Can a religion accept other faiths as true?

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1. A young faith

Nowadays, most religions recognise other faiths and encourage tolerance. But there is one that has done so since its very birth in mid-19th Century Persia: the Bahá'í faith.

Bahá'ís accept all the great world religions as having true and valid origins. Their central idea is that people of all beliefs and cultures should unite together for the common benefit of humanity.

This message had radical implications.

2. One universal faith

Peter Owen Jones visits the Bahá'ís' most holy site in Haifa, Israel and finds a religion that's inclusive and tolerant of all faiths.

To understand how these ideas came about, we have to take a step back and meet the father of the movement: a young merchant who would go on to adopt the name the Báb.

3. Challenging the religious establishment

Born on 20 October 1819, Siyyid Ali-Muhammad Shírází became known as the Báb, a word which means 'gate' in Arabic. His message was the gateway to a new world.

He announced that he had received a message from God. The message was that a great prophet - the Promised One - was coming to establish a world of peace and justice.

He quickly built up a substantial group of followers who became known as Bábis.

Backlash

The Báb's message soon provoked a backlash from the Shia Muslim establishment, who regarded it as heresy.

He was eventually executed by firing squad in Tabriz, in modern day Iran, on 9 July 1850.

But the Bábi faith didn't just die out with the death of its founder. The Báb had paved the way for the coming of the faith’s greatest figure.

4. A new leader

One of the Báb's followers was Mirzá Husayn-Ali, a young man who later took the name Bahá'u'lláh. He gave up a privileged life and became one of the movement's most influential members. After the Báb's death many Bábis looked to him as the next leader.

Two years after the Báb's death, Bahá'u'lláh was imprisoned in Tehran's Black Pit, an underground prison. It was here that, according to Bahá'í tradition, he received a revelation from God that confirmed he was the Promised One.

A view of Tehran

Bahá'í World Centre

On his release from prison, the authorities exiled Bahá'u'lláh and his followers to Baghdad. Here they camped for 12 nights in the Garden of Ridván on the banks of the River Tigris and Bahá’u’lláh publicly declared his mission.

Rebuilt Ridván Garden in Haifa

Bahá'í World Centre

These 12 nights are remembered every year as the Festival of Ridván, the most important festival in the Bahá'í calendar. After this, the Bábis adopted the name Bahá'í - followers of Bahá'u'lláh.

Bahá'í Museum in Haifa

UPPA / TopFoto

Eventually the Bahá'ís were forcibly removed to the penal city of Acre, near Haifa in modern day Israel. It was here in his final years that Bahá'u'lláh laid down the essential laws and principles of the Bahá'í faith.

Acre circa 1900

Roger-Viollet / Topfoto

Upon his death in 1892, Bahá'u'lláh was buried in the grounds of the house in which he lived and today his grave is the most sacred shrine for the Bahá'í community.

Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh in Haifa

Bahá'í World Centre

On the death of Bahá'u'lláh, his eldest son 'Abdu'l-Bahá, was named the infallible interpreter of Bahá'u'lláh's writings. He and his teachers travelled to Europe and USA to proclaim Bahá'u'lláh's message of unity.

'Abdu'l-Bahá

Bahá'í World Centre

5. Peace, equality and education

While Bahá'u'lláh's central message was that humanity should unite into one single, peaceful society, there was much more to his philosophy.

He believed men and women should be fully equal, and that extremes of poverty and wealth should be eliminated. Every human being would have the right to education and it would be each individual's responsibility to use that education in the search for truth.

Bahá'ís believe God is perfect, but his power is too great to be understood by the human mind.

No hierarchy

There's no clergy or priesthood in the Bahá'í faith. The Universal House of Justice, a body elected every five years by Bahá’í representatives from all over the world, directs the faith from its seat in Haifa.

Social activism

Bahá’ís worship through prayer and meditation, and by participating in devotional gatherings. Active service in their communities is considered an important way to worship God.

But there's a darker side to the Bahá’í story.

6. Continued persecution

In Iran, the Bahá'í faith continues to be regarded as heretical by the religious establishment.

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Bahá'ís haven't been allowed to openly practise their religion and some of their most sacred sites have been destroyed.

They have been denied access to higher education and employment and many Bahá'ís have been arrested and imprisoned without trial. There are allegations of religiously motivated killings.

According to the Bahá'í International Community's United Nations Office, Bahá'ís are the largest religious minority in Iran today. Their estimated number is 300,000.

7. Who's challenged the religious establishment?

The 19th Century saw the rise of many new religious movements and revivals in the Christian Church in Europe and America.

Charles Taze Russell

Charles Taze Russell was one of a group of Bible students in Pittsburgh, USA, who became convinced the churches had moved away from its teachings.

He founded

Jehovah's Witnesses

The Jehovah's Witness movement was founded under his leadership and he was the first editor of their publication The Watchtower.

William Booth

William Booth was a Methodist clergyman who became concerned with the physical and spiritual lives of London's poor.

He founded

Salvation Army

He founded the Salvation Army along quasi-military lines. It continues to work to alleviate poverty worldwide.

Joseph Smith

As a boy Joseph Smith had a vision from God that the Church had lost its way and would be restored through him.

He founded

Latter Day Saints (Mormonism)

He founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and published the Book of Mormon.