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Bahais mark bicentenary of prophet at his Israel tomb

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Haifa (Israel) (AFP)

Bahais on Tuesday and Wednesday mark 200 years since the birth of their prophet with a ceremony planned at their world centre, in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa.

The Bahai faith, with millions of followers worldwide, emerged in Persia in the second half of the 19th century.

An offshoot of Shia Islam, it reveres Siyyid Ali Muhammad -- known as "The Bab" -- who foretold the coming of another messenger from God "who would usher in an age of peace and justice," according to the Bahai website.

On Tuesday, believers were to walk in procession around the Bab's golden-domed mausoleum in the Bahai centre's terraced gardens.

"Some pilgrims will be dressed in their country's traditional dress," said deputy secretary general of the Bahai International Community Carmel Irandoust.

The community says it currently has more than six million believers worldwide.

Although it has its world headquarters on Mount Carmel, overlooking the port below, she says that there is no Bahai congregation in the Jewish state.

"This is only the spiritual and administrative centre of the Baha'i faith," she said.

The sprawling, walled site is staffed by about 650 volunteers from around 60 countries and an additional 150 local employees, Irandoust added.

In addition to serving the Bahai communities of the world, they also care for the faith's shrines in Israel.

As well as the Bab's tomb, there is the resting place, further up the coast at Acre, of Bahaullah, the prophet foreseen by the Bab.

The Bahai holy places have been named a UNESCO world heritage site and, according to the faith, welcome more than a million visitors per year.

A Persian nobleman, Bahaullah was a disciple of the Bab and in 1844 proclaimed himself to be the bearer of a divine message and the one who would usher in the new age which would bring unity to all the peoples of the earth.

Bahaism, which calls itself "the world's newest monotheistic religion", holds gender equality and the eradication of poverty among its tenets.

In modern Iran, where their numbers are estimated at 300,000, members of the faith say they are persecuted as heretics by the Shiite clerical regime.

Bahais consider the Bahaullah to be a prophet from God, defying the orthodox Islamic view that Mohammed was the final prophet.

In December 2018, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on Iran to end human rights violations against minority religions including the Bahais, citing "harassment, intimidation, persecution, arbitrary arrests and detention" among other breaches.

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