Baha'i Studies chair dedicated in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (June 7) - Prof. Moshe Sharon, the first incumbent of the world's first academic chair in Bahá'í studies [in Israel], said yesterday that the post was being set up at Hebrew University of Jerusalem with the aim of doing away with "tremendous ignorance" concerning Bahá'í.

The chair, funded by an anonymous donor, is to be dedicated today. "People think it is a Moslem sect. The truth is that it is a new world religion," Sharon said.

He added that before he began his research in the field, the last academic work on Bahá'í had been done 80 years ago. It is a fascinating faith, he said, with great intellectual wealth. There are over 100,000 documents, enough to provide work for researchers for a century, he added.

Noting that Bahá'í has spread rapidly throughout the world, including Asia and Africa, he described it as the perfect faith for the modern person, with its insistence upon complete equality between races and between sexes.

The Bahá'í faith's origins were in Persia, where, in 1844, a young man named Ali Muhammad Shirazi, known as the Báb, began to attract followers to a new religious idea. He was deemed a heretic by the Moslem religious authorities and a rebellious leader by the Persian government, which executed him in 1850.

Among the Báb's followers was Mirza Hussein Ali Nuri, later called Bahá'u'lláh, who in 1863 announced that he was the expected prophet whose coming had been foretold by the Bab. He developed the movement, which had been persecuted in Persia, and authored its holy writings. Bahá'u'lláh was banished from Persia and later from Iraq and other places, arriving in 1868 in Acre as a prisoner of the Ottoman government. He died and was buried there in 1892.

Today the Bahá'í world center is in Haifa and the faith has shrines in Haifa and Acre. There are an estimated six million followers around the world, only a handful of them in Israel.

- By Haim Shapiro. Copyright 1999 The Jerusalem Post. Reprinted by permission.

[Editor's Note: The following story is reprinted from the Jerusalem Post, one of Israel's largest English-language newspapers. The dedication of a Bahá'í Chair at one of Israel's top universities brings to three the number of Bahá'í academic chairs in the world. The other two are at the University of Maryland in the United States and the University of Indore in India.]