Bahai News - Bahai gardens in Israel impress all religions
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Friday, April 6 11:27 AM SGT
Bahai gardens in Israel impress all religions
HAIFA, Israel, April 6 (AFP) -
Nestled between Haifa's dated
high-rises and pre-fab apartment blocs, the majestic terraced gardens of
the Bahai faith were a sight for the sore eyes of an Orthodox Jewish
man, who furiously snapped photos of the stone shrine the gardens
Behind him, a group of Muslim women in the traditional
hijab headdress and several Bahais took in the commanding view of Haifa
Bay and, beyond it, Lebanon, which this perch atop Mount Carmel
The multi-ethnic gathering would have made Baha'ullah --
Persian founder of the Bahai faith, which has its international
headquarters on the lush grounds on the slopes overlooking Haifa --
"The teachings of Baha'ullah have to do fundamentally with
unity," said Douglas Samimi-Moore, program director of the Bahai office
of public information, as he looked down at one of several fountains
adorning the 225-meter (750-feet) drop on which the gardens
The gardens are the culmination of a 10-year,
250-million-dollar project to beautify the mountainside where Bahai
prophet Siyyid Ali Muhammad -- known to Bahais as The Bab -- is buried
in a red-domed shrine.
Funded by donations from members of the
faith's five-million-strong cadre of believers worldwide, the gardens,
designed in nine concentric circles around the burial shrine, will be
officially opened on May 22 in a music-filled ceremony at the foot of
In 1844, The Bab, revered as an Iranian descendent
of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, declared that he was a messenger of God
dispatched to herald the imminent arrival of a new prophet. He was
executed in Persia shortly thereafter for his views.
One of his
followers, Mirza Husayn -- known to Bahais as Baha'ullah, or "the glory
of God" -- declared in 1863 that he was the messenger whose arrival the
Bab had foretold. He was subsequently jailed in the Ottoman prison city
of Acre, in modern-day Israel.
He lived out the rest of his life
as a prisoner of the Ottomans, but during this period solidified his
reputation among Bahais, or followers of Baha, as a manifestation of God
Today, Baha'ullah's teachings resonate with Bahais
throughout the world as the logical extension to the world's myriad,
"Because this is a progressive religion, I couldn't, in
a sense, see myself going back (to one of the older faiths)," said
Michelle Murphy, special assistant in the inaugural events
Not everyone is as enthusiastic.
Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran launched a brutal campaign against its
Bahai population, leaving some 200 followers dead, said Anne Boyle, who
became a Bahai 28 years ago.
Some Muslim nations view the Bahais
as agents of Israel because of their Haifa base, while in some countries
they are forbidden to practice or are viewed as a cult.
however, does not see it this way, Bahai officials said.
relationships have always been good since the founding of the state,"
said Albert Lincoln, Bahai secretary general.
In fact, said Glen
Fullmer, senior information officer at the office of public information,
Haifa -- whose mayor has called the gardens, with their countless
species of colorful flowers and herbs, the "eighth wonder of the world"
-- moved one of its main streets to adapt to the gardens's
The Bahais are further afforded official status at the
United Nations, where the group is accredited as a non-governmental
organization, Fullmer said.
In addition to fighting for unity and
against prejudice, Samimi-Moore said, Bahai practice involves meditating
and studying texts penned by The Bab and Baha'ullah, many of which are
kept in the archives on Mount Carmel.
"There are no prescribed
rituals in the Bahai community," he said.
Premarital sex and
alcohol, however, are forbidden to Bahais, Murphy said, "which in this
society can be challenging".
Fariburz Sahba, who designed the
terraces, said the site employs state-of-the-art irrigation systems to
save water, scarce in this arid region, and is built with Israeli stone
quarried from the northern Galilee region.
"This is one of the two
most precious holy places in the world," he said, referring also to
Baha'ullah's burial site in Acre, across Haifa Bay.
violent region, Secretary General Lincoln said, he hopes the gardens can
serve as an example of "the victory of love over violence".
about the way the human spirit is expressed through concrete
realization. In the long run, these divisions... will give way to love,"
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