For a while now, I’ve wanted to concisely summarize what Bahá’ís believe. However, Bahá’ís have a remarkable degree of freedom in tailoring their own answers to difficult questions, and this expresses itself in the wide degree of “doctrinal” diversity within our own, non-sectarian religion. Therefore what I’m about to express represents by best attempt at summarizing the core beliefs of all Bahá’ís, but does not necessarily reflect all individual understandings.
Below, I list basic “creeds” of the Faith according to Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and the Guardian and Universal House of Justice. For those who wish to skip over the lengthy citations, I present my own summary in the final section.
From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh
Bahá’u’lláh has revealed a number of passages that could be said to embody a Bahá’í Creed. The first is the opening paragraph of the Kitab-I-Aqdas, or Most Holy Book:
The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed. It behoveth every one who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration.
Essentially, to be a Bahá’í is to believe in God, believe in God’s Manifestation, and believe in what God’s Manifestation has revealed. To compliment this, Bahá’u’lláh revealed two Tablets that express specific elements of what “belief” entails. (Note: my own studies lead me to conclude that the name of these tablets reflects certain elements of Islamic thinking, and thus it might be wrong to label them as “creedal statements.” But to a Christian audience, they share a similar function as early creeds in laying out core elements of the Holy Faith).
Below, I’ve listed two Tablets, and list the elements within them that state core tenants of the Bahá’í Faith –
Bishárát, or Glad-Tidings
The First Glad-Tidings: Prohibition of “Holy War”
The Second Glad-Tidings: to “associate with one another with joy and radiance. O people! Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.”
The Third Glad-Tidings: “the ministers of the earth to take counsel together and to adopt one of the existing languages or a new one to be taught to children in schools throughout the world, and likewise one script.”
The Fourth Glad-Tidings: To obey kings that protect Bahá’ís
The Fifth Glad-Tidings: to “behave towards the government of that country with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness.”
The Sixth Glad-Tidings: The establishment of the “lesser peace” (collective international security)
The Seventh Glad-Tidings: the freedom to dress how we choose
The Eighth Glad-Tidings: Accepting the holy acts of Christian and Muslim ascetics, but prohibiting the practice of asceticism among Bahá’ís
The Ninth Glad-Tidings: “When the sinner findeth himself wholly detached and freed from all save God, he should beg forgiveness and pardon from Him. Confession of sins and transgressions before human beings is not permissible, as it hath never been nor will ever be conducive to divine forgiveness. Moreover such confession before people results in one’s humiliation and abasement, and God—exalted be His glory—wisheth not the humiliation of His servants. Verily He is the Compassionate, the Merciful.” In addition, Bahá’u’lláh reveals here a Prayer for Sinners
The Tenth Glad-Tidings: Prohibiting the Destruction of Books
The Eleventh Glad-Tidings: Obligation to study arts and sciences that lead to human advancement
The Twelfth Glad-Tidings: To work for a living, and to recognize working as worship. Similarly, begging is forbidden.
The Thirteenth Glad-Tidings: To Turn to the House of Justice for ethical conduct and justice
The Fourteenth Glad-Tidings: To give in charity to the House of Justice instead of spend money on pilgrimages to various sacred places (Exception: the obligatory pilgrimage enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitab-I-Aqdas)
The Fifteenth Glad-Tidings: Praising a Republican form of Government, but encouraging a Constitutional Monarchy
Tarazát, or Ornaments
The first Taráz and the first effulgence which hath dawned from the horizon of the Mother Book is that man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty.
The second Taráz is to consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship, to proclaim that which the Speaker on Sinai hath set forth and to observe fairness in all matters.
The third Taráz concerneth good character. A good character is, verily, the best mantle for men from God.
The fourth Taráz concerneth trustworthiness. Verily it is the door of security for all that dwell on earth and a token of glory on the part of the All-Merciful.
The fifth Taráz concerneth the protection and preservation of the stations of God’s servants. One should not ignore the truth of any matter, rather should one give expression to that which is right and true. The people of Bahá should not deny any soul the reward due to him, should treat craftsmen with deference, and, unlike the people aforetime, should not defile their tongues with abuse.
