“Even when the sirens don’t quit, the calm of the Bahá’í Shrine in Haifa is not effected”
This blog article offers a brief glimpse of life at the Baha’i World Centre on Mount Carmel, Haifa, during the current turmoil engulfing the region. The article is a translation from one of Israels largest newspapers.
“Perhaps the near future is hard and scary, but the distant future is bright, and that is what the lights of the Shrine symbolize.”
For a while now Haifa has enjoyed the nick-name “City of Peace” because the people of the city, Arabs and Jews, co-exist side by side in relative unity.
Over the last few days the conflict in the Middle East has escalated and missiles have been landing in Haifa, killing many people there.
The Sanfrancisco Chronicle is reporting that “Hezbollah rocket attacks have targeted both Jewish and Arab towns throughout northern Israel, including Acre”… “One rocket hit the holy gardens of the Bahai Temple. There were no casualties.”
They also report that “the harmonious relations between Haifa’s Jewish and Arab citizens appear to remain intact.”
[Note: Post-conflict the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Baha’is (based in Haifa), have confirmed that all the Holy Places and Baha’i workers in Israel have remained safe]
In the early hours of 29th May Baha’is around the world commemorate the passing of Bahá’u’lláh, the prophet founder of the Bahá’í Faith. At 3am (4am where daylight savings time is in force) Baha’is gather together and often turn toward Bahji, near Akka in Israel, where Bahá’u’lláh is buried in His shrine.
In a few hours I will be heading out to lighthouse near Whitley Bay on the east coast of northern england and looking out over the sea as the sun appears over the horizon while prayers are read aloud. The way in which the occasion is commemorated varies from community to community but as the hour strikes 3 (or 4 in our case) around the world in time-zone after time-zone the Baha’is commemorate that same hour in 1892.
A little background information on the occasion follows:
The title “Bahá’u’lláh” means “The Glory of God”. In 1863, Bahá’u’lláh declared Himself to be the Messenger of God for this day and age and the Promised One of all religions, the announcement was of little surprise to many who knew Him and were ready to follow Him.
Bahá’u’lláh suffered 40 years of torture, imprisonment and exile. He was exiled from Tehran in Persia (Iran) to Baghdad and then Turkey before being sent to ‘Akká, where the prison city had a reputation for having the foulest air and few were expected to survive. After some time He and His family were moved to Bahji, on the outskirts of Akka, where He was imprisoned in a mansion house for the remaining years of His life.
Nine months before His passing Bahá’u’lláh had started expressing His desire to depart from this world to his closest friends and family, increasingly preparing them for the event to come in the 75th year of His life.
On the evening of May 8th 1892 Bahá’u’lláh developed a slight fever which, though it worsened the following day, then seemed to improve. He continued to meet friends and visitors but it soon became evident that He really was not well.
Six days before Bahá’u’lláh passed away He called the Bahá’ís assembled in the mansion in which He was imprisoned to His bedside where He addressed the saddened followers for the last time, gently and affectionately, with these words: “I am well pleased with you all, Ye have rendered many services, and been very assiduous in your labors. Ye have come here every morning and every evening. May God assist you to remain united. May He aid you to exalt the Cause of the Lord of being.”
The fever had returned more acutely than before and Bahá’u’lláh’s physical condition steadily deteriorated until further complications eventually caused Him to ascend from this world at the hour of dawn on May 29th 1892.
News spread quickly on that day and large crowds came to mourn Bahá’u’lláh, from many different religions and backgrounds, including officials, priests and other leading figures at that time.
Bahá’u’lláh had already appointed His son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha to be the “Centre of the Covenant” to whom all Bahá’ís should turn after His ascension, thereby ensuring that the unity of the Faith could be maintained.
“The Haifa city council last week recommended that the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declare the Bahai center and gardens in Haifa a World Heritage site…”
As a Bahá’í myself there is obviously a bias that makes me particularly enthusiastic about this. The immense spiritual force and energy that engulfs me when I am in Haifa has left my heart and soul longing, almost begging every day, to be there time and again. As a young child I had a vivid dream of flying inside the Shrine of the Bab and awoke as, in my dream, I found myself locked within the Shrine and at rest in the ledge of a round window. With no pictures available of the interior of the Shrine it was not until about 8 years later when I made a pilgrimage as a 16 year old youth that I was able to witness that every detail I had vividly remembered was accurate and, when finding myself the bounty of being alone in prayer within the Shrine, felt my soul making the same flight that I had in my dream. I was not locked in after my prayers, but I liked to think that maybe a part of my soul remained there as my body did in my dream.
Since then the Baha’i World Centre has changed a lot and the mountain that surrounds the Shrine of the Bab, which is also the resting place for ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s body, has been beautified with 19 stunning terraces, each one tranquil and peaceful with the sound of trickling waterfalls and fountains drowning out the noise of the city. In essence, and in effect, the beauty that emanates from the Shrine is having its transforming affect on the land around it just as the souls that are moved by the transforming message of the Baha’i Faith have their positive influence on those that see them exemplifying the teachings of Baha’u’llah, whose coming The Bab announced.
Whether moved by the Spirit that animates the community of followers at the Baha’i Word Centre or simply keen to experience a beautiful and peaceful mountain, the terraced gardens with the jewel-like Shrine at their center are a treasure already hailed by many as one of the wonders of the world and, especially as the Baha’i Faith stands so firmly for the unity of people, races and nations, it might be fitting to acknowledge that this centre stands a symbol for the whole of mankind and not just those who have accepted the message of Baha’u’llah.