I remember it started quite as a spontaneous journey. One day, a few friends invited me to join them to explore the Baha’i community and I simply agreed without any knowledge of what to expect. Ah, good simple times when you could just say yes without wondering how and where and why.
We emailed a Baha’i representative to help us with hosting and I was shocked at how eager and helpful they were. We travelled by train to Haifa, and we were received there by this enthusiastic madam. We registered as a visitor in the Haifa Pilgrim House and Registration. The architecture was pretty ancient like. I felt like I was entering the house of the mayor of the village in the Medieval era. It had an eerie feeling as well for the house was made of stone and it had statues of honorable birds on its sides. Might have felt a bit like I was in a Beauty and the Beast movie.
The Pilgrim House is where the registration is made and how visitors get the permission to visit the shrine and all the holy places of the religion. This is also the point where Baha’is come to get informed and know each other more.
After registering, we were hosted by this very nice family for the whole week. They were an international family and I still remember them with such a warm feeling for I have never seen such a beautiful and harmonious family. The mother, who was from Mongolia, made us feel so welcomed. She cooked so many nice stuff for us and she even made the best milk tea I have ever drank. I have tried ordering it in cafes and it just is not the same as hers.
The father of the family was from Pakistan. He had such a calming voice and was wise as well. I still hold them dear to my heart, although I only got to know them for a week. We would discover only at the end, that the man of the family who was hosting us was actually a member of the Universal House of Justice, which is the highest institution of the Baha’i religion.
The next few days we travelled around and even entered inside the Universal House of Justice. They had a canteen there as well and we ate with one of the members. I am still shocked at how welcoming and humble they were.
Then we explored the Baha’i Gardens located in the Mount Carmel which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The structure of these gardens was something worth being amazed about. Pictures cannot even go near how sublime they were. You entered the gate and they extended high up on the mountains and each terrace was unique and gave you such spiritual peace. The silence protruding there was magical, although at the bottom of the gate, roads of Haifa extended in every direction.
We also joined a community gathering. There were people from all around the world and from every generation. They sang in Russian, English and every language. We would sit in the ground all together. It was pretty welcoming. I still remember the traditional Russian song the mother who hosted us sang. I felt like crying.
I have never felt more at peace with any religion than with Baha’i. They were accepting and open-minded. Baha’is believe that there is only one God and all the prophets of any religion, have only been manifestations of it. They believe in the equality of all sexes, in the need for education and they think marriage is sacred as well. They do not have any specific ritual that they follow rigorously because they believe rules and strict rituals only remove one from the true purpose of religion.
This faith started with Bab, in the Persia of 1844. He claimed that God would send a new prophet soon and until his execution he faced constant persecution. After his death, Baha’ullah introduced himself as the manifestation of God and he became the most important figure of the religion. A Persian born, he faced exile throughout his life and was imprisoned inside Acre (Akka), the Old city in Haifa, by the Ottoman Empire, where he also died.
Despite the disbelief that one may have towards any religion, I have to say that I have felt a certain peace in the middle of Baha’is that I have never encountered in any other religion (as far as I have explored them). Leaving aside their beliefs, the architecture of the main buildings and the Gardens are an experience of their own.