Why don’t Bahais teach in Israel?
This question was asked on wiki answers, 29 August 2010. My answer at the time is given below, but has been made redundant by a quote posted here by Faruq Izidina:
“The Turkish Government, entirely misunderstanding the matter, gave ear to the false statements of prejudiced and bigoted religionists, and fearing any innovation, exacted a promise from Baha’u’llah that no teaching should be given to the dwellers in that country, where the Holy Ones were held as prisoners and exiles. ‘Abdu’l-Baha also continued to respect this promise, so that for the people of that country the Life of the Holy Ones, as lived amongst them, was the Teaching for them. Some souls, by intuition, divined the secret of the stupendous event which was taking place, but for the most part they did not become aware.” (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway, page 136)
Many thanks to Faruq. My answer in 2010 was:
The rule that Bahai do not teach their Faith in Israel goes back to the time of Baha’u’llah, and was confirmed by Abdu’l-Baha. There’s a short paper by Kavian Milanai, in Persian, that quotes Baha’u’llah’s words, forbidding teaching in “Sham” (the Ottoman province of Syria which includes present-day Israel and Palestinian territories).
http://www.newnegah.org/articles/2010-08-04-02-37-41 (link updated August 2015)
However I don’t get a clear reason for the prohibition from the quotes. I don’t think anyone understands it – we obey because Baha’u’llah said so. It seems to be a permanent rule, only the boundaries of the area around the Bahai World Centre where there is no Bahai teaching activity have changed, as governments have come and gone.
Nevertheless people did become Bahais in Palestine at that time, and there were small Bahai communities in various towns and villages in the north. However in the 1940’s, as the Israel/ Palestine conflict developed, Shoghi Effendi asked the whole Bahai community to emigrate. To this day, there are only a minimum staff serving at the Bahai shrines and gardens and in the offices there, there is no “Israel Bahai community” as such. People who do become Bahais are asked to leave. Again, so far as I know the reason has not been stated, but the Bahai teachings hardly favour the idea of a state that is designed primarily for people of one ethnic and religious identity. Bahais favour unity in diversity and the abandonment of prejudices of all kinds. Perhaps Shoghi Effendi’s decision was a quiet expression of disapproval for the zionist foundations of Israel (which I recognise today is much more diverse than just a zionist project). As a sidelight on this, at one time in the 1920’s there were rumours of plans to bury a leading zionist on Mount Carmel, and Shoghi Effendi was engaged in raising funds to buy land around the Bahai shrines to prevent it (See Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 97).
Postscript, 27 November 2010.
The following tablet seems to me to indicate that Baha’u’llah intended Palestine to have a unique role in the future, as a land dedicated to God:
… Leave hath, moreover, been given to whosoever may desire to raise, throughout the length and breadth of this land, noble and imposing structures, and dedicate the rich and sacred territories adjoining the Jordan and its vicinity to the worship and service of the one true God, magnified be His glory, that the prophecies recorded by the Pen of the Most High in the sacred Scriptures may be fulfilled, and that which God, the Lord of all worlds, hath purposed in this most exalted, this most holy, this mighty, and wondrous Revelation may be made manifest.
We have, of old, uttered these words: Spread thy skirt, O Jerusalem! Ponder this in your hearts, O people of Baha, and render thanks unto your Lord, the Expounder, the Most Manifest.
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 116)
What that future is, and whether it has any relation to not teaching the Bahai Faith in the region, I leave to the reader. The biblical reference is presumably to Isaiah 54:2:
Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.
Post postscript, February 2017:
I have not discussed the geographical scope of the ban on ‘teaching’ (preaching, proclaiming) the Bahai Faith in Israel. The orginal word used, “Sham” includes presnt-day Syria, Israel, Gaza and the Palestinian territories, yet if we search in English or Persian we find explanations and policy guidance from the Universal House of Justice referring to Israel only. Does this mean that the scope has been narrowed? Or is it simply that the cases that arise and the questions that are put in English and Persian relate to pilgrims to present-day Israel and Bahai staff working there, so Israel is named. If guidance was given to Bahais living in or visiting Syria and the Palestinian territories, it would presumably be in Arabic, and might never be circulated beyond the family concerned. So I do not know what the present scope of the ban may be, except that it does not include Turkey or Jordan.
Post postscript, October 2012:
I’ve realised that there’s a whole dimension to this question I’ve not covered here: the special agreements made between the state of Israel and individual religious communities, which have the force of law while not being legislation. I found a blog entry on the restrictions placed on Mormon teaching work. It would be interesting to know the contents of the special agreement between the Bahai International Community and the State of Israel.
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