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What is Baha’i Pilgrimage?

The Mansion of Bahji, located in Akka (Acre), Israel, is the home where Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith died in 1892. The Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, is located next to this mansion. (Photo courtesy Iain Simmons via Flickr).

From the earliest times, pilgrimage has been a cherished part of human life, be it individual or collective. Whether it was the ancient Greeks making the arduous journey to Delphi to consult the Oracle, or the Frankish knights and their kings making crusade to “free” Jerusalem, Hindus making the journey to Varanasi to immerse themselves in the sacred waters of the Ganges or Buddhists to Kandy in Sri Lanka to revere the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha, many and diverse are the reasons for which men and women have undertaken the journey of pilgrimage, with its attendant trials and tests.

In the Bahá’í context, pilgrimage is a law ordained by Bahá’u’lláh in the Most Holy Book, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. In this Book, Bahá’u’lláh prescribes that all Bahá’ís who are able should strive to make pilgrimage to one of the two Great Houses, i.e. the House of the Báb in Shíráz and the House of Bahá’u’lláh in Baghdád. However, after the passing of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá designated the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh at Bahjí as a place of pilgrimage, and stated that it is “obligatory” to visit these places “if one can afford it and is able to do so, and if no obstacle stands in one’s way”. Today, Bahá’ís make their pilgrimage at the invitation, and as honoured guests, of the Supreme Body of the Bahá’í Faith, the Universal House of Justice. The Shrines and other holy places are located in and around the cities of Haifa and ‘Akká in the Holy Land.

But what, our friends may ask, is the act of pilgrimage itself? What rites or rituals are involved? Before I continue, I should make it clear that each individual experiences their pilgrimage differently, and it is very personal. While sharing my thoughts and experiences in this post, it is not my intention to set certain expectations or a prescription of how people should feel while experiencing pilgrimage. My aim is to simply share some of my own thoughts and experiences in an attempt to answer, as simply as possible, the common question of “What is Baha’i pilgrimage?” Continue reading