David Rosenthal

Israel’s fourth religion: Bahai Faith

David Rosenthal with Mr. David Freeman in the Bahai Gardens. Haifa, Israel. August, 2023.

“Join the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendship and fellowship.”

– Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh , Bishárát

After Judaism, Islam and Christianity, in Israel, there is another faith, which, although it does not have a community of followers as such in Israel, like most other religions, its holiest sites are in Israeli territory, specifically in the north of the country. Acre and Haifa are the cities to which its pilgrims come continuously to the Holy Land, also for the followers of  In these corresponding cities is both the resting place of the founder of the faith, namely Mirza Hussein-‘Ali, known to his followers as Baha’u’llah and the Prophet Herald of the Baha’i Faith, The Báb.

The prophet herald of the faith was the Bab, who at the age of 25 claimed to have been appointed by God and to be the Mahdi, i.e., “the awaited one” or “the guided one” in Islam. The Bab, which means door in Arabic, was to be executed six years later in Tabriz, Iran, because of his revelation.

Bahai Faith, despite being a young religion, has a worldwide presence, there are about 8.5 million souls who follow the message of Baha’u’llah, who is for them a prophet of God, just as Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed, etc. would have been.

The Bahai Gardens in Akko and Haifa in Israel is also visited by approximately 1.2 million visitors a year The beautiful Bahá’í gardens in Akko and Haifa, also known as the “Hanging Gardens of Haifa”, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, in recognition of their “outstanding universal value” as sacred and pilgrimage sites for the followers of the Bahá’í faith.

Bahá’ís believe that, after death, the soul of the human being lives on and continues to transcend into other spheres of existence, and therefore the goal of life is to develop the spiritual aura of the being, in all aspects that bring him or her closer to the afterlife.

Although it is a religion with a message full of peace and harmony, in its early days it was heavily persecuted by Shi’ite Islam in ancient Persia, now Iran, and its followers were cruelly tortured and executed. Even Bahaullah  different locations, such as Turkey, from where he would also be expelled by the Ottomans, and so he would end up settling in today’s Israel, which was then under Ottoman possession.

Taking into account all this great history and the importance of its sacred sites, also tourist sites for many, I met with Mr. David Freeman, representative of the Jerusalem office of the Bahá’í World Centre, to learn more about his religious movement firsthand.

So Mr. Freeman told me that since 1868, when  Bahaullah arrived in St. John of Acre, a city that was a Roman port, then of medieval importance with the Templars as well, and that it would be for the religious and spiritual movement that Bahaullah represented, its final place of settlement. Thus equating Bahai Faith with the 3 monotheistic religions, in the very sense of the consecration of Israel as the Holy Land, also for him and his religion.

However, Acre was a prison city, considered by the Turks and the people of that time as a final destination of this earthly world for the condemned. However, he managed to survive and emerge victorious from the macabre plans that the Turks had for him, just for proclaiming something different from Islam. , that same mountain, which has been a holy place for Judaism for thousands of years when the prophet Elijah wiped out the followers of Baal. It has also been a holy place for Christianity, for the manifestation of the Virgin Mary, and it was also a holy place for the Essenes.

In the dome or golden dome in the gardens in Haifa, in the Carmel, lie the remains of the Bab. The Shrine of the Bab, or Mausoleum of the Bab, is the second holiest place foR Bahais.

Mr Freeman also told me that it is very particular that all this happened no more than about 150 years ago, so it is a fairly modern religion. Likewise, at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, there is a council of 9, which is the world board, and in addition to the volunteers who come from all over the globe to carry out different tasks in different areas. There can be as many as 8-00 volunteers a year. Within the organization there is a global democratic system where all representatives and boards are elected. The largest Bahai community is in India with approximately 2 million followers.

With regard to relations with the State of Israel, they have always been cordial and respectful towards each other. This relationship began in 1948 and was officially   formalized in 1987 with the agreements between the State of Israel and the Bahá’í World Centre. With respect to the Druze community, there has been a relationship since the 19th century. For example, at the time of the Palestinian Mandate, Abdul Baha  helped to cure the famine, not only for the members of his community but also for the other people living in the area of Acre and Haifa. J.E. Esslemont wrote in “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Age” that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá “personally organized extensive agricultural operations near Tiberias, thus securing a large supply of wheat, by means of which famine was averted, not only for the Bahá’ís but for hundreds of the poor of all religions in Haifa and ‘Akká, whose needs He generously supplied. He cared for all and alleviated their suffering as far as possible”.

So, rescuing part of the wise teachings of the one who said, “Join the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendship and fellowship”. Likewise, for Bahá’ís, the gardens are an allegory of humanity and of the harmony that should exist between each being, represented by each flower.

About the Author
Political scientist, international analyst, researcher, journalist and columnist in various media in Latin America, Spain and Israel. Historical researcher and presenter of "Los pasos de Sefarad en el Nuevo Mundo", a radio programme on Radio Sefarad about the Sephardic heritage in America. He is also a lecturer on many subjects, such as history, literature, Judaism, historical figures, important women in history and mysticism.
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