Baha'i Faith, a world religion with members in 235 countries and territories, and with 184 National Spiritual Assemblies. As of 2015, there were an estimated 30,000 Baha'is in Canada, a number that includes French- and English-speaking members of the faith living in 1,200 communities. An estimated 18 per cent of the Baha’i community in Canada are Inuit or First Nations people, while recent immigrants make up 30 per cent.
Although its forerunner, the Babi movement, had its roots in Iranian Shiism (see Islam), the Baha'i Faith is independent rather than a sect of another religion, and derives its inspiration from its own sacred scriptures. These consist primarily of the writings of the founder, Baha'ullah (1817‒92), who Baha'is believe is the Messenger of God to our age, the most recent in a line stretching back beyond recorded time and including Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Christ and Muhammad.
The central teaching of Baha'ullah is that mankind is one human race, and that the age for the unification of this race in a global society has arrived. There is only one God, and all great religions share a divine source as well as the essential goal of guiding and educating people. Among the principles of justice on which the religion is based are equality of the sexes, the right of all people to education, the duty of each person to seek the truth for himself or herself, the closing of the gap between the rich and the poor, the abolition of all forms of prejudice and the need for the establishment of a democratic world government with its own peacekeeping force.
Baha'is believe that all great religions of the past have been stages in the progressive revelation of what Baha'ullah called "the changeless Faith of God." God himself is unknowable. From age to age he reveals himself through his messengers, whose lives and teachings reflect the Divine qualities. These successive revelations have provided the chief impulse in the civilizing of human nature and the evolution of human society. Other messengers will follow Baha'ullah so long as the universe exists, but the challenge of the next thousand years will be to realize Baha'ullah's vision of world unity and social justice.
The Baha’i Faith holds that a fundamental harmony underlies and connects science and religion — two fields of knowledge that rely on each other and that are essential to human evolution. Without science, religion becomes superstition and fanaticism; without religion, science is a simple instrument of materialism, which does not ultimately lead to authentic well-being.
This lifelong process occurs as the individual learns to serve humanity by responding to the message of God and, in the process, develops his or her own spiritual, moral and intellectual capacities. Prayer, meditation on the creative Word, and the discipline of one's physical nature are necessary aids to this effort. For Baha’is, service to humanity consists of volunteering and becoming actively involved in community development projects. All members of the community — adults, youth and children alike — are encouraged to participate in such activities. The rational soul is immortal and continues to evolve after death.
History of the Baha’i Faith
The Baha'i Faith began in 1844 in Persia (now Iran), with the announcement of the new age by Baha'ullah's forerunner, known as the Bab ("The Door"). The Bab (1819‒50) and several thousand early Persian followers, regarded by the Muslim clergy as heretics, were persecuted and killed. Baha'ullah was imprisoned and eventually exiled to the Turkish penal fortress of Akka, on the bay of Haifa in present-day Israel. The shrines where the Bab and Baha'ullah lie buried are today the focal points of an imposing complex of gardens and institutions. By 2015 over 2,100 ethnic groups were represented in the 116,000 Baha'i centres established worldwide. Persecution of Iran's 300,000 Baha'is for refusal to recant their faith intensified under the regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini and became a systematic campaign by the current Islamic Republic aimed at entirely extirpating the faith in the land of its birth.
Baha'is have no clergy. The affairs of the community are governed by democratically elected councils locally, nationally and internationally. At the lower two levels the councils, known as Spiritual Assemblies, are elected each year. The supreme governing body, the Universal House of Justice, whose seat is at the faith's world headquarters on Mount Carmel, Haifa, is elected every five years. Because of its beliefs, the Baha'i Faith places great importance on co-operation with all efforts toward world unity. The body which represents it in international affairs, the Baha'i International Community (BIC), holds consultative status as one of the nongovernmental organizations at the United Nations (UN), and it takes an active part in many of the UN's humanitarian and educational activities. The BIC also has offices close to UN headquarters in New York, Geneva and Brussels. In 2012, it established an office at the European Union in Brussels, where it also has representatives.
Baha'i Faith in Canada
Canada has played an unusually important role in Baha'i history. It is significant that after a visit to Montréal, Abdu'l-Bahá, one of the founders of the faith, called on the Baha'i communities in North America (United States and Canada) to take the lead in the promotion of Baha'ullah's teachings worldwide. The global Baha'i community today is a testimony to the devotion and efficiency with which they responded. In 1937, one of the community's members, Mary Sutherland Maxwell of Montréal, married the great-grandson of the founder of the Baha'i Faith, Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, who served in the central role of its Guardian until his death in 1957.
Canadian Baha'is are grateful for the energetic efforts of successive Canadian governments who have intervened on behalf of their persecuted co-religionists in Iran (see also Iranian Canadians). The first protest by a national government against the pogrom launched by the Islamic Republic of Iran was a unanimous vote in Canadian Parliament in June of 1980.
From 1971 to 2011, 18,945 people of Baha’i faith immigrated to Canada.
Canadian Baha'i Architects and Artists
The Canadian community has had a particularly close connection with the design of the faith's many shrines and houses of worship around the world. Two Montréal Baha'i architects, William Sutherland Maxwell and Jean-Baptiste Louis Bourgeois, designed, respectively, the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land and the first House of Worship in the western hemisphere at Chicago, Illinois. In 1986, the Vancouver Baha'i architect Fariborz Sahba created the extraordinary "Lotus Temple" in New Delhi, India, which has won acclaim in the international architectural press.
Still another Vancouver Baha'i, Hossein Amanat, is responsible for the design of the complex of monumental marble edifices constituting the faith's international administrative centre in Haifa, Israel, on the slopes of Mount Carmel. A fifth Canadian Baha'i architect, Siamak Hariri of Toronto, won the competition for the design of the "Mother Temple" of South America in Santiago, Chile.
Internationally renowned Canadian Baha’i painter and sculptor Otto Donald Rogers was a leading figure of the faith in Saskatchewan. He has written prolifically about the religion, which occupies an important place in his artistic oeuvre.
International Influence of the Canadian Community
Canadian Baha'is work in countless community-development projects undertaken by their faith around the world, and their National Assembly collaborates with Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada and the International Development Research Centre on a range of such activities. The Canadian community has also made submissions to various commissions (such as the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in the early 1990s) and participates in national debates on the role of religion in society, gender equality, youth development, human rights and sustainable development.
The Canadian community pioneered the concept of an international organization for Baha'i studies to bring together scholars and students in an application of Baha'i principles to various social concerns. The Association for Baha'i Studies ‒ North America, founded in 1975, has its headquarters in Ottawa. A number of professional associations exist within the faith, such as the Baha’i Medical Association of Canada.
Composition and Cohesion
The Baha’i Faith has attracted members from all Canadian provinces and territories and from every ethnic group and social class. Five of the faith's 274 elected Local Spiritual Assemblies are on Aboriginal reserves and others, with Inuit members, are in remote Arctic centres. The Canadian National Spiritual Assembly was the first Baha'i institution in the world to be incorporated formally by a special Act of a sovereign parliament (1949), an example since followed in few other countries. The Baha'i National Centre is located in Thornhill, Ontario, and the former Maxwell home on Montréal’s Avenue des Pins is maintained as a Baha'i place of pilgrimage. The Maxwell home is the only Baha’i shrine outside Israel, Iran, Iraq and Turkey.
A widely used introduction to the faith, The Bahá'í Faith: The Emerging Global Religion (first edition published in 1985, revised and updated in 2002) was written by two Canadian Baha'is, William Hatcher and Douglas Martin.