Representatives of the Baha’i faith from around the world gathered in Haifa on Monday to elect the new international leadership council of the faith, as is customary every five years.

More than 1,000 delegates from 157 countries have arrived in Israel to select the representatives for the nine-member panel, known as The Universal House of Justice, which is responsible for the major decisions and policies of the international Baha’i administration.

Haifa is a central city to the Baha’i faith because of the presence there of the Shrine of the Bab, the resting place of the founder of the Baha’i faith, Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi, or the Bab, who was executed in Iran in 1850. His remains were brought to Mount Carmel and interred in a shrine there in 1909.

Albert Lincoln, the general secretary of the International Baha’i Community, lauded the diversity of the delegates and the manner of the election.

“Whenever there is a big gathering of Baha’i leaders one can see the ethnic and cultural diversity of the community,” said Lincoln in a statement to the media.

Baha’i communities are administered by local and national councils, which are elected once a year.

The delegates at the current convention are themselves members of the national Baha’i councils of their country of origin. National council members who were not able to travel to Israel sent in their votes for the international council members ahead of the convention.

“Voting is considered to be a religious obligation for the delegates which is fulfilled in a calm atmosphere after prayer,” said Lincoln. “There are no candidates, campaigns or election propaganda. The delegates don’t even discuss their voting intentions amongst themselves.”

The convention opened Monday morning with a prayer service and readings from Baha’i holy texts, after which the delegates ascended to a platform one by one in order to deposit their voting slips in the ballot box.

Participants in the week long gathering will travel to the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh in Acre, the resting place of the founder of the Baha’i religion Bahá’u’lláh and the holiest site in the world for Baha’is, as part of the 12-day Ridvan festival.

Apart from electing the new members of the international council, the convention will also deliberate on ways to develop the Baha’i community around the world and to deepen its involvement in society.

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