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The Bah?’? teachings speak of both a “Greater Covenant”, being universal and endless, and a “Lesser Covenant”, being unique to each religious dispensation. The Lesser Covenant is viewed as an agreement between a Messenger of God and his followers and includes social practices and the continuation of authority in the religion. At this time Bah?’?s view Bah?’u’ll?h’s revelation as a binding lesser covenant for his followers; in the Bah?’? writings being firm in the covenant is considered a virtue to work toward. The Greater Covenant is viewed as a more enduring agreement between God and humankind, where a Manifestation of God is expected to come to humanity about every thousand years, at times of turmoil and uncertainty.
The canonical texts are the writings of the B?b, Bah?’u’ll?h, `Abdu’l-Bah?, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, and the authenticated talks of `Abdu’l-Bah?. The writings of the B?b and Bah?’u’ll?h are considered as divine revelation, the writings and talks of `Abdu’l-Bah? and the writings of Shoghi Effendi as authoritative interpretation, and those of the Universal House of Justice as authoritative legislation and elucidation. Some measure of divine guidance is assumed for all of these texts. Some of Bah?’u’ll?h’s most important writings include the Kit?b-i-Aqdas, literally the Most Holy Book, which is his book of laws, the Kit?b-i-?q?n, literally the Book of Certitude, which became the foundation of much of Bah?’? belief, the Gems of Divine Mysteries, which includes further doctrinal foundations, and the Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys which are mystical treatises.
Bah?’? history follows a sequence of leaders, beginning with the B?b’s May 23, 1844 declaration in Shiraz, Iran, and ultimately resting on an administrative order established by the central figures of the religion. The tradition was mostly isolated to the Persian and Ottoman empires until after the death of Bah?’u’ll?h in 1892, at which time he had followers in 13 countries of Asia and Africa. Under the leadership of his son, `Abdu’l-Bah?, the religion gained a footing in Europe and America, and was consolidated in Iran, where it still suffers intense persecution. After the death of `Abdu’l-Bah? in 1921, the leadership of the Bah?’? community entered a new phase, evolving from a single individual to an administrative order with both elected bodies and appointed individuals.
On May 23, 1844 Siyyid `Al?-Muhammad of Shiraz, Iran proclaimed that he was “the B?b” (????? “the Gate”), referencing his later claim to the station of Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam of Shi`a Islam. His followers were therefore known as B?b?s. As the B?b’s teachings spread, which the Islamic clergy saw as a threat, his followers came under increased persecution and torture. The conflicts escalated in several places to military sieges by the Shah’s army. The B?b himself was imprisoned and eventually executed in 1850.
M?rz? Husayn `Al? N?r? was one of the early followers of the B?b, and later took the title of Bah?’u’ll?h. He was arrested and imprisoned for this involvement in 1852. Bah?’u’ll?h relates that in 1853, while incarcerated in the dungeon of the S?y?h-Ch?l in Tehran, he received the first intimations that he was the one anticipated by the B?b.
`Abb?s Effendi was Bah?’u’ll?h’s eldest son, known by the title of `Abdu’l-Bah? (Servant of Bah?). His father left a Will that appointed `Abdu’l-Bah? as the leader of the Bah?’? community, and designated him as the “Centre of the Covenant”, “Head of the Faith”, and the sole authoritative interpreter of Bah?’u’ll?h’s writings. `Abdu’l-Bah? had shared his father’s long exile and imprisonment, which continued until `Abdu’l-Bah?’s own release as a result of the Young Turk Revolution in 1908. Following his release he led a life of travelling, speaking, teaching, and maintaining correspondence with communities of believers and individuals, expounding the principles of the Bah?’? Faith.
Bah?’u’ll?h’s Kit?b-i-Aqdas and The Will and Testament of `Abdu’l-Bah? are foundational documents of the Bah?’? administrative order. Bah?’u’ll?h established the elected Universal House of Justice, and `Abdu’l-Bah? established the appointed hereditary Guardianship and clarified the relationship between the two institutions. In his Will, `Abdu’l-Bah? appointed his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as the first Guardian of the Bah?’? Faith.
Most Bah?’? meetings occur in individuals’ homes, local Bah?’? centers, or rented facilities. Worldwide, there are currently seven Bah?’? Houses of Worship with an eighth under construction in Chile. Bah?’? writings refer to an institution called a “Mashriqu’l-Adhk?r” (Dawning-place of the Mention of God), which is to form the center of a complex of institutions including a hospital, university, and so on. The first ever Mashriqu’l-Adhk?r in `Ishq?b?d, Turkmenistan, has been the most complete House of Worship.
The symbols of the religion are derived from the Arabic word Bah?’ (???? “splendor” or “glory”), with a numerical value of 9, which is why the most common symbol is the nine-pointed star. The ringstone symbol and calligraphy of the Greatest Name are also often encountered. The former consists of two five-pointed stars interspersed with a stylized Bah?’ whose shape is meant to recall the three onenesses, while the latter is a calligraphic rendering of the phrase Y? Bah?’u’l-Abh? (?? ???? ?????? “O Glory of the Most Glorious!”).
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