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Bahai is another movement which is descended from Islam, but which most Muslims today no longer regard as authentically Islamic. The movement got its original start from Sayyid 'Ali Muhammad Shirazi (1819-50), who became known as the Bab, or "Gate." He got this label because his followers saw him as the "Gate of God," although they later regarded him as the Hidden Imam who was expected to bring an end to Islamic law and usher in a new cycle of prophets and traditions.

He was arrested in 1845, then executed in 1850 because of the violent revolts staged by his fanatical followers, and the movement was as violently persecuted by the authorities. Before he died, he prophesied that a messianic figure would soon come and would be called "Him whom God shall make manifest."

One of the Bab's followers who was exiled during the rounds of persecution was Mirza Husayn 'Ali Nuri, and in 1864 he proclaimed himself to be the prophet foretold by the Bab. Most Babis were either killed, started following Nuri, or simply went to some other religion. Those who remained Babis followed the leader of the time Subh-i Azal and their holy book, the Bayan (Declaration). Today there are perhaps only a few hundred left, scattered around Iran.

Nuri adopted the title Baha Allah ('splendour of God,' from which the Bahai name is derived) and taught that God had personally become manifest in many different religious figures through history, including Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab and Baha Allah himself. Nuri did not teach that he would be the last prophet, but nevertheless the next one would not appear for at least 1000 years.

After he died in 1892 the leadership of the Bahai movement went to his eldest son 'Abbas Effendi (1844-1921), who acquired the title 'Abd al-Baha ("servant of the glory of God"). Although imprisoned for a time by the Ottoman empire, after his release he travelled and lectured widely, both systematizing and spreading his father's message.

Effendi was succeeded by his grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), who spent much of his time working to develop and expand the Bahai communities in Europe and North America. His efforts led to the Bahai being organized with local and national assemblies. Because he had no heirs, after his death the leadership was taken over by a group called the Council of the Hands of the Cause.

The Bahai movement has no initiation rites, no liturgy, no priesthood and no sacraments. They are required to pray every day, but only once per day, and to meet on the first day of each month for a celebration. They must abstain from drugs and alcohol, and like Muslims, they fast from dawn to sunset for a month - but during the month of 'Ala, rather than Ramadan.

Bahai doctrines are radically egalitarian, teaching the complete equality of men and women and the unity of all humanity. They consider themselves to be working towards a world government where extremes of poverty and wealth, along with all forms of persecution, will be eliminated. The main headquarters of the Bahai are in Haifa, Israel.

Although the Bahai have no sacred text, the writings of Baha Allah are treated as if they were. The most important of these include: The Most Holy Book, The Book of Certitude, The Hidden Words, The Seven Valleys, and Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. Today there are probably between three and four million Bahais scattered throughout the world, and the largest community can be found in India. The Bahai constitute the largest religious minority in Iran, where they have been persecuted harshly.

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