In May of 1844, a young Persian by the name of Mirza `Ali Muhammad declared that He was the promised Qa'im of Shí'ah Islam. He assumed the title of The Báb (Gate). The Báb's mission was twofold: He first
announced to the people of His native land His own station as an independent Messenger and He also prepared the way for the coming of another Manifestation (messenger) of God, a Prophet who would announce His station soon after The Báb. The next six years marked a dramatic increase in both the number of persons who became followers of the Báb and in the energy spent by the Shí'ah clergy of Iran to stamp out this new religion. Eventually 20,000 Bábis would be put to death for their beliefs. The Báb Himself was imprisoned and was executed in July of 1850. Many Bábis were also imprisoned. Among them was Husayn-`Ali, entitled
Bahá'u'lláh (The Glory of God) by The Báb. Imprisoned for several months in 1853 in Tehran and then exiled to Iraq, in the city of Baghdád in 1863 Bahá'u'lláh announced to the world His station as the One for Whom the Báb had prepared the way. The majority of the Bábis accepted Bahá'u'lláh's claim and became known as Bahá'ís (the followers of Bahá).
Shortly after His declaration, Bahá'u'lláh was again banished, even further From His native land: from Baghdád to Constantinople, and then to Adrianople. Finally in 1867, Bahá'u'lláh was exiled for the last time. He was sent to the prison city of Akka (Acre) in Palestine. He would stay in and around Akka until the end of His life in 1892.
Before Bahá'u'lláh passed away, He appointed His eldest son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, to be the center of His Covenant and the interpreter of His writings. 'Abdu'l-Bahá was leader of the Bahá'í Faith until His own passing in 1921. Although He is not considered to be a Manifestation of God like the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá's decisions are believed to have been divinely guided and His writings (along with the Báb's and Bahá'u'lláh's) are considered a part of the Bahá'í sacred scripture. After being released from the prison in Akka, 'Abdu'l-Bahá made several journeys to the West, including a trip to America in 1912.
'Abdu'l-Bahá stated in his Will and Testament that leadership of the Bahá'í community was to be passed on to his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, who became the "Guardian" of the Bahá'í community after 'Abdu'l-Bahá died. Shoghi Effendi led the Bahá'ís until his passing in 1957. It was under Shoghi Effendi's leadership that the Bahá'í Faith spread to all corners of the world. Today there are Bahá'ís in over 200 countries and territories and Bahá'í literature has been
translated into over 700 different languages.
Consistent with the Bahá'í principle of independent investigation of truth, according to which no individual Bahá'í may offer an interpretation of the Bahá'í Writings by which others are bound, there is no clergy in the Bahá'í Faith. Bahá'í institutions govern the administrative affairs of the Faith. In each locality, nine-member boards known as Local Spiritual Assemblies are elected annually. At the national level are National Spiritual Assemblies, also consisting of nine members, elected annually by representatives of the Bahá'ís in each country. At the international level is the Universal House of Justice, centered in Haifa, Israel (just across the bay from the prison city of Akka, where Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá were imprisoned). The Universal House of Justice also consists of nine members and is elected every five years by members of the National Spiritual Assemblies throughout the world. The Universal House of Justice has final responsibility for overseeing the international Bahá'í community.
For those interested in reading more about the Bahá'í Faith, a few references are listed below. Some of these volumes can be found at your local public library. In addition, many Bahá'í communities have
lending libraries and, in varying degrees, bookstore capabilities.
Hatcher, W.S. and Martin, G.D. "The Bahá'í Faith: The Emerging Global Religion", Harper & Row, New York, 1986.
Bahá'í Sacred Writings
"Bahá'í World Faith: Selected Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá", Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, IL, 1956, reprinted 1976.
"Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdás", Bahá'í World Center, Haifa, 1978.
"Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh", translated by Shoghi Effendi. Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, IL, 1939, 3rd ed. 1976.
"The Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh", Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, IL, 1939, 11th ed. 1980.
"Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá", Bahá'í World Center, Haifa, 1978.
Balyuzi, H.M. "Bahá'u'lláh, the King of Glory", George Ronald, Oxford, 1980
An up to date version of this introduction can always be obtained via anonymous ftp from rtfm.mit.edu in the directory /pub/usenet/soc.religion.bahai