Ask a new Baha'i

Hi all,

I did a search and noticed there aren’t many threads about the Baha’i faith. I am a new member, though I have been studying the faith to make my decision for years. It was the biggest decision I can remember making, but it was very important to me and I feel very glad that I did. :slight_smile:

My family comes from a protestant Christian background, and though I have always believed in God, it was around high school when I felt comfortable no longer identifying myself as Christian. I considered myself a Gnostic Valentinian for a few years until I drifted back into a nebulous, God-believing but not religious person. Then I had a chance meeting with a local Baha’i, started attending events, and found myself strongly drawn to what I read and heard.

I’m not the world’s most knowlegeable Baha’i ever, but if I don’t know the answer to a question I can look it up or ask around (and I believe I remember there is at least one baha’i on this site?) :slight_smile:

OK, I’ll start.

What is a Baha’i and what do they believe? How are they different from Christians (and other religions)?

Have you been to the Baha’i House of Worshipin Wilmette, IL? It’s just a few miles north of my apartment and I love taking visitors to the area up to see it. It’s really beautiful and quite a site to see, rising up above a residential area on Lake Michigan. For any Dopers in the Chicago area that haven’t gone up that way, I strongly recommend visiting it.

Have you ever met Rainn Wilson? I know he grew up in a Baha’i family and his parents worked at the temple in Wilmette. He is still very active in the faith.

What is the significance of the Baha’i temple in Haifa? I’ve been there, and it’s very pretty, but it mostly just seemed like a large garden with a small building in the middle. Is there some sort of obligation to go there? Would you like to go there?

This is actually the question I both hoped to receive, and also am most scared of… in real life when people ask me this question, I freeze up. Maybe online I can take a little of my time and phrase it much better.

To me asking this question is no different from asking, what is Islam? It’s a HUGE question, and the people asking it don’t generally have hours to spare for me to ramble. But to me, the Baha’i faith is about world unity, peace, and togetherness.

There are quite a few similarities to Christianity, for example we consider Jesus one of the prophets (called Manifestations), along with Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, and more. Another main tenant of the Baha’i faith is the oneness of religions, and that each Manifestation of God was giving his message to those people, at that time. But the latest Manifestation was Bahaullah, who was born in Iran and spent most of his life an exile and persecuted, and Baha’is believe Bahaullah’s message is for all of humanity, and that we won’t see another manifestation for at least 10,000 years.

One of the things that attracted me to the faith so much is that, it is more modern (Bahaullah lived in the 1800’s), and seems more “relevant” and aimed at me and modern people.

I don’t live in IL anymore, but I was born in Evanston IL and lived in the Chicago area until I was seven. Yes I have seen it! But back then I was just a child, so the pretty building didn’t mean anything to me. I hope to go home next year and visit it for the first time as a baha’i. Are you a baha’i?

No, I know that he is a Baha’i (it is a small community so Baha’i celebrities are a big deal!)… He had a performance here a while ago which I know some baha’is here went to, but I am very veeery busy in my personal life between work, Ruhi classes (similar to sunday school, but Baha’is don’t have churches or clergy), and other things. :slight_smile:

I think it is similar to Hajj (sp?) in Islam, in that able bodied baha’is who could make the trip without too much financial hardship should go there sometime during their life. It includes the tomb of the Bab, who paved the way for Bahaullah’s message. It also houses the Universal House of Justice, which is like the administrative branch of the faith worldwide.

Yes I would like to go there very much, but I have a travel bug in general, it isn’t yet a spiritual longing for me- I am very pre-occupied with learning to be more “book smart” about the faith first.

I hope that was helpful! :slight_smile:


Has becoming a Baha’i changed any of your views on social issues? I believe that Baha’i in general tend to be somewhat wary of governments interfering in religious or moral issues, but I have met Bahai’s that covered a large ideological range.

My personal experience has shown me that many Muslims (outside of the USA) really don’t like the Baha’i, and favor the kind of discriminatory actions undertaken against them in Iran, Egypt and other places. Have you had experience talking with Muslims about this or about Baha’i in general? Is there a general sense among Baha’is you know about the discrimination against your co-religionists?

