Friday, November 23, 2007

The Paradox of Bahai in Israel

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.


Anonymous said...

I just wanted to note that the Baha'i Faith is far from one of modern liberalism. While some of the social principles are in line with so-called "liberal" ideals, it also prohibits the consumption of alcohol and illicit drugs, promotes chastity before marriage, etc. Additionally, it does not "promise" to not convert in Israel. Instead, long before Israel existed, the founder, Baha'u'llah, instructed his followers not to teach in the Holy Land, and this restriction has been kept in place. Your focus on the "world government" is also disproportionate. The average Baha'i spends his or her time in prayer, meditation, and doing service works around their civil communities. A vast majority of Baha'i teachings focus on the individual and the community, but does foresee a world eventually united in peace and acceptance. Lastly, the Baha'is did not "betray their Islamic roots." Baha'is view Muhammad as a Manifestation of God and often find themselves defending the legitimacy of Islam as a world religion. Muhammad is, to Baha'is, an indispensable piece in the progressive revelation of God's will on earth in human history. With that said, it is a distinct world religion, independent of Islam in much the same way Christianity is of Judaism.

Justin Halter said...

Baha'ullah instructed them not to teach in the Holy Land so they wouldn't get arrested and imprisoned by the Muslim authorities there! The same rule applies today with the Jews, so don't try to get all morally righteous about it.

The roots of Bahai are in Islam, I am not sure why you are trying to deny that?

The International/Universal House of Justice is the name of the Bahai ideal: the religion itself sets itself up as one world government. It is pure religious communism, a blend of Marx and Muhammad.

stvip said...

There are several inaccuracies in this post, but I'll focus on the most glaring one: where do you get the idea that freedom of religion is lacking in Israel in general, and specifically that Baha'i are forced by legislature to avoid proselytzation? The law only forbids bribing people with material gain in exchange for conversion, as well as laws limiting the legitemacy of proselytizing minors without parental consent. These limitations seem reasonable from a secular-liberal point of view.

Justin Halter said...

Good point, I'll modify the post.

Anonymous said...

Baha'u'llah did not make explicit the specific reasons for his request that Baha'is not teach in the Holy Land, other than for reasons of wisdom. It is not a permanent commandment. At such time as conditions may be appropriate for teaching the Baha'i Faith in Israel/Palestine, the Universal House of Justice will indicate what is permitted.

The characterization of any religion as "liberal" or "conservative" is pretty much beside the point for believers, whose concern is whether they are abiding by what God has commanded. Thus, Baha'i behavior includes prohibitions on drinking alcohol and using recreational drug, eschewing sexual vices (e.g. adultery, homosexuality, pornography), not gambling, etc. It also includes freedom from racial prejudice, equality of the sexes, elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty.

The Baha'i approach to international governance is that it will develop gradually over time toward a democratically fashioned international federation. Some aspects of future world order could well be patterned on certain Baha'i practices in the far distance future.

Many Baha'i practices reflect Islamic practice, such as obligatory prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, charitable giving, etc. What Baha'u'llah did was to free people from the stultifying belief that revelation ended with Muhammad or Jesus or Moses, etc. God's hands are not chained up.

Justin said...

Just to clarify your last point, Anon, only Jews and Muslims believe that God's revelations are finished (God's hands are chained, as you put it). Christians believe in continuting revealation through the Holy Spirit aspect of God.

Ben Tebah said...

The article states, "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." Ironically, that's exactly what the Orthodox Jews do to Messianic Jews who they don't consider to be Jews as all and hold them as worse than Goyim. Isn't all religion an obscure lens through which man attempts to behold his maker; a dim glass through which the mortal squints to perceive the immortal; spectacles ground by the finite to glimpse the infinite; a mirror polished by the profane to reflect the holy. Is religion not but a faint light by which the temporal strains to see the eternal.

Justin said...

"Is religion not but a faint light by which the temporal strains to see the eternal."

Ben, I agree with you fully.

btw, I also find the marginalization of Messianic Jews to be problematic. I have heard others argue that that is proof of Judaism being anti-Christian in its core identity.

Anonymous said...

Do someone know anything about Iranian Jews who converted to Bahá'í and then in time of the revolution immigrated to Isral because of Jewish ancestry?
What religion do they have, are they converted back to judaism or remainde Bahá'ís?

-- Sebi --

Anonymous said...

"Consider the laws of the Old Testament: the Jews do not follow Moses as their example nor keep his commands. So it is with many other religions."

(Abdu'l-Baha, Abdu'l-Baha in London, p. 63)

Jews must not be Bahais!!!!

william thorsen II said...

it appears to be the logical conclusion to a eutopian society with one world order, did Gene Rodenbarry in star Trek know something we did not. I can find no reference to killing a child ( Muslim Koran)or social is the logical ,not liberalistic view of how a relion must manifest it;s self...If you have the power to read and listen you will find as have I , It's poetry and beauty with no political agenda..Why then are we afraid to change . to grow as a religion should fit the times....

Anonymous said...

NWO religion

Anonymous said...

i was wondering if anyone could explain to me how come the baha'i were able to avoid persecution in Ottoman ruled Palestine, namely who and on what grounds gave them permission to exist and operate under Hanafi rule?