Bahá'í (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
The Bahá'í faith, a new and growing world religion, holds the unity and harmony of science and religion as one of its core principles. Science and religion, according to the Bahá'í teachings, are both equally necessary for humanity to progress. Science is the discoverer of the material and the spiritual reality of things, and it is the foundation of material and spiritual development. Religion develops both the individual and society, fostering the love, fellowship, and will that is necessary for humanity to advance. Science and religion counterbalance each other: Religion without science leads to superstition, whereas science without religion leads to materialism.
The Bahá'í faith originated in nineteenth-century Iran at a time when the country was struggling with economic and political instability, conflict between the religious and secular segments of society, and Russian and British expansionist policies. Iran was in decline under the Qajar dynasty when the Bábí millenarian movement was founded in 1844 by the Báb (Siyyid 'Alí Muhammad, 1819850). The rapid rise of the Bábí movement and its prophecy of the coming of a world redeemer led to violent suppression, with its leaders either killed or sent into exile, as was the case for Baháhuhlláh (Mírzá Husayn hAlí, 1817892).
Baháhuhlláh nursed the decimated Iranian Bábí community back to health from nearby Baghdad but was further exiled to Constantinople (modern Istanbul), to Adrianople (modern Edirne), and finally to Acre (modern Akko in Palestine). When he announced that he was the redeemer prophesied by the Báb, most of the Bábí community became Bahá'ís, followers of Baháhuhlláh.
Baháhuhlláh's teachings were laid out in numerous books, epistles, and letters to a growing community. The central theme was unity: the unity of religion; the oneness of God; the unity of humanity; the equality of women and men; the need for a united world civilization, and the unity of science and religion. Religion promoted amity and concord as its chief aim, and this required the unfettered search after truth and the elimination of prejudice and superstition characteristic of science.
By the early twentieth century, the Bahá'í faith had spread around the world. 'Abduhl-Bahá (1844921)aháhuhlláh's eldest son and successorraveled and spoke widely throughout Europe and North America, emphasizing that religion must be progressive. The great progress in technical and material spheres wrought by science necessitated similar progress in religion. "When religion, shorn of its superstitions, traditions, and unintelligent dogmas, shows its conformity with science," he told his audiences, "then will there be a great unifying, cleansing force in the world which will sweep before it all wars, disagreements, discords and struggles" (1969, p. 146). Shoghi Effendi (1897957) succeeded 'Abduhl-Bahá. After his death, leadership passed to the Universal House of Justice seated in Haifa, Israel.
Bahá'í teachings about science and religion
The teachings of the Bahá'í faith are "founded upon the unity of science and religion and upon investigation of truth." Science and religion are like the two wings of one bird: "A bird needs two wings for flight, one alone would be useless. Any religion that contradicts science or that is opposed to it, is only ignoranceor ignorance is the opposite of knowledge. Religion which consists only of rites and ceremonies of prejudice is not the truth" ('Abduhl-Bahá, 1969 p. 129).
The Bahá'í writings describe science as "the discoverer of realities," the means by which humanity explores and understands both material and spiritual phenomena:
The virtues of humanity are many, but science is the most noble of them all. . . . It is a bestowal of God; it is not material; it is divine. Science is an effulgence of the Sun of Reality, the power of investigating and discovering the verities of the universe, the means by which man finds a pathway to God. Through intellectual and intelligent inquiry science is the discoverer of all things. ('Abduhl-Bahá, 1982 p. 49)
The purpose of religion is to "safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men" (Baháhuhlláh, 1978, p. 168). Human nature is fundamentally spiritual, and the "spiritual impulses set in motion by such transcendent figures as Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, and Muhammad have been the chief influence in the civilizing of human character" (Bahá'í International Community). Religion and spiritual commitment are necessary if the fruits of science are to be used for the advancement of humanity: "In every sphere of human activity and at every level, the insights and skills that represent scientific accomplishment must look to the force of spiritual commitment and moral principle to ensure their appropriate application" (Bahá'í International Community).
Religious truth must be understood in the light of science and reason if it is not to become superstition and a source of discord. Religious doctrines that disagree with science are likely to disagree with doctrines of other religions, creating and sustaining religious conflict. However, this does not mean the current scientific point of view is necessarily fully correct, nor does it mean that truth is limited to only what science can explain.
Similarly, science alone is inadequate. Doctrines inspired by scienceost notably, the view that only material things are realave had pernicious and corrosive effects when imposed on the people of the world. These doctrines need to be counteracted by the truths of religion. 'Abduhl-Bahá in Paris Talks emphasized that "with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism" ('Abduhl-Bahá 1969, p. 143). Furthermore, the commitment and the will that derives from religion is required if the results of science are to be applied to the benefit of the people of the world.
Evolution and the emergence of humanity.
The Bahá'í writings address in depth the issue of evolution and the emergence of humanity major source of conflict between science and contemporary religion. Humanity is described as emerging by a gradual progression that starts at a simple material stage and advances degree by degree to the human stage. In each stage, according to 'Abduhl-Bahá, humanity develops capacity for advancement to the next stage: "While in the kingdom of the mineral he was attaining the capacity for promotion into the degree of the vegetable. In the kingdom of the vegetable he underwent preparation for the world of the animal, and from thence he has come onward to the human degree, or kingdom" ('Abduhl-Bahá 1982, p. 225). Evolutionary processesndeed, all natural processesre the expression of God's will and the mechanism for the unfolding of God's creation:
Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world (Baháhuhlláh, p. 142).
