Sectarianism and the Bahá'i Faith

By Iraj Ayman

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #14
Bahá'í Centre: Manchester, England
July 4–6, 1997
(see list of papers from #14)

    A striking difference between the Bahá'i Faith and other religions and creeds is the built-in unity of the Bahá'i community protecting it from schism and sectarianism. Communities belonging to other religions are usually divided into sects, denominations, or factions. While all such groupings within one religion share certain verities and principles and considering themselves to be true followers of the founder of the religion, they differ with each other in terms of interpretation of the scriptures or manners of practising their religion. In the absence of a binding injunction keeping the adherents united in one community, various religious leaders or scholars advocate their own personal understanding of the teachings of the founder of the religion and contentiously add to the number of sects and denominations within their religion.

    Bahá'u'llah, Founder of the Bahá'i Faith by making a clear and unequivocal covenant with His followers has made it impossible for them to branch out into various sects or denominations. In other words it is impossible for a person to confess that Bahá'u'llah is the Manifestation of God and claim to accept and follow His revelation but not be a member of the mainstream community of Bahá'is. While individual Bahá'is are free to have their own personal understanding and interpretation of the words and message of Bahá'u'llah, they are strictly forbidden to propagate their views for the purpose of forming a group of fellow travellers and split the community into sects and factions. Giving the official guidelines is the prerogative of the central institution expressly stated in the text (mansus). This is a unique characteristic of the Bahá'i Faith that calls for both theological as well as sociological considerations.

    There have been and presently there are certain groups of people who use the word "Bahá'i" as part of their designation and claim to be adherents of Bahá'u'llah. The mere adopting of the name does not justify their claim because the Bahá'i Faith is structured in a way that one cannot be a Bahá'i without accepting the legitimacy and authority of the unitary world centre of the Bahá'i Faith. In other words Bahá'i Faith is an integral entity and is indivisible. This presentation attempts to describe this unique aspect of the Bahá'i Faith, identify various categories of those who have either stopped to follow the succession line or rejected the legitimacy of the centre of the Faith, and demonstrate that while they are religious groups that subscribe to certain parts or aspects of the revelation of Bahá'u'llah they could not be classified as "Bahá'i sects."

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