One of the world’s youngest religions celebrates its bicentenary
Bahá’í faith claimed to be most ‘widespread religion’ in world
The Bahá’í mother house, known as the Lotus Temple, in New Delhi. The president of India has written to the Baha’i community and called on all Indians to, “Reflect on the life of Bahá’u’lláh, his vision for the unity of humanity and the monumental body of his writings about the moral and spiritual transformation of the individual and society”.Photograph: Getty Images
When Irish writer George Townshend died in 1957 his death marked the end of a significant period in Irish religious history. For this former lead writer for The Irish Times was also the first Irish resident to join the Bahá’í faith.
Founded by Bahá’u’lláh in 1863, the Bahá’í faith is the most widespread religion on planet earth, with adherents in virtually every country and territory around the world. It is a growing religion attracting to its ranks those who find hope for the future of humanity in its teachings.
What Townshend started as a lone Bahá’í has grown into a small but strong Irish Bahá’í community, working with children and youth in villages and towns across the country and actively engaged in the work of integration.
This year marks the bicentenary of Bahá’u’lláh’s birth and in Ireland it is being celebrated in a variety of cultural and spiritual ways. Prayerful gatherings, concerts, dramas and art exhibitions as well as civic events are being held in centres from Letterkenny to Cork, as Bahá’ís proudly draw attention to One who has inspired their devotion and admiration.
Bahá’u’lláh, whose name translates as “The Glory of God”, claimed for himself the station of a messenger from God when he first proclaimed his new religion in the second half of the 19th century.
Divine messengersThroughout history, according to Bahá’í teaching, God has revealed himself to humanity through a series of divine messengers, each of whom has founded a great religion. The messengers have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad.
Bahá’u’lláh is the latest of these messengers, bringing new spiritual and social teachings for our modern age. He taught that there is only one God, that all of the world’s religions are from God, and that now is the time for humanity to recognise its oneness.
Born in Iran (Persia as it was then known) in 1817, he was the son of wealthy parents. From a young age he was well-known for his extraordinary breath of learning and for his dedication to the welfare of the poor and needy.
He experienced a lifetime of intense persecution for expressing teachings that did not serve the social or political interests of the kings and clergy of the Middle East at the time.
He was imprisoned for 40 years and banished repeatedly, exiled from place to place across the Middle East. At length he was sent to the prison city of Acre in the Holy Land, where he died, still a prisoner, in 1892.
Never silenced by the danger around him, Bahá’u’lláh addressed letters to the kings and rulers of the world including Napoleon and Queen Victoria. In these letters he introduced himself as the founder of the Baha’i faith and called on the world’s ecclesiastical and political rulers to abolish injustice and oppression, to put an end to slavery and to work together to establish a lasting peace in the world.
Bahá’u’lláh’s extensive writings include prayers and counsels to the individual, as well as mystical treatises on the life of the soul and practical social teachings with an overarching stress on the need for unity and justice at every level of society.
In fact if there is a single word to describe the fundamental message of Bahá’u’lláh it is unity. His purpose was to help us to recognise our common humanity regardless of ethnicity or nationality and through the application of certain universal principles, establish peace and prosperity on earth.
Those principles are wide ranging and include the concepts of co-operation, reciprocity and honest consultation. He also laid emphasis on the need for universal education, available to both girls and boys; and he said that until the equality of women and men is recognised as a reality, the progress of civilisation will be hindered.
This year’s bicentenary celebrations are stirring the hearts of both Bahá’ís and those who though not Bahá’í have come to respect Bahá’u’lláh and his teachings.
Around the world in places that Baha’is reside their local, and even national, governments are offering their good wishes for this important anniversary.
The president of India, for one, has written to the Baha’i community and called on all Indians to, “Reflect on the life of Bahá’u’lláh, his vision for the unity of humanity and the monumental body of his writings about the moral and spiritual transformation of the individual and society”.
Ann O’Sullivan is a member of the national administrative body for the Bahá’í faith in Ireland and works as a psychotherapist