Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Baha i

There are numerous religions in the world who make the claim that their chosen Deity appeared to one or more humans whom later become known as prophets. These so called prophets then extol the virtues and beliefs of their particular new found religion. One of the newest religions in the world began its existence in this very manner, they are known as the Bahá'í.
The Baha i Faith began in 1844 CE. It is a commonly held belief that the Baha i were originally members of the Muslim faith. This observation is attributed in part because a handful of students, belonging to the Shaykhi school, sprung from the Ithna-'Ashariyyih sect of Shi`ah Islam, to form what is now known as Baha i.
The first prophet of Baha i who was known as Baha'u'llah was in fact; Siyyid 'Ali-Muhammad Shirází who worked as a merchant in Shiraz in the southern part of Iran.
He assumed the title of "Bab" (the Gate) and in May of 1844 he announced his "Declaration of the Bab." He explained that the purpose of his declaration, and those of his eighteen disciples whom he referred to as the "Letters of the Living," was to herald the arrival of "One greater than Himself", who would fulfill the prophetic expectations of all the great religions.
This declaration seems to be in line with prior declarations from earlier self proclaimed prophets who also declared that their personal belief system would serve to accomplish similiar goals.
I make this observation not as a form of mockery or ridicule but only as a pragmatic observation that many so called organized religions start out in a similiar fashion and with identical goals.
As it was, in 1850 CE, the powers to be in Iran, initiated the execution of Siyyid 'Ali-Muhammad Shirází (Bab) who was seen as a threat to Islam.
Upon the execution of Siyyid 'Ali-Muhammad Shirází, one of his followers; Mirza Husayn-'Ali-i-Nuri took on the mantle of leader of the Baha i. In 1863 CE, he reportedly confided to his followers and to his eldest son that he was the Manifestation alluded to by the Bab. He assumed the title, "Baha'u'llah" (Glory of God).
This event is now commemorated yearly during the holy days of "Ridván".
Because of this declaration, Mirza Husayn-'Ali-i-Nuri spent the last 40 years of his life either in prison or in exile where he authored a number of books about the Baha i faith. He died in May of 1892 CE and his burial place became a shrine which is regarded by Bahá i's as the holiest place on earth.
He was succeeded by his son "'Abdu'l-Baha" (1844 - 1921 CE) who was instrumental to spreading the Baha i faith around the world.
He in turn was succeeded by his eldest grandson "Shoghi Effendi" (died 1957 CE) who became known as "Guardian of the Cause of God". And to his credit he was instrumental in elevating women into various positions of power within the Baha i faith.
Since Shoghi Effendi died without naming a successor, a committee whom he had called "Hands of the Cause" was granted the authority to continue oversight of the Baha i faith.
In 1963 CE, the Universal House of Justice (a.k.a. UHJ) was established in Haifi, Israel. Provisions for such a body had been contained in the will of 'Abdu'l-Baha. Though it was stymied somewhat by the fact that the provisions called for the House of Justice to be headed by the Guardian or someone appointed by him. But the "Guardian" had died and, while he was alive, had not appointed anyone to take that position. And so even though the "House" is the highest authority in the Bahá'í faith, it has no powers to interpret or to change Baha i scripture.
As such, Mirza Husayn-'Ali-i-Nuri nor any of his predecessors interpretations can be changed.
Were I a member of this particular religion which for the most part is based upon the tenets of lineage, I personally would be concerned about the inflexibility to change with the times as it were.
For instance the Baha i faith promotes as its principles the elimination of all forms of prejudice and to uphold equal dignity and respect for all peoples, regardless of their racial, ethnic, religious or national background. Equality of men and women, the elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth and economic justice for all peoples, universal education, and the dignity of the individual. These are grand goals but the reality is that sexual orientation is notably absent from their list of protected classes of humans.
Also there is the exclusion of all women from serving on its highest religious court, the Universal House of Justice. And since such issues cannot be addressed per their own self enacted rule that the "House" cannot interpret scripture as it applies to their faith, these issues will never be appended to meet the standards and/or realities of modern society.
And so the taint of hypocrisy is ever present.
I also have to wonder where the line is drawn between the word of man and the alleged word of one's chosen Deity.
But since the only right religion is the one that works for the individual, each person must and should decide for themselves which religion and/or spiritual path works for them.
By having knowlege of the realities of religions and/or spiritual beliefs we are better informed when making such a choice as it applies to our personal beliefs.
And hopefully such knowledge will lead to a greater understanding not only of ourselves but of those who travel through this world with us.
We do not have to agree with someone elses's beliefs, but we should atleast be accepting of the fact that others have the right to make choices that may not be in line with our own.
This is what makes each of us individuals and validates the words "acceptance and diversity"...

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