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Eight Things We Learned About Baha'is From The Reddit AMA

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A visitor learns about Bah?'u'll?h, the 19th century Persian founder of the Bahai faith, in the visitors' center in the Bahai gardens July 14, 2008 in Haifa, Israel. | David Silverman via Getty Images

Reddit's Baha'i community hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Tuesday, inviting the Internet to ask questions about their faith. They wrote:

Hi everyone! We are Bahá'ís, and we're here to answer any (and hopefully all) questions you may have about the Bahá'í Faith as best we can. There are a few of us here visiting from /r/bahai, so we should be able to keep conversations going into the evening if need be.

In case the Bahá'í Faith is completely new to you, here's a quick intro from the /r/bahai wiki-
"The Bahá'í Faith is an independent world religion whose aim is the unification of all humankind. Bahá'ís are the followers of Bahá'u'lláh, Who they believe is the Promised One of all Ages.

Bahá'u'lláh taught that all of humanity is one family, and that all the world's religions originate from the teachings of one and the same God, revealed progressively throughout history.

According to Bahá'í teachings, the purpose of human life is to learn to know and love God through such methods as prayer, reflection, and being of service to humanity"

Go ahead—Ask Us Anything!

Here are some of the most informative questions and responses.

1. Baha'i FAQs

Q: Hi! Some non-theological questions for you:

1) If I attended an average Baha'i service (on a Wednesday?), what would I see and why? Who would be "leading" it?

2) Who is the head of your church? What are your holiest sites?

And some kinda theological ones...

3) Do you believe in intercession and/or mediation (by holy figures)?

4) Is there any iconography / are there any symbols that are particularly important to Baha'i? Anything that makes a Baha'i temple instantly recognizable?

5) /u/finnerpeace mentioned saints. Can you tell me a little about what saints are to you, what spiritual significance and/or powers they possess, and what is the appropriate way to treat them? (i.e., veneration/worship, discipleship, etc)

Thanks! I've always wanted to know more about the Baha'i. I'm studying comparative religion so if you can mention any central texts and/or academic resources (authors, etc.) that I should read I'd really appreciate it.
edit: part of my second question was already answered (do you have clerical orders or a spiritual hierarchy?)

A: Hey there!
1. It depends. If you go to a Devotional gathering, then you'd be in a room with people sharing prayers. If you were at a Holy Day celebration, there would be a program of some sort, and music. There's almost always some music at Baha'i events. No one really "leads" these Baha'i events in any formal way. There could be an MC or something, but that's about it.

2. There is no clergy in the Baha'i Faith. It is the responsibility of every individual to study the Faith and come to their conclusions. However, we have the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel, who administer the global affairs of the community, and can be appealed to for guidance on the application and context of the Revelation. They do not "interpret", but they can refer us to a great wealth of authorized interpretations by Abdu'l Baha (The son of Baha'u'llah) and Shoghi Effendi (the Guardian of the Faith).

3. We can appeal for intercession. Baha'u'llah states that this is soley at God's discretion, to allow those souls that have been pure to intercede on behalf of someone in the material world. Likewise, we can pray on behalf of someone who has passed on.

4. The Baha'i Houses of worship all have 9 sides and 9 entrances, as the number 9 is a number of spiritual significance, representing perfection or completion (also, the numerical value of "Baha"). The 5 pointed pentagram is actually the official symbol of the Baha'i Faith, not the 9 pointed star. But the 9 pointed star is more easily recognizable and identifiable as being "Baha'i-related". Also, no icons in the Houses of Worship. Baha'is may hang a picture of Abdu'l Baha in their homes or in Baha'i Centres, and you will frequently see Arabic calligraphy of the "Greatest Name" of God (Ya Baha'ul Abha") everywhere-- even in the Houses of Worship.

5. Saints are described as people who have totally turned their thoughts to God, and are detached from the material world. We don't worship saints, but we treat them with respect. That's about as far as that goes, as worship is for God, alone.

I also study comparative religion, if you ever want to chat! Also, if you're looking for some great academic papers on a number of topics, visit www.bahai-library.com !

2. The Baha'i View Of Sexuality And Gender Identity

Q: Ok, you probably saw this one coming. What is the Baha'i view of sexuality and gender identity?

