Bahai News - Bahais open terraced garden
22/05/2001 23:15 - (SA)
Bahais open terraced garden
Haifa, Israel - As the bright sun dimmed on Tuesday over Haifas Mount Carmel,
hundreds of white lights were illuminated along the mountains cascading
western cliff throwing tiny shadows over the majestic terraced gardens of
the Bahai faith.
Three thousand Bahais descended on this coastal city from as far afoot as
Uganda, Samoa and Australia to celebrate the grand opening of the massive
gardens consecrating the burial site of the faith's founder.
The gardens, tucked into the steep slopes of the impressive mountain, are
designed in nine concentric circles around the shrine where Bahai prophet
Siyyid Ali Muhammad - known to Bahais as "The Bab" - is buried.
Funded by donations from members of the five-million strong Bahai population
worldwide, the gardens were officially opened to the public on Tuesday
evening in a light-filled ceremony at the foot of Mount Carmel featuring
premier performances of musical compositions by Bahai composers.
Hundreds of spectators and police officers watched and applauded the
proceedings from the rooftops of apartment buildings surrounding the gardens,
which are covered by numerous drought-resistant plants in an effort to save
water, a scarce commodity in this arid region.
The gardens, which sit on a 225m steep slope overlooking Haifa Bay, are the
culmination of a 10-year, US$250-million project.
Although eight months of Israeli-Palestinian violence have hit Israels
tourism industry hard, and security for the event was tight, politics was
far from the minds of most of the fervent pilgrims.
"I came especially because of my faith," said Doris Toeg, a Canadian pilgrim.
"I wanted to be here for the opening of these very important and sacred
terraces. Its a dream come true for me."
In fact, while in Jerusalem and Netanya talk of late has revolved around
F-16 fighter jets and suicide bombs, atop the Bahais lush mountaintop
enclave, peace is the operative word.
"We believe peace is a long-term process," a Bahai spokesperson told
reporters. "The whole peace process is something more than signing papers.
Peace begins in the hearts of everyone, and we're working on that."
The Bahai faith was founded in Persia in 1863 when Bahaullah, or "the glory
of God," declared himself the divine messenger whose arrival had been
foretold nearly 20 years before by The Bab.
The Bab, revered as an Iranian descendent of the Muslim prophet Mohammed,
was executed in the mid-19th century in Persia and Bahaullah lived out the
remainder of his life as a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire.
His message of unity for mankind, however, resonates until today with the
diverse Bahai population across the globe.
Following the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran launched a brutal campaign
against its Bahai population, leaving some 200 followers dead. In some
countries the Bahais are considered a cult or Zionist agents, because of
their affiliation with Israel.
Picking up the neighbourhood
Indeed, the Bahais relations with Israel have been good. The municipality
of Haifa even moved a street to accommodate the garden's aesthetic symmetry.
In addition to pleasing the eye, however, the gardens have given a
veritable shot in the arm to Haifas Arab community, a portion of which lives
in the historic German Colony at the mountains base.
"The base of the mountain, which is an historically Arab neighbourhood, was
falling into ruins," Bahai senior information officer Glen Fullmer said.
When the municipality of Haifa projected that one million tourists would
visit the site each year, however, it launched what Fullmer called an "urban
renewal campaign" in anticipation.
With the advent of new restaurants and boutiques and the restoration of the
historic homes in the German Colony, he added, property values on the
garden's perimeter increased.
The relative ease with which Arabs and Jews coexist by Mount Carmel makes
the city seem a microcosm for the Bahais' global neighbourhood. - Sapa-AFP
©Copyright 2001, South African Press Association
Page last updated/revised 052601
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