Of the world’s religions, the Bahai faith is the most recent to emerge and take root in the human religious narrative. What began as a movement in Muslim-dominant Iran in the early 1800s has now developed into a world religion with adherents populating all corners of the globe. Although the Bahai religion was born out of a Muslim society, Bahaism and Islam are completely different theologies. Central concepts of the Bahai faith are unity, humanity and the establishment of a harmonious global society.
In 1844, in the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz, a Muslim man by the name of Sayyed Ali Muhammad confided in a small group of peers that he was the bearer of a long-awaited divine revelation, sent as a messenger of God and a gateway to the coming of an even greater prophet. Once he gained a following, the Shia government of Iran had him executed for preaching heresy against Islam. After his death, the movement was taken up by Bahaullah, the man who soon became known as the prophet and founder of the Bahai faith. For the duration of his life, Bahaullah lived in exile, moving from one Islamic state to the next as his Muslim brothers and sisters denounced him for claiming prophecy over Muhammad.
The New Prophet?
Within the Bahai faith, Bahaullah is believed to be the last of a historic line of God’s messengers -- religious figures that encompass the prophets of all the world's major religions, including Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus and Muhammad. While Islam recognizes the prophets of Judaism, Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last of the prophets to be sent to earth by God. Jesus is viewed by Muslims as a moral man and historical figure, though not the son of God. Conversely, Bahai followers recognize Bahaullah as an expression of God for the modern age and the most recent prophet of God after Muhammad. Additionally, Islam does not recognize the religious figures of polytheistic belief systems such as Krishna, whereas the Bahai faith does.
One God, Many Religions
Contrary to common belief, Bahaism is not a sect of Islam. Bahais hold a belief in the oneness and unity of God and, in addition, the oneness of religions. Although Islam also asserts the oneness of God, Bahais relate themselves to all past religions in a way that Muslims do not. The Bahai faith’s relationship with Islam can be compared to the Christian relationship with Judaism. At the time of the founding of the Bahai faith, many Bahais acknowledged their Muslims roots yet asserted their religion as an entirely new tradition, as Bahais have their own holy books, principles and laws.
Another main distinction between the Bahai faith and Islam is that there is no one central text for Bahais. There are many religious books, written by Bahaullah, that Bahais consider to be holy. The texts, which were originally written in Persian and Arabic, have been translated into thousands of languages and can be studied in any translation. In Islam, the Quran is central to the faith, as it is considered to be the revealed word of God. The Quran is also translated, but Muslims believe that the most appropriate war to study the word of God is in the Quran’s original Arabic form.
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