By Valerie Sudol
Religion News Service

(RNS) The latest site in Israel to win designation from UNESCO as a World Heritage Site is Haifa’s Baha’i Gardens, a place sacred to what may be the least-known religion in the conflict-torn Holy Land.
The gardens, which climb from the base of Mount Carmel to its summit, include the Shrine of the Bab, a prominent Haifa landmark and a visual symbol of the Baha’i faith’s emphasis on worldwide religious unity.

The domed shrine, completed in 1953, contains the tomb of Siyyard Ali Muhammed, a Persian who was the chief precursor of the Baha’i religion. He was executed for heresy in 1850 by Muslim authorities. His remains were brought to Haifa in 1909 and remained hidden for years before the permanent memorial was built.
The Baha’i faith was an outgrowth of Muslim culture in much the same way that Christianity arose from Jewish traditions. Baha’is believe there is one God, and great world prophets including Moses, Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad are heavenly teachers with the same basic message.
Baha’u’llah, the latest of these messengers, was born in Iran in 1817 and laid the foundations for the modern Baha’i faith before his death in 1892. He taught the oneness of God, the oneness of the human family, and the oneness of religion — views that led to his imprisonment and exile from his native Iran. Today the Baha’i faith has spread worldwide and counts about 6 million adherents in 200 countries.
In the late 1980s, followers marshalled the resources to complete the Baha’i “World Centre” in Haifa — work that literally included moving and reshaping a mountain. The 19 meticulously landscaped terraces rising up Mount Carmel were officially opened in May of 2001.
The Baha’i Gardens already are the sixth or seventh most visited spot in Israel. They join eight other Israeli sites on the UNESCO list, including the oldest portions of Jerusalem and Acre and the tels of Beersheba and Hazor.
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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