Do you drink alcohol and eat pork? Do you observe any particular dietary restrictions?


Gonna keep watch on this…

I first thought of saying no, but then I would change my answer to “not really”. Bahai’s believe in a baha’i world government, because the seperation of countries is artificial, silly, and the cause of war and unfair competition for resources. It is hard for me to answer this question without mixing my political opinions with baha’i positions, which we are not supposed to do. But I think it would be hard if not impossible to be a baha’i who doesn’t think the government should care for the poor and those who can’t help themselves. I would be interested if there was such a thing as a baha’i libertarian!

To be honest, in my community we don’t talk too much about government, so I have not been exposed to this. I assume that the Persian baha’is would be more likely to be wary of government than American ones, simply because of the persecution they faced. Most people don’t know that in Iran, it is impossible for Baha’is to go to college, and next to impossible for baha’is to own a business.

My barbers are muslims from Iraq, and I have told them I am a baha’i, and they had no comment (I don’t know if they don’t know what a baha’i is, or if they understood me or not). I don’t have a lot of experience talking to muslims about the baha’i faith, sorry. I have heard from some of the Persian emigrees that if they meet another Persian immigrant that they do not know is a baha’i, that they would NEVER bring it up, so at least among Iranians it must be pretty uncomfortable. The treatment of bahai’s in the middle east is shameful IMO, and it makes me feel very lucky to live here where it is so easy, no one bothers me about it.

Sorry if I can’t give a lot of insight on this.

I don’t drink alcohol, it’s strictly forbidden along with any drugs not prescribed by your doctor. Part of the reason I took so long to officially become a baha’i by declaring and signing my card was because I didn’t want to do so until I knew I would be able to never again drink any alcohol or do anymore drugs. I miss beer every now and then, but I know there are good reasons for abstaining.

I shy away from pork a lot, but this is because of the influence from my black muslim (ala, nation of Islam) uncles growing up, who had a vast library of disgusting references to pork. It has been drilled into my head most of my life how disgusting pork is. I will eat pepperoni and bacon only, very rarely would I eat a pork chop. But there is nothing in the faith about not eating pork.

One of the things different between muslim and baha’i eating habits is that Bahaullah declared that we must use utensils instead of hands, and must eat at a table, not on a floor. This is at odds with most traditional middle eastern cultures.

How do you pronounce Baha’i? I’m thinking “bah-high” but that’s just a guess.

Also, how much of the religion focuses on abstract spiritual issues compared with, for lack of a better word, dogma (i.e. the details in your interpretation of God, Jesus, et al., customs you observe and how they differ from other religions)?

Your pronunciation is the one I use, and if there is a difference between that and how the Persian baha’iyan pronounce it, I can’t hear it! :slight_smile:

I’m not 100% sure I understand your question, so let me state what I THINK you are talking about, rather, how much do we focus on the spirit and developing a relationship with god and our communities, vs docrtrinal minutiae and customs?

This varies a LOT between Christian groups I know, for example my background was a VERY moderate Methodist one, and our churches focused much more on spirit, much less on getting the most accurate translation of the bible, focusing on tiny passages etc. I was dating a Christian girl in fact, who said she found out her friend “Wasn’t actually a Christian”, and when I inquired what she meant, she pointed out some IMPOSSIBLY small difference between their interpretation of something (I really wish I remembered what it was, sorry!). It was very very depressing to me that instead of focusing on their love of God and Jesus, she denied someone else their Christianity over some minor difference in interpretation.

Baha’is focus much less on the minutae, and much more on getting the big picture right: Love of god, the diversity of mankind, and world peace. In fact, it took me a long time even hanging out with Baha’is to learn a lot of the actual beliefs beyond those major themes. We are not hung up on every small detail (we can’t, the baha’i writings are MAMMOTH when you consider all the many hundreds of volumes written by the Bab, Bahaullah, Shoghi Effendi…)

And about customs, Baha’is do not belive in rituals at all. Everything is supposed to be very informal, which is why there are no clergy at all in the baha’i faith. The only real rituals in the baha’i faith are the long version of the obligatory prayer (there is a short, medium, and long version of the prayer that must be said daily), and some having to do with funerals, which I don’t know anything about yet.

