Wednesday, May 23 2001 16:33 1 Sivan 5761
Heart of the Baha'i faith opens to the public
Accompanied by the sound of classical music and compositions written especially for the occasion, the long-awaited official opening of the complex, which forms the spiritual and administrative heart of the Baha'i faith and its six million followers, finally became a reality.
The ceremony was broadcast live to scores of countries via satellite and the Internet to scores of countries. Big screens were put up in hotels, universities, and schools so the Baha'i followers would be able to view the events in real time.
"This is just an incredible time in my life," said 19-year-old Bassim Birkland of Minnesota, who is among the 2,700 representatives of Baha'i communities from nearly 200 countries who are in Haifa for the inauguration.
"I visited here while the project was in the process of being constructed, but only a few days ago it hit me that it is now complete," said Birkland.
"It has been a very emotional time in the past few days... I am certain that my feelings are shared by all those who are here because all the people I have seen are beaming, which reflects the atmosphere.
"It's an unforgettable experience. There is never going to be anything like this again because the gardens and the terraces have been built to last for hundreds of years." Birkland noted that the Baha'i faith promotes the unity of mankind and peace between people and nations throughout the world.
"The principle aim is the establishment of peace in the world which we would all like to see - especially in this region," he said.
The Baha'i faith is an independent religion established in nearly 250 countries and territories throughout the world, which originated in what is now Iran. It began with the Bab, who preached in what was then Persia that one would be born who was greater than himself.
The Bab, who is revered by Baha'is and whose remains are buried in the shrine on Mount Carmel in Haifa, was the forerunner of the religion which was established by Baha'u'allah.
Baha'u'allah preached in Iran, but arrived in Israel as a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire in 1868. He was given freedom of movement only within the confines of Acre where he died in 1892. His remains are buried in a cemetery on the outskirts of the city.
Baha'u'allah was opposed to any form of missionary activity and decreed a ban on proselytizing in the Holy Land, which has remained in force to the present day. There is no Baha'i community in Israel - only groups of volunteers who come to Haifa and Acre for varying periods of time to maintain the shrines and gardens and help administer to the worldwide community.
Baha'u'allah's son, Abdul-Baha, visited Haifa and decreed that the center of the Baha'i faith be based on the slopes of Mount Carmel in the city. His remains were also buried in the shrine that is the focal point of the entire Baha'i complex.
The work began at the beginning of the century and continued virtually non-stop until yesterday with the inauguration of the entire complex of gardens and two newly-constructed administrative centers.
The gardens, spanning the mountain for a full kilometer, include 19 terraces with marble balustrades, sculptures, pools, fountains and water channels with recycling systems. Money for the project was raised by Baha'i followers throughout the world.
The gardens, which are expected to attract more than half a million visitors a year, are to be opened to the public on June 4 based on guided tours which have to be booked in advance.
©Copyright 2001, Jerusalem Post