Differences Between the Unitarian and Haifan Bahai Faith
Unitarian Bahaism as understood and practiced in the Unitarian Bahai Association, and mainline conservative Bahaism as practiced in the Haifa-based Baha'i Faith organization, are very different from each other. Here is a list of the major differences between these two Bahai traditions.
- Terminology: Unitarian Bahais sometimes use the academic term Bahaism – in widespread popular use until a few decades ago – to refer to the Bahai faith, as a way of distinguishing between the religion itself and the Haifan Bahai organization which refers to itself as "the Baha'i Faith." The Haifan denomination sees itself as the only legitimate form of Bahaism, and this is why they use the same term to refer both to the religion and their organization. We consider this to be an inaccurate and presumptuous conflation. Also read about dropping the apostrophe in the word Baha'i.
- Where We Meet: Unitarian Bahais mostly meet in Unitarian Universalist churches, wherever such congregations already exist, rather than in private homes. We regard UU churches and any other buildings where all-inclusive, interfaith spiritual communities meet as the Bahai mashriq al-adhkar (house of worship).
- Gay Rights: The Unitarian Bahai Association accepts openly gay and lesbian Bahais – including those in committed same-sex relationships – as fully equal members of our organization.
- Full Equality of Women: Women are eligible to be elected to the international Board of Directors of the Unitarian Bahai Association.
- Politics: The Unitarian Bahai Association does not prohibit its members from participating in partisan politics. In fact, we encourage responsible political activism and public service in democratically elected office as ways that Bahais can work to implement the social principles of the Bahai cause.
- Multiple Religious Affiliations: Many members of the Unitarian Bahai Association choose to be full members of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), which allows its members to belong to specific religious traditions and organizations in addition to the UUA. UBA members are allowed to be members of other spiritual communities as well, such as Christian churches, Islamic mosques, Jewish synagogues, Hindu or Buddhist temples, etc. All spiritual paths have value and Bahaism is not intended to nullify one's interest or relationship with other religions. In fact, the UBA encourages its members to explore various religious traditions and practices and to attend different worship services from time to time, to develop and maintain a full appreciation for the rich tapestry of human spirituality.
- Concealing One's Faith: Bahais who live in Islamic countries that forbid organized Bahaism are allowed by the Unitarian Bahai Association to hide their Bahai faith and publicly identify and worship as Muslims, while maintaining a private relationship with the UBA. This practice is known as hikmat (wisdom), and is intended to preserve peace in society and prevent needless discrimination, harassment, imprisonment, torture, or death of believers. Many early Bahais in the Middle East continued to follow Islamic religious traditions after becoming Bahai – even Abdul-Baha, the son and successor of Bahaullah, regularly attended mosque his entire life. In the Christian West during the same period, many ministers and church members secretly believed in Bahaism but continued practicing Christianity as well, to avoid losing their social and professional relationships. The UBA accepts the practice of hikmat, as long as it is done for serious reasons and in good conscience.
- Israelis: Residents of Israel are allowed to become members of the Unitarian Bahai Association.
- Individual Interpretation: Unitarian Bahais are free to interpret the Bahai scriptures according to their own study, reason, and conscience, rather than being required to agree or pretend to agree with "official" interpretations and doctrines.
- Translations of Scripture: Unitarian Bahais are free to translate Bahai scriptures themselves from the original Persian and Arabic text, and to read and use any translations they prefer, rather than only using one "official" version. In general, Unitarian Bahais tend to regard the translations of Shoghi Effendi and the Haifan denomination as needlessly old-fashioned (e.g. using King James or Shakespearean English) and in some cases inaccurate and misleadingly distorted in meaning.
- Freedom of Speech and Scholarship: Unitarian Bahais are free to write and publish books, articles, and scholarly papers about the Bahai faith and Bahai issues without needing to get permission and be subject to censorship ("pre-publication review") by any Bahai institution.
- "The Covenant": Unitarian Bahais reject the concept of "Covenant-breaking" and believe that what Haifan Bahais refer to as "the Lesser Covenant" (or simply "the Covenant" for short) – the successorship of individuals or institutions of supposedly infallible religious leadership in the Bahai faith – does not exist in reality. There were successors of Bahaullah but they fought among each other and none of them have been infallible, and no Bahai organization today has leadership institutions that are infallible.
- Descendants of Bahaullah: All of the blood descendants of Bahaullah – including those descended from people who are considered "Covenant-breakers" in the Haifan tradition and who do not wish to renounce and condemn their ancestors – are welcome in the Unitarian Bahai Association as fully equal members.
- Shunning: Unitarian Bahais do not believe in shunning Bahais of other denominations and traditions. We are open to fellowship with all, regardless of differences of opinion or organizational allegiance.
- Successors of Bahaullah: Unitarian Bahais regard Abdul-Baha as the first successor of Bahaullah and Ghusn-i-Akbar as the second successor, as appointed in Bahaullah's will. We regard Shoghi Effendi as a competitor to leadership (alongside Ghusn-i-Akbar), whose position was created by Abdul-Baha in his will. In a sense, Shoghi Effendi could be considered the third successor of Bahaullah, since he outlived Ghusn-i-Akbar by about 20 years and had considerable influence on the development of the Bahai faith; but his appointment was of questionable legitimacy and much of his work and teachings were of a sectarian nature. We do not regard any of these three men as perfect or infallible. We do not believe there are any other successors of Bahaullah after them – neither individuals, as some small Bahai denominations believe, nor oligarchic institutions as the Haifan denomination believes.
- The House of Justice: Unitarian Bahais have a different understanding of the institution of the House of Justice. We follow what Bahaullah wrote in his book of laws, the Kitab-i-Aqdas: that the House of Justice consists of local meetings in which at least nine believers (who may be both men and women) gather to discuss and vote on matters of charity, education, politics, and other applications of Bahai principles. Houses of Justice throughout a region, such as a state or country or even the whole world, may agree to vote on the same resolution and thus reach a mutual decision relevant beyond a single locality. The Haifan "Universal" House of Justice conforms neither to Bahaullah's original plan nor to the modified plan of his successor Abdul-Baha, and it views itself primarily as a doctrinal and administrative body – functions not assigned to the Bayt al-Adl (House of Justice) in Bahaullah's writings.
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