Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Baha'i Holy Places: A World Heritage

Just in time for the annual commemoration of the martyrdom of the Bab, one of the two figures associated with the founding of the Baha'i Faith, the Baha'i Holy Shrines in Israel have been chosen as World Heritage sites. Here's info from the Baha'i World News Service:

— A United Nations committee meeting here has determined that two Bahá’í shrines in Israel possess “outstanding universal value” and should be considered as part of the cultural heritage of humanity.

The decision today by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee means that the two most sacred sites for Bahá'ís – the resting places of the founders of their religion – join a list of internationally recognized sites like the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal, and Stonehenge.

The World Heritage List also includes places of global religious significance like the Vatican, the Old City of Jerusalem, and the remains of the recently destroyed Bamiyan Buddhist statues in Afghanistan.

The Bahá'í shrines are the first sites connected with a religious tradition born in modern times to be added to the list, which is maintained by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The two shrines, one near the recognized heritage site of Old Acre on Israel’s northern coast and the other on Mount Carmel in Haifa, are the resting places of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb, the founders of the Bahá’í Faith.

Bahá’ís believe that both Bahá'u'lláh and the Báb were messengers of God; their resting places are sites of pilgrimage for a religious community of some five million believers. The shrine of Bahá’u’lláh is the focal point of prayer for Bahá’ís all over the world, giving it an importance comparable to the Western Wall in Jerusalem for Jews and the Kaaba in Mecca for Muslims." (Read all about it here) You can also read a related story about the Baha'i Shrines here.

Such a wonderful victory for an emerging global faith community stands in stark contrast to the ongoing struggle of Baha'is in Iran and Egypt to have their rights of religious freedom respected. It reminds me of a spiritual dynamic of 'crisis and victory' spoken of in the Baha'i Writings:

"Shoghi Effendi perceived in the organic life of the Cause a dialectic of victory and crisis. The unprecedented triumphs, generated by the adamantine steadfastness of the Iranian friends, will inevitably provoke opposition to test and increase our strength. Let every Bahá'í in the world be assured that whatever may befall this growing Faith of God is but incontrovertible evidence of the loving care with which the King of Glory and His martyred Herald, through the incomparable Centre of His Covenant and our beloved Guardian, are preparing His humble followers for ultimate and magnificent triumph."
(The Universal House of Justice, A Wider Horizon, Selected Letters 1983-1992, p. 41)

I see this latest development in the fortunes of the Baha'i community as a sign of the this dynamic of crisis and victory and it makes me look at some of the crises in my own life with fresh eyes and renewed confidence and hope. A wonderful gift indeed.