their surroundings with a devotional spirit; they are asked, not only to deepen their own knowledge of the Faith, but also to share with others Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings; they are not only admonished to learn to resist the dictates of the ego in their own lives, but also to strive, with courage and humility, to reverse the tendencies of a culture that glorifies self-gratification and erodes the foundations of solidarity.
Service and worship are at the heart of the pattern of community life that Bahá’ís around the world are trying to bring into being. They are two distinct, yet inseparable elements that propel the life of the community forward. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes that, “Success and prosperity depend upon service to and worship of God”.
Prayer is integral to Bahá’í life, whether at the level of the individual, the community, or the institutions. Bahá’ís turn their hearts in prayer to God repeatedly throughout the day—imploring His assistance, supplicating Him on behalf of loved ones, offering praise and gratitude, and seeking divine confirmations and guidance. In addition, meetings of consultation and gatherings where friends have come together to undertake one or another project commonly begin and end with prayers.
Bahá’ís also host gatherings in which friends, Bahá’ís and others alike, unite together in prayer, often in one another’s homes. Devotional meetings such as these serve to awaken spiritual susceptibilities within the participants, and in concert with the acts of service they perform, lead to a pattern of community life that is infused with the spirit of devotion and focused on the attainment of spiritual and material prosperity.
The integration of devotion and service finds expression in the institution of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár. The structure comprises a central building that forms the focal point of worship in a geographical area, and dependencies dedicated to the provision of education, healthcare and other services concerned with the social and economic progress of the community. Although there are but a few Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs in the world today, the seeds for their eventual establishment are being planted in an increasing number of communities, and in the future every locality will benefit from such a physical structure.
The family unit is the nucleus of human society. It provides a vital setting for the development of praiseworthy qualities and capacities. Through its harmonious functioning and the development and maintenance of the bonds of love that join together its members, it gives constant expression to the truth that the well-being of the individual is inextricably bound to the progress and well-being of others.
A fundamental role of the family is to raise children who can assume responsibility for both their own spiritual growth and their participation in the advancement of civilization. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states that the mother and father of a child should “as a duty…strive with all effort to train the daughter and the son”, and Bahá’í parents, who bear the primary responsibility for the upbringing of their children, are to be ever mindful of their duty in this connection. But the education of children is not only the responsibility of the parents. The community also has an important role to play and the Bahá’í community gives considerable attention to the subject. Indeed, classes, open to all, for the spiritual and moral education of children are typically among the first activities to be pursued by Bahá’ís in a locality.
Youth have played a vital role in Bahá’í history. The Báb Himself declared His mission when He was but twenty-five years old and so many among the band of His followers were in the prime of their youth when they embraced His Revelation. During the ministries of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, young people were at the forefront of efforts to proclaim the message of the new Faith and to share its teachings with others.
Following in the path that these and other extraordinary figures had opened, thousands of young Bahá’ís have arisen in each generation to respond to the call of Bahá’u’lláh. Their efforts are guided by the Head of the Bahá’í Faith—today, the Universal House of Justice—which encourages young Bahá’ís to draw on the zeal and enthusiasm characteristic of the period of youth and so make decisive contributions to the advancement of spiritual and material civilization.
The gradual development of the Bahá’í community’s administrative structures and the refinement of its associated processes are areas that have received significant attention since the inception of the Bahá’í Faith. The subject is described in some detail in the Bahá’í Administrative Order topic collection in the “What Bahá’ís Believe” area of this website.
The energy that Bahá’ís devote to enhancement of institutional capacity, and the care with which they follow the evolution and development of administrative processes and structures, is not motivated simply by a wish to increase the efficiency with which the Bahá’í community’s own affairs are to be managed. They recognize in this development a necessary contribution to the pattern of a new social order envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, to the new ways that a mature humanity will attend to its political, social, and cultural affairs.
Bahá’u’lláh counselled His followers: “Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”
As such, Bahá’ís throughout the world—both individually and collectively—strive to become involved in the life of society, working shoulder to shoulder with divers groups to contribute to the advancement of material and spiritual civilization.
Two complementary areas of endeavour are explored here. Social action describes a spectrum of activities, often undertaken at the grassroots, the purpose of which is to contribute to the material and social wellbeing of the wider community. Closely related are the efforts of Bahá’ís to contribute to the public welfare at the level of thought through participation in the discourses of society. Among individual members of the Bahá’í community this typically entails sharing ideas inspired by the Bahá’í teachings in a variety of social spaces. National Spiritual Assemblies coordinate Bahá’í efforts to contribute to discussions focussed on various aspects of social progress, while on the international stage, the Bahá’í International Community is present in a range of global networks concerned with issues such as the equality of men and women and sustainable development.