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Sects And The City: The 19th Sect Of Lebanon?

January 21, 2011

The daily Baha'i prayer!

They are a sect who is unwelcome in much parts of the Middle East, they have no religious leaders, and any politics besides voting is banned in their religion. They are found in Lebanon, maybe as a small population, but they are there. Their religious goal is unity and peace of mankind, yet, Islamists and extreme Christians wish to eradicate them. Who are they, this possible 19th sect of Lebanon? Well they are known as the Baha’is.

The population of Baha’is in Lebanon ranges from about 350-412 individuals (with almost half that amount living outside of Lebanon the population is an estimated 624 people). Living in many areas of Lebanon,  from Beirut to the West Bekaa… they are scattered all over the country. Baha’is started arriving in Lebanon in 1870, moving mainly to Beirut. Originally, the Baha’is in the country were mainly Persians, who ventured into Lebanon… but today that is not the case. Many Lebanese have embraced the faith, converting either recently or hundreds of years ago… but hold on it doesn’t stop there, many consider it the fastest growing faith inside the country. Yup, Muslim groups may be growing fast in Lebanon… but that is by birth. Most converts int he country lean towards Baha’ism.

The Baha’is have a center in Beit Merry… located in the Lebanese mountains, two cemeteries… one in Khaldeh and the other in Mashghara (which was established in 1971), and of course an office which was just recently closed down in Haret Hreik. Most Bahai’is prefer to live in the predominantly Shiite town of Mashghara in the Bekaa Valley for one simple reason: they can practice openly, pray openly, and freely proclaim their religious views… something they cannot do in many parts of the country. The Baha’i faith arrived to Mashghara with Imam Sheikh Ja’afar Al-Tahhan, originally a Shiite, who died in 1923 after embracing the Baha’i faith… many people in the town followed suit.

So since they aren’t listed on the list of recognized sects in Lebanon, what are they listed under? They are listed as either Shiite, Christian, Sunni, and sometimes Druze. This is because their ancestors must have converted from these sects, and with our country being lazy or prejudiced… the converts’s faiths was not changed to “Baha’i”. But recognition of faith is not their only problem. Their marriages are denied in Lebanon, causing Baha’is to travel to Cyprus, have a civil marriage, and come back to Lebanon to register this marriage. What a fail Lebanon.

I am no expert on the Baha’i faith, nor do I know much about Baha’is in Lebanon (even though two marvelous Persian Baha’is have captivated my heart, and became two of my closest friends), so I decided to go in search for a Lebanese Baha’i… and after two months I finally found one, hence this post can finally be completed. I asked Nasser Khairallah very simply what makes a Baha’i a Baha’i, and what is it like to be a Lebanese Baha’i.

Being a Baha’i in Lebanon is nothing great, and nothing bad. It is actually… 3adi. Our strongest community is in Mashghara, simply because it is the oldest Baha’i community in Lebanon. Because of Baha’i traditions, we have a 9 member council in Mashghara which takes care of a variety of subjects ranging from divorce to issues of homosexuality. This 9 member council is the group of people who takes the place of “religious leaders”. Because we don’t have a religious leader like most religions, this member is our “religious leader”. In every country where Baha’is are present, a 9 member council exists which takes care of these issues. Just like Muslims, we do a “zakat”, which is 19% of our income that we give to one of our council members, in turn it is his/her duty to distribute it to the poor in Lebanon or neighboring countries. Our religious book is called “Al Kitab el Aqdas”, and it was written by the founder of our religion.

We differ from most sects in Lebanon on many levels. We are taught about the Bah’i faith until we are 15 years old. After that we learn about many other religions, and are given the choice of staying a Baha’i or following another faith. We can marry from any faith or sect around us, without any problems from our parents and family members. This is simply because we emphasize the “Oneness of All faiths and religions”. We also 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.

Sex before marriage and alcohol are STRICTLY forbidden, but we are allowed to eat pork. Older Baha’is do not eat it, as they choose to follow Muslim, Jewish, and some Christians in their choice of the “uncleanliness of pork”. We are allowed to vote in elections, only in a way that will best suit unity between people, but going into politics is strictly forbidden, and doing so will result in being annulled as a Baha’i. In Lebanon we practice openly and freely, because hiding our faith is also forbidden. The largest problem we face in Lebanon is marriage, where we have to go to Cyprus or Europe to get a civil marriage. We aren’t recognized as a legal sect in the country… even though there are many of us around. I don’t know what else to say about Baha’is… I just think we would be a positive asset to the Lebanese society, which we are a part of!