Humanity, therefore, was created by God and potentially existed even before being actualized as a "composition of the atoms of the elements."
Humans and animals and are distinct and different kinds of beings, according to the Bahá'í view. It is incorrect to say that humans are descended from animals, even though physically that is the case. This is because humans have a rational and spiritual side in addition to the physical reality they share with animals: "The reality of man is his thought, not his material body. The thought force and the animal force are partners. Although man is part of the animal creation, he possesses a power of thought superior to all other created beings" ('Abduhl-Bahá 1969, p. 17). The Bahá'í point of view therefore diverges from understandings of evolution that see no distinction between humans and animals. It reconciles two perspectivesatural evolution and divine creationhat many have deemed irremediably in conflict.
Types of knowledge. 'Abduhl-Bahá describes human knowledge as being of two kinds. One kind "is the knowledge of things perceptible to the senses." The other kind "is intellectualhat is to say, it is a reality of the intellect; it has no outward form and no place and is not perceptible to the senses" ('Abduhl-Bahá 1981, p. 83). The knowledge that people have of the laws of the universe is such an intellectual reality, as is the knowledge of God. 'Abduhl-Bahá further describes four criteria for knowledge: sense perception (empiricism), reason (rationality), tradition, and inspiration. By itself, each criterion is inadequate: The senses can be fooled, reasonable thinkers differ, understanding of tradition is reasoned and gives differing interpretations, and the heart's promptings are not reliable. Only when evidence from all criteria is in agreement can a proof be trusted as reliable.
The Bahá'í model of how reliable knowledge is obtained gives a perspective for viewing the roles of science and religion in society. Purely empirical approaches or rational approaches to knowledge, even when combined as they are in science, are inadequate to meet social needs. Approaches based solely on traditionrophetic or otherwiser intuition and feeling are likewise inadequate. Rather, contributions from all the approaches are needed. Neither science nor religion separately provides the broad foundations by which society can progress. Both are needed.
The task facing humanity, according to the Universal House of Justice, the global Bahá'í administrative body, "is to create a global civilization which embodies both the spiritual and material dimensions of existence." Carrying out this task requires "a progressive interaction between the truths and principles of religion and the discoveries and insights of scientific inquiry." Science provides the understanding and technical capabilities that allow humanity to overcome the limitations of nature, making the goal of a peaceful and just world civilization an achievable one. Religion provides the moral, ethical, and spiritual strength, the discipline, and the commitment that are necessary if the goal is to become a reality.
See also EMERGENCE
'Abdu'l-Bahá. Paris Talks: Addresses Given by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in Paris in 1911912, 11th edition. London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1969.
'Abdu'l-Bahá. Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l- Bahá. Haifa, Israel: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978.
'Abdu'l-Bahá. Some Answered Questions, 3rd edition. Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1981.
'Abdu'l-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by 'Abdu'l-Bahá During His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912, 2nd edition. Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982.
Bahá'u'lláh. Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitábí-Aqdas. Haifa, Israel: Bahá'í World Centre, 1978.
Bahá'í International Community. The Prosperity of Humankind: A Statement Prepared by the Bahá'í International Community Office of Public Information. Haifa, Israel: Bahá'í International Community, 1995.
Universal House of Justice. Letters of the Universal House of Justice. Haifa, Israel: Bahá'í World Centre, 1992.
STEPHEN R. FRIBERG
Bahā'īs (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
The Bahī Faith is an independent religion founded in Iran in the nineteenth century by MīrzḤusayn ʿAli Nūrī, whose religious appellation was Bah All (Arabic for glory of God). The word Bahī signifies a follower of Bah All.
During the early 1800s there was a messianic expectation among Shi'ite Muslims that the Twelfth Imam, a descendant of the prophet Muhammed, would return to renew the religion of Islam and establish a just society. This belief was central to the teachings of the Shaykhī sect, named after Sheik Ahmad-i-Ahsī.
On May 22, 1844, MīrzʿAli Muhammad announced that he was the promised Twelfth Imam and took the name of the B (Arabic for gate), indicating that he was the forerunner of yet another divine messenger to appear imminently. The B's message spread throughout Persia (now Iran) and provoked the ire of powerful Shi'ite clergy. These clerics convinced government officials that the B's rapidly growing influence posed a threat to ruling authorities. In 1848 the B was arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and tried before the Muslim clerics of Tabriz. On July 9, 1850, the B was executed by a firing squad.
