African Religion and the Bahá'i Faith

By Enoch Tanyi

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

published in Bahá'í Faith and the World's Religions, pages ?-?
© 2005, ‘Irfán Colloquia

    Both African religion and the Bahá'í Faith consider religion, in essence, as acts and sentiments that enable man to turn to his Creator. This definition of religion is one of the similarities between the two religions. This paper attempts to draw out the similarities and harmonize the differences found in these two religions. The paper is organized into five sub-headings - the belief in and worship of God; the kingdoms of God and their spirits; the nature of man, life after death and judgement; ancestors and ancestresses; and mysterious forces.

    Both religions believe in one, supreme God called different names according to the various languages in Africa. He is worshipped through outward forms that convey a united essence - turning towards God.

    The creatures of God are grouped in five kingdoms -- mineral, vegetable, animal, human and spiritual -- each of which has some basic driving force called `spirit' which differs in meaning from one to the other religion. In African religion, divinities are anthropomorphic spirits and deified forebears, and they act as intermediaries between God and man. The Bahá'í Faith, on the other hand, maintains that each of the five kingdoms has a unique spirit which can neither be anthropomorphized nor deified, and is not an intermediary between God and man. No material object or mundane thought is worthy of worship.

    Man has a dual nature, both religions concur -- a composed body, and an intangible spitrit that lives on after death in a life that differs in some details from one to the other religion. Judgement takes place in the material as well as the spiritual worlds, bad deeds being punished and good deeds rewarded.

    Life after death naturally introduces the concept of ancestors and ancestresses. Both religions believe in their continued existence and enjoin upon their adherents their veneration, performing good acts in their name, praying for them and through them, and believe in them in them praying for the living on earth and their influencing life on this earth. The manner of veneration differs in some aspects from one religion to the other.

    For human reasons, African religion tries to harness supernatural forces by the use of psychic phenomena, occultism, mysticism, and herbalism.

    The Bahá'í Faith recognises the truth as well as some falsehood in these matters. What is forbidden in the Bahá'í Faith is the invocation of the spirit of the departed or perpetration of acts that imply membership in another religion, or are contrary to Bahá'í principles. Some forms of mysticism and herbalism are acceptable in the Bahá'í Faith.

    To conclude, the points of similarity in both religious stages in one religion. As a very long time separates the times of revelation of the two, one would expect differences due to the different requirements of the respective times of revelation, the different levels of understanding of the peoples living at the different times, and due to the interpretations that wear away the pillars of divine truth and vitiate the waters of religion.

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