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RELIGION: The Bahai
Katharine Skillern, a Bahai, writes: "I was scanning the Academic WAR forums and noticed on the religion page that there were a few postings about the Baha'i religion back in October of 1999. You wrote: 'When my wife and I were in Haifa, we wanted to visit it, but non-Baha'i are not allowed to enter. There were two Baha'i from New Zealand in the doorway, and they so informed us. When we asked how they knew we were not Baha'i, they said they just knew. I am still wondering about that.'
I found this amusing and thought I would explain it to you. Baha'is have no identifying insignia or such thing, but I am sure that the guards at the Baha'i World Center in Haifa can distinguish the Baha'is from the tourists easily. Baha'is can be recognized, especially at the World Center, by their attitude of reverence, humility, and respect for the Shrines. It is their demeanor and their facial expressions which distinguish them. I myself have been told by non-Baha'is (on two unrelated occasions in California, in situations that had nothing to do with the Baha'i Faith) that they guessed I was a Baha'i by my manner. This I hold as a supreme compliment, although I cannot be sure that it is always true of me. [My mild protest: I am not a tourist, but a scholar. I am reverent, humble, respectful, with impressive demeanor and facial expressions. Ask my friends. RH}.
There is another comment: 'Miles Seeley reports: I grew up in the town next to Wilmette, IL. The Bahai temple is magnificent, but to us was always a total mystery because non-Bahais were not allowed in, and they did not do any proselytizing that I ever knew about. Clearly the movement had some real success at the turn of the century and could afford an imposing edifice, but my recollection from passing it nearly every day, was that not much was going on and hardly anyone was there'.
Both you and Mr. Seeley indicated that non-Bahais are not allowed into Baha'i places of worship. This perplexes me. I have been to the temple in Wilmette and thought that it was open to the public. Perhaps this was not true at the time Mr. Seeley went. On the web page for the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, they post visiting hours as 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, May 1 to September 30, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily October 1 to April 30, and they state "The Bahá’í House of Worship is open to people of all religions, races and creeds." In any case, there is sure to be much activity there now, as there is a large restoration project underway. In Haifa until a few weeks ago, non-Baha'is were allowed to enter the Shrines only during visiting hours (about 2 hours a day). On May 22 of this year, the garden terraces around the Shrine of the Bab, which now stretch from the bottom of Mount Carmel to the top, were completed and are now open to the public. However, to maintain the cleanliness and spiritual atmosphere of the site and to keep it from being overrun by tourists and barbecues, they decided to only allow visitors in on guided tours.
I visited the shrines at the World Center in Haifa five years ago, only a few months after becoming a Baha'i. I have visited many churches, mosques, and temples in many countries, but when I went to the Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, I was struck by the atmosphere of holiness there. It is intensely present and alive. Other places I had visited seemed like skeletons, remnants of worlds past. The contrast was evident.
You stated that the Baha'i movement peaked in the US in the 1920s, but I would counter that this is not true. There are about 120,000 Baha'is in the US today and we are growing. There are an estimated six million Baha'is worldwide. I seem to remember hearing that we are the fastest growing religion in the world now, although I do not know the source of that statement. In any case it is probably safe to say we are one of the fastest. We are certainly the most ethnically diverse religion. We are second to Christianity in the number of countries we represent, but within those countries we have reached more diverse groups. I can track down sources for these statements if anyone is interested."
My comment: Katharine is a post-doc in the Division of Infectious Disease and Geographic Medicine in the Stanford School of Medicine. Clearly, when the Stanford Administration massacred the innocents of the geography department, it overlooked this division, which escaped to the Medical School. May the savior grow and return, preach the gospel of geography, and save the souls of the Stanford Administration. The Good Shepherd goes after the lost sheep.
Ronald Hilton - 6/11/01