The work of the Faith proceeds in three interactive and complementary spheres of activity: individual, community, and institutional. The role of the individual is accorded basic significance because the success of the community depends ultimately on the individual’s response to the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. This role is expressed principally both in the initiatives taken by the individual to acquaint others with the Faith and in efforts to assist in building a united, functioning community.
For Bahá’ís, the concepts of Heaven and Hell are allegories for nearness and remoteness from God. When we die, the condition of our souls determines our experience of the afterlife. Heaven and Hell are not physical places, but spiritual realities. As in the world’s other religions, the Bahá’í concept of life after death is deeply integrated into teachings about the nature of the soul and the purpose of this earthly life.
The Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, Bahá’u’lláh, was born into a Muslim family and society. Thus, in much the same way as Christianity grew out of Judaism, or Buddhism out of Hinduism, the Bahá’í Faith emerged from an Islamic context. However, like them, the Bahá’í Faith is an independent religion with its own laws, teachings, and institutions.
The life of a Bahá’í is dedicated to personal and social transformation. Bahá’u’lláh explained that transformation is the true purpose of religion, and He described the personal and social processes as essentially interactive and complementary. Consequently, Bahá’ís are committed to building the capacity of individuals and to learning, through community-based efforts, how better to effect change and improve society. The empowerment of individuals and the fostering of their initiative are thus basic elements of social and economic development processes in fields such as education, agriculture, and health improvement. These efforts are animated by Bahá’u’lláh’s call for the unity of humankind, the fundamental objectives of which include eliminating racial and other forms of prejudice, promulgating the equality of the sexes, adopting a universal standard of human rights, ensuring education for all, recognizing the harmony between religion and science, choosing an international auxiliary language, and establishing a world government. Bahá’ís join others in such endeavors, creating and cooperating with relevant nongovernmental organizations, including at the United Nations where the Bahá’í International Community is an active nongovernmental organization.
The Most Holy Book of the Bahá’í Faith is the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the book of laws written by Bahá’u’lláh. It is part of a large body of scriptures authored by Him. Comprising an estimated 100 volumes, these writings cover topics of a wide range, including laws and principles for personal conduct and the governance of society, as well as mystical writings dealing with the progress of the soul and its journey towards God. The many writings of the Báb and those of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá are also a sacred source of reference for Bahá’ís. Moreover, Bahá’ís recognize the Bible, the Qur’an, and the holy texts of the world’s other revealed religions.
Bahá’ís observe eleven holy days each year. These include days associated with the lives of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb, as well as the Bahá’í new year, on March 21. The most important of the other holidays is Ridván, a twelve-day period in April/May that commemorates Bahá’u’lláh’s declaration of His mission. The holy days are commemorated with community gatherings for prayer, reflection, and fellowship. On nine of these holy days, Bahá’ís abstain from work.
Bahá’u’lláh called for temples of great beauty to be built eventually in every locality where Bahá’ís reside, each to be surrounded by institutions of social service. To date, seven have been built, at least one on each continent. While their architectural styles differ, they share certain features, such as nine entrances on nine sides, and are set in magnificent gardens (nine being the highest digit symbolizes completeness or unity). These temples are places for personal prayer and meditation, as well as collective worship, where sacred scriptures are recited and sung.
Bahá’ís worship God through prayer and meditation, by participating in devotional gatherings, and through active service to their communities. They individually recite one of three obligatory prayers each day as prescribed by Bahá’u’lláh. The Bahá’í scriptures offer much guidance on the uses of prayer and contain many prayers for various purposes and occasions. Moreover, work performed in the spirit of service is, according to the Bahá’í teachings, a form of worshipping God.
People commune with God through prayer and receive guidance through study of the Word of God. The Bahá’í writings contain prayers for a wide range of purposes and occasions in addition to certain daily obligatory prayers. Moreover, Bahá’ís believe that work performed in a spirit of service is worship. Thus, together with active service, fasting, meditation, and obedience to spiritual and moral laws, prayer enables us to develop and grow closer to God.
Through Divine Messengers, God has revealed His laws and teachings for humanity in order that the individual soul can draw near to Him and society can advance spiritually and materially. Throughout history, the revelations of the Messengers of God have renewed religion so that humanity can come to understand its true purpose.
God is the ultimate Reality, Creator of the universe, Whose nature is unknowable and inaccessible to humankind. Such designations as God, Allah, Yahweh, Brahma all refer to the One Divine Being. We learn about God through His Messengers, Who teach and guide humanity.