Digest of terms
Baha'ism was founded by Iranian nobleman Baha'u'llah (1817-1892) and teaches the fundamental oneness of religion and of humanity. The latter is taken to imply recognition of universal human rights, the equality of men and women, rejection of slavery and racism (Baha'is were early proponents of racial equality), and a basically egalitarian ethic of social justice (free market capitalism is rejected as aggravating the plight of the majority). Unselfish love for humanity in general, and loving kindness to others in particular, are emphasised. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the Golden Rule is endorsed as an expression of these ideals.
Honesty, sincerity and generosity are prized as personal virtues, while alcohol and smoking are frowned upon. Marriage and the family are seen as central to the formation of an exemplary community. Work and career are viewed as forms of worship and of service to humanity. Such service (charity) finds expression in building schools (education, including of girls, is of great importance, and schooling is open to all, irrespective of religion), involvement in rural development projects (balanced by environmental concerns), and advocacy of political democracy (and, ultimately, constitutional world government). Baha'is are strong supporters of the United Nations in pursuit of the goals of international cooperation and development. At the grassroots level, nineteen percent of disposable income is donated for charitable purposes, concern for the poor and disadvantaged being of prime importance.
Baha'is actively pursue interreligious harmony, arguing that all religions are different expressions of the same ultimate truth. In Iran in particular, however, they have suffered persecution because of their teaching that Baha'u'llah is the latest Manifestation of God (after the Buddha, Moses, Jesus etc.) inaugurating a new religious dispensation, thereby, in the eyes of Muslims, blasphemously challenging the role and status of Muhammad as the final Prophet. Baha'is are banned in many Muslim countries, even actively persecuted.