Bahai News - Garden depicts Baha'i faith

Garden depicts Baha'i faith

HAIFA, Israel - On this hillside in the chaotic Middle East, there is order and symmetry. The hedges are trimmed and simple, the roses have space to be seen and grow, and the thick green grass drapes like a blanket down a half-mile of terraces.

The Terraced Gardens on Mount Carmel were built on the site of the Baha'i World Centre as a place for contemplation and prayer. When the completion of the gardens is marked Tuesday, it will be the culmination of decades of work and a sign of the 158-year-old religion's growth.

The effort was to make the gardens a place of peace, in hopes that the world may be as peaceful someday.

The Baha'i (pronounced bah-HIGH) faith is monotheistic and recognizes teachings of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other religions. The religion holds as a central tenet the belief that racial and national divisions someday will diminish, allowing a unity of all humans.

There are about 5 million Baha'is worldwide. There are more than 140,000 in the United States.

The dedication of the gardens provides one of the biggest events in the faith's modern history.

"As far as a movement, we are in the very early stages of our development, in our adolescence maybe," said Douglas Samimi-Moore, a Baha'i spokesman. "A by-product about this (dedication) is that of the Baha'i community emerging from obscurity."

The gardens were developed over decades, but the intensive construction plan started in 1987. It carved out and resculpted a large section of the mountain at an estimated cost of $250 million.

Nancy Markovich, a Baha'i from Kennisaw, Ga., was for seven years the assistant to the project manager. She is on a short list of former staff invited to the opening.

"The absolute transformation of the mountain, for us, is indicative of the transformation of the spirit of man that we must strive for," she said. "I was there. I saw the blood, sweat and tears that went into the project."

While the garden is mainly built on aesthetic principles, its light and orderliness are intended, in part, to counter the dark experiences of the young faith.

In 1844, Persian merchant Sayed Ali-Muhammad, known as the "Bab," prophesied the coming of a teacher who would bring peace to the world. In 1863, nobleman Mizra Husayn-Ali, announced himself as the Bahaullah, meaning "Glory of God," the fulfillment of the Bab's prophecy.

They were not readily accepted.

In his book, The Holy Land, the Rev. Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, a Jerusalem-based archeological historian, comments: "The basic principle of the movement is that no religion has a monopoly of truth, and it tries to integrate the wisdom of all great religious teachers. Such tolerance naturally provoked violent opposition."

The Bab and Bahaullah both suffered harsh imprisonment in Persia, now Iran. The Bab was executed by a firing squad. Bahaullah died in exile in northern Israel. Today, hundreds of thousands of Baha'is in Iran face frequent persecution.

In 1909, the remains of the Bab were entombed on Israel's Mount Carmel, known in the Bible as the mountain of the prophet Elijah. A gold-domed shrine, with classic colonnades and stately lines, was built over the underground crypt in 1953.

Today, the hill is surrounded by the port city of Haifa, with its dense apartment blocks and hotels. With a population of about 840,000, it is one of Israel's largest cities and an easy mixing of Arabs and the predominantly Jewish residents.

But it is the hillside shrine and the gardens - the gold-domed building surrounded by the cascading green lawns - that dominate the coastal landscape. The 19 main terraces are shaped loosely in concentric ovals. There's a rose garden, a desert landscape, palm trees, olive trees and neatly trimmed hedges just a few inches tall that line the walkways.

The gardens are neatly ordered at their centers and become increasingly wild as they spread to the woodsy edges. A major city thoroughfare was lowered several yards so the gardens could pass uninterrupted on a bridge above.

Even before the gardens were completed, portions of them were a regular tourist destination. The completed complex will be open to the public and there is no charge, as the Baha'is do not accept contributions from outside the faith.

The date of the opening coincides with a Baha'i holiday, marking when the Bab announced his mission as a prophet. Grandstands are going up at the base of the gardens where about 3,300 Baha'is will join hundreds of Israeli dignitaries.

The ceremony will be typically simple and understated. It will include music played by the Israel Northern Symphony. The ceremony will culminate in the evening with the lighting of the gardens.


©Copyright 2001, Cox News Service

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