Communique from the Universal House of Justice – June 27, 2013:
With shattered hearts, we have received news of the destruction of the Most Great House — the House of Baha’u’llah in Baghdad. While the precise circumstances attending this outrageous violation are as yet unclear, its immediate consequence is without doubt, and must be emphatically stated: The peoples of the world have been robbed of a sanctuary of incalculable sacredness.
So deplorable an act, coming on the eve of the unprecedented worldwide convocation of Baha’u’llah’s young followers and their friends, calls to mind that mysterious interplay of crisis and victory through which His indestructible, irrepressible, inexorable purpose will finally be consummated.
We supplicate the Blessed Beauty to confer upon His faithful followers throughout the world fortitude and resolve in the face of this grievous blow. More information will be provided as it becomes available.
Analysis and Thoughts
The house of Baha’u’llah in Baghdad has a storied past. It is or, rather, was located in the North East section of present day Baghdad. Before the capital grew to reach and envelop it, al-Kadhimiya or Kazmain was a town 5 kilometers outside of Baghdad. It was and remains a pilgrimage site for Shi’ite Muslims due to the location of al-Kadhimiya mosque and shrine complex where the earthly remains of the Seventh and Ninth Imams rest. In fact the small town grew around the mosque and shrine which was named after the Seventh Imam (Musa al-Kadhim). Click for a Google Map view
Due to its proximity to the shrines the House of Baha’u’llah had been used as a hostel for Shi’ite pilgrims coming from Iraq and the surrounding countries. As you can imagine, due to its location to the Shi’ite shrine, the idea of returning the property to the Baha’i authorities is out of the question. Even if the government of Iraq was so inclined (which they obviously were and are not) the political and religious milieu would never allow it. The proximity of Sadr city doesn’t help either.
And yet, since the overthrow of Saddam Hussain and the re-establishment of the Baha’i community (with the election of the new NSA of the Baha’is of Iraq in 2004) the Baha’i World Centre had started the process of attempting to regain ownership of the property. They were able to broach the subject at various times and with different levels of the civil government as well as with the US and other nations undertaking reconstruction operations in Iraq. All avenues of dialogue failed to yield any results.
Although we do not have confirmation of this, it is my opinion that the destruction of the house was a deliberate act to accomplish two major objectives: first, to remove the question of ownership – as there is nothing left standing to own (except of course the land) – and second, to build in its place a larger and more modern pilgrim hostel which will accommodate more Muslims and further remove the possibility of returning the property to Baha’is.
While the destruction of the house is a major blow to the hopes of Baha’is everywhere, the Baha’i World Centre does have the necessary architectural plans and pictures to reconstruct the building. But they will be unable to do so if in its place stands a new, larger Shi’ite pilgrim hostel. Even if the land is now returned to the Baha’i international community, rebuilding the house of Baha’u’llah would entail the destruction of the newly built pilgrim house and that would be simply out of the question for obvious reasons.
Allow me to repeat that this is merely conjecture on my part. But it is based on an understanding of the various stakeholders and their motivations; including the current Iraqi government controlled by Shi’ites, the Iranian government (which is more or less running the show in Iraq today), the high value of real estate in Baghdad and specifically this neighborhood, etc. Needless to say, I hope that I am wrong.
But if the above does come to pass, it will have severe consequences for Baha’is everywhere. Not only because as Baha’is we abhor the destruction and desecration of yet another holy place but also because of the spiritual significance of this particular building.
While most Baha’is are comfortable with the idea of pilgrimage meaning a trip to Haifa, Israel and the surrounding areas (Bahji, Akka, Mazra’ih), this is simply wrong. None of those places are Baha’i sites of pilgrimage. If this ‘little known fact’ surprises you then you’re not alone. Most Baha’is today unfortunately don’t know any better.
This common ignorance is due to two reasons: first, both actual pilgrimage sites are inaccessible and second, the Universal House of Justice incorrectly uses the word pilgrimage (hajj) to refer to the act of visiting the significant Baha’i sites in the Holy Land instead of the correct word: visitation (ziarat).
Upon a superficial investigation you will find that the common answer to this concern is that Abdu’l-Baha designated the Shrine of Baha’u’llah at Bahji (the Point of Adoration) as a place of pilgrimage. The source of this is note 54 of the Aqdas but I have been unable to find the actual supporting source. That is, in which tablet does Abdu’l-Baha write this? What is the exact quote? It is curious that a proper source is not provided anywhere and even more curious that for the average Baha’i this is enough.
Now that the House of Baha’u’llah has been destroyed, and may be replaced by a new Shi’ite pilgrim hostel, removing it permanently from the grasp of Baha’is, what are Baha’is to do? I suppose we can continue to do what we are doing now; pretend that the trip to Israel is actually pilgrimage.
But that is a rather hollow pretense. Baha’i pilgrimage is obligatory and has been enjoined upon all (except those who are unable of course) and so understandably, Baha’is wish to go. But they can’t really.
This presents an interesting thought experiment. What is special about a holy place? is it the brick and mortar and shingles? if it is those things, then through the eventual passage of time the structure will need to be renovated or replaced. And it is reasonable to expect that over enough time it will be renovated and restored to such an extent that it is completely replaced with new material.
Is what makes the holy site ‘special’ the location? That is, we can rebuild the building with new material, as Baha’is hope and plan to for both site of pilgrimage, and it would still be ‘special’? what if we are somehow able to use a very large earth move or other construction machinery to uproot the building whole from the ground it sits upon and re-locate it? is the earth under it now ‘special’? is the building in another location just as special?
These questions may seem facetious to you but I submit that they are not. What are your thoughts? Please share them in the comments below.
The Universal House of Justice has shared this letter with the Baha’is of the world as an update to the tragic events described above: