Why is the Baha’i World Centre in Israel?

Pictured to the right is the Seat of the Universal House of Justice and on the left is the International Teaching Centre building. Both are located on Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel. (Photo: Iain Simmons via Flickr)

Pictured to the right is the Seat of the Universal House of Justice and on the left is the International Teaching Centre building. Both are located on Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel. (Photo: Iain Simmons via Flickr)

For centuries, the Holy Land has been recognised as sacred for Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Moses and Jesus established their religions there, and Muhammad visited on His night journey and ascension.

But how did this land on the shores of the Mediterranean come to be associated with the Baha’i Faith, a religion born in Persia, more than 1500 kilometers away?

Shoghi Effendi, the head of the Faith from 1921-1957, explained that it was the result of “successive banishments of its Founder, culminating in His exile to the Turkish penal colony of Acre, and His subsequent death, and burial in its vicinity…”1

The Founder was Baha’u’llah (“the Glory of God”, 1817-1892), Who received His spiritual revelation in Tehran in 1852 and Who shortly afterwards was exiled by the Shah to Baghdad, then part of the Ottoman Empire.

Machinations by the Persian authorities, egged on by clergy who wanted the attractive modern faith as far away as possible, led to Him being exiled to what is modern-day Turkey.

After time in Constantinople, (now Istanbul), and Adrianople, (now Edirne), He was further exiled with His family and some followers to the Ottoman penal colony that is now the Israeli city of Akko (in English, “Acre”).

Just before He arrived in that prison city in 1868, Baha’u’llah spent some hours across the bay in Haifa, a place where 23 years later He would point to a spot on the steep northern face of Mt Carmel and issue a direction that it become the last resting place of His spiritual forerunner, the Bab (1819-1850).

And it was through his “Tablet of Carmel”, which He pronounced on Mt Carmel, that He established the location of His religion’s future administrative centre, slightly to the southeast of and adjoining the precincts of the Shrine of the Bab.

In 1892 Baha’u’llah passed away in a mansion on the outskirts of Akko and was buried nearby, His Shrine thereby becoming the most holy place on earth for Baha’is.

Although the spiritual and administrative centre of the Baha’i Faith was thus fixed, the political status of the land on which it was located was destined for decades of turmoil.

The Ottoman Empire collapsed, and little more than a decade later the fortunes of the war saw the Holy Land become a Mandate under the control of the British.

Throughout all these changes, the Baha’is adhered to the cardinal teaching of their faith — to seek to create unity based on the principle of oneness of humanity. They continued to abide by its laws that members must obey the laws of the land and not participate in partisan politics.

Two years after the end of World War 2, the British Mandate was coming to an end and the newly born United Nations appointed a special committee on Palestine to look at the future of the land.

In response to an inquiry by the committee’s chairman as to the religious interest of the Baha’is, Shoghi Effendi responded in a letter which noted some unique characteristics of the Faith’s position in the Holy Land.

It is in the soil of this land, he wrote,2 “that the three central Figures of our religion are buried”, referring to Baha’u’llah, the Bab, and to Baha’u’llah’s son, Abdu’l-Baha.

He said the Holy land “is not only the centre of Baha’i pilgrimages from all over the world but also the permanent seat of our Administrative Order.”

Shoghi Effendi then addressed the controversial topic of the future political status of the Holy Land.

“The Baha’i Faith is entirely non-political and we neither take sides in the present tragic dispute going on over the future of the Holy Land and its peoples nor have we any statement to make or advice to give as to what the nature of the political future of this country should be,” Shoghi Effendi wrote.

“Our aim is the establishment of universal peace in this world and our desire to see justice prevail in every domain of human society, including the domain of politics.

As many of the adherents of our Faith are of Jewish and Moslem extraction we have no prejudice towards either of these groups and are most anxious to reconcile them for their mutual benefit and for the good of the country.”

Shoghi Effendi said that what did concern the Baha’is was that any future government controlling Haifa and Acre should recognise that within this area existed the spiritual and administrative centre of a world Faith.

The Baha’is, he said, wanted that future government to acknowledge and permanently safeguard the independence of the Faith, its right to manage its international affairs from that area, and the right of Baha’is from every country to visit it as pilgrims.

In her biography of Shoghi Effendi, his wife, Ruhiyyih Rabbani described what happened shortly after Shoghi Effendi sent that letter, in the prelude to the 1948 civil war that led to the establishment of Israel.

“It must be remembered that the only oriental notable of any standing whatsoever who had not fled from Palestine before the War of Independence was Shoghi Effendi. This fact was not lost upon the authorities of the new State [of Israel],” she wrote.3

“One of [the Jewish independence movement’s] first acts when the fighting was still going on, had been to place a notice on the Shrine of Baha’u’llah – much more isolated than the Shrines in Haifa – stating that it was a Lieu Sainte or ‘Holy Place’, thus ensuring that it would be treated with respect by all Jews.”

As it did with those previously ruling the Holy Land, the Baha’i World Centre sought to establish good relations with the new government, and its status is now legally recognised.

The Baha’i World Centre, with some 700 volunteer staff from around the world, is a symbol of the unity of humanity, and provides an example of how people of diverse national and religious backgrounds can come together in harmony and work for the peace and prosperity of the world.


  1. http://statements.bahai.org/47-0701.htm []
  2. The Priceless Pearl by Ruhiyyih Rabbani, Baha’i Publishing, p. 287-288. []
  3. Ibid, p. 288-289. []

About the Author

Michael Day is a journalist who has worked for daily newspapers in Australia and New Zealand. From 2003-2006 he was the editor of the Baha’i World News Service at the Baha’i World Centre. Now based in Brisbane, he is the national media officer of the Australian Baha’i Community. His contributions to Baha’i Blog are in his personal capacity. His interests are Baha’i history, literature, the arts, rugby union, surfing, and scuba diving.

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Discussion 5 Comments

  1. This is a most interesting and informative Blog, and I enjoyed what I could read. Unfortunately the script was to broad for my 8 1/2″ page and I missed the end of the sentences – which is extremely frustrating. No matter what adjustments we did at this end to correct this situation we could not find a solution. I haven’t had this type problem with The Blog in the past and hope this problem.is rare.
    A true friend of The Blog, Jean

    1. Hi Jean, thanks for your message but everything seems to be running smoothly here on our end, so not sure why you were not able to read all the text. The site is what we call ‘responsive’ which means it adjusts itself according to the size of the computer screen or device you are using. I hope you are able to resolve the problem and thanks so much for supporting Baha’i Blog.

  2. Michael states :

    ‘The Ottoman Empire collapsed, and little more than a decade later the fortunes of the war saw the Holy Land become a Mandate under the control of the British.’

    A couple of years or so after the Great War, later – for obvious reasons – renamed World War 1, Ataturk (Mustapha Kemal: 1881-1938) presided over an epoch-ending closure of the Sultanate and of the Caliphate. In 1934 for Turkey he introduced (a) the Latin alphabet to replace Arabic script and (b) reforms announcing the political emancipation of women.

    For students of language and of WW1 history and of course for all Baha’is a visit to Edirne, in whose vicinity several vastly different tongues and scripts are utilized within an area of European Turkey as small as greater London, is a boon not to be missed if possible.

    The Professor in Rhetoric at the University of Leeds addresses in an easily Googled reference the announcement of the Return of the Caliphate as proclaimed about a month ago by ISIS together with its plans for Palestine, Israel and Mount Carmel:

    http://www.dailysabah.com/opinion/2014/07/18/return-of-the-caliphate

    Do we ever live in interesting times mon ami!?

    Baha’i love

    Paul

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