An Introduction to the Bahá’í Faith.
The Bahá’í Faith, a religion born in Nineteenth Century Iran, is essentially an offshoot of Shí’a Islám. The fundamental premise of the Bahá’í Faith is that mankind cannot find its own way, and needs to be educated continually by a divine educator. One revelation is not good enough, so God never leaves man alone. In this respect, Bahá’ís exhibit less esteem for human insight than their Muslim forebears. Bahá’ís have a name for this doctrine of divine micromanagement. They call it the Covenant. It is by virtue of this doctrine that the Bahá’í Faith is not so much a belief system as an authority.
This Bahá’í Covenant is essentially the Shí’a doctrine of the Imamate on steroids. Imams are divine teachers. The great Imams of Shí’a Islám are regarded by Shí’a Muslims as infallibly inspired by God. The Bahá’ís extend this institution with the promise that this divine guidance must always and ever be incarnate in the world.
The Bahá’í Faith departed from Islám in that its two founders claimed to renew the revelation of God such that the revelation of God to Muhammad is no longer valid, but the Bahá’í religion still took the form of Shí’a Islám. Just as the Shí’a have a chain of infallible Imáms, so also do Bahá’ís have their chain of infallible leaders.
The Bahá’í Faith and Shí’a Islám have many common characteristics aside from the purported infallibility of their leaders. Bahá’ís and Shí’ites share a high regard for martyrdom, and are equally torn between their apolitical teachings and their theocratic ideals.
The primary difference between the two is essentially a dispute over who speaks for God in the present day. The Bahá’í Faith claims to be the new divine authority. This change, of course, requires that Bahá’ís believe that a particular revelation can expire and be replaced by a new revelation. Hence the Bahá’ís have something they call “progressive revelation.”
There are many differences in the particulars of the Bahá’í Faith and Shí’a Islám. These are what Bahá’ís consider the progressive aspects of their revelation. One example of such progress is that Bahá’ís do not believe in Jihád, though they do believe that warfare can be just. Bahá’ís do not practice ritual purity, though they do include purification rituals with some obligatory prayers.