After 20 years in Haifa, Israel, Albert Lincoln sees the West as disconnected from the rest of the world — and thinks that it’s time for Westerners to realize it.
“It’s really quite something, the extent to which the Western world has really become a gated community and shut off from the rest of the world,” Lincoln said. “In population terms, it’s small. It’s really like a neighborhood compared with a city. And the rest of the world is in a very different place, not a very happy place in lots of ways. But in other ways, it is.”
Lincoln, who served as the secretary general of the Baha’i International Community from 1994 to 2013, will give a lecture titled “Religion and the Middle East — a Fresh Take” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.
Because a main tenet of Baha’i faith is the belief that all religions are correct and valid, the experience of living in the Middle East has been one of “looking at the picture with an attempt to understand and empathize with all the players,” Lincoln said.
“Israel and the Holy Land are quite central to the world,” he said. “[There is] tremendous potential for flourishing [there], looking at it through the eye of diversity being not the opposite of the ideal.”
This embrace of diversity is a product of the Baha’i belief that all people belong to one human family. Baha’is believe that God is the creator of the universe, who is beyond human understanding but communicates with humankind through prophets such as Jesus, Muhammad, and Buddha. Therefore, in Baha’i understanding, all religions worship the same God.
The prophets followed by Baha’is are the Bab and Bahá’u’lláh, who lived in the mid-19th century. Bahá’u’lláh was exiled from Iran for his teachings. He fled first to Baghdad and then to various other cities in the Ottoman Empire before his death in Haifa in 1892. His gravesite and shrine are maintained in that city, as is the Baha’i World Centre.
“The Baha’i faith is persecuted in Iran and some other Islamic countries, and one of the pretexts is because our headquarters is in Israel,” Lincoln said. “But in fact, it’s in Israel because of events that occurred when that country was under Islamic rule, and one doesn’t simply move graves and shrines.”
Although the Baha’i Faith is new as far as religions go, it has come to encompass significant cultural diversity, Lincoln said.
“In the 172 years that it’s been going, the Baha’i faith has, to quite an extraordinary extent, spread around the world,” he said. “Starting from this obscure Middle Eastern movement and starting from zero in 1844, it has transcended its cultural nature and really become very multicultural and global, to the extent that the membership today almost represents, in terms of distribution, the world population.”
This multiculturalism could serve as an example of cultural understanding and acceptance, Lincoln said.
“It’s a very profound notion that we have, to learn a completely different attitude toward people who look different or think differently,” he said.