Interesting article [found here] on the world headquarters of Bahai in Israel, in the city of Haifa (on the Mediterranean coast in northern Israel). Haifa became the Bahai holy city because their founder, Baha’ullah, spent most of his life in prison near there under the Ottoman Empire!
The article states that Bahai is the second fastest growing religion in the world, with 5 million members now. The fastest is apparently Zoroastrianism, which starts with 0.2 million. Can we please bury the false statistic that Islam is the fastest growing?!? Of course, when you start with so few in number, the percentage growth rate is easier to maintain.
Bahai is a fascinating case study. Basically, it is the religion of modern liberalism: recognizing the truth of all religions, aiming for one world government with one world language, with education and equality for all. As the article puts it “Theirs is a vision of the world governed by a world legislature, world court and a world executive, all overseeing freedom of movement, disarmament and an international military to ensure peace.” No doubt, it sounds very nice.
Just to give you an idea of how earnest they are, their main building is called the Universal House of Justice. They are so progressive that they don’t even get involved with politics or conversion efforts. They have no paid clergy, so there is no sermon at the services, nor any collection plate!
The weird part about the mega-liberal Bahai is, it started as an outgrown of Islam, out of the Shia sects in Iran that believed in the coming of the Madhi. Betraying their Islamic roots, they still have a month of fasting, and they all pray towards the same place (to Baha’ullah’s tomb in Acre, just outside of Haifa, rather than to Mecca, like the Muslims).
The irony of their location in Israel is not lost on anyone either. Israel itself legally favors Orthodox Judaism, there are laws against "material inducements for conversions" to other religions, and there have been periodic attempts within the Israeli legislature to make all conversion illegal, so it is not exactly an auspicious location for the headquarters of a non-Jewish religion. Haifa itself, where is Bahai headquarters is located, is overwhelmingly Jewish. At least it is today. One hundred years ago, it was a small town of 20,000 people, over 95% of whom were Arabs, mainly Muslim (82%), with some Christian (12%). The survey of Palestine put together by the British after WW2 (after heavy pre-war Jewish immigration) had the city at 140,000 people, 53% Arab and 47% Jewish. The 1948 Arab Israeli war put an end to that, leaving only a couple thousand Arabs left after the War of Independence was all said and done.
So, Bahai entered Israel long before the Jews took it over, and has survived there to this day. In fact, it is pretty lucky for the Bahais that Israel owns the land, since at least the Jews let them exist. As the article puts it, "The Bahai-Israel relationship is mutually beneficial. Bahais promise not to convert Israelis but provide a tourist magnet keeping the local economy afloat." Muslims do not recognize Bahai as a real religion and persecute them to this day wherever they can get their hands on them. Check out an article on Egyptian bureaucratic persecution of Bahais here, which is certainly kinder than the death sentence they still get in Iran.
A brief historical overview of how the Bahai holy city started as their founder's prison under the Ottomans to become embraced in the protective cocoon of the Israeli state:
The Arab population in the land of Israel was around 200,000 in the early 1800s. By 1914, it was around 500,000 [source here]. By the early 1900s, the Arabs were organizing massive resistance to the idea of losing their homeland to Jewish Zionist settlers. In 1920, 1921, and 1929, anti-Jewish riots occurred, and open revolt against the Jews broke out in 1936 (resulting in hundreds of Jewish casualties and thousands of Arab deaths). In 1939, Britain, which controlled the region politically, attempted to cut off Jewish immigration, leading to the outbreak of Jewish terrorism against the British forces as well as against Arabs. In the decade leading up to this immigration restriction during the 1930s, over 200,000 German Jews bought their way into Israel. Tens of thousands of Jews made their way into Israel during WW2 via illegal immigration. During the war, there were about 500,000 Jews in Israel and 1 million Arabs.
Immediately after the war, the British attempted to keep up Jewish immigration restrictions in face of rising Jewish terrorism. However, the British quickly tired of the no-win situation they were in, so they threw the issue back before the U.N. In late 1947, the UN voted to partition the region into Jewish and Arab states, and violence immediately broke out. After the creation of the Israeli state in May of 1948, internal violence escalated along with the external invasion from Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. The invading Arab armies were repulsed, and the Arabs within Israel failed in their efforts to eliminate the Jews. During the fighting, between 600,000 and 800,000 Arabs left Israel, either fleeing or expelled (during a civil war, that distinction is often murky).
After their war for independence, Israel received millions of new immigrants, both from Eastern Europe and from the Jews within the surrounding Arab lands. It took two more hot wars to firmly establish Israeli existence: The Six Day War in 1967 was a humiliating defeat to the Pan-Arab belligerence that constantly threatened Israel’s borders. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 shortly followed, and was also won by Israel, although not in as easy a fashion. Israel today is not all Jewish; about 20% of the population is still Arab.