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Baha'i Faith

The Baha'i faith is a relatively young religion, started in 19th century Persia (modern-day Iran), and there are approximately 5 million Baha'i followers living in communities around the world. The Baha'i faith is monotheistic, and their holy prophets include central figures of the world's major religions, including Abraham, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed.

In 1844, Siyyid Ali-Muhammed, a man living in Persia, called himself the "Bab"—the Arabic word for "gate"—and announced that he was a messenger and a "gateway" to God for those who followed him. The followers of the Bab were called Babis, and Babism is considered the forerunner of the Baha'i faith. As his teachings spread, the Bab ran into conflict with the ruling Muslim authority, which saw his influence as a threat to Islam. The Bab was persecuted and tortured, and eventually executed in 1850. One of the most loyal followers of the Bab was Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri from Tehran, who devoted himself to furthering the teachings of the Bab. Because of his involvement with this faith, he was imprisoned; during his incarceration, legend tells that he received a vision that he was the one to carry on the faith, and he took on the name Bahaullah, which translates to "the glory of God."

After his release from prison, Bahaullah was exiled from Tehran to Baghdad. In 1863, during his years as an exile, Bahaullah revealed himself as the Messenger of God. Eventually, his exile brought him to Acre, Israel, then part of the Ottoman Empire. Although he was officially there as a prisoner of the Empire, he was eventually allowed a measure of freedom and lived in his own home. During his lifetime, Bahaullah wrote prolifically, setting down the tenets for the religion. His book Kitab-I-Aqdas (Persian for "Most Holy Book") is considered a major theological work. Bahaullah died in Acre in 1892, and his resting place at Bahji ("delight") is the holiest site in Baha'i faith, the site toward which members of the faith turn when they are praying.

Bahaullah's son, Abdul-Baha, was charged with continuing his father's work. Following his father's instructions, he arranged to have the Bab's remains moved from Persia to Mount Carmel. Starting in 1911, Abdul-Baha traveled extensively around the world, helping to spread the Baha'i faith. The last hereditary leader of the Baha'i faith, Shoghi Effendi, grandson of Abdul-Baha, became a "Guardian of the Faith" and developed the administrative rules of the Baha'i faith. He translated Baha'i texts, developed the Baha'i World Center, and created the Universal House of Justice, which, after his death in 1957, became the ultimate interpreter of the Baha'i faith and interpreter of its laws.

Bahai tenets include the underlying message of the unity—unity of God, of religion, and of mankind. They also believe strongly in the equality of women in society, of the importance of science and education, and the elimination of prejudice worldwide.

Two of the Baha'i's most important shrines are located in Israel, and they also serve as the Baha'i World Center. Baha'i followers pilgrimage to the Mansion of the Bahji, also known as the Bahai Gardens in Akko (Acre). The Bahji is final resting place of Bahaullah, and the building where he is buried is known as the Shrine of Bahaullah. The grounds are adorned with beautiful gardens, which form a circle around the shrine, encouraging contemplation for those walking the path. The Baha'i Gardens in Haifa, where the Shrine of the Bab is located, are comprised of nineteen terraced gardens, leading up the slope of Mt. Carmel. This dramatic pathway leads visitors to the shrine, the highlight of which is the striking gold dome which can be seen for miles. Inside the shrine, prayer and meditation are encouraged, though no formal prayer service is held there.

The Shrine of the Bab is one of the most recognized and visited landmarks in Israel. The peaceful gardens and impressive shrine bring in many pilgrims every year, as well as tourists of all faiths. Despite the importance of these Israeli landmarks in the Baha'i faith, there is no Baha'i community in Israel. The only Baha'i residents of Israel are the volunteer workers at the sites. Bahaullah left explicit instructions that spreading the faith and accepting converts was forbidden in a land where such preaching might be controversial. The absence of proselytizing, the tremendous income generated by the holy shrines, and the Baha'i edict of loyalty to whatever government is in power in their land have forged a very positive relationship between the Baha'i faith and the Israeli government.