The Bahá’í Faith traces its origin to 1844 and the announcement by a young man, Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad, in Shiraz, Persia (now Iran), that He had been sent by God to prepare humanity for a new age and the imminent appearance of another Messenger even greater than Himself.
Siyyid ‘Alí-Muhammad took the title of the Báb (pronounced Bob, meaning “Gate” in Arabic) and said the one whose coming He foretold would be the universal Manifestation of God sent to inaugurate an age of peace and enlightenment as promised in all the world’s religions.
The Báb’s teachings, which spread rapidly, were viewed as heretical by the clergy and government of Persia. More than 20,000 of His followers, known as Bábís, perished in a series of massacres throughout the country.
The Báb Himself was publicly executed in the city of Tabriz on 9 July 1850.
Bahá’ís consider the Báb to be both an independent Messenger of God and the forerunner of Bahá’u’lláh (pronounced Ba-ha-ul-LAH, meaning “the Glory of God” in Arabic), who is the founder of the Bahá’í Faith.
Bahá’u’lláh, whose name was Mírzá Husayn ‘Alí, was born into a noble family in Tehran on 12 November 1817. In His mid-20s, He declined a life of privilege and became one of the leading disciples of the Báb.
In 1852, in the course of the persecution of the Bábís, He was arrested, beaten, and thrown into an infamous dungeon in Tehran. After four months, He was released and banished from His native land – the beginning of 40 years of exile and imprisonment.
He was first sent to Baghdad, where He and His companions stayed for 10 years. In 1863, on the eve of His further banishment to what is now Turkey and then to the Holy Land, Bahá’u’lláh announced that He was the Universal Messenger of God foretold by the Báb.
In 1868, Bahá’u’lláh arrived 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 confinement was never lifted, but because of the growing recognition of His outstanding character, He eventually was able to move outside the walls of the prison city. He lived His final years at a country home called Bahjí, where He passed away in 1892. He was interred there, and His shrine is the holiest place on earth for Bahá’ís.
During the 40 years of His exile, Bahá’u’lláh revealed a series of books, tablets, and letters that today form the core of the Holy Writings of the Bahá’í Faith. Comprising the equivalent of some 100 volumes, the writings of Bahá’u’lláh describe the nature of God and the purpose of human existence, give new religious laws, and outline a vision for creating a peaceful and prosperous global society.
In His will, Bahá’u’lláh named His eldest son, ‘Abbás Effendi (1844-1921), as the head of the Bahá’í Faith and authorized interpreter of His teachings. ‘Abbás Effendi, known to Bahá’ís as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (“Servant of Bahá”), became well-known in the Haifa-Acre area for his charitable works, and he also traveled through Europe and North America to encourage nascent Bahá’í communities and to proclaim Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to the general public. The writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá are considered part of the sacred scriptures of the Bahá’í Faith.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá passed away in 1921. In his will he had designated his grandson Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957) as his successor, with the title of Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith. During the ministry of Shoghi Effendi, the religion spread around the world, and its local and national administrative institutions were established. With the passing of Shoghi Effendi in 1957, the line of hereditary leaders of the Bahá’í Faith came to an end.
Following provisions established by Bahá’u’lláh, in 1963 the Universal House of Justice was elected to direct the affairs of the worldwide Bahá’í community. The nine members of the Universal House of Justice are elected every five years by the members of the Bahá’í national administrative bodies around the world.