Bahá'í Faith in Lebanon
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The Bahá'í Faith has a following of at least several hundred people in Lebanon dating back to 1870. The community includes around 400 people, with a centre in Beit Mery, just outside the capital Beirut, and cemeteries in Machgara and Khaldeh. The Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 3,900 Bahá'ís in 2005.
The first Bahá'ís who came to present day Lebanon were Iranians who came in the 1870s. The founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'u'lláh, was exiled to Acre, which was at the time was part of the same Ottoman province, or vilayet, of Beirut.
In 1880, Bahá'u'lláh's son `Abdu'l-Bahá, visited Beirut at the invitation of Midhat Pasha, the Ottoman governor of the Syria Vilayet. A Beirut newspaper described his visit by saying "His Excellency, the learned, erudite, intelligent and illustrious ‘Abbas Effendi, resident of the city of ‘Akka, has arrived in our city". Following the visit Baha'u'llah wrote the "Tablet of the Land of Ba (Beirut)", later described as a "glowing tribute" to `Abdu'l-Bahá.
During his visits to Beirut, `Abdu'l-Bahá also met Muhammad Abduh, one of the key figures of Islamic Modernism and the Salafi movement, at a time when the two men were both opposed to the Ottoman ulama and shared similar goals of religious reform. Rashid Rida asserts that during his visits to Beirut, `Abdu'l-Bahá would attend Abduh's study sessions. Regarding the meetings of `Abdu'l-Bahá and Muhammad 'Abduh, Shoghi Effendi asserts that "His several interviews with the well-known Shaykh Muhammad ‘Abdu served to enhance immensely the growing prestige of the community and spread abroad the fame of its most distinguished member."
In 1894 a Lebanese Christian, Ibrahim George Kheiralla, converted to the Bahá'í Faith whilst traveling in Cairo. After Bahá'u'llúh wrote a specific tablet to him, he moved to Chicago in the United States and was instrumental in converted many of the early Bahá'í followers there.
Two Beirut universities - the American University of Beirut and the Saint Joseph University - had significant Baha'i student populations in the early twentieth century. The first Baha'i student was recorded in the 1890s, the “Society of the Bahá’í Students of Beirut" was formed in 1906 and by 1929 there were over 60 Baha'i students from Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Palestine. The university promoted "internationalism" as a core value and acknowledged the Baha'i students as a significant contribution to this vision. The Baha'i leader, Shoghi Effendi, studied at the AUB, graduating in 1917.
A Shi'ite Imam in the southern village of Machgara, Sheikh Ja’afar Al-Tahhan, converted to the Bahá'í Faith in 1923, and that village is now the centre of the community, with the only Lebanese local Spiritual Assembly.
The Encyclopedia of the Orient reported that there were 4,000 Bahá'ís living in Lebanon, or around 0.13% of the population.
In 1968, a prominent Bahá'í academic, Suheil Bushrui became a visiting professor at the American University of Beirut. In the 1980s he was appointed an advisor by President Amine Gemayel, indicating how Bahá'ís are accepted. Bushrui is noted scholar on Khalil Gibran, having published more than one volume about him and serves as the Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace at the University of Maryland.
The Baha'i Faith is not one of the 18 recognised sects in Lebanon, so many Bahá'ís are officially listed according to the religion of their ancestors, mostly Shiite. Bahá'í marriages are therefore not recognised, so Bahá'ís tend to travel to Cyprus to have a civil wedding, which is recognised when they return. Other than that, Bahá'ís are allowed to practice their religion in public without any problems.
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