The following post is a translation of this article in Arabic about the Baha’i Faith in Lebanon which appeared in the al-Nahar newspaper.

A congregation under suspension…with no clergymen (men of religion), of sons who do not belong to any political party… and Islamists call for their eradication

On the seventh day of last June, during the parliamentary elections, a woman arrived at a voting center in Al-Ashrafiya. And when the head of the department pronounced her name and religion, she told him that she was a “Bahai’i”, all the delegates turned to her with surprise to find out whether she was a Lebanese. They started asking whether her religion was part of the 18 congregations recognized by the Lebanese authorities.

Baha’is started arriving to Lebanon in 1870, and they immediately headed to Beirut because it was a wide attraction point during the eighteenth century.

Baha’is live in many areas in Lebanon starting from the capital Beirut and ending at the Western Beqaa and the towns of Mount Lebanon. The number of Baha’is living in Lebanon is about 350, and they have a large number of siblings and relatives living abroad. In the town of Mashghara within the Beqaa, Baha’i families live and practice their religious rites as well as their private social life without any outside interference or being subjected to harassment. The Baha’i faith arrived to the said town with Imam Sheikh Ja’afar Al-Tahhan, originally a Shiite, who died in 1923 after embracing the Baha’i faith. Baha’i families reside in the said town and they have close relationships with the Shiites.

The interesting thing is that the majority of Baha’is are registered as Shiites, and the records of a number of them were placed on the expunction lists pertaining to Sunnis, Maronites, Greek Orthodox Christians and a few Druze. The reason behind this is that the Lebanese government does not officially recognize the Baha’is, taking into consideration that a number of them are registered as Baha’is in their status records, and during the parliamentary and municipal elections, they are considered a minority.

Lebanon, contrary to Jordan and the Kingdom of Bahrain for example, does not recognize the marriage certificates of Baha’is. The Baha’is have a center in Beit Miri located in the northern shore, where they celebrate their events. They used to have a place in Hreik neighborhood, which lasted until the early nineteen eighties. They also have a huge cemetery in Khilda and another in Mashghara, which was established in 1971.

Who are they?

Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Baha’i faith, was born in Persia, Iran in 1817. He was born into a noble family, was subjected to harassments, imprisoned, and then banished to Baghdad in 1852 through an order issued by Shah Nasser Eldin. In the Iraqi capital, he announced his religion in 1863 prior to his exile to Constantinople, and after that to Adrianople (modern Edirne) in Turkey during the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Five years after he announced his mission, Sultan Abdul Aziz issued a decree and imprisoned him in Acre’s Fortress in Palestine.

Baha’i writings state that Bahá’u’lláh’s experience in prison set in motion religious revelations that are available today in more than one hundred books and volumes, which outline moral and spiritual values as well as social and philosophical teachings. Baha’is describe Bahá’u’lláh as the “Messenger and Divine Revealer”. They believe in the heavenly books and claim to have no problem towards other religions. They also consider their faith an independent one that is similar to Islam and not derived from any other religious group.

Baha’is emphasize that the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad were not subjected to any form or degree of disregard or underestimation, and in his work “the Book of Certitude” Bahá’u’lláh expressed His appreciation of the Prophet Mohammad and defended the Christian Holy Bible.

Furthermore, Bahá’u’lláh does not consider Himself the concluder of Divine Revelations, for “with the passage of time, circumstance will change once again, and the necessity will call upon a new Divine message, and this will not happen before one thousand years at least.”

The covenant of Bahá’u’lláh states that He appointed His son Abdul Baha’a to succeed Him and become the sole revealer of the words of Bahá’u’lláh and the official implementer of the goals of His message. Abdul Baha’a was the supreme example of the principles of Baha’i life and its goodness by word and deed. The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh includes unity and harmony in understanding the principles upon which His religion is based, and subsequently, incorporating this unity in the spiritual and social growth of the Baha’i community.

The Baha’i religion prompts its followers to believe in the Oneness of God and acknowledge the oneness of messengers and prophets without exceptions, and ensures the unity of human kind. It also obliges every believer to give up any shape or form of fanaticism and superstition.

The Honorable Al-Bab (Forerunner of Bahá’u'lláh)

Bahai’is believe that Al-Imam Al-Mahdi whose appearance is awaited by the Shiites is Mr. Ali Muhammad Al-Shirazi, who was born in the Iranian city of Shiraz in 1819, and announced his message in 1844 in the said city. “Al-Bab” (the gate or door) spread the message about the coming of a great man, and a large number of believers followed him, and his message spread quickly. Officials severely prosecuted the followers of Al-Bab.

Al-Bab was executed in 1850 in one of the squares of the Iranian city of Tabreez, and his remains were transferred to Mount Carmel in Haifa, where a monument was built for him in the center of the famous staircase Baha’i gardens. Baha’is from all around the world visit it and make pilgrimage.

The city of Haifa is also home to the Universal House of Justice whose board of directors is comprised of nine members who represent the Baha’is around the world. They pay visits to this place to ask the blessings of the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh that is located in Shams al-Bahja district situated between Haifa and Acre. Arab Baha’is do not pay their visits to the place because of their ruptured relations with Israel.

The Most Holy Book (Al-Kitab Al-Aqdas)

Baha’is believe in the continuity of messages, and every Baha’i home contains a series of Baha’i books, most importantly, the Most Holy Book, which is considered as the Holy Bible or the Holy Quran. Baha’is do not hide their religion. It is an open religion that contains no secrets. A Baha’i person aspires that his family becomes a follower of this faith, but does not seek for it to inherit it.

The Council in Mashghara

The Baha’i congregation has no clergymen. In Mashghara for example, the local Baha’i governing council is comprised of nine members who run the affairs of Baha’is in the district, and this nine-member body elect runs for one year. In Lebanon, these members hold their meetings in their own homes, whereby the body elect oversees marriage and divorce affairs and issues the Baha’i marriage contract between spouses, which stipulates the approval of their parents, or otherwise the marriage is considered invalid. They consider this matter a main condition, and the ceremony is held in the presence of a number of witnesses at the local Baha’i governing council. The groom addresses his bride with the phrase “we will all, verily, abide by the will of God,” and she responds “we will all, verily, abide by the will of God.” Before completing the marriage contract, an engagement period is set and lasts for a period no longer than 95 days for the purpose of making a decision and contemplating before taking the big step into marriage.

A Baha’i man is allowed to marry a girl from a different religion, and gives her the freedom to maintain her own religion, whether she is a Christian or a Muslim. This choice is also granted to a Baha’i girl, because the main objectives of the Baha’i faith is treating other religions in a spirit of brotherhood and calling upon unity of mankind.

A Baha’i marriage is not recognized in Lebanon as it is in Jordan and Bahrain, and it remains an internal affair among its followers. The couple head to Cyprus or any other country that allows civil marriages, and return to Lebanon to register the civil marriage at the concerned official departments and courts, and children are registered according to the religion of their parents. Polygamy is strictly forbidden.

Baha’is are forbidden from practicing sex before marriage, and they do not drink alcohol. They hate divorce, but they accept it in case of persistence. The spouses are given a period of one year of patience prior to holding the divorce ceremony, provided that they do not live together under one roof during that period, in the hope that they do not reach the point of divorce.

Baha’is call their cemeteries “the eternal gardens” and they place their dead in coffins that are buried in the earth, and write the name of the deceased on the tomb.

Baha’is in Lebanon aspire to obtain official recognition of their religion. They emphasize on respecting the constitutions and laws of countries they live in, and they discourage their children from joining political parties and being political extremists.

A month ago in Egypt, a Baha’i won his case at one of the courts because he was not treated as a Muslim and the category of religion in his identity card remained blank because Egypt only recognizes the three religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

Baha’is in Cairo are subjected to harassment, particularly from the Ministry of Religious Affairs (Al-Awqaf) and Al-Azhar Council, which calls upon the eradication of Baha’is. Several books were issued calling upon the harassment of Baha’is, and the most famous one is for Khaled Abdul Azeem Al-Sayuti, author of the book “The Baha’i Faith: Its beliefs and colonial goals.”

In 1960, the Egyptian authorities dissolved Baha’i establishments, confiscated their assets and sold a piece of land belonging to the Baha’is at a public auction. This land was located on the banks of the Nile river and was designated to building houses of worship. After the war of 1967, Baha’is were imprisoned, and they are still facing continuous trials in Iran because those protesting against them accuse them of heresy due to their religious beliefs that conflict with Islam.

Retired engineer Ramzi Zein (72 years) told “Nahar al-Shabab” magazine that it is normal for us to be confronted with such criticism and attacks. We are subjected to many of these campaigns because they do not understand us, taking into consideration that we always call upon the unity of religions and that of the human world.

Zein from Lebanon is the son of a Baha’i father and a Protestant mother. He was brought up in the shelter of a Baha’i family, and he used to accompany his mother to church when she was practicing her Christian rituals. He read the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran and also read about Buddhism and other religions until he settled for the Baha’i faith. His mother died a Baha’i.

Zein describes fanaticism as the disease that divides humanity. He believes that factional life divides people, and for that reason Baha’is are not involved in political affairs, although they cast their votes during parliamentary and municipal elections.

Nutrition specialist Huda Ardkani, an Iranian Baha’i who was born in Jordan, married an Orthodox from the Memari family in Al-Ashrafiye, and the couple are parents to a son and a daughter. When her husband started reading Bahai’i books and publications, he embraced the faith and brought a shock to his family. But he is still in touch with them.

University student Maha Tahhan (20 years), is proud to be a Baha’i. She says that she has respect for all religions and that she is neither against Islam nor Christianity. She informs her colleagues about the Baha’i faith and its holy teachings. She reveals her religion to Lebanon and the whole world because a Baha’i does not conceal his faith. Maha does not oppose marrying a person from a different religion, whether a Muslim or a Christian.

The House of Worship

All Baha’is organize their social and religious life in a similar way wherever they are around the world, but they are most comfortable in countries where they are not subjected to harassments or trials as is the case in Egypt and Iran. They have places of worship known as “the House of Worship” located in India, Australia, Panama, Germany, Chile, Chicago, Uganda and others, as well as a large number of educational and social establishments.

In 1948, the United Nations recognized the Baha’i International Community as an international nongovernmental organization. In 1970, the Baha’i International Community was granted consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. In March 1976, the said community received consultative status with the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), with Dr. Bani Dugal as the official representative of the latter.

Finally, Baha’is in Lebanon continue to be a congregation under suspension…

They eat pork and forbid alcohol.

The Baha’i calendar is composed of 19 months and the first day of the year is Naw Ruz.

  • A Baha’i aspires to pay a visit once in his life at least to one of the Baha’i holy shrines.
  • Baha’i teachings ensure that every human being should own the spirit of serving others, even at the workplace while practicing handicrafts or commerce or other similar profession, whereby work becomes a blessing.
  • They encourage the joining of other people, from any race, culture and religious background, into their community with the aim to achieve the largest amount of diversity.
  • They maintain the cleanliness and tidiness of their homes, and they renew their furniture every 19 years if their financial abilities allow.
  • Some Baha’i teachings call for the consumption of vegetarian pills and foods, but Baha’is are not forbidden from eating meats, including pork.
  • Sexual relationships are restricted to husband and wives, but that does not mean that every individual should repress his or her sexual drive, but rather control it. To them, marriage is a symbol of prosperity and success.
  • They encourage studying and practicing medicine, and they are allowed to donate their organs if they wish. They are also allowed to treat some diseases spiritually, by praying to God for example, and the recovery of the body is not complete or lasting unless it is supported by a spiritual cure.
  • They are forbidden from drinking alcohol and taking drugs.
  • They appreciate the beauty of nature and encourage the beauty of their homes and gardens aside from their holy shrines and monuments.
  • The Baha’i faith forbids dependence on mendicancy.
  • The soul of a deceased Baha’i is enshrouded with five cloths made from silk and cotton. If the financial abilities of the family are limited, the soul is enshrouded with one cloth. A ring is placed on the finger of the deceased including with the following inscription: “I have already been created God and return to Him, severed from all else save Him, and dependent upon His name, the Clement, the Merciful.” Coffins should be made from crystals and fine stones or smooth hard wood. The local governing council organizes the burial ceremonies by consulting with family member and friends of the deceased, and special prayers for the dead are recited.
  • Some traditions and norms adopted by other religions, such as confessing to sins, kissing hands, baptizing or kneeling before another person, are not part of the Baha’i faith.
  • Children who are born into Baha’i families are brought up to learn about Baha’i teachings, and when they reach the age of 15, they make their own decision on whether to maintain their religion of embrace another one.
  • They believe that liberating oneself from fanaticism is one of the necessary attitudes and directions for achieving peace around the world. They seek to eradicate racial fanaticism. Every Baha’i bares the duty to transfer religion to others according to Baha’i moral teachings. They hold meetings in their homes every 19 days at least, known as the 19-days-feast.
  • The Baha’i calendar is composed of 19 months: Splendor, Glory, Beauty, Grandeur, Light, Mercy, Words, Perfection, Names, Might, Will, Knowledge, Power, Speech, Questions, Honor, Sovereignty, Dominion, the Days of Ha, and Loftiness. The days of the Baha’i week are: Glory (Saturday), Beauty (Sunday), Perfection (Monday), Grace (Tuesday), Justice (Wednesday), Majesty (Thursday), Independence (Friday). Baha’is hold the 19-days-feast on the first day of each Baha’i month.
  • They emphasize upbringing and the role of youth, and at the age of 21 years, they cast their votes during Baha’i elections. When a young man passes his secondary year at school, he participates in the one-year service program, which involves working in Bahai’i establishments or communities. Women are equal to men, and girls have priority to education over boys when a family is unable to raise its children and educate them.
  • Baha’i projects are funded through donations provided by other Baha’is only. Donation is a responsibility and a source of blessing or benediction.
  • Daily Baha’i Prayer

    Baha’is pray on a daily basis, preceded with ritual ablution before prayer. A believer has absolute freedom to choose one of the three prayers in accordance with the special conditions pertaining to each prayer. The Baha’i short prayer is as follows:

    “I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.”

    The Feast of Ridvan

    Baha’is celebrate the Feast of Ridvan on the 21st of April from each year to commemorate the declaration of the Baha’i message, and it lasts for 12 days. They also celebrate the Feast of Naw-Ruz during the Baha’i New year.

    Their fasting period begins on the 2nd of March and lasts for 20 days, which are considered the last days of the Baha’i year. The fasting period lasts from dawn until dusk. Those who are under the age of 15 years and over the age of 70 years, in addition to those who are sick or traveling, are exempted from fasting.

    Prayer is a duty for every Baha’i man and woman who have reached the age of 15 years. Like Muslims, they submissively perform their prayers towards Al-Qubla, which to them, is the tomb of Bahá’u’lláh.

    A Baha’i pays the amount of 19% of his profit and surplus on a yearly basis to one of the members of the Local Governing Council as a contribution to projects that aim at assisting the poor and needy within and outside Lebanon.

    R. Aqeel