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The Bahá'í Faith

History of the faith. The Universal House of
(UHJ). Attitudes towards women, and
the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender/
Transsexual community.

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Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith records in his book that the religion started in Iran with "A handful of students, belonging to the Shaykhi school, sprung from the Ithna-'Ashariyyih sect of Shi`ah Islam." 1 From that beginning in 1844, the Bahá'í Faith has expanded into newest of the world's main religions.

Most religious historians believe that the Bahá'í Faith arose from Islam, similar to the way Christianity developed out of Judaism. Just as the original Christians were all Jews, the original Bahá'í's were all originally Muslims.  Bahá'í's teach that theirs is a unique religion consisting of the teachings that God directly revealed to their prophet Baha'u'llah.

The name of the religion is most commonly spelled Baha'i, although alternative spellings of Ba'Hai, Bahai, Bahá'í, and Bah'ai are sometimes seen.

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The Bab:

Siyyid 'Ali-Muhammad Shirází (1819-1850 CE) was a merchant in Shiraz in the south of Iran. He assumed the title Bab ("the Gate"). In 1844-MAY-23, in Iran, he announced the "Declaration of the Bab." He explained that the purpose of His mission, and those of his eighteen disciples whom he called the "Letters of the Living," was to herald the arrival of "One greater than Himself", who would fulfill the prophetic expectations of all the great religions. His followers became known as Babis.  

It is commonly believed that 20,000 were martyred for their beliefs. However, Dr. Denis MacEoin Author of "The Sources for Early Babi Doctrine and History" researched Arabic, Persian and European-language archives and has estimated that there were about 3,000 to 4,000 martyrs -- but perhaps a lot fewer.

The movement caused much religious ferment. This led to his execution in 1850 by order of the Shah's chief minister and at the instigation of Muslim clerics, who saw his movement as a threat to orthodox Islam.

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One of the Bab's followers, Mirza Husayn-'Ali-i-Nuri (1817-1892), was the son of a prominent Iranian nobleman and a prominent follower of the Bab. The Bab had given him several indications of his future role. In 1854, he was exiled and spent time in what is now Iraq, where he wrote several books: the Seven Valleys, the Four Valleys, Hidden Words and the Book of Certitude.  In 1863, he confided to some of his followers and to his eldest son that he was the Manifestation predicted by the Bab. This event is commemorated yearly during the holy days of Ridván.

On 1863-APR-21, while living in Edirne in what is now Turkey, he began proclaiming his station openly and publicly to the world at large. His assumed title, Baha'u'llah ("glory of God"), by which he is generally known, was the title that the Bab used to refer to Him. The last forty years of Baha'u'llah's life were spent in prison or in exile. The last 22 years were spent in or near Akka, then a prison city. The world headquarters of the Bahá'í Faith is located in the Holy Land today as a result. It was here that he wrote his main literary work, the "Most Holy Book." By 1877, he was given increasing liberty to work freely.

Baha'u'llah died on 1892-MAY-29 at the age of 74. He had spent most of his life either as a prisoner or in exile. He was buried in a house near Akka. "His shrine is regarded by Bahá'ís as the holiest place on earth.2

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Baha'u'llah appointed his son 'Abdu'l-Baha (1844-1921) to be leader of the movement after his death. He was to be the sole interpreter of his father's writings. In the very late 19th century, under his leadership, the faith expanded beyond the Middle East and was introduced to Europe and North America. He set out on speaking tours, visiting France and the UK in 1911, and North America, the UK, France, Germany and Hungary during 1912-12.

He lived in Haifa during World War I where he wrote his major book: "Tablets of the Divine Plan" which contained his thoughts on the worldwide expansion of the faith. Baha'is believe that his interpretations of Baha'u'llah's writings were based on his infallible understanding of the texts.

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Shoghi Effendi:

'Abdu'l-Baha selected his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi (-1957) to be his successor as the Guardian of the Cause of God -- the leader of the Bahá'í community. He dedicated his effort to a major expansion of the faith into all areas of the world. He was instrumental in bringing women into various positions of power in the religion, and overcoming local prejudices against them.

He died in London, England in 1957. He did not name a successor -- a person to infallibly interpret the writings of Baha'u'llah. Administrative duties were taken over by a committee who he had called "Hands of the Cause." They were giving them the authority to lead the Baha'i Faith.

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The Universal House of Justice:

In 1963, the Universal House of Justice (a.k.a. UHJ) was established in Haifi, Israel.

According to their website:

"The Universal House of Justice was revealed by Baha'u'llah, delineated by 'Abdu'l-Baha and constituted by Shoghi Effendi in a Four Stage Plan, to evolve in four phases from an embryonic state of an appointed body to an eventual efflorescence into a universally elected body from all the peoples and nations of the world." 6

The House is the highest authority in the Bahá'í faith. It has coordinated a series of multi-year plans to further expand and consolidate Bahá'í communities around the world.

