Haifa is the holiest city to the Baha’i faith. We explore the special relationship between the city and this religion of peace, tolerance and beautiful gardening practices.
Haifa is known for many things, but nothing as spectacular as the golden-domed Baha’i temple and the elaborate terraced gardens that stretch from the bottom to the top of Mount Carmel. This is undoubtedly the city’s greatest attraction and while many locals aren’t quite sure what the Baha’i faith is about, they appreciate the aesthetic contribution the faith has made to the beautification of the city and the way they have become an intrinsic part of the city’s fabric.
From the beginning there has been a special relationship between the city of Haifa and the Baha’i faith, ever since Bahá’u’lláh, the founding prophet of the religion, visited Mount Carmel in the late 19th century. When the remains of the Báb, the predecessor of Bahá’u’lláh, were brought to Haifa in the beginning of the 20th Century and interred on Mount Carmel, according to Bahá’u’lláh’s wish, the holiness and centrality of the city to the Baha’i faith was established. In addition to making of Haifa a spiritual focal point, Bahá’u’lláh also envisioned that it would become the international headquarter of Bahá’í administration, something that he put in place as there is no clergy in the faith. His son, Abdul Baha, who headed the Bahá’í community for 29 years after his Father passed away, began to implement that vision when he came to Haifa in 1913. True to his vision and in large part due to his tenacity, Mount Carmel has become one of the world’s most scenic and special places.
Jalal Hatami sits at his office in the Old Persian quarters of the city on 10 Haparsim St. His office resides in a beautiful historic building that served the early administration and is located on the Eastern edge of the German Templer Colony.
He has been responsible for community outreach for the past seven years. The office is located in a beautiful building surrounded by beautiful gardens in one of the city’s most picturesque and quiet neighborhoods. It was here that the first congregants of the faith came on pilgrimage over a century ago. Mr. Hatami has American and Persian roots and has lived in Israel for almost half of his life. “For the Baha’i faith, Haifa is one of the holiest of cities but it is also a city of true inter-faith co-existence. From the beginning, Bahá’ís were well received here and became an integral part of the city’s fabric. We have been fortunate to be able to contribute to the building of real bridges with the other faiths.”
Part of these bridges has to do with the many oases they have cultivated by the city and their heightened aesthetic sensibilities. “Places of beauty have an effect on our souls. People feel much more peaceful and balanced when surrounded by greenery and order, ” Hatami summarizes the effect of gardens.
A central part of the Baha’i faith is for Baha’ís to ground their spirituality in ordinary daily life. Performing work in a spirit of service is considered a form of worship.
At any given point, there are about 700 Baha’i volunteers in Haifa where they dedicate a specific period of their life to serving the international governing body of their faith. Their presence, while modest in nature, leaves a positive footprint on the city. These volunteers, who come from over 70 countries, tend to the international needs of the community but also focus on internal areas such as the gardens and the maintenance of the Bahá’í holy places.
The contribution of Bahá’ís, both the volunteers and pilgrims, to the local economy has an impact as they shop with local grocers, stay at hotels, rent apartments and travel on public transport whilst interacting with the rest of the populace in a productive manner.
All this is noted and greatly appreciated by the municipality who assists the Bahá’í Centre, as needed. Mayor Yona Yahav, a big fan of the faith sees their contribution to the city’s identity of co-existence. “The Baha’i faith is central to the great relations that exist between all faiths. They are a role model to look up to and emulate.” Indeed the Baha’i representatives are present on most city and inter-faith boards and plays an active role in deepening inter-faith understanding and reconciliation.