The belief is that, when something becomes a ritual, people blindly repeat them without understanding the meanings (such as mass), but if everything is informal and there is no barrier like between the membership and the clergy, everyone is more actively engaged

I am trying my best to not state anything that isn’t 100% factually accurate, but I am definitely able to make mistakes, so I hope I don’t say anything untrue.

Thank you for this thread, I’m learning more about the Baha’i faith both from your posting and the research I’m doing on the side to answer other questions. (I’ve also found out that my beliefs seem to mesh quite closely with the Baha’i faith, but that I also disagree on some key points, confirming what I knew all along: there is no belief system that 100% matches my beliefs, and I’m probably the only one in the world that holds to it.)

(Interestingly, someone in Tuesday’s repeat of Jeopardy! (a contestant in the College Tournament) mentioned she was a Baha’i during her interview, so your post is timely!)

I’m wondering though, some more questions:

  1. what is the typical Baha’i worship service like?

  2. what, if any, are the eschatological (end times) beliefs of the Baha’i? It seems that most major world religions have one, but I can’t find any on yours (short of the fact that another divine prophet isn’t due for another 1,000 years or so, so I’m guessing they don’t believe the end will be before then.)

Just out of curiosity, what are those points? To be quite honest, I don’t quite understand why openly gay people cannot be baha’is.

We don’t have anything that is all that close to “church”, which IMO is one of the best things about the faith! Even though I have always always had a strong love for god, I have always found church VERY BORING. Some less so than others, but sitting and listening to someone preach is rarely all that fun. Listening to someone preach from up high on a pulpit is not really allowed for us. We do have speakers, but it is usually a short presentation and then a group discussion type deal.

The closest thing that we do have to regular “worship service” might be feast. Every 19 days baha’is in the local community gather (there is a membership, which I think is unusual for churches). It starts with prayer, in my group there are maybe 12 non-persians and 40-something persians, so english-only speakers are the minority. We start with prayers in Farsi (persian), English, and if there is someone who speaks Arabic there, Arabic as well. Many of the baha’i writings were originally in Arabic, probably the majority actually. OH! By the way, usually baha’i prayers are pre-written writings that we recite, instead of free-style prayers. The reason for this is that they are thought to be imbued with special meaning and power (I am not sure if I am describing this right). We can say prayers from the Bible or the Quran, but special prayers written by the Bab, Bahaullah, or Shogi Effendi are most common.

Then there is brief discussion of the treasury, and a small activity where we roleplay, or discuss an issue… also we read the news from the Universal House of Justice.

There are no end of times beliefs that I have ever heard of. I am 99.9% sure there isn’t one. We generally think that the world is just getting started, finally getting more on the “right track” now because of technology which has eliminated a lot of the barriers between people from different countries and cultures. If you look around the time Bahaullah declared his message, there was a HUGE amount of technological progress, like the telephone etc.

The closest thing I can think of to what you are asking, is the baha’i belief that eventually we will have a baha’i world government. There are rules that baha’is are expected to follow now, and ones that are not feasible or to be expected until there is a predominantly bahai society.

So sorry, I forgot to mention that we fast, from sunrise to sunset, March 2nd to March 20th. No food, or drink. I believe this is obligatory after 15 years old if you are a baha’i in good health, but you can start earlier if you like (I know someone who started at 13 because she was excited to).

This year was my first time attempting the fast, the first week it was very, very difficult, and I was probably a bit grouchy during it. It didn’t help I worked in a grocery store and was offered free food left and right! :stuck_out_tongue:

The point of the fast is to focus on the spirit and God.

Thanks for this thread, rogerbox. I, too, caught the Baha’i reference on Jeopardy earlier this week.

I’d heard the term before, but until today confused it with B’nai B’rith, so thanks for the edification!

Hmmm, I didn’t even know about that, I guess since I’m not gay it wasn’t something I was researching. But, being big on equal rights (which, ironically is one of the things I like about the Baha’i faith) this is something that we disagree on.

