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Middle East Abeja Dispatch

Religions of the World, Unite!
January 5, 2000

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Sitting on a little bay of the Mediterranean sea, climbing up the side of Mt. Carmel, is the industrial center of Israel, a town called Haifa. Looking up the hill over the houses, a shining gold dome rises from a long strip of lush green gardens. "What is this beautiful modern shrine?" I wondered. "It doesn't have the crescent of the Muslims, the cross of the Christians, or the menorah of the Jews, but it appears to be a major religious site."

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Lovely day for a walk

I didn't have to wonder long. It turns out that Rashel, the woman in the dorm bed next to mine at the youth hostel, is here in Haifa on a pilgrimage. I've met lots of Christians and Jews here to see the holy sites of their religions, but I had never even heard of Rashel's religion, which is known as Bahá'í. It turns out that the World Center of the Bahá'í Faith is here.

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Rashel, the tour guide

"That is the Shrine of the Báb," she explained to me. "He was a prophet who foretold the coming of the Bahá'u'lláh, the man who founded our religion. We believe that the Bahá'u'lláh is the most recent messenger from God in a line of messengers, that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad." When I looked interested, she continued. "We call it 'progressive revelation.' God sends teachings that are appropriate for that time. Buddha taught us to develop the self. Jesus taught to love your neighbor. Mohammed's revelation was about loving your country, and Bahá'u'lláh's revelation is about loving the world! It's all about unity. We think all religions are one. I am Christian, I am Jewish, and I am Muslim! When I tell people that, they can't understand!"

Vocabulary
pilgrimage - a journey to a sacred place
shrine - a sacred or special place; also a place that holds sacred objects
progressive - step by step; continuing steadily by increments
regime - a government in power; an administration

Rashel had the morning off from the tours and group meetings and she was excited to show me around. Unfortunately, the long well trimmed and landscaped gardens that lead up to the Shrine are not yet finished, so we had to walk up the twisting side streets. The whole way, Rashel, who is a 25-year-old education and psychology student from Australia, told me about her life and her religion. It was interesting to learn that the Bahá'í faith is very widespread. There are five million followers worldwide, from 235 different countries and territories throughout the world, and over 2,100 ethnic, racial, and tribal groups.

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larger view
Abeja and her new friend

Rashel's family is originally from Iran, but they fled the Islamic regime and Iran-Iraq war when she was only 11 years old. "I remember crossing secretly into Pakistan on camels. I really had fun. I didn't understand that we were in danger!" The Bahá'í religion also originated in Iran, but both the Bahá'u'lláh and the Báb were exiled from there, too, in the 1800's. "When the Sultan sent Bahá'u'lláh from Iran, they also killed 20,000 Bahá'ís (followers of the Bahá'í religion)," she told me sadly.

When we arrived at the shrine, we were greeted by several friendly security guards. Two were black, one looked Indian, and one seemed Arabic. They let us into the gardens around the shrine, and we started up a conversation with a young man named "Wonder," who was from Zimbabwe. When I told him that the Odyssey had been in Zimbabwe only a few weeks ago, he got really excited. We chatted about Zimbabwe and about the Bahá'í faith, which seems to be everyone's favorite topic of conversation.

He offered to show us around the 19 terraces of gardens that lead up to the other buildings of the Bahá'í World Center. The buildings include the fancy International Archives Building, which is modeled on the Parthenon in Athens, a new International Teaching Center, and the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the legislative and administrative part of the Bahá'í faith.

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The Learning Center

After removing our shoes, a blond woman with a German accent admitted us into the Shrine of the Báb. "I think that Bahá'í is the religion of Benetton!" I thought to myself, noticing all the different colors and ethnicities that surrounded me. But inside, the small shrine was quiet and almost empty. Flowers sat on the tomb, and a prayer was written on the wall.

If you would like more information about the Bahá'í faith, check out their web site

After she prayed, we went back out and walked up to the top of Mt. Carmel where there was a garden with a beautiful view of the sea. We talked about travel and the state of the world. The Bahá'í, it seems, are looking forward to the day when there will be one world language, and the world will realize that we are all one people with one common destiny. For the past year, Rashel has been volunteering in Cambodia, because service to humanity is central to the Bahá'í faith.

We talked until it was time for Rashel to go. She had given me a lot to think about. Although I don't believe in the prophets and the religion of the Bahá'í faith, I was really uplifted by its message of unity and peace. With the new millennium dawning, I hope more people look towards the future with such hope and love.

Abeja

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...abejahummel@bigfoot.com
 

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