A: Baha'u'llah exhorts all the peoples of the world to true chastity: to seeing all men and women with an eye of pure respect and love as if they were our brothers and sisters (which they absolutely are).

The sex impulse is a natural bestowal, and Baha'u'llah says it should be regulated in its expression to just with our marriage partner. From all the men and women on Earth, we are permitted to take one adult of the opposite gender as our husband or wife. The rest are to be treated with absolute pure friendship and chastity, through the power of self-restraint.

From the US Baha'i website FAQ:
"What is the Baha'i attitude toward homosexuality? Baha'i law limits permissible sexual relations to those between a man and a woman in marriage. Believers are expected to abstain from sex outside matrimony. Baha'is do not, however, attempt to impose their moral standards on those who have not accepted the Revelation of Baha’u’llah. To regard homosexuals with prejudice would be contrary to the spirit of the Baha'i teachings."

Homosexuality is seen about the same as sex outside marriage.

Gender identity is often a complex medical issue, and any Baha'is facing this would work with their doctors and write for guidance from the Baha'i institutions if they wished.

3. Baha'is Are Organized But Do Not Have Clergy

Q: Somewhat unrelated followup question, based on something here. You mention "Baha'i institutions." What form do these take and what purpose do they serve? I assume by institution you mean some sort of group or conglomerate, since you say they could write for guidance?

A: Yep. Though Baha'u'llah outlawed clergy, there is still the need to care for, organize, and guide the Baha'i community. This is done through a type of "spiritual democracy" based on humble service.

Here's a link to how the Baha'i administration is organized. There is a World Center based in Haifa, Israel, National Assemblies for every nation in which the Baha'i Faith is legal (most nations), Local Assemblies in each city that has at least 9 adult believers, and a few other administrative and guidance roles.

4. Baha'is Believe Our Souls Progress Until Attaining 'The Presence Of God'

Q: What are your beliefs regarding the after-life?

A: Oh man, SOOO COOOOOOL!!

Basically, that first, it's not even an after-life. Our souls currently exist in the spiritual world, which actually surrounds us at this moment but we don't have eyes to perceive it, just as rocks cannot perceive humans. Our souls have a "reflective" relationship with our bodies: like our bodies are their avatars through which they experience the physical world.

How we live and engage in our current lives--both in our deeds and in our thoughts, prayers, etc--DIRECTLY influence and either nurture or fail to nurture our souls; to cleanse the rust of selfishness, fear, etc off them, or to thicken the muck.

Anyway, so it goes, until we die. Baha'u'llah says this moment is like a bird being freed from a cage, or like a developing fetus leaving the gloomy womb into the bright world of Reality.

Once we awaken in the spiritual world without the distraction of operating our bodily lives, our soul is in the state we got it to through our efforts, plus extra "modulations" in terms of intercession from God to bless us, punishments, and continuing good results from our deeds on Earth.

“Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter.”
— Bahá’u’lláh

This topic is, in my view, hands-down THE COOOLEST in all of the Baha'i teachings. I am mad about learning about it!

Here are some links:
Death and the afterlife from the US Baha'i website
Heaven and hell: a Bahai view of life after death at the worldwide Baha'i site.

5. There Are Nine Main Holy Days For Baha'is

Q: Could you explain some holidays that you celebrate, just curious :)

A: There are nine days considered holy for the Baha'is. To my knowledge, on these days, Baha'is are encouraged to reflect on the day's significance, as well as pray, meditate, and be particularly mindful about their conduct and way of living.
Also, when possible, Baha'is should suspend work on these days (e.g, if you own a shop, you should close it on that day).

As all commemorations, these days are celebrated in different ways across the world. Personally I've attended a celebration of Naw Ruz (the new year in the Bahai calendar) in Mozambique as well as in Europe. In Europe, there was an elaborate programme, complete with prayers, reading Bahai holy Writings, music, video presentations, an abundance of varied foods, etc. In Mozambique, we got together, bought some juice, and entertained the children.

Others will surely offer other views on this! I'm not sure if I was able to thoroughly answer your question.


