Bahais unveil renovated shrine in Israel

AP News
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Posted: Apr 12, 2011 9:05 AM
Bahais unveil renovated shrine in Israel

Followers of the Bahai faith unveiled their newly renovated holy site on the coast of Israel on Tuesday, drawing attention to one of the Holy Land's lesser-known religions.

The renovation of the Shrine of the Bab, a U.N.-designated World Heritage site, lasted two-and-a-half-years and cost $6 million dollars, according to the Bahai leadership.

The structure has been refitted and strengthened to withstand an earthquake, and the building's dome _ the most distinctive feature of the landscape in the Mediterranean port city of Haifa _ has been covered with 11,790 new gold-glazed porcelain tiles.

The Bahai religion has roots in 19th century Iran. The man known to believers as the Bab, or "gate," and venerated as a prophet was executed for heresy in 1850 and later buried in Haifa. Today, the faith claims between 5 and 6 million adherents worldwide.

In Haifa, the domed Bahai shrine is positioned on a densely populated hillside, at the midpoint of a striking green strip of manicured gardens that cuts up the slope from top to bottom.

A Bahai engineer from California, Saeid Samadi, oversaw the project. Samadi was born in Iran, where Bahais have long suffered persecution for their beliefs and where the Bahai faith was declared illegal after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Samadi said much of the renovation work was carried out free of charge by Bahai volunteers. "The spirit of it was more important than the actual work," he said.

While the three world religions that have historically vied for control of the Holy Land _ Islam, Christianity and Judaism _ venerate Jerusalem, the Bahais are alone in centering their faith in Haifa, which is known more for its factories and busy port than for religious sentiment. Around 750,000 people visited the Haifa shrine last year, the Bahais say.

They maintain a second site, the faith's holiest, a short drive to the north in the Israeli coastal city of Acre. The Acre site marks the tomb of the religion's founder, Baha'u'llah, who was imprisoned in the city by the Ottoman Turks and died there in 1892.