History of Baha'i Faith

History of the Baha'i Faith

The Baha'i Faith is an independent monotheistic religion with its own sacred scriptures, its own laws, calendar, and holy days. It has no clergy and its affairs are administered by freely elected governing councils that operate at the local, national, and international levels. The chronology below follows the history of the Baha'i Faith from its birth in mid-19th century Persia (now Iran) to its emergence as a world religion with more than five million adherents from virtually every nation and ethnic group on earth.

23 May 1844

Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, a 25-year-old merchant in the city of Shiraz, Persia, announces that He has been sent by God to prepare humanity for a new age and the imminent appearance of another Messenger even greater than Himself. He takes the title of the Bab (meaning “Gate” in Arabic).


The Bab's religious teachings spread rapidly and are viewed as heretical by the clergy and government of that time. The Bab is imprisoned and more than 20,000 of His followers, known as Babis, perish in a series of violent massacres throughout the country.

9 July 1850

The Bab is publicly executed in the city of Tabriz, Iran. Some 10,000 citizens are present to observe the execution. Baha'is recognize the Bab as both an independent Messenger of God and the Forerunner of Baha'u'llah (meaning "the Glory of God" in Arabic), the Founder of the Baha'i religion. Born in Tehran on 12 November 1817, Baha'u'llah was a member of a noble family that traced its lineage to imperial Persia’s Sassanian dynasty. In His mid-20s, He declined a life of wealth and privilege to pursue humanitarian goals. Baha'u'llah embraced the Babi religion in its earliest days and became one of the leading disciples of the Bab.


Baha'u'llah is arrested, beaten, and thrown into a pestilential underground dungeon known as the Black Pit. While in the darkness of the dungeon, Baha'u'llah receives the Revelation that He is the Messenger foretold by the Bab. Baha'u'llah is released after four months and exiled to Baghdad.


Baha'u'llah is banished a second time, to Constantinople (Istanbul). On the eve of His departure from Baghdad, Baha'u'llah announces that He is the long-awaited Messenger of God promised by the Bab. Thereafter, the religion is known as the Baha'i Faith. Baha'is recognize Baha'u'llah as the most recent in a line of Messengers of God that includes Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ, Muhammad and the Bab.


Baha'u'llah reveals numerous volumes of Sacred Scripture, outlining His Teachings, answering difficult theological questions, and establishing the laws and institutions of His faith. Baha'u'llah is a unique world religious figure in that He establishes in writing the future pattern of the organization of His faith. He also writes letters to the kings and rulers of His day, informing them of the advent of His Revelation.


Baha'u'llah arrives in the Holy Land with about 70 family members and followers, sentenced by the Ottoman authorities to perpetual confinement in the penal colony of Acre. The order of strict confinement was never lifted, but due to the growing recognition of the eminence of His character, He eventually moves outside the walls of the Old City of Acre to a nearby estate called Bahji.

29 May 1892

Baha'u'llah passes away and is interred at Bahji. For Baha'is, His Shrine is the holiest place on earth and a place of pilgrimage. At His instruction, the spiritual and administrative center of His Faith is permanently fixed in the Haifa/Acre area. For the first time in history, a world religion founder leaves a written Will. Baha'u'llah appoints His eldest son, `Abdu'l-Baha (1844-1921), as the head of the Faith and authorized interpreter of His Teachings. The name, `Abdu'l-Baha, means "Servant of Baha."


The first public mention of the Baha'i Faith in North America is made at the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago.


The founding of the British Bahá'í community. The first person in England to become a Bahá'í was American by birth - Mrs. Mary Thornburgh-Cropper (d. 1938) who lived in London.


In the United Kingdom, the second to become a Bahá'í, and the first native person in the country to do so, is Miss Ethel Rosenberg (d.1930). Miss Rosenberg becomes a leading member of the British Bahá'í community for many years.

9 July 1907

The Chicago Baha'i Assembly incorporates, becoming the first local Baha'i community in the world to acquire legal status. The American Baha'i community, then numbering about 1,000 members, begins building the first Baha'i House of Worship in the West on the shores of Lake Michigan.

In 1907 Sara, Lady Blomfield (nee Ryan) (d. 1939) joins the Bahá'í Faith, and a small group is thus formed in the London area. She is the first person of Irish birth to accept the Faith in the British Isles. From the Bahá'í standpoint she is notable as having acted as hostess to 'Abdu'l-Bahá in London and as compiler of The Chosen Highway.


Following the Young Turk Revolution, `Abdu'l-Baha's imprisonment under the Ottoman Turks is ended. He then journeys throughout Europe (including the United Kingdom) and North America to encourage nascent Baha'i communities and to proclaim Baha'u'llah's teachings to the general public.


In March, Archdeacon Wilberforce mentioned the Bahá'í Faith in a sermon at the Church of St. John in Westminster. Great interest was generated and a Bahá'í Reading Room was opened. Later that year, in July, `Abdu'l-Bahá sent a message to the first Universal Races Congress, which was held at London University.

‘Abdu’l-Baha is in England from 3 September to 3 October. On 10 September he makes his first public appearance before an audience at the City Temple, London. Between 13 December 1912 and 21 January 1913, `Abdu'l-Bahá returns to the British Isles, visiting Liverpool, London, Edinburgh, Oxford, and Bristol. His visit produced unprecedented publicity for the Bahá'í Faith and resulted in a number of important persons becoming friends and supporters.


‘Abdu’l-Baha passes away, leaving a will designating His eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1896-1957), as His successor and conferring upon him the title of Guardian of the Baha'i Faith.


The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States and Canada is incorporated. Its charter document, the Declaration of Trust and Bylaws, subsequently serves as the model for the formation of more than 180 National Spiritual Assemblies throughout the world.


The National Spiritual Assembly of the British Isles attains legal status by its incorporation.


The Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, IL is dedicated for public worship.


Shoghi Effendi passes away in London, United Kingdom. During his ministry, the Faith spread around the world and its local and national administrative institutions were established. The Guardian translated Baha'i scriptures from Arabic and Persian into English, wrote several major works, carried on a voluminous correspondence, and gave great impetus to the development of the Baha'i World Centre in Haifa. With the passing of Shoghi Effendi in 1957, the line of hereditary leaders of the Baha'i Faith came to an end.


Following Baha'u'llah's instructions, Baha'is elect the Universal House of Justice, the world governing body of the Baha'i Faith. Elections for the Universal House of Justice are held every five years. Endowed by Baha'u'llah with the authority to legislate on all matters not specifically laid down in the Baha'i scriptures, the Universal House of Justicekeeps the Baha'i community unified and responsive to the needs and conditions of an evolving world.


The National Spiritual Assembly of the British Isles is registered as a charity.


The Baha'i community now has more than five million members from over 2000 ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Baha'i communities are established in more than 230 countries and dependent territories, with elected national administrative institutions in 182 countries.

Interior of the room of Bahá’u’lláh at Mazra‘ih

‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Paris, photographed under the Eiffel Tower in 1912. Shown with Him is a small entourage of Persians and a handful of European Bahá’ís.