(photo credit: Sarah Levin)
The spiritual leader of the Druse community in Israel and the secretary-general of the Baha’i International Community were among the six people awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Haifa on Tuesday, at an event on the theme of tikkun olam – making the world a better place.
This is the first time ever a Doctor of Philosophy, honoris causa, has been conferred upon the leaders of these religions.
Sheikh Muafak Tarif, who inherited the spiritual leadership of Israel’s Druse from his grandfather in 1993, received the degree in recognition of his contribution to strengthening equality and his commitment to the State of Israel, the university said in an announcement, emphasizing the “personal example Tarif sets for the Druse community and for all of Israeli society in upholding a world view that promotes understanding, love of peace and conflict resolution through mutual respect and dialogue,” and noting the “firm bond” he fostered between the university and the Druse community in Israel.
Dr. Albert Lincoln of the Baha’i community was conferred the honorary degree “in recognition of his contribution to the promotion of mutual understanding, coexistence and cultural pluralism,” with the university’s senate stressing Lincoln’s “longstanding friendship with the University of Haifa, which is expressed in ongoing collaboration between the Baha’i World Center in Haifa and the University.”
Lincoln, a jurist who received his law degree from the University of Chicago, is a direct descendent of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the US, and a more distant relative of the 16th, Abraham Lincoln. He was elected secretary-general of the Haifa-based Baha’i International Community in 1994.
Both religions are small monotheistic creeds that broke off from Islam at different points in history and are active in Israel, but are markedly different in their dogma.
The Druse in Israel, who, according to recent data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics, number 125,000, became a state-recognized religious community here in 1957.
Their religion first appeared approximately 1,000 years ago, and it accepts the prophets of Christianity, Islam and Judaism along with new interpretations and prophets.
Druse religious rites are covert, and while the majority of Druse are
uninitiated in its secrets, the Druse layman still has an acquaintance
with the broader religious principles, and is committed to the
community’s moral and ethical codes of behavior, which are said to
derive from the creed.
Traditionally, the only way to become a
Druse is through birth. Other Druse communities exist in the region,
primarily in Syria and Lebanon. Israeli Druse are loyal to the state
and most of the community’s men serve in the IDF.
While there is
no Israeli Baha’i community, the spiritual and administrative center of
the international Baha’i community are located in the northern cities
of Haifa and Acre. The religion was founded in 1844, when a man in
Persia declared himself a Bab (gate or portal) and took upon himself to
prepare humanity for the imminent arrival of a religious leader, who
would lead humanity to peace and prosperity.
In 1863, the
Baha’u’llah declared himself to be that man, and began spreading the
message that humanity was one single race that should be unified. As a
result, the Baha’u’llah and his family were, in 1868, banished from
their native Persia to the Turkish penal colony of Acre, where he
eventually died. He was buried just north of Acre, making the city the
Baha’i’s holiest site.
The Bab was reinterred in Haifa’s Mount Carmel, where magnificent
gardens beautify the Shrine of the Bab, the religion’s second holiest
site, in a picture of harmony which is one of the creed’s underlying
There are currently over five million Baha’is in the world from nearly
every race and culture on earth. In Israel, Baha’is are solely
volunteers from elsewhere in the world who serve for designated periods
at the Baha’i World Center and are engaged in the care of the Baha’i
holy places and the internal administration of the Baha’i world
The Baha’i have no clergy, and elect their managerial echelon in democratic votes.