The Bahá'í Faith had its beginnings in 1844. In that year, a young Iranian merchant proclaimed the advent of a new religious revelation. He became known as "the Báb," which means "the Gate" in Arabic. Born on October 20, 1819, the Báb's given name was Siyyid `Alí-Muhammad. He declared that His purpose was to prepare humanity for the advent of a new messenger from God.
The Báb and his followers, who were called Bábis, were brutally persecuted by the clergy and government of Iran, who viewed the Báb's claim as heretical. The Báb was arrested, beaten and imprisoned, and on July 9, 1850, He was executed publicly by firing squad in the city of Tabríz. Over the years, more than 20,000 Bábis perished in a series of massacres throughout Iran when they refused to recant their faith.
Among the Báb's followers was a young man named Mírzá Husayn-`Alí, who was born in Tíhrán on November 12, 1817. Known today as Bahá'u'lláh, which means "The Glory of God," He was a member of one of the great patrician families of Iran.
In becoming a follower of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh turned His back on wealth and privilege, and, like other followers, became the victim of cruel persecution. Because of His family's influential position, Bahá'u'lláh escaped death, but He was imprisoned in a notorious dungeon in Tíhrán in 1852. After four months in chains, He was exiled to Baghdád. There, in 1863, Bahá'u'lláh openly declared His mission as a messenger of God--the Promised One foretold by the Báb. The followers of Bahá'u'lláh became known as Bahá'ís.
In making this claim, Bahá'u'lláh explained that all of the world's great religions have foretold a day when peace and justice would be established worldwide. The past messengers of God--such as Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad and the Báb--consciously prepared humanity for this day. For Bahá'ís, Bahá'u'lláh's appearance fulfills the promise of all the world's scriptures.
Because of the continuing opposition of the Iranian government and religious authorities, Bahá'u'lláh suffered a series of exiles following His declaration. As a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire, He was sent from Baghdád to Constantinople, then to Adrianople, and finally to the prison city of `Akká, in the Holy Land.
In 1867, while in Adrianople, Bahá'u'lláh began writing a series of letters to the kings, rulers and religious leaders of His time, addressing them both as individuals and collectively. Among those He addressed individually were Napoleon III, Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm I, Czar Alexander II, Emperor Franz Josef, Pope Pius IX, Sultan `Abdu'l-`Aziz, and Násiri'd-Din Sháh.
In these letters, Bahá'u'lláh announced His mission. He told of the dawning of a new age and warned of coming revolutions and changes in the world's political and social order. Bahá'u'lláh proclaimed the need for humanity to accept new principles. He called for general efforts at disarmament, for example, and urged the world's rulers to band together into a commonwealth of nations, saying that only by acting collectively to ban war could lasting peace be established.
In 1868, Bahá'u'lláh reached the final destination of His long exile: the prison city of `Akká. While a prisoner, He continued to write, composing before the end of His life more than 100 volumes which comprise the basic scriptures of the Bahá'í Faith.
Towards the end of His life, even though still under sentence of exile and prison, Bahá'u'lláh was allowed to move outside of the city walls to an abandoned estate known as Bahji. In this spot, on May 29, 1892, Bahá'u'lláh passed away. Bahá'u'lláh's body is enshrined at Bahjí, which is a place of pilgrimage for Bahá'ís.
Bahá'ís believe that Bahá'u'lláh established a new Covenant between God and humanity which befits the maturity of the human race. The most tangible evidence of this Covenant is the specific leadership succession outlined by Bahá'u'lláh, a development that is unique in religious history and which assures that the unity of the Bahá'í community will be preserved.
Before his passing, Bahá'u'lláh wrote his will and testament and appointed his eldest son, `Abdu'l-Bahá, as the leader of the Bahá'í Faith. `Abdu'l-Bahá's writings are also viewed as an authoritative source of Bahá'í teachings.
`Abdu'l-Bahá, in turn, appointed his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, to be the "Guardian of the Faith" and his successor. He led the Bahá'í Faith from 1921 until 1957. With the passing of Shoghi Effendi, the line of hereditary leaders of the Bahá'í Faith ended. In 1963, following written instructions of Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi, an international convention was held at the Bahá'í World Center in Haifa to elect the first Universal House of Justice.
The Universal House of Justice directs the spiritual and administrative affairs of the worldwide Bahá'í community. Endowed by Bahá'u'lláh with the authority to legislate matters not mentioned in the Bahá'í scriptures, the Universal House of Justice is the institution that keeps the Bahá'í community unified and flexible, able to respond to the needs and conditions of an ever-changing world.