The central teaching of Baha'u'llah is that mankind is one human race, and that the age for the unification of this race in a global society has arrived. Among the principles of justice on which the religion is based are equality of the sexes, the right of all people to education and economic opportunity, the abolition of all forms of prejudice and the need for the establishment of a democratic world government with its own peacekeeping force.
Baha'is believe that all great religions of the past have been stages in the progressive revelation of what Baha'u'llah called "the changeless Faith of God." God himself is unknowable. From age to age he reveals himself through his messengers, whose lives and teachings reflect the Divine qualities. These successive revelations have provided the chief impulse in the civilizing of human nature and the evolution of human society. Other messengers will follow Baha'u'llah so long as the universe exists, but the challenge of the next thousand years will be to realize Baha'u'llah's vision of world unity and social justice.
For the individual, the purpose of life is to know and worship God. This lifelong process occurs as the individual learns to serve humanity by responding to the message of God and, in the process, develops his or her own spiritual, moral and intellectual capacities. Prayer, meditation on the creative Word, the discipline of one's physical nature, and the pursuit of education in a profession or trade are necessary aids to this effort. The rational soul is immortal and continues to evolve after death.
The Baha'i faith began in 1844 in Persia [Iran], with the announcement of the new age by Baha'u'llah's forerunner, known as the Bab ("The Door"). The Bab (1819-50) and several thousand early Persian followers, regarded by the Muslim clergy as heretics, were persecuted and killed. Baha'u'llah was imprisoned and eventually exiled to the Turkish penal fortress of Akka, on the bay of Haifa in present-day Israel. The shrines where the Bab and Baha'u'llah lie buried are today the focal points of an imposing complex of gardens and institutions. By 2009 over 2 100 ethnic groups were represented in the 116 000 Baha'i centres established worldwide. Persecution of Iran's 300 000 Baha'is for refusal to recant their faith intensified under the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini and became a systematic campaign by the current Islamic Republic aimed at entirely extirpating the Faith in the land of its birth.
Baha'is have no clergy. The affairs of the community are governed by democratically elected councils locally, nationally and internationally. At the lower two levels the councils, known as Spiritual Assemblies, are elected each year. The supreme governing body, the Universal House of Justice, whose seat is at the faith's world headquarters on Mount Carmel, Haifa, is elected every five years. Because of its beliefs, the Baha'i Faith places great importance on co-operation with all efforts toward world unity. The body which represents it in international affairs, the Baha'i International Community, holds consultative status as one of the nongovernmental organizations at the UNITED NATIONS, and it takes an active part in many of the UN's humanitarian and educational activities.
Baha'i Faith in Canada
Canada has played an unusually important role in Baha'i history. It is significant that after a visit to Montréal, Abdu'l-Bahá, one of the founders of the faith, called on the Baha'i communities in North America (United States and Canada) to take the lead in the promotion of Baha'u'llah's teachings worldwide. The global Baha'i community today is a testimony to the devotion and efficiency with which they responded. In 1937 one of the community's members, Mary Sutherland Maxwell of Montréal, married the great-grandson of the founder of the Baha'i Faith, Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, who served in the central role of its Guardian until his death in 1957.
Canadian Baha'is are grateful for the energetic efforts of successive Canadian governments who have intervened on behalf of their persecuted co-religionists in Iran. The first protest by a national government against the pogrom launched by the Islamic Republic of Iran was a unanimous vote in Canadian parliament in June of 1980.
The Canadian community has had a particularly close connection with the design of the faith's many shrines and houses of worship around the world. Two Montréal Baha'i architects, William Sutherland Maxwell and Jean-Baptiste Louis Bourgeois, designed, respectively, the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land and the first House of Worship in the western hemisphere at Chicago, Illinois. In the 1990s, the Vancouver Baha'i architect Fariborz Sahba created the extraordinary "Lotus Temple" in New Delhi, India, which has won acclaim in the international architectural press. Still another Vancouver Baha'i, Hossein Amanat, is responsible for the design of the complex of monumental marble edifices constituting the faith's international administrative centre in Haifa, Israel, on the slopes of Mount Carmel. A fifth Canadian Baha'i architect, Siamak Hariri of Toronto, won the competition for the design of the "Mother Temple" of South America in Santiago, Chile.
Canadian Baha'is work in countless community-development projects undertaken by their faith around the world, and their National Assembly collaborates with the CANADIAN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY and the INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT RESEARCH CENTRE on a range of such activities. The Canadian community pioneered the concept of an international organization for Baha'i studies to bring together scholars and students in an application of Baha'i principles to various social concerns. The Association for Baha'i Studies, founded 1977, has its headquarters in Ottawa and affiliates in 25 other countries.
The faith has attracted members from all Canadian provinces and territories and from every ethnic group and social class. Five of the faith's 274 elected Local Spiritual Assemblies are on native reserves and others, with Inuit members, are in remote Arctic centres. The Canadian National Spiritual Assembly was the first Baha'i institution in the world to be incorporated formally by a special Act of a sovereign parliament (1949), an example since followed in two or three other countries. The Baha'i National Centre is located in Thornhill, Ontario, and the former Maxwell home in Montréal is maintained as a Baha'i place of PILGRIMAGE.
A widely used introduction to the faith, The Bahá'í Faith: The Emerging Global Religion (New York: Harper & Row, 1984; revised and updated in 1998) was written by two Canadian Baha'is, William Hatcher and Douglas Martin.
Author J. DOUGLAS MARTIN Revised: MINA YAZDANI
Links to Other Sites
Bahá'í Community of Canada
The website for the Bahá'í Community of Canada.
Hariri Pontarini Architects
The website for the critically-acclaimed firm Hariri Pontarini Architects. View an impressive online photo gallery of structures designed by this firm.
From One Prayer to Another
A multimedia website that examines how different religions coexist in Canada. From Radio Canada International.
Bahá’í community of Montréal
The website for the Bahá’í community of Montréal.