What is a Baha’i?

What is a Baha’i? An obvious question for a person who has just come across the Baha’i Faith, but likewise a question that people who have already professed their belief in Baha’u’llah should perhaps regularly ask themselves. And for others who may not profess acceptance of Baha’u’llah and His claims, but who chose to behave in an upright manner, the question obtains equal importance. In the Arabic Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah states:

O SON OF BEING! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.

An examination of the Baha’i Sacred Texts amply provides us with detailed information on what it means to be a Baha’i, and regular contemplation and application of this guidance will provide a light and a guide in which a person can place their deeds. Likewise, it provides a means of aiding one to set goals for improvement in behaviour and attitude. It must be made clear at the start, however, that the question asks not “who”, but “what” is a Baha’i. And in the light of the guidance in the Baha’i Sacred Texts, even the question of “who” cannot be assumed to be one who has recognised Baha’u’llah as the Manifestation of God for this day. An instance in point are these statements from Abdu’l-Baha:

When Christians act according to the teachings of Christ, they are called Baha’is. For the foundations of Christianity and the religion of Baha’u’llah are one. The foundations of all the divine Prophets and Holy Books are one. The difference among them is one of terminology only. … Whoever acts completely in accordance with the teachings of Christ is a Baha’i. The purpose is the essential meaning of Christian, not the mere word. The purpose is the sun itself and not the dawning points.1

And again:

It makes no difference whether you have ever heard of Baha’u’llah or not,” was the answer, “the man who lives the life according to the teachings of Baha’u’llah is already a Baha’i. On the other hand a man may call himself a Baha’i for fifty years and if he does not live the life he is not a Baha’i. An ugly man may call himself handsome, but he deceives no one, and a black man may call himself white yet he deceives no one: not even himself!2

So it is obvious that the name “Baha’i” can be applied to a person who has declared a recognition of Baha’u’llah and His Revelation and is a recognised member of the Baha’i community, and likewise to a person who may never have heard of Baha’u’llah but who abides by the standards expected of a Baha’i. So what are these standards?

A Baha’i denies no religion; he accepts the Truth in all, and would die to uphold it. He loves all men as his brothers, of whatever class, of whatever race or nationality, of whatever creed or colour, whether good or bad, rich or poor, beautiful or hideous. He commits no violence; if he is struck he does not return the blow. He calls nothing bad, following the example of the Lord Baha’u’llah.3

In brief, let each one of you be as a lamp shining forth with the light of the virtues of the world of humanity. Be trustworthy, sincere, affectionate and replete with chastity. Be illumined, be spiritual, be divine, be glorious, be quickened of God, be a Baha’i.4

What are the requirements? Love for mankind, sincerity toward all, reflecting the oneness of the world of humanity, philanthropy, becoming enkindled with the fire of the love of God, attainment to the knowledge of God and that which is conducive to human welfare.5

I desire distinction for you. The Baha’is must be distinguished from others of humanity. But this distinction must not depend upon wealth—that they should become more affluent than other people. I do not desire for you financial distinction. It is not an ordinary distinction I desire; not scientific, commercial, industrial distinction. For you I desire spiritual distinction—that is, you must become eminent and distinguished in morals. In the love of God you must become distinguished from all else. You must become distinguished for loving humanity, for unity and accord, for love and justice. In brief, you must become distinguished in all the virtues of the human world—for faithfulness and sincerity, for justice and fidelity, for firmness and steadfastness, for philanthropic deeds and service to the human world, for love toward every human being, for unity and accord with all people, for removing prejudices and promoting international peace. Finally, you must become distinguished for heavenly illumination and for acquiring the bestowals of God. I desire this distinction for you. This must be the point of distinction among you.6

But you say – he has given only quotes from the Master! What of the Blessed Beauty? What of the Words of Baha’u’llah? This has been left to last, deliberately, on the assumption that what is read last will be remembered longest.

Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring. Be an ornament to the countenance of truth, a crown to the brow of fidelity, a pillar of the temple of righteousness, a breath of life to the body of mankind, an ensign of the hosts of justice, a luminary above the horizon of virtue, a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit upon the tree of humility.7

  1. Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.470 []
  2. Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p.127 []
  3. Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p.127 []
  4. Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.470 []
  5. Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.470 []
  6. Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.470 []
  7. Baha’u’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p.346 []

About the Author

My father was a clergyman during the formative years of my life. Came across the Baha'i Faith and declared as a follower of Baha'u'llah when I was 20 years old in 1971 (no counting allowed, hear?). Over the intervening years, have done all the "normal" Baha'i things - served on various Local Assemblies, the odd committee, travelled, enjoyed the Fireside thing (still do), became a tutor for the Ruhi Program, and for a time served as Cluster Statistics Officer. Now retired (due to health, not age), leaving me plenty of time to develop my personal teaching goals and begin to work toward them. Married to the most beautiful person on this planet (though others may have a different viewpoint (grinning)), and a wonderful daughter between us. Live on some acreage, enjoy the company of the wildlife (many of whom seem to have adopted us).

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Discussion 7 Comments

  1. Yes! ‘When asked on one occasion: “What is a Bahá’í?” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied: “To be a Bahá’í simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood.”

    1. Good morning Leila

      Thank you for your kind reply. And yes, the quote you gave also. A wonderful statement, which wonderfully decouples ownership from the concept of a Baha’i.

      Romane

  2. “What is a Baha’i” especially appeals in that so many Baha’i sources right on the target are cited.
    Consider adding the obligations and duties all Baha’is have to the Universal House of Justice
    and what makes this institution unique vis-a-vis the entire history of religion
    Baha’i love
    Paul

    1. Good morning Paul

      Your reply is heart-warming. Thank you.

      Yes, the obligation of those who are recognised members of the Baha’i community and publically declared believers in Baha’u’llah, their obligation to be obedient to the Covenant. Not necessary for others who could be termed Baha’i, even those who have never heard of Baha’u’llah, but for us an obligation.

      Romane

  3. Romane,
    I love this article and your approach to answering the question, “What Is A Baha’i”. It would be easy to answer this in terms of administrative status or laws, but you have answered it in the broadest and most inclusive and inviting way possible. While some Christians might be offended by us saying that they are Baha’is, they should understand what we mean by saying it. It is the highest compliment a person could merit, as far as Baha’is are concerned. It would be an equally high compliment to say to someone that you consider them a true Christian or a true Muslim. While distinctions can be made amongst these groups, all share the love for God and God’s creation and a desire to serve both.

    Thanks again for your lovely post!

    1. Good morning Alan

      Thank you. You post cheered my heart, with its humility and joy. I agree with your statements, and I believe they are fully supported by the Baha’i Texts.

      Romane

  4. I have a website, Romane, at which I deal with the question of what is a Baha’i. I deal with that question in one of the nearly 100 sub-sections of my site. I have posted the following three paragraphs, among others at my site in order to try and provide an answer to that question. Readers can access more at this link, if they so desire: http://www.ronpriceepoch.com/Babi.html

    The organisational aspects of any global religion must still be grounded in the spirituality of the individual. Here is a Baha’i view: “The Bahá’í Faith, like all other Divine religions, is thus fundamentally mystic in character. Its chief goal is the development of the individual and society, through the acquisition of spiritual virtues and powers. It is the soul of man that has first to be fed; prayer is one of the best ways to provide this feeding, this spiritual nourishment. Laws and institutions, as viewed by Bahá’u’lláh, can become really effective only when the inner spiritual life has been perfected and transformed. Otherwise religion will degenerate into a mere organization, and become a dead thing.”

    Ultimately, it is my opinion for what it is worth, that believers in one supreme transcendent Deity should also accept that there is only one true religion of that Deity. This ‘true religion’ does not exist in any exclusivist or fanatical manner by identification with one particular brand name and only that brand name for all time. This ‘true religion’ exists in a progressive, inclusive manner, unfolding over time past and future, consistently with the age, place, culture and capacity of the recipients. We need to accept the validity of all the great religions as originally revealed.

    Exclusivism and bigotry, sectarianism and religious prejudice, fanaticism and the belief that “I am right and you are wrong” are at the root of so much of the trouble caused or contributed to: (i) by so-called religions, (ii) by many non-religious causes and belief systems, political and non-political, and (iii) by an individualistic ethos. The road to one world, a road we have been travelling on for some time, is complex, stony, often harsh, full of suffering, and is going to keep us all busy as little beavers for some time to come.

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