The sixth Taráz: the dissemination of knowledge, praise of honest news media, and the obligation to educate ourselves and each other.
Thus, to Bahá’u’lláh, the be a believer in the Bahá’í Faith is to accept the existence of God as articulated by Bahá’u’lláh; to accept Bahá’u’lláh as a Manifestation; to strive to follow the Laws He reveals to the best of our abilities; and to live up to a code of ethical conduct consisting of an emphasis on education, fellowship with diverse peoples, and rooted in honesty.
From the Words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
‘Abdu’l-Bahá expanded on the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh by spreading the Faith to new cultural contexts, particularly the Christian West, and by responding to various inquiries regarding the “nature” of true Faith. He was also directly asked, numerous times, to summarize the belief of Bahá’ís. Here I provide a few of His responses.
The teachings of Bahá’u'lláh are the light of this age and the spirit of this century. Expound each of them at every gathering.
The first is investigation of truth, The second, the oneness of mankind, The third, universal peace, The fourth, conformity between science and divine revelation. The fifth, abandonment of racial, religious, worldly and political prejudices, prejudices which destroy the foundation of mankind.The sixth is righteousness and justice, The seventh, the betterment of morals and heavenly education, The eighth, the equality of the two sexes, The ninth, the diffusion of knowledge and education, The tenth, economic questions, and so on and so forth. Strive that souls may attain unto the light of guidance and hold fast unto the hem of Bahá’u'lláh. (Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 70).
The following is a rather lengthy passage that I’ve attempted to paraphrase, but I think it speaks to both the theological and ethical principles of our Faith that are sometimes left out in simply stating our basic principles:
I will give you a brief exposition of the fundamental principles of Bahá’u'lláh’s teachings in order that you may be informed of the nature and significance of the Bahá’í movement.
Each of the divine religions embodies two kinds of ordinances. The first is those which concern spiritual susceptibilities, the development of moral principles and the quickening of the conscience of man. These are essential or fundamental, one and the same in all religions, changeless and eternal — reality not subject to transformation. Abraham heralded this reality, Moses promulgated it, and Jesus Christ established it in the world of mankind. All the divine Prophets and Messengers were the instruments and channels of this same eternal, essential truth.
The second kind of ordinances in the divine religions is those which relate to the material affairs of humankind. These are the material or accidental laws which are subject to change in each day of manifestation, according to exigencies of the time, conditions and differing capacities of humanity. For instance, in the day of Moses ten commandments in regard to murder were revealed by Him. These commandments were in accordance with the requirements of that day and time. Other laws embodying drastic punishments were enacted by Moses — an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The penalty for theft was amputation of the hand. These laws and penalties were applicable to the degree of the Israelitish people of that period, who dwelt in the wilderness and desert under conditions where severity was necessary and justifiable. But in the time of Jesus Christ this kind of law was not expedient; therefore, Christ abrogated and superseded the commands of Moses.
In brief, every one of the divine religions contains essential ordinances, which are not subject to change, and material ordinances, which are abrogated according to the exigencies of time. But the people of the world have forsaken the divine teachings and followed forms and imitations of the truth. Inasmuch as these human interpretations and superstitions differ, dissensions and bigotry have arisen, and strife and warfare have prevailed. By investigating the truth or foundation of reality underlying their own and other beliefs, all would be united and agreed, for this reality is one; it is not multiple and not divisible. (underline added for emphasis)
The second principle or teaching of Bahá’u'lláh is the proclamation of the oneness of the world of humanity…
The third principle or teaching of Bahá’u'lláh is the oneness of religion and science. Any religious belief which is not conformable with scientific proof and investigation is superstition, for true science is reason and reality, and religion is essentially reality and pure reason; therefore, the two must correspond…
The fourth principle or teaching of Bahá’u'lláh is the readjustment and equalization of the economic standards of mankind…
The fifth principle or teaching of Bahá’u'lláh is the abandoning of religious, racial, patriotic and political prejudices, which destroy the foundations of human society…
The sixth principle or teaching of Bahá’u'lláh concerns the equality of man and woman. He has declared that in the estimation of God there is no distinction of sex. The one whose heart is most pure, whose deeds and service in the Cause of God are greater and nobler, is most acceptable before the divine threshold — whether male or female..