After the B's execution two followers of the B attempted to kill the Shah of Persia, only confirming the Shah's fears of rebellion. This act led to the mass imprisonment of thousands of the B's followers over the next few years. Bah All was among those imprisoned for being a Bī even though evidence demonstrated his innocence. After several months Bah All was released and banished from Iran. He traveled to Baghdad, where he announced in 1863 that he was the messenger of God about whom the B had spoken. Persian officials, concerned about the flow of pilgrims and foreign dignitaries seeking an audience with Bah All, requested that Turkish officials move Bah All further away from Persian territory. Bah All was moved from Baghdad to Constantinople, then to Adrianople in an unsuccessful attempt to diminish his influence. Finally in 1868 Bah All was banished to the distant prison city of ʿAkká (Acco, Acre), Palestine.
Before Bah All died on May 29, 1892, his teachings spread from Persia and the Ottoman Empire to the Caucasus, Turkistan, India, Burma, Egypt, and the Sudan. ʿAbd al-Bah Bah All's son, assumed leadership of the Bahī community after his father's death and embarked on several journeys around the world, spreading the religion to regions of Africa, Europe, and America. When ʿAbd al-Bahdied, his will designated his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi Rabbanī, as the new leader of the community. Shoghi Effendi continued to expand the Bahī community and build up the administrative structures of the Bahī Faith. By the time of his death in 1957, the foundation had been laid for the first international election of a governing body called the Universal House of Justice. The Universal House of Justice, located in Haifa, Israel, guides the administrative affairs of the Bahī community.
In just over 150 years the Bahī Faith has become the second-most geographically widespread religion in the world. It embraces people from all economic classes and more than two thousand ethnic, racial, and tribal groups. In 2003 there were approximately five million Bahīs in more than two hundred countries and territories worldwide.
A central tenet of the Bahī Faith is unity. Bahīs believe that there is only one unknowable God who has revealed himself to humanity through a series of messengers, including Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, the B, and Bah All. Bahīs believe in the oneness of humanity, the unity of religious truth, the harmony of science and religion, the equality of women and men, independent investigation of truth, the elimination of all forms of prejudice, and a spiritual solution to extremes of wealth and poverty.
Persecution of the Bahīs in Iran
Since the founding of their religion the Bahīs of Iran have suffered torture, imprisonment, mob violence, and execution despite Bahī beliefs of obedience to government and tolerance. Some twenty thousand Bahīs perished in the face of opposition from Islamic religious authorities during the nineteenth century. Persecutions continued intermittently throughout the twentieth century until the Islamic revolution in 1979, when clerics seized control of the government and embarked on a systematic campaign to eradicate the Iranian Bahī community.
Between 1978 and 1998 the Iranian government executed more than two hundred Bahīs. The majority of these Bahīs were members of the community's democratically elected governing councils. During the 1980s hundreds of Bahīs were imprisoned and tens of thousands were deprived of jobs, pensions, businesses, and educational opportunities solely because of their religious beliefs.
In response to intense international pressure in the late 1980s, including a series of country-specific United Nations (UN) resolutions, the Iranian government began to reduce the rate of executions and number of Bahīs held in prison. However, despite the apparent abatement of persecution in the late twentieth century, evidence revealed that the Islamic Republic of Iran continued its campaign to marginalize and eliminate the 300,000-member Bahī community. Bahīs were arrested and released without documentation to confirm their freed status. Suspended sentences were used to threaten individuals who continued to participate in Bahī activities. These practices were calculated to extinguish the life of the community without drawing the attention and ire of the international community.
Evidence of the government's altered tactics emerged in early 1993 with the discovery of a confidential government policy memorandum regarding the Bahī question. Drafted by the Supreme Revolutionary Cultural Council and signed by former president Ali Khamenei, the document described the government's objective: to ensure that the "progress and development" of the Bahī community remain "blocked." The memorandum declared that all Bahīs should be expelled from universities and prevented from obtaining positions of influence and employment. The memorandum further suggested that Bahī youth should be sent to Islamic schools with "a strong and imposing [Islamic] religious ideology" and must be expelled from schools and universities if they identified themselves as Bahīs. It also discussed plans for reaching beyond the borders of Iran "to confront and destroy their [Bahī] cultural roots outside the country."
Twenty-First Century Developments
International efforts to focus on Iran's human rights record faltered in April 2002. Iranian officials were able to convince other nations that the previous seventeen resolutions adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights were not helpful in advancing human rights in Iran and other means would prove more effective in improving the status of Bahīs, and other groups, in that country.
After the Commission on Human Rights suspended its monitoring of Iran, arrests and short-term detentions of Bahīs increased. Bahī teachers and students were constantly watched and harassed. Instances of confiscation increased, while attempts to obtain redress from the courts failed. The Bahī community constitutes Iran's largest non-Muslim religious minority, yet it remains unrecognized by Iran's constitution.
Thousands of newspaper articles about the situation of the Bahīs in Iran have appeared around the world. Prominent international organizations, including the European Parliament and several national legislatures, have passed resolutions expressing serious concern for their situation.
SEE ALSO Iran; Religious Groups
Bahī International Community (1994). The Bahīs: A Profile of the Bahī Faith and Its Worldwide Community. New York: Author.
Bahī International Community (1999). The Bahī Question: Iran's Secret Blueprint for the Destruction of a Religious Community. New York: Author.
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). "The Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom." May 2003.
U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. "The Fifth Annual Report on International Religious Freedom." December 18, 2003.
Jerry K. Prince