Battle Of Haifa: Saving Baha’i Faith For The World

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When Prime Minister NarendraModi’s picture of paying tribute to the Indian soldiers who stood in defence of Haifa appeared, it was time to pause and reflect on one of the many engagements that Indian troops served in during the First World War and one that had enormous impact and meaning for the worldwide Baha'i community.

After the passing of the Baha’u’llah, the Founder-Prophet of the Baha’i faith in 1892, a great responsibility came on his son, Abdul Baha' to steward the nascent Baha'i community at a time of great challenges. Despite being founded in Iran, the administrative and spiritual centre of the Baha'i Faith is located on the slopes of Mount Carmel in the city of Haifa in Israel. Abdul Baha had followed his father into exile from Iran, arriving in Haifa in 1868 and had spent most of his life as what we today understand as a prisoner of conscience.
Immediate prior to the outbreak of the war Abdul Baha' was nearly seventy but due to some liberalisations in his conditions after the Young Turk Revolution he was able to travel to England, Scotland, France, America and Canada, but always returning to Haifa, which remained under Ottoman rule.
During the conflict between Turkish and British forces Abdul Baha' faced threats from the Ottoman governor of Haifa and as the situation deteriorated the authorities made plans to execute Abdul Baha' by means of crucifixion, and also to destroy the Baha'i shrines on Mount Carmel, the most sacred sites in the Baha'i Faith.

145British forces under General Allenby had been tasked with defeating Turkish and German forces in Palestine, and this included-two Indian cavalry-brigades. One officer serving with Allenby was Major Wellesley Tudor-Pole. Major Tudor-Pole was serving in the Directorate of Military Intelligence during the conflict but he had a longstanding interest in the Middle East. On a trip to Turkey in 1908 he had heard of the Baha'i Faith and he travelled to interview Abdul Baha in Cairo and Alexandria in 1910.
Tudor-Pole, one of the early members of Baha'i community of Britain was deeply concerned at reports of the dire threats that had been made against Abdul Baha. Together with correspondence to the War Office from a number of British Baha'is, a case was made to General Allenby to alter his plans in the prosecution of the wider theatre of war in Palestine. Thus, it was in September of 1918 that the men of the Jodhpur Lancers and the Mysore Lancers supported by the Sherwood Forester Yeomanry, rode to the relief of Haifa and to secure the life of the figure known to Baha'is as "the Centre of the Covenant".
In an address on this subject given at the Baha'i House of Worship in Delhi some years ago, Major Chandrakant Singh, Secretary General of the Indian War Veterans Association, provides details of the action itself. On 23 September 1918 troops of the Jodhpur Lancers took Turkish forces by surprise, launching an audacious charge up the slopes of Mount Carmel. In a pincer movement, a squadron of Mysore Lancers attacked from the south.
Early in the battle disaster seemed to strike when one of the commanding officers, Colonel Thakur Dalpat Singh was killed. Yet the lancers rallied as his deputy BahadurAman Singh Jodha took over command. The Indian cavalry charged in the face of artillery and heavy machine-gun, capturing two machine gun positions, 1350 prisoners and opening the route to Haifa. A detachment of Mysore Lancers rode immediately to secure the house of Abdul Baha and the Baha'i shrines were protected from destruction and today they remain the primary site of pilgrimage for the Baha'i community across the world. General Allenby sent a cable to London: "Have today taken Palestine. Notify the world that Abdul Baha is safe."

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Humanity today recalls a debt of gratitude to these honourable and brave Indian soldiers. The legacy of their courage and sacrifice has been the flowering of a world-wile Baha'i community, including perhaps close to 2 million Baha'is in India today. "

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                                                                                           (The writer is associated with Baha'i Office of Public Affairs) 

 

 

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