I never expected to visit a Baha’i holy place in Israel, let alone the most holy site in the Baha’i religion. Yet, here it is. Akko is the most holy place, and Haifa, just across the Bay, is the holy place. The founder of Baha’i, Bahá’u’lláh, was imprisoned in the old Akko Crusader dungeon, and at the end of his life was permitted to buy a house of his own within the city, where he spread the faith to those around him. From those humble beginnings Baha’i has grown to over 7 million adherents in 221 countries today.
In 1844, when Bahá’u’lláh was 27 years old, he “became a follower of the Báb, a Persian merchant who began preaching that God would soon send a new prophet similar to Jesus or Muhammad.” (That’s a quote from the wiki link embedded in his name.) Persia is Iran. So, the Iranian government tried to stamp out this renegade religion by executing the Bab and thousands of his adherents, but Bahá’u’lláh was spared. In 1863 he identified himself as the prophet the Bab had been predicting.
Today, people of the Baha’i faith consider Bahá’u’lláh to be a manifestation of God, the fulfillment of both Christianity’s and Islam’s endtime prophecies, and it was his grave site in Akko we visited yesterday. (The Bab was re-interred in a similar garden in Haifa, the second most holy place in the Baha’i religion.)
As I stood contemplating Bahá’u’lláh’s resting place, I thought of Jesus, and His grave. Bahá’u’lláh succumbed to the sting of death. Jesus Christ is risen.
But, I do not say this in disrespect to Baha’i, it is only what came to me as I stood by Bahá’u’lláh’s resting place. These people of a young religion have much to be respected for, and to learn from. At the heart of their practice, they are living out the Lord’s teachings in a manner Christians often have not, historically.
The Baha’i believe in one God. The difference is, “God is considered single and all-powerful. However, Bahá’u’lláh taught that religion is orderly and progressively revealed by one God through Manifestations of God who are the founders of major world religions throughout history; Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad being the most recent in the period before the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. Bahá’ís regard the major religions as
fundamentally unified in purpose, though varied in social practices and interpretations. There is a similar emphasis on the unity of all people, openly rejecting notions of racism and nationalism. At the heart of Bahá’í teachings is the goal of a unified world order that ensures the prosperity of all nations, races, creeds, and classes.”
There are a lot of links embedded in that quote from wiki, and if you’re curious, they provide some interesting reading. What I am interested in is not their form universalism, which is unlike what Jesus taught in the gospels. What strikes me is the way they see God, people, and the world around them.
The see God as one God, the God of all people everywhere in every age, whether or not they acknowledge Him. They feel God is too vast to be fully known and understood, so He reveals something of Himself through various prophets over time.
According to Baha’i, our purpose, the purpose of every person, is to “learn to know and love God through such methods as prayer, reflection, and being of service to others.” Remember when Jesus taught on the greatest commandment? Wiki goes on to say “Bahá’ís are taught to practice spirituality while engaging in useful work. The importance of self-exertion and service to humanity in one’s spiritual life is emphasized further in Bahá’u’lláh’s writings, where he states that work done in the spirit of service to humanity enjoys a rank equal to that of prayer and worship in the sight of God.”
Baha’i are committed to bringing equality, harmony, peace and beauty into the world, to—in my language as a Christian—live out a life of grace and shalom.
What would it be like if followers of Jesus, who walk the Way and live filled with God’s love and grace by His indwelling Spirit, were to embrace what that really means? Would we commit to bringing equality, harmony, peace and beauty into the world, to the praise of God, for His glory, and for the good of all those whom He loves?
[All images come from our Saturday tour of the Baha’i Gardens in Akko]