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Sunday, 23 January, 2000, 15:01 GMT
Bahai leader buried

Bahai temple A Bahai temple in New Delhi

By religious affairs correspondent Jane Little

The funeral has taken place in Israel of the last surviving member of the holy family of the Bahai faith.

Madame Ruhiyyah Rabbani, who died in Haifa on Wednesday at the age of 90, had a major impact on the growth of the faith.

Bahai facts
The faith has its roots in the Islamic Babi movement
It is an amalgam of world religions that includes Muslim, Christian and Jewish Theology
It teaches that although God is unknown, he is revealed in the teachings of Abraham, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddah, Jesus Christ and Mohammed
The overall purpose of the faith it to bring about the oneness of humanity
Bahai believe there is only one creator and that the spiritual truth of all religions is the same
Hundreds of Bahais from all over the world are expected to attend.

This marks the passing of an era for the Bahai religion.

No clergy

Madame Rabbani was the childless widow of the late Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, the great-grandson of Baha'u'llah, who founded the faith in 19th-century Persia.

The religion has no clergy, but Madame Rabbani was known as a Hand of the Cause, appointed to provide moral and educational guidance.

And she achieved great respect in her own right.

Bahai world headquarters The Bahai world headquarters in Haifa

Born Mary Sutherland Maxwell in Canada, she married the head of the world faith in 1937 and was left to secure its future after his death 20 years later.

Expansion of faith

She played a key role in establishing an elected governing body in Haifa, and saw the faith expand from 40 countries to 190 today.

She travelled for much of the last 35 years, including a four-year journey by Land Rover throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

She produced films, wrote books and poetry and lectured widely in several languages.

Ye are all leaves of one tree and the fruits of one branch
The Bahai faith is based on the unity of God, of all religions and of humanity, and Madame Rabbani helped create a global solidarity between the now six million Bahais.

Few civil rights

But the community still suffers persecution in its land of origin. Bahais in Iran have few civil or religious rights.

More than 200 have been executed since the 1979 revolution, often accused of converting Muslims to what is regarded as a heretical sect.

Madame Rabbani will be buried in a garden across from her home in Haifa. Her husband was buried in Britain.

According to Bahai tradition, a body must be buried within an hour's journey of the place where the person died.

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03 Nov 99 |  Middle East
UN criticises Iran on human rights
19 Feb 98 |  Business
Banking on good faith

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