GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS The Baha'i Faith is an independent world religion with adherents in virtually every country. The Baha'i world community includes almost all nationalities, classes, trades and professions. Its membership of over 4.5 million is comprised of people living in more than 118,000 localities in over 200 countries and territories - 166 of these independent nations - and unites men and women of various religious and ethnic origins. More than 2,000 ethnic groups and tribes are represented. The writings that guide the life of the Baha'i community include numerous works by Baha'u'llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha'i Faith, and interpretations by His son, Abdu'l-Baha, and Baha'u'llah's great-grandson, Shoghi Effendi. Baha'i literature can be read today in over 800 languages and dialects. There is no clergy in the Baha'i Faith. Local meetings are planned by the local Baha'i communities. Baha'i meetings include devotional services, study classes, discussions, social events, and the observation of holy days. Baha'i religious and community activities are planned according to the Baha'i calendar. The Baha'i Faith began in 1844 and each new calendar year begins on the vernal equinox. The Baha'i year includes nine holy days and a period of fasting near the end of the year.