The Bahá'í World Centre is the name given to the spiritual and administrative centre of the Bahá'í Faith. The World Centre consists of the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh near Acre, Israel, the Shrine of the Báb and its gardens on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, and various other buildings in the area including the Arc buildings.
Much of the international governance and coordination of the Bahá'í Faith occurs at the Bahá'í World Centre. These include decisions that affect the religion on a global level, and the study and translation of the Bahá'í holy writings. The Universal House of Justice, representing the supreme governing body of the Bahá'í Faith, resides in Haifa. The Bahá'í World Centre is also the current destination for Bahá'í pilgrimage.
The Bahá'í World Centre has its historical origins in the area that was once Ottoman Syria. This dates back to the 1850s and 1860s when the Shah of Iran and the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, ‘Abdu’l-‘Aziz, successively exiled Bahá'u'lláh from Iran to the fortress of Acre for lifetime incarceration.
Many of the locations at the Bahá'í World Centre, including the terraces and the Shrine of the Báb which constitute the north slope of Mount Carmel, were inscribed on the World Heritage List in July 2008.
The location of the administrative centre was a result of a successive number of banishments and imprisonments of Bahá'u'lláh, founder of the Bahá'í Faith. Bahá'u'lláh was banished from Persia by Nasser-al-Din Shah in 1853, at which time Bahá'u'lláh went to Baghdad in the Ottoman Empire. Later he was exiled by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, at the behest of the Persian Shah, to territories further away from Iran and finally to Acre in Ottoman Syria in 1868. Bahá'u'lláh lived out the rest of his life in the area and he communicated with his followers throughout the Middle-East, Central Asia and India through special couriers, and Acre became the centre of the expanding network of Bahá'í groups. When Bahá'u'lláh's imprisonment was eased, the area also became a centre of pilgrimage as Bahá'ís would travel the long distance to see Bahá'u'lláh.
The location of the Shrine of the Báb on Mount Carmel was indicated by Bahá'u'lláh to his son `Abdu'l-Bahá during a visit to Haifa. Furthermore, the establishing of the administrative centre of the Bahá'í Faith on Mount Carmel was also indicated by Bahá'u'lláh in his Tablet of Carmel, which is considered one of the charter documents of the Bahá'í administration.
Bahá'u'lláh died in 1892 near Acre, and his resting place is in Bahji. Following his death, Bahá'u'lláh's son `Abdu'l-Bahá was appointed to be the head of His Father's Faith and the condition of the area as the centre of Bahá'í activity continued. He continued to correspond with Bahá'ís all over the world, including now Bahá'ís in the West. While he was still officially a prisoner and confined to `Akka, `Abdu'l-Bahá also organized the transfer of the remains of the Báb from Iran to Palestine. He organized the purchase of land on Mount Carmel that Bahá'u'lláh had instructed should be used to lay the remains of the Báb, and organized for the construction of the Shrine of the Báb. This process took another 10 years and was completed in 1909.
In 1908, the Young Turks revolution freed all political prisoners in the Ottoman Empire, and `Abdu'l-Bahá was freed from imprisonment. Soon after the revolution, he moved to live in Haifa near the Shrine of the Báb, and since then the administrative headquarters of the religion have been in Haifa. During the final years of `Abdu'l-Bahá's life the increasing levels of correspondence led to the employment of a number of secretaries including some in Western languages and the provision of a Pilgrim House in the area. `Abdu'l-Bahá died in 1921, and he is buried in Haifa, which was then in British Mandate Palestine.
After `Abdu'l-Bahá's death, Shoghi Effendi was the head of the religion, and he directed the development of a number of separate projects in the area. He renovated the house of Bahá'u'lláh in Bahji in 1929, and in the 1950s secured legal possession of the lands around the building, creating a number of gardens. He also obtained possession of other sites around Acre related to Bahá'u'lláh's life, including the House of `Abbud. Around Haifa, he expanded the Shrine of the Báb by developing its golden-domed superstructure, and purchased lands surrounding the Shrine in order to create gardens. Shoghi Effendi had also decided that the buildings housing the institutions of the religion indicated in Bahá'u'lláh's Tablet of Carmel, including the Universal House of Justice, the as yet unestablished governing body of the worldwide Bahá'í community, would be arranged in the shape of an arc surrounded by gardens. The fulcrum of this arc would be the Monument Gardens, which hold the graves of members of the Bahá'í holy family. During his own lifetime he started the construction of one of the buildings comprising the arc, the International Archives building. He also negotiated tax-exempt status for all Baha'i properties. The religion's situation in Israel was clarified in an agreement signed in 1987 by then Vice-Premier and Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, in which the government formally acknowledged the Bahá'í Faith as a “recognized religious community in Israel,” declared its “friendly relations” with the Bahá’í world community, noted that the “holiest places of the Bahá’í Faith, … are located in Israel,” and confirmed “that the Universal House of Justice is the Trustee of the Bahá’í International Community over the Holy Places of the Bahá’í Faith in Israel and over the Bahá’í endowments in Israel.”
The other buildings of the Arc, the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, the Centre for the Study of the Sacred Texts, and the Seat of the International Teaching Centre, were completed in 1982, 1999 and 2000 respectively. The fifth and yet to be built building, the International Bahá'í library, is planned to be eventually built at the eastern end of the Arc, but the owner does not want to sell the land. The terraces around the Shrine of the Báb were also completed in 2001.
Much of the international governance and coordination of the Bahá'í Faith occurs at the Bahá'í World Centre. These include decisions that affect the religion on a global level, and the study and translation of the Bahá'í holy writings. The Universal House of Justice, representing the supreme governing body of the Bahá'í Faith, resides in Haifa, along with the International Teaching Centre, which coordinates the activities between the Continental Counsellors and works as a liaison between them and the House of Justice.
During Shoghi Effendi's time as the head of the Bahá'í Faith, the British Mandate of Palestine was dealing with a growing conflict between Zionists and Arabs in the region of Palestine. With the end of the mandate in 1948, and the resulting 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the majority of the Bahá'ís in Israel left the country, and only Shoghi Effendi and a few others remained behind. In 1963 the first Universal House of Justice was elected, with its seat in Haifa, and since then the number of support staff in Haifa has grown to several hundred support staff from over sixty countries. The increase in staff was due to the international growth of the Bahá'í community and the increased range of work which is done at the Bahá'í World Centre; the staff include the House of Justice's specialized departments such as the secretariat, research, finance, statistics and others which tend to the maintenance of the gardens and buildings. Additionally, select individuals are approinted to other Bahá'í bodies such as the International Teaching Centre and the Baha’i International Development Organization and as such serve at the Baha'i World Centre.
Uniquely, despite the presence of several hundred volunteer staff in Haifa and Acre, there is no formal community of Bahá'ís in Israel in the sense that there are no Nineteen Day Feasts, Spiritual Assemblies etc. Additionally, since the days of Bahá'u'lláh, Bahá'ís have observed a self-imposed ban on teaching their religion to the local population of Israel. Formal declarations of faith by Israelis are not accepted. In a letter dated 1995, the Bahá'í Universal House of Justice wrote: