Stories from Palestine

Summer shorts #5 The Bahai religion and Bahai gardens in Haifa

August 08, 2021 Kristel Season 3 Episode 7
Stories from Palestine
Summer shorts #5 The Bahai religion and Bahai gardens in Haifa
Show Notes Transcript

They call them the Hanging gardens of Haifa. Since 2001 you can visit the Bahai gardens and see the shrine of the 'Bab' on Mount Carmel. The gardens are created with great care and were designed by an Iranian architect called Fariborz Sahba. There are 19 terraces, one in the middle with the shrine, 9 terraces going up hill and 9 terraces going downhill, another 18. Both numbers have significant meanings within the Bahai religion.

Who are the Bahai? What do they belief and who is their spiritual leader?

This podcast episode only gives you a short introduction. The essence of the Bahai religion is UNITY. The oneness of God and of all religions, the oneness of humankind and the equality of men and women. They belief that God sent different messengers in different times to different places: Abraham, followed by Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad and then followed by the Bab and Baha'u'Allah. The last one came to announce a new world order.

There are about 7 million Baha'i's in the world and it is a fast growing religion.

If you want to know more about the Baha'i faith you can visit their website https://www.bahai.org/

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Bahá’í gardens

The gardens in Haifa are laid out over a long stretch on the Carmel mountain. They are part of the shrine for a very important person in the Bahá’í religion, which is a monotheistic religion, This shrine is for the 'Báb', which is Arabic for 'the gate' or the 'door'. He was the announcer or prophet for the arrival of the last messenger of God according to the believers, he was the announcer of Baha'u'Allah.

The shrine itself is white and has 9 sides, a very important number in the Bahá’í religion. And the dome is made of 14.000 gold coated bricks. Around the shrine in the middle of the gardens are several other important buildings including the Universal House of Justice, where the main governing body of the Bahá’í is seated.

The gardens cover a total area of 200.000 square meters. They were designed by an Iranian architect called Fariborz Sahba. The gardens are actually terraces on the Mount Carmel. He started working on them in 1987 and they were opened in 2001. They are often called the Hanging gardens of Haifa. In total there are 19 terraces. The middle one has the shrine for the Báb. The others, 9 uphill and 9 downhill from the shrine, are a total of 18, which is the number that represents the first followers or disciples of the Báb.

19 is also an important symbol for the Bahá’í. The calendar of the Bahá’í has 19 months and each month has 19 days. This means that a year for the Bahá’í has 361 days. In order to catch up with our 365 days year calendar, they celebrate their New Year, which is on the 21st of March, when day and night are of the same length, for a period of 4 days, which day do not count in their calendar. 

If you visit Haifa there is a great spot down in the German Colony from where you can look up to the Bahá’í gardens and you can see the long stairs of 1200 steps going up the hill in the gardens. You will see that there are 9 concentric circles in the garden that wave out from the shrine. 

The shrine itself is designed by William Sutherland Maxwell, well-known Canadian architect. It's very elegant in style and it connects the Eastern and Western styles in a unique way. The Bahá’í call the shrine the 'Queen of the Carmel'.

The plants in the garden were brought from different parts of the world and the landscape architect spent a lot of time to see where the sun is in different parts of the year and what the weather conditions are in different parts of the year. He used plants that can tolerate the dry climate and for watering they use advanced technology of recycling, also for the fountains. There is a lot of water in the garden, that attracts a lot of birds and this creates a sort of sound barrier for the noises from the city.

They even created a combination of colors of plants and flowers for the different seasons. 

The stones that were used in the gardens is locally quarried from the Galilee but because they needed some computerized equipment that only exists in Italy, they had to ship the stone to Italy to work it and then bring it back to place it in the garden.

The Bahá’í gardens cover a slope of about 225 meters and the architect had to work with that in the best way possible to avoid landslides and to be able for people to walk around and to easily visit the gardens. He did not want to use a lot of structures or walls to create the terraces, which is actually the traditional way that people used to farm the slopes of the hills in Palestine, by picking up the stones and flattening terraces and building stone walls, the famous 'sanasel'. But instead he hollowed into the mountain instead of building out from it. 

For many people the terraces of the Bahá’í gardens symbolize a spiritual ladder. The gardens are not only beautiful gardens but they are gardens for the spirit.

The  Bahá’í religion


So what is it that the Bahá’í believe? When and how did this religion came into existence and how many Bahá’í are there in the world?

There are different sources that say the number of Bahá’í in the world is around 7 to 8 million. And it is a fast growing religion.

So in short, and then I will dive a bit more into the history: the Bahá’í believe in all other monotheistic religions and in the messengers of God starting with Abraham, followed by Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad and then followed by the Báb and Baha'u'Allah. The essence of the religion is the Oneness of God, the oneness of religion and of mankind, the equality between men and women and harmony between science and religion. So they believe that there is only ONE GOD. And he sent different messengers throughout different periods of time, to guide the people to bring them back on the right path so that at the hour of death they can ascend to the throne of the most High. So they acknowledge the different religions for being unique for each time and place in history, but they believe that they are all one and the same, each a continuation and advancement on the one before. 

It all started in the 19th century and it started among a religious group of the Islam called the Twelver Shi'ite. The believers of this sect believed that the 12th imam after prophet Mohamad, who was called the Mahdi, had disappeared in the 9th century, but he would return one day. And some calculations even suggested that this would happen in the year 1844. 

So one day, in the spring of 1844, a merchant called Siyyid Ali Muhamad, from the city of Shiraz in current day Iran, announced that he had received a divine revelation to transform the spiritual life of humanity. 

It didn't take long until he had 18 followers who were inspired by his words and his lifestyle and they were called the Letters of the Living. 

This man, Siyyid Ali Muhamad, became known as the Báb, the Gate. The symbolic gate between the past ages of prophecies and a new age of fulfillment of these prophecies for humanity. 

He himself was not the last of the messengers but he was announcing that a new world civilization would come. A world of spiritual and material prosperity. And there would be someone who would be a divinely inspired Educator to teach the people.

(During my presentation at the Bible College I made a parallel here with John the Baptist. For those of you who are familiar with the Bible, you may see that John the Baptist was the announcer of the coming of Jesus, just like the Báb was for Baha'u'Allah)

The message of the Báb was accepted by some Muslim leaders but many of them felt threatened by this new message. Mainly because it emphasized equality and the one-ness of all religions. 

So as a result the Báb was expelled from city to city and he even ended up in prisons including the prison in Akka in Palestine under the Ottomans.

But people were attracted to his personality and the number of his followers kept growing. The authorities did not only persecute him but also his followers and this became more and more intense and many of them died a cruel death.

According to Bahá’í tradition the Báb was executed but a miracle happened before he died. The first time they brought him and one of his followers out to be executed by a firing squad the Báb told them that no "earthly power" could silence Him until He had finished all that He had to say. Then 750 soldiers shot at him and his companion. After the dust cleared up the Báb had vanished and his companion was unharmed. They found the Báb back in the prison to finish his conversation. After that they brought him back out again and this time he was killed. In 1909 his remains were brought to Haifa and were buried on Mount Carmel.

But what about his prediction? For whom was the Báb, the gatekeeper, the way maker? His disciples and followers were waiting for someone to come! And that someone turned out to be one of his own followers.

His name was Mirza Husayn-‘Alí. He was born in a rich influential family but he had always cared for the poor and had been really kind to everyone. He was also thrown into prison because of his believe in the Báb. And he was in a dungeon in the worst situation, tight with a super heavy chain, for several months. In this period he got the revelation that he was the messenger that the Báb had spoken about. His name is Baha'u'Allah which means God Almighty. But he did not immediately announce that he had received this message from God. 

As the local leaders were very jealous and afraid of the growing followers of Baha'u'Allah and he retreated for two years in the mountains of Kurdistan. 

And here I also see a parallel with for example Moses and Jesus and Mohammad who had longer periods of disappearing from the crowds and retreating in desolate places before they came back with a message from God.

Baha'u'Allah revealed that he was the ONE in a special location. Just before he was expelled to Istanbul he spent 12 days in a garden on the banks of the River Tigris and he called this place 'Ridvan' meaning Paradise. This is where he announced that he was the One, the messenger of God that people had been waiting for. 

All the time he was receiving revelations and writing them down in many different volumes. He also wrote many letters, including to world leaders like the pope, Queen Victory, Napoleon III and Czar Alexander II. His main message was that of unity of the religions and unity of mankind.

His most important work is called: Qitab I Aqdas. In this work he outlined the essential laws and principles of His Faith, and he established the foundations for a global administrative order. 

Baha'u'Allah spent a lot of time in prison, also in Akka. Later he was allowed to live outside of prison in a private house in Akka and to receive visitors. He died in Akka, in Palestine, in 1892. In his will, he appointed his son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as His successor and as the Head of the Bahá’í Faith. This is the first time in history that the Founder of a world religion has named his own successor in a written and irrefutable text. He did this in order to guarantee that His Revelation would achieve its purpose of creating a united world—and to safeguard the unity of the Bahá’í community. 

This son, Abdu'l-Baha, then decided that his son should replace him in case of his death and that the role of spiritual leader should go from father to son. But his son, Shoghi Efendi did not have children. He did appoint a number of Bahá’ís as the so-called 'Hands of the Cause of God' and after his sudden death in 1957 it took about 6 years until they organized elections for the Universal House of Justice in Haifa to take over the leadership of this religion.

Baha'u'Allah himself said that the main purpose of religion is to create order in the world and tranquility among people. 

Obviously there is much more to say about the Bahá’í, the gardens, the shrine, their religion and history but this is a summer short episode and I will leave it at that. If you are interested you can research more, there is plenty of information and books written on the subject.