Among other teachings and principles Bahá’u'lláh counsels the education of all members of society. No individual should be denied or deprived of intellectual training, although each should receive according to capacity. None must be left in the grades of ignorance, for ignorance is a defect in the human world. All mankind must be given a knowledge of science and philosophy — that is, as much as may be deemed necessary. All cannot be scientists and philosophers, but each should be educated according to his needs and deserts…
Bahá’u'lláh teaches that the world of humanity is in need of the breath of the Holy Spirit, for in spiritual quickening and enlightenment true oneness is attained with God and man. The Most Great Peace cannot be assured through racial force and effort; it cannot be established by patriotic devotion and sacrifice; for nations differ widely and local patriotism has limitations. Furthermore, it is evident that political power and diplomatic ability are not conducive to universal agreement, for the interests of governments are varied and selfish; nor will international harmony and reconciliation be an outcome of human opinions concentrated upon it, for opinions are faulty and intrinsically diverse. Universal peace is an impossibility through human and material agencies; it must be through spiritual power. There is need of a universal impelling force which will establish the oneness of humanity and destroy the foundations of war and strife. None other than the divine power can do this; therefore, it will be accomplished through the breath of the Holy Spirit…
No matter how far the material world advances, it cannot establish the happiness of mankind. Only when material and spiritual civilization are linked and coordinated will happiness be assured…
These are a few of the teachings and principles of Bahá’u'lláh, briefly presented so that you may be informed of their significance and purpose and find them a stimulus to your knowledge and actions. I ask God to assist this prosperous and progressive nation and to bestow His blessings upon this just government and wonderful continent of the West (Promulgation of Universal Peace)
To ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Faith consists of obeying and believing in Bahá’u’lláh as a Manifestation of God sent to promote social unity while also advancing theological knowledge, relative to the current spiritual capacity of humanity. As with Bahá’u’lláh’s own summaries, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá extols the virtues on education; the necessity for harmony between science, rationality and faith; the abandonment of prejudice; and the necessity of God as a source of social change.
According to the Guardian
Shoghi Effendi already had both Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to draw on in articulating what it means to be a believing Bahá’í. Thus, he was less concerned with codifying specific lists, and moreso in having believing faithful stand out in a unique way. Below, I offer a few passages from the Guardian that compliment those already cited.
When a person becomes a Bahá’í, he gives up the past only in the sense that he is a part of this new and living Faith of God, and must seek to pattern himself, in act and thought, along the lines laid down by Bahá’u'lláh. The fact that he is by origin a Jew or a Christian, a black man or a white man, is not important any more, but, as you say, lends color and charm to the Bahá’í community in that it demonstrates unity in diversity (Directives from the Guardian)
Indeed the chief reason for the evils now rampant in society is the lack of spirituality. The materialistic civilization of our age has so much absorbed the energy and interest of mankind that people in general do no longer feel the necessity of raising themselves above the forces and conditions of their daily material existence…The universal crisis affecting mankind is, therefore, essentially spiritual in its causes. The spirit of the age, taken on the whole, is irreligious. Man’s outlook on life is too crude and materialistic to enable him to elevate himself into the higher realms of the spirit…It is this condition…that religion seeks to improve and transform. For the core of religious faith is that mystic feeling which unites Man with God. This state of spiritual communion can be brought about and maintained by means of meditation and prayer. And this is the reason why Bahá’u'lláh has so much stressed the importance of worship. It is not sufficient for a believer merely to accept and observe the teachings. He should, in addition, cultivate the sense of spirituality which he can acquire chiefly by means of prayer. The Bahá’í Faith, like all other Divine Religions, is thus fundamentally mystic in character. Its chief goal is the development of the individual and society, through the acquisition of spiritual virtues and powers. It is the soul of man which has first to be fed. And this spiritual nourishment prayer can best provide. (Directives from the Guardian)
Let none, however, mistake my purpose, or misrepresent this cardinal truth which is of the essence of the Faith of Bahá’u'lláh. The divine origin of all the Prophets of God — including Jesus Christ and the Apostle of God, the two greatest Manifestations preceding the Revelation of the Báb — is unreservedly and unshakably upheld by each and every follower of the Bahá’í religion. (The Promised Day is Come)
Its teachings revolve around the fundamental principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is progressive, not final. Unequivocally and without the least reservation it proclaims all established religions to be divine in origin, identical in their aims, complementary in their functions, continuous in their purpose, indispensable in their value to mankind. (World Order of Bahá’u’lláh)
Shoghi Effendi here emphasis that Bahá’ís are a distinct religion that, as with Christianity and Islam, is “Mystical” and not entirely social – as some critics allege. Being a Bahá’ís means living out the Teachings, striving for a united mankind, and continually relying on Bahá’u’lláh for both personal and social advancement.
