Brief History of the Baha'i Faith


A Brief History of the Baha'i Faith
In the early 1800s people in many cultures around the globe expected a major religious event. 
In North America, William Miller preached that Jesus would return in 1844 based on his understanding of passages in the Old and New Testaments.  Some spiritual leaders of the Indian tribes also spoke of a new religious leader who would appear to restore spiritual unity to the peoples of the world.
In the Moslem cultures, many scholars anticipated the appearance of the Qaim or the Mahdi to renew the teachings of Mohammud.
In the early 1800s the followers of Shakyh Ahmad prepared themselves for the return of the 12th Imam.  The last leader of this group was Sayyid Kazim Rashti.  At the time of his death in December, 1843, he told his followers that he would appoint no successor for the group, but rather that he charged them to go across the land (Iran) and find the Promised One that they had been preparing for.  See for an article on this.  On May 23rd in 1844, one of his followers (Mulla Husayn) met and recognized Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad as the one they were searching for.  Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad took the title Bab (arabic for Gate).
The Bab told His followers that they were founding a new religion (rather than just rejuvenating Islam).  He also told them that shortly after he was gone, that they were to look toward a new teacher who would bring a message to unite all the religions and peoples of the world.  The Babi religion caused a great disturbance in Iran and neighboring Iraq (then part of the Ottoman Turkish empire).
After several years of imprisonment, the Bab was executed in 1850.  Some 20,000 of his followers were also killed in this period in purges and massacres across Iran.  Mirza Husayn Ali was the most prominent of the Babis.  He was tortured and imprisoned in Iran in 1852.  See for an article on this.  While in the prison (1853), He received the beginning of a revelation that He was the one promised by the Bab.  Mirza Husayn Ali took the title of Baha'ullah (The Glory of God). 
Since executing the Bab had not quieted the new religious movement and suhsequent ferment in Iran, the government and religious authorities exiled Baha'u'llah, his family, and some other prominent Bab'is to Bagdad (then part of the Ottoman empire) to isolate them from the Babi movement in Iran.
In Bagdad, Baha'u'llah quietly organized the Bab'is but did not tell anyone of His revelation.  By 1863, the governments and religious leaders of Iran and Turkey had becomed concerned about the reemergence of the Babis in Bagdad so they decided to exile Baha'u'llah again.  At this time (April 21, 1863) Baha'u'llah publicly announced His station.  This marks the formal beginning of the Baha'i Faith.  Baha'u'llah was exiled several more times by the Turkish authorities, finally ending in Acre (now Acca in Israel) where He died in 1892.  See for details about these exiles.  During His Ministry (1953-1892) Baha'u'llah wrote many books and tablets (letters to the Baha'is or to other leaders).
When He died, Baha'u'llah appointed His son, Abdul-Baha (the Servant of God) as the leader of the Baha'is.  Abdul-Baha lived in or near Acca and Haifa until His death in 1921.  He wrote numerous books and had an extensive correspondence with Baha'is and others during this period.  During 1911-1913 He also traveled to North America and Europe where He gave numerous public talks.  During this period the Baha'i Faith was established in several countries (US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, India, Burma, Egypt, ...) and many Baha'is went on pilgrimage to meet Abdul-Baha in Haifa.  Abdul-Baha wrote several books and had an extensive correspondence with Baha'is all around the world.  The writings of Baha'u'llah, Abdul-Baha, and the Bab are preserved in the Archives building at the Baha'i International Center in Haifa, Israel where scholars can study the original scriptures of our religion (written in Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish).
When Abdul-Baha died in 1921, He left a will appointing His grandson (Shoghi Effendi) as the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith.  Until his death in 1957, Shoghi Effendi led the Baha'i Community and developed its structure through a series of plans.  During this time the Baha'i Faith established elected institutions in most of the countries of the world (called National Spiritual Assemblies).  After his death in 1957, the Baha'i National Spiritual Assemblies met in 1963 to elect the Universal House of Justice as the culmination of the last plan prepared by Shoghi Effendi.  Since then the Baha'i Community has been lead and guided by our elected institutions.
Today the Baha'i Faith is established in over 200 countries and territories throughout the world and is the second most widely spread religion after Chriustianity.  The Baha'i Community is also a non-governmental (ngo) member of the United Nations where we have organized, chaired, and participated in many international conferences on social, developmental, and environmental issues.