6. Baha'is Face Brutal Persecution In Iran

Q: What's it like for Bahá'ís in Iran vs those in the west?

A: I'm assuming you mean in terms of official persecution of Bahá'ís, in which case I'd have to say not good. Currently, Bahá'ís are actively persecuted from the cradle to the grave: infants imprisoned with their Bahá'í mothers; children ostracized and expelled from their schools once it is discovered that they are Bahá'ís; students denied entry to higher education, expelled once they are identified as Bahá'ís, and even imprisoned when they attempt to arrange for education for themselves and others; employers forced to terminate Bahá'í employees; Bahá'í businesses targeted for vandalism and arson, and the revocation of their operating licenses; Bahá'ís of all ages being imprisoned on fabricated charges of espionage, spreading "corruption on earth", or undermining the state—when their only "crime" was serving their fellow citizens; and even the graves of the deceased desecrated and dug up. The Bahá'í International Community has a pretty comprehensive page detailing the sheer enormity of the injustices heaped upon the Bahá'ís in Iran.

Edit: Also worth mentioning is that the "Yaran", the unofficial leadership that has been serving the Bahá'ís in the aftermath of the 1979 Revolution, have been unjustly imprisoned for six full years as of today, May 14th. Their twenty-year sentences are the highest given to any prisoners of conscience incarcerated in Iran today. There's a special report on them online where you can read more.

7. Who Is The Bab?

Q: So far in my learning about the Baha'i religion one thing that has eluded my understanding is the Baha'i view of the Bab. Do Baha'is believe that the Bab was an independent messenger of God on par with Baha'u'llah, Muhammad, Jesus, etc? or do they believe he was more akin to John the Baptist who foretold the coming of a greater messenger and prepared the world for his arrival? I have seen references to both of these ideas in what I have read about the Baha'i faith and some clarification would be helpful :)

A: The Bab's station is two-fold. He is both an independent Prophet and messenger of God, with his own revelation, not unlike Baha'u'llah, Jesus and Mohammad. But he was also the forerunner of Baha'u'llah. His mission was to prepare everyone for the Promised One.

8. Baha'u'llah' Received His Revelation In Prison

Q: Can you tell us a little about Baha'u'llah's first encounter with God? I know Moses supposedly first encountered God through a burning bush and Muhammad in a cave through the angel Gabriel/Jibril, but what about this most current prophet?

A: Oh man, this is so interesting. You're right, every Manifestation describes having that "moment". This is actually when they "receive their Revelation".

Baha'u'llah's came when He was imprisoned in the foul pit called the Siyah-Chal.

"In the middle of the last century, one of the most notorious dungeons in the Near East was Teheran’s “Black Pit.” Once the underground reservoir for a public bath, its only outlet was a single passage down three steep flights of stone steps. Prisoners huddled in their own bodily wastes, languishing in the pit’s inky gloom, subterranean cold and stench-ridden atmosphere. In this grim setting, the rarest and most cherished of religious events was once again played out: mortal man, outwardly human in other aspects, was summoned by God to bring to humanity a new religious revelation. The year was 1852, and the man was a Persian nobleman, known today as Bahá’u’lláh. During His imprisonment, as He sat with his feet in stocks and a 100-pound iron chain around his neck, Bahá’u’lláh received a vision of God’s will for humanity. The event is comparable to those other great moments of the ancient past when God revealed Himself to His earlier Messengers: when Moses stood before the Burning Bush; when the Buddha received enlightenment under the Bodhi tree; when the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended upon Jesus; or when the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, descended upon Jesus; or when the archangel Gabriel appeared to Muhammad. (Bahá’í International Community, The Bahá’ís Magazine, 1992)"

Baha'u'llah said, about receiving His Revelation:

"During the days I lay in the prison of Tihran, though the galling weight of the chains and the stench-filled air allowed Me but little sleep, still in those infrequent moments of slumber I felt as if something flowed from the crown of My head over My breast, even as a mighty torrent that precipitateth itself upon the earth from the summit of a lofty mountain. Every limb of My body would, as a result, be set afire. At such moments My tongue recited what no man could bear to hear. (Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 22.)"

There's a beautiful presentation done by the New York Baha'is here

Thank you, r/bahai!

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