I remember reading that Baha’is don’t believe in the Trinity since God is “single and has no equal” (Wikipedia). My view of the Trinity is completely in line with both Christian beliefs and the Baha’i faith - namely that God is different things in different situations. To take an illustration, I am dhkendall father, dhkendall husband and dhkendall son (and a whole bunch of other things, but lets just use those three). They are mutually exclusive - I can’t be a husband to my kids for example - and I’m still just one person. I see the Trinity as God the Father - creator, ruler, and in charge of the universe, God the Son - the physical representation of God in the form of Jesus when He came to earth, and God the Spirit - the representation of God on earth and in His believers since Jesus left the earth.

And, while you point out that Baha’i is low on obligations, again another thing I like about the Baha’i faith, it does have some, and I’ve never been much on religious obligation, one shouldn’t have to be obliged to do something to show worship to God. Another question, how is it regarded in the Baha’i faith if someone doesn’t fast during March, or say the obligatory prayer on a regular basis? (Don’t get me wrong, I’m in complete agreement with the reason for the fast (focus on the spirit and God) but I’m more of the type that I do it because I want to focus on the spirit and God, not because the religion says I have to.)

After I wrote my response, I looked at my city map and noticed one (seemingly small) Baha’i “place of worship” in my city, so I assumed that they have a regular weekly worship like the major religions. So is the church more of a “Baha’i Community Centre” than anything else?

Again thanks for answering our questions, and for helping me to learn more about other faiths and myself!

What’s the Baha’i stance towards other religions and non-believers/atheists? Are they (the other religions etc) wrong? Is there anything your faith/you should be doing about them?

Also: I was going to ask more stuff about dogma, but you say there isn’t much. With regards to world peace and world government, though: is there any kind of “strategy” or belief on how to implement it?

Please, feel free to state your own interpretation if there isn’t a “dogma” that you know of.

Sorry guys, I don’t own a home pc, so I will be answering from my phone until I go back to break on work. I will give some in depth answers to your questions then. Because it is hard to type a long passage, and I can’t use quotes!

Superfluous parenthesis: could you define what you mean by dogma? I have heard it used by people outside many religions as anything that religion says or claims, and many different uses of the word, so if you could clarify what you mean I will try to answer!

Dhkendall: I’m not sure I undersand/agrew with you about the holy trinity. The holy trinity is the fatyer, son and the holy ghost, with the son (Jesus) being also God, yet a man.

From my understabding of it, we simply do nit have a holy trinity in the baha’i faith. We do not believe Jesus was God on earth. The manifestations are consideres perfect reflections of the glory of God, but not God.

Also, there is literally no such thibg as a baha’i church, they are strictly forbidden. It for sure acts as a baha’i community center. If you are interested you should call them up! I think the best event to go to is a fireside for non-baha’is, it is usually at someone’s house (in fact, most baha’i events are), and it will have food and a speaker and then a discusaion topic.

I forgot to mention, the feasts held every 19 days, they only include a small snack or no snack at all, it is a spiritual feast. That is the only event you have to be a baha’i to attend. But I am sure if you called up, your local baha’is would be ECSTATIC to invite you to a ton of fun events, baha’is have holidays almost every other week it seems like!

What I am interested in when I said “dogma” as far as my previous questions are concerned is broadly: the practical guidelines or rules regarding those questions, as given/understood by your religious texts, leaders or general consensus of believers.

It’s perhaps worth noting that Baha’i is a direct offshoot of Twelver Shi’a Islam ( hence the particularly intense persecution in Iran, since they are more often equated with Muslim apostates than a seperate faith ). So a number of notions, including the rejection of Trinitarianism ( common to both Orthodox Judaism and Islam ), can probably be said to derive directly from Islam.

I’ve always been rather attracted to Baha’i as a religion. If I were a religious sort of guy, that might be the direction I’d lean. But I’m not ( that whole not believing in God or the supernatural thing :wink: ) and even Baha’i has some negatives for me of course ( no booze, no premarital sex, etc. ).