Lebanon preaches it is about religious freedoms and acceptance, but that isn’t the case! We accept all and welcome all sects, but yet Lebanon doesn’t accept us. Bahrain and Jordan accept us, accept our marriages, and our religious identity even though they are very religiously conservative nations… it’s frustrating. I appreciate you talking about it though, it is a very important issue. We have cemeteries, and a center… but what’s the point of that if we don’t have religious acceptance in the government? Our Lebanese of different sects have no problem with us, why does the government? It’s external influences that keep us in this situation… Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran do not accept us and even persecute us, and I think that’s why. This country has a lot of shit it needs to change man.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Alhan Zahrai permalink
    January 24, 2011 10:39 am

    Just a correction to the info above about the Baha’i Faith: What you called Zakat, is what we baha’is call “Huquq’u’llah”. It is 19% of your savings each year and not 19% of income. Suppose you made 500 dollars as savings in the year 2010. Then you pay 0.19 times 500 for the year 2010. Now suppose in 2011, you make 1000 over the 500 dollars that you saved. This means that you have 1500 dollars in savings but what you pay is 19% of the 1000 dollars. Savings is calculated after you make your budget for buying stuff and vacationning and so on.
    I hope this cleared up things.
    Alhan Zahrai
    Mathematcis Department
    Vanier College
    Montreal, Quebec

    • January 24, 2011 5:33 pm

      Awesome, thanks for the clarification! I called it zakat as to make a comparison to what Muslims do… in a way for my readers to understand the concept… or what I meant by it. Thanks for a clearer explanation of how Huquq’u’llah is done! I hope the rest of the post was right though, with no other mistakes!

      Thanks for your comment Alhan! 🙂

  2. January 26, 2011 2:14 pm

    Your post in Portuguese:
    http://povodebaha.blogspot.com/2011/01/19-seita-do-libano.html

    I truly enjoy it!
    Thanks.

  3. Payam permalink
    January 30, 2011 6:21 pm

    Hello Seif,
    I wanted to truly thank you for your article about the Baha’i Faith in Lebanon. You have done a great service in explaining and clearing up some mis-information about this little known Faith.
    I also wanted to help in clearing up some items you mentioned that could be misunderstood.
    First, the Baha’i Faith is not a Sect, but an independent world Religion which has no traditions.
    Second, when you state they have no leaders, a further clarification might be needed. The Baha’i Faith has no clergy, priests, or religious leaders. There is no ‘person’ that is a ‘leader’. However it does have Leadership through an administration, the ‘councils’ you speak of are actually called Spiritual Assemblies and are institutions that are made up of nine individuals who are democratically elected annually by the Baha’is. What is unique is that the nine members have no authority as individuals, but as an institution, the Spiritual Assemblies administer the affairs of the Baha’i community. There is a Spiritual Assembly in every city, town or village where there are 9 or more Baha’is. At the national level there is also a Spiritual Assembly that takes care of the affairs of the Faith at the national level.
    Third, there are several million Baha’is worldwide and it is the second most widespread Faith in the World after Christianity. Please note that in widespread it does not mean in population or size. Look in every country and province of the world and you will find a few Baha’is there. Of course, if you are talking only about Lebanese Baha’is, then your numbers are probably the most accurate I have seen.
    On a different note, it is very surprising that the Lebanese government with it’s claim of religious freedom has not officially accepted the Baha’i Faith, as this Faith advocates obedience to government, elimination of all forms of prejudice, acceptance of all the Prophets and Faiths of God, and promotes the concept of Unity in Diversity. This last teaching is one that Lebanon can truly appreciate given it’s diverse yet beautiful population. Yes, I did say beautiful because of the different cultures, perspectives, and charm that each one brings to this amazing nation we call Lebanon! If they could only see themselves in this light!
    Again I would like to thank you for presenting the facts of the Baha’i Faith with an excellent account of it’s history in Lebanon.
    Gratefully,
    Payam

  4. Alex Sh permalink
    March 6, 2011 11:50 am

    Hey Seif!

    Love your blog. I’m currently doing a story for Hibr (hibr.me- youth-driven alternative media outlet here in Lebanon) on the Bahai community in Lebanon and was interested in asking you a few questions about this post. If you could contact me at ashams07 at gmail com I would appreciate it! You have a brilliant and comprehensive post on the topic and am interested in more information.

    Best,
    Alex

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