Bahai News - Faith anchored in the hills of Haifa
Faith anchored in the hills of Haifa
(May 14) - I congratulated myself that - from a visit 10 years back - I
easily identified the ornate, domed structure on the cover of this book
as the Shrine of the Bab at the Baha'i Center in Haifa. Wrong again,
Chertok. To Order...
The cover photo depicts its fraternal twin: the Baha'i House of
Worship in Wilmette, Illinois.
Most Israelis, I expect, know precious little about this
Ali-Come-Lately among religions, whose holy sites are within Israel. And
much of what they do know is inaccurate. Any outsider would surely learn
a great deal about these religious "globalists" from this study, adapted
from a Ph.D dissertation on the Metropolitan Atlanta Baha'i
community by sociologist Michael McMullen, himself a Baha'i
The origins of this faith - which views itself as a model for a
future world order - date back
to 1844, when Sayyid Ali-Muhummad (the "Bab"), a Persian merchant,
heralded the imminent coming of a new religious
The Bab was martyred in 1850 - the mullahs of contemporary Iran still
routinely persecute Baha'i adherents - but one of his imprisoned
followers soon revealed himself as the Baha'u'llah, or the "Enlightened
One," latest in a line that embraced Buddha, Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus,
Although Baha'is believe that revelation is progressive, they
maintain that unlike Baha'u'llah's predecessors, he would succeed in
finally establishing the Kingdom of God on earth.
Exiled from Persia, in 1868 Baha'u'llah and a small band of followers
arrived in Acre where he wrote what would become Baha'i scripture and
established the spiritual centers of the new religion.
Baha'i faith is universalist. It encourages racial harmony and equal
rights for men and women, two ideals which potentially conflict with the
mandate to obey the laws of the country where one lives. The spiritual
life of an active Baha'i revolves around private prayer, a month of
fasting (similar to Ramadan), pilgrimage to Haifa, and devotional
gatherings on the first day every Baha'i month held in the home of a
A Baha'i year contains 19 "months," each of which lasts 19 days.
Through its "teaching activities," Baha'i is one of the world's
fastest growing religions, now claiming five million adherents. In
Israel we are sheltered from the proselytizing face of Baha'i:
Baha'ullah forbade the teaching of the faith here.
The Baha'i presence in Haifa and Acre consists of its supreme body -
the Universal House of Justice - administrative staff and their
families, all of whom number several hundred, and a steady flow of
pilgrims who generally remain in the country for nine days to visit
McCullen focuses on the Baha'i of Atlanta in order to demonstrate how
the faith confers upon its members "a global religious
identity in response to rapid social change."
Although Baha'i are universalists, unlike Unitarians they are
enjoined from participation in "political activity" wherever they are
"situated." Nevertheless, on racial matters they cannot be quietists,
and McMullen recounts instances when the Baha'i of Atlanta worked to
encourage racial harmony. Overall, Atlanta's Baha'i community is about
one-third white, one-third African American, and one-third Persian.
A closer look reveals discord among its three Local Spiritual
Assemblies (LSA's) each, based upon local housing patterns,
predominantly African American or white. When a proposed administrative
merger would have blurred racial divisions, McCullen ruefully describes
the resistance of most members of white-dominated LSA's to change.
Rapidly expanding in the less developed world, McMullen downplays the
relative insignificance of the faith in the West. There seem to be only
around 100,000 active Baha'i in the United States. To account for the
meagerness of this presence, McMullen notes but makes too
little of, I think, the absence of any Baha'i clergy.
Further, especially among African Americans, churches play a vital
social function in American life which LSA's are not capable of filling.
The faith runs its affairs along democratic lines. The Bahai espouse
open-mindedness, education, and equality between the sexes.
However critical exceptions occurs at the highest level: no women are
(yet) permitted to serve on the nine-member Universal House of Justice
(UHJ), elected at five year intervals by the members of the world's
National Spiritual Assemblies convened in Haifa. Moreover, the Word, as
disseminated by the UHJ to Baha'is around the world, is taken to be
divinely "inspired," hence, like the Pope on matters of faith and
morals, immune from error.
McMullen has produced a
competent guide to the mental universe of these well-intentioned,
colorful universalists in our midst.
©Copyright 2001, Jerusalem Post
Page last updated/revised 051501
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