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Sexism within the Bahá'í Faith:

The Baha'i religion is currently one of the least sexist religious groups in the world. Baha'is have promoted an end to bias and discrimination based on sex, race, religion, etc. However, women were initially excluded from the nine-member UHJ. Shoghi Effendi apparently preferred that the initial choice of jurors be limited to men,. Residual sexism among the religion's followers -- particularly in the Middle and Far East -- threatened to create a schism if women were considered as full equals of men. "He left this battle for the future Universal House of Justice itself to fight." 4 The Universal House of Justice has passed its fiftieth anniversary and remains an all-male organization.

However, the UHJ issued a ruling in 1996 stating that:

"Based upon the Explicit Holy Text and the clear and manifest proofs and evidences contained within, and in accordance with, the revealed statements of Baha'u'llah, 'Abdu'l-Baha, and Shoghi Effendi, the Universal House of Justice shall be comprised of both men and women.

And furthermore, that:
The membership of both men and women on the Universal House of Justice is constituted within the Baha'i Administrative Order, that is, the membership of both men and women on the Universal House of Justice forms an irremovable part of the constitution of the Universal House of Justice in all its stages.

And therefore, that:
In conformity with, and in enforcement of, the Explicit Holy Text, if women are not elected to the Universal House of Justice than that election shall be declared invalid." 7

In spite of this noble statement, the UHJ remains an all-male body. 8

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Homophobia within the Bahá'í Faith:

Since Shoghi Effendi did not delegate a successor -- one with an infallible understanding of Baha'u'llah's writings -- the UHJ has " powers to interpret scripture." 3 Thus, none of his or his predecessors' interpretations can be changed.  This may well produce a serious problem in the future over the question of equality for homosexuals, including the right to access gay marriage.

Shoghi Effendi interpreted a section of Baha'u'llah's writings as prohibiting all same-sex activity, including that between consenting gays or lesbians in committed relationships. There does not appear to be any way to overturn his ruling, even if the Bahá'í  leadership were to follow the general concensus of human sexuality researchers and accept that homosexuality is a morally neutral sexual orientation that is normal and natural for a minority of adults.

Lesbians and gays who are open with their sexual orientation run the risk of losing their Administrative Rights and/or being expelled from the Bahaii Faith. 9

Now that gay marriage has been legalized in the U.S. and Canada, North American Bahá'í 's and accepted by the majority of the adult population, the inconsistency between the faith's general acceptance of settled scientific findings and its rejection of homosexuality will probably be increasingly troublesome in the future and limit its future membership growth.

More details on this topic.

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Acceptance of transgender individuals and transsexuals:

A search by the House of Justice revealed no reference in Bahá'i writings that deals either with transsexuality or gender reasignment surgery. They decided that these topics shold be cnsidered medical topics. Members should consult with medical experts who specialize in the field.

The UHJ stated that:

"If ... [the] medical opinion advises a change of sex, and the individual concerned decides to accept the advice given, no administrative sanction should be imposed by Bahá’í institutions on that individual."

The UHJ has further stated:

"... If a Bahá’í has had surgery and a change of sex has been registered officially on the birth certificate or otherwise, marriage is permissible to a person of the sex opposite to that which is officially registered.” 10

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Current status:

The Bahá'í faith continues to expand across the world. The religion's rate of increase is not generally known because accurate membership data are not available.

Several schismatic movements split away from the main Bahá'í faith after the death of the Guardian. However, none of them have been able to build a large membership. They are known as covenant breakers by the main faith.

The Bahá'í faith is still viewed by many Muslims as a breakaway sect of Islam. Its members are heavily persecuted in some countries because of this, in violation of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, "God Passes By," Pages 402-403. Published by the Bahá'í Publishing Trust, (1st edition 1971). Online at:
  2. Moojan Momen, "8. The history of the Bahá'í faith," from "A short introduction to the Bahá'í Faith," at:
  3. William Miller, "The Rule of the People," Chapter 14 of "The Baha'i Faith: Its history and teachings," Page 308. See:
  4. Dr. Leland Jensen, "Explanation of the issue: women on the Universal House of Justice," at:
  5. Denis Maceoin, "The Sources for Early Babi Doctrine and History: A Survey," Brill Academic Publishers. (1991). Read a description or order this book safely from online book store
  6. "The Official Website of the Universal House of Justice," at:
  7. "Women on the Universal House of Justice, The UHJ, 2015, at:
  8. "Universal House of Justice," Wikipedia, as on 2015-AUG-10, at:
  9. Nicolas Snow, "Brokenhearted Bahá'is: LGBTs Rejected by Their Faith," Huffington Post, 2014-JUN-23, at:
  10. "Transsexuailty by/on behalf of Universal House of Justice, " Bahá'í Library Online, 2002-DEC-26, at:

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Copyright © 1996 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2015-AUG-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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