The Little Religion That Persists: The Baha'i in Israel

{josquote}It's kind of like a theme park, where they're keeping everything 'just so'. But it's a holy place. Entirely different story."{/josquote}

Stepping into the gardens of the Shrine of Bab is like entering a hallucination. They rise in steps all the way up the mountainside above Haifa's downtown, and at the midway point, at mid-morning, the clear light off the Mediterranean combines with the precise efforts of 150 gardeners to achieve a combination of lucid depth and dazzling color that may be what they were going for in the Johnny Depp Alice in Wonderland, though without the dark undertow. Halfway is where the glittering gold dome of the shrine stands, in an immaculate park that seems to hang suspended in the sky like an infinity pool. "It's kind of like a theme park, where they're keeping everything 'just so,' " says Jonas Mejer, 20, a student visiting from Copenhagen. "But it's a holy place. Entirely different story."

The story is of the Baha'i faith, which started in Iran in the early 1800s and ended up with its spiritual locus, by an accident of empire, here in what is today Israel. The shrine in Haifa marks the resting place of the "Bab," or "Gate," the name given to Siyyid Ali-Muhammad in his role as prophet. Born in the garden-rich city of Shiraz, in southwestern Iran, he both announced that a greater messenger was coming after him and laid down some of the precepts of the new faith, such as equality for women and renouncing violence. The Bab was executed by Iranian clerics as a heretic, and his remains were recovered by followers and moved covertly from place to place for decades. (See the top 10 religion stories of 2010.)

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