A Basic Bahá’í Creed
What, then, do Bahá’ís believe?
We believe that there is one God that cannot be understood rationally and is only known to us by way of the Manifestations. We believe the most current, and relevant, Manifestation for this Era is Bahá’u’lláh.
We believe that God has sent Manifestations throughout time, many of whose names have been lost to us, in order to advance and promote the one, unfolding Faith of God. These include Zoroaster, Buddha, Krishna, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, the Báb, and most recently Bahá’u’lláh. We believe each Manifestation is a Divine Reflection of the unified essence of God, perfectly embodying His will for an age; and that each manifestation has suffered, and in many cases died, for the redemption of both individual believers and society as a whole. We believe that in their suffering the Faith of God is strengthened, and the World is reinvigorated with spiritual life.
We accept the Writings of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh as Holy and Revealed Scripture, and the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as sacred and authoritative. We believe the Qur’án to be perfected revelation, subject to the Writings of our own Prophets; and we believe in the Bible as spiritually beneficial and containing revealed truths, although it is historically inaccurate.
We believe that God through Bahá’u’lláh has established a sacred Covenant to protect the Faith and adapt the ethical teachings as humanity advances. We thus accept ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as the Center of the Covenant and infallible interpreter of the Prophet, and we accept Shoghi Effendi as the first and last Guardian of the Cause of God – the individual charged with interpreting both Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
We believe in giving our allegiance to the Universal House of Justice so that by a common authority we can protect and promulgate unity in diversity. We accept its authority to implement and articulate the Holy Laws across cultural circumstances. We believe the primary laws for this age are the spiritual guidelines revealed in the Kitab-I-Aqdas.
We believe in the necessity for individual communion with God for both growth and enhancement. We believe in the spiritual benefit of prayer, and believe all people are responsible directly to God for their own spiritual growth – thus abolishing the need for sermons, clergy, and paid religious leaders.
We believe in a process of consultation, in discussing issues with other believers and relying on the majority opinion in faith that the Truth will eventually reveal itself.
We believe the God’s teachings for this day are built for social unity. We believe in abandoning all forms of prejudice, including sexism, racism, nationalism, and the like. We desire more socio-economic, but not to the point of enforced socialism.
We believe in the fundamental necessity of education, and the need for all individuals to investigate reality for themselves uninhibited by the fetters of tradition and bias, whether religious, cultural, political, or even social – such as coercion from family or teachers. We believe all people regardless of personal identity are entitled to the highest levels of education they can achieve.
We believe these social problems are fundamentally spiritual, resulting from a lack of reliance on faith and a materialist turn toward politics, ideology, and tradition for solutions. We believe that only reliance on God can solve these issues.
And we fundamentally believe in the individual to craft their own identity, and to tailor their own responses and ideas in order to form their own solid understanding of both God and His role in the universe.