Annual reception (2015) of the global Baha’i community
On Tuesday evening, March 24, 2015, I was privileged to be invited to the annual international Baha’i community reception; an impressive festive event, held at the David Citadel in Jerusalem, to celebrate the Baha’i New Year (Nowruz).
The event was attended by government representatives, ministers and Knesset members, religious leaders in Israel, members of the diplomatic corps, the president of the Hebrew University and other academics, members of the international community who volunteer at the Haifa and Acre Baha’i centers, all of whom came to honor and salute the Baha’i community.
It was amazing to see “transplanted” parts of famous Baha’i gardens at the event’s entrance. Beds of flowers and colorful plants, laid out symmetrically and aesthetically, were admired by all the guests.
We were greeted by Dr. Joshua Lincoln, Secretary-General of the World Baha’i community, and his wife. Six volunteer musicians and singers from the US, England, Ghana and South Africa entertained the guests with delightful singing and music. Sumptuous refreshments and drinks were served. Every detail of the event was meticulous and elaborate, as in the Baha’i gardens.
Dr. Joshua Lincoln opened with the blessing of welcome in Hebrew, English and Arabic. He then read a letter from President Rivlin in which the President congratulated the Baha'i community, the guests and the people of Israel with joy, success, peace and health. Dr. Lincoln expressed the hope that the coming year will be better than the last, and invited the audience to visit the Baha’i chapel, which is open to everyone.
Professor Moshe Sharon, founder of the world's first Chair in Baha’i Studies, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, addressed the assembly:
“Dear Friends and Colleagues, Head of the Church, Members of the Diplomatic Corp, and President of the Hebrew University. Dear members of the Baha’I community in Israel.
A happy new year to all of you.
Naw Ruz-i-Mobarak from Jerusalem to the Baha’I community in the world at large, Ladies and Gentelmen.
Some 40 years ago I was approached by a student who wanted to write Ph.D. theses on the Baha’I religion. My answer was that I do not know anything about the Baha’Is and advised her to look for a more interesting subject. Yet here I am standing in front of you today as the Head of the Chair in Baha’I studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, having established it 15 years ago. It was a mere coincidence which brought me to get interested in the Baha’is and without it I would not be here today.
In 1996 I was searching in the vicinity of Akko for Arabic inscriptions for my major research work on the Arabic inscriptions of the Holy Land. I came across a group of tombs with tombstones that looked rather unusual. The terminology, though Arabic and Persian, was not familiar to me and some dates were rather strange. I had never met in modern times dates like 80 or 90 or even less. I was intrigued until an old man living in the vicinity told me that the graves belonged to Baha’is. This is how my long journey into this fascinating world religion began. It led me to write the first book in Hebrew about the Baha’i faith and to prepare an annotated translation into Hebrew of the most Holy Book, the Holy writ that guides the life of millions of faithful all over the glob.
What attracts these millions from east and west from the great continents to the smallest islands of the Pacific ocean to a faith born out of the Shi’ah in Iran, whose original holy texts are mostly written in Persian and Arabic?
The answer to this question was already supplied by Edward Grenville Browne, the Cambridge scholar who was the first to recognize, more than 125 years ago, the importance and viability of this modern faith. He met Baha’ullah in his residence near Akko in 1890 and this is how he describes the meeting:
“No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I lowed myself before one who is the object of devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!
A mild dignified voce bake me to be seated and then continued: ‘… thou hast come to see a prisoner and an exile… We desire but the good of the world and happiness of the nations; yet they deem us for a stirrer of strife and sedition worthy of bondage and banishment… That all nations should become on in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that the diversity of religion should cease and differences of race be annulled – what harm is there in this?... Yet so it shall be; these fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away and the “Most Great Peace” shall come. ...Do not you in Europe need this also? …Yet do we see your kings and rulers lavishing their treasures more freely on means for the destruction of the human race than on that which would conduce to the happiness of mankind… These strifes and this bloodshed and discord must cease… Let not a man glory in this that he loves his country, let him rather glory in this that he loves his kind.’
Commenting on these words Browne concludes: “let those who read these words consider …whether such doctrines merit death and bonds and whether the world is more likely to gain or lose from their diffusion.”
We have only to look around us to realize that today as then these words are relevant and topical. Let me finish with another saying of Baha’ullah cherished by 6,000,000 people around the world “Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.” Thank you and have a very enjoyable evening”.
And something about the Baha’i religion:
It is a monotheistic religion, independent and relatively new. Its source was in Iran in 1844, created by the Báb Ali Mohamed. The source is Shiite Islam, but it is not defined as a stream within it. The Baha’i center is in Acre and Haifa. Most of the holy writings were written by the prophet Baha’u’llah, who claimed that he continues the message of the Bab. It is estimated that there are about six million faithful around the world, in a very large number of countries. The religious texts have been translated into hundreds of languages. Despite the Muslim origins, there are almost no Arabs among its adherents, and in Iran the followers are severely persecuted. Most of the success was achieved in the West and in India, due to the universal teachings.
The message of the Báb and Baha’u’llah is that there is one God revealed to mankind over the years and who reveals His will. All religions have a common divine origin, and the prophets are messengers of God, including Moses, Buddha, Mohammed, Krishna, Jesus, Zarathustra and the Báb. They represent successive stages in the spiritual development of mankind. The last messenger, Baha’u’llah, emphasizes global peace, scientific progress and ethical behavior.
Baha’is believe in the unity of God; unity of the human race; in the search for truth; strengthening the common elements of all religions; faith in fundamental harmony between religion and science; volunteering; equality between men and women; monogamy; denial of prejudices and superstitions; strict obedience to the laws of the local government, non-violence, not bearing arms and no warfare and a ban on the participation in the military forces of any country, except for a U.N. force; compulsory education throughout the world; the search for a solution to the problems of the global economy, the use of a common world language (in the past Esperanto, now Lojban) and striving for world peace under international government that derives some of the powers of the countries.
At the Baha’i community reception I experienced the friendly and respectful approach of the hosts in the spirit of Baha’u’llah. His Word is given to people as "food for the soul". The hosts went a step further and added "wonderful food for the body". With that winning combination, plus a real mutual respect, the brave friendship between Israel and the Baha’i Community is not surprising.
Translated from the hebrew by Jonathan Danilowitz
Photos Silvia G Golan