Martyrdom of the Bab: Baha’is mourn founder, recall awe-inspiring events

(Note: Baha’i days begin at sunset.)

Gates open to outdoor gardens, multiple levels

Baha’i gardens in Haifa, Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, JULY 8: At noon on July 9, more than 5 million Baha’is around the world pause to recall in solemnity the anniversary of their religious founder’s public execution, for the Martyrdom of the Bab. As one of nine holy days of the year, the Martyrdom of the Bab commemorates the anniversary of an event that occurred on this date in 1850. The events that ensued on the day of his death, however, have left millions in awe for more than a century.

The era was 19th century Persia, and a man who called himself the Bab—translated, meaning the Gate—had begun attracting followers. Despite attempts by authorities, passion for his Babi religion ran wide and deep. Muhammad Shah would not execute the Bab, but his successor, Nasiri’d-Din Shah, was advised to kill the Bab. And so, it was announced that the Bab, along with any followers, would be executed.

THE BAB’S FINAL WORDS

According to Baha’i tradition: At the time of the Bab’s execution, when the head attendant was ordered to bring the Bab before the chief religious officials of the City of Tabriz to obtain death warrants, the attendant found the Bab in private conversation with his secretary, Siyyid Husayn. The head attendant lectured Siyyid Husayn, but the Bab warned that, “Not until I have said to him all those things that I wish to say can any earthly power silence Me.”

As the traditional Baha’i story is retold: The Bab was brought to the center of the city to be executed by soldiers, but—as he had promised—not one bullet touched him. Tens of thousands of onlookers, gathering on nearby rooftops and in the streets, were shocked when the Bab’s words rang true. The firing squads had, instead, blown apart the rope that had tied the prisoner. The Bab was nowhere to be found.

After frantic searches, the Bab was discovered in a private room, continuing his previously interrupted conversation with Siyyid Husayn. The Bab announced to them, “I have finished My conversation with Siyyid Husayn. Now you may proceed and fulfill your intention.” Several authorities and soldiers were so shaken by the events that they resigned and refused to have anything further to do with the execution. A new firing squad was drawn and brought to the Bab, and when the regiment opened fire, the Bab was killed.

A small group of Baha’is risked their lives to sneak the Bab’s deceased body into a wooden box, where it remained hidden for almost 60 years before being entombed in a shrine on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, where it remains to this day. Today, most Bahai’s observe the holy day with prayers, gatherings and services.

NEWS: BAHA’I PERSECUTION AND NEW WEBSITES

Despite the continued persecution of Baha’is in Iran, worldwide awareness of the faith is growing. Multiple world leaders have stepped forward to ask that the Iranian persecutions end, and several new websites have emerged lately that educate readers about both the realities and contributions of the Baha’i faith and its adherents.

According to an article from Bahai.org: “Reflected in the efflorescence of these new sites is the breadth of countries and cultures in the Baha’i world. As each community develops further, its national website will continue to evolve. The list of communities spans across many regions, from Myanmar to Kazakhstan, South Africa to France, Turkey to the Netherlands, and Colombia to the United States.”

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Intercalary Days: Bahai’s begin ‘in-between’ period before Naw-Ruz (New Year)

Gardens of green, rocks, flowers, manicured

The Baha’i gardens in Haifa. Photo by xiquinhosilva, courtesy of Flickr

  • SUNSET THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 25: Baha’is begin a period of special days to correct their annual calendar.
  • SUNSET TUESDAY, MARCH 1: Baha’is begin the 19-day month of Ala, which is a special fasting month in preparation for the Baha’i New year.

AYYAM-I-HA (DAYS OF HA)

Sacred days “outside of time” begin for members of the Baha’i faith, as the Festival of Ayyam-i-Ha, or Intercalary Days, commences. Until sunset on March 1, Baha’is mark a break in their 19-month calendar: the “extra days” are used to bring awareness to God’s oneness, along with a focus on charity and unity.

Ayyam-i-Ha—literally, the Days of Ha—plays on a double meaning of “Ha”: Ha, the first letter of an Arabic pronoun commonly used to refer to God, is used as a symbol of the essence of God in Baha’i writings; the Arabic abjad system designates the letter Ha as having a numerical value of five, which has always been the maximum number of days allowed for the period of Ayyam-i-Ha.

Baha’u’llah designated that Ayyam-i-Ha should be filled with “good cheer” and “joy and exultation”—for Baha’is, their kindred and recipients of the Baha’is’ charity.

News! Because 2016 is a Leap Year, Ayyam-i-Ha incorporates the extra day, prior to the start of the Nineteen-Day Fast and the month of Ala.

When the Bab began creating a calendar for the new Babi religion in the 1840s, intercalation—which is not practiced in Islam—was implemented to differentiate it from the existing Islamic calendar. When the Bab did not specify where the Intercalary Days should be inserted, Baha’u’llah—the one foretold of by the Bab—designated that they should be placed before the fasting month of Ala. Today, Baha’is still observe the Nineteen-Day Fast throughout the entire month of Ala. A New Year begins the day after Ala ends.

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Categories: Baha'i

Ascension of Baha’u’llah: Baha’is turn toward Bahji in reflections on unity

Front doors of fancy building with entrance grand and gardens around

The Shrine of Baha’u’llah in Bahji, near Acre, Israel, is the most holy site in the world for Baha’is. The Shrine represents the Baha’i direction of prayer. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET THURSDAY, MAY 28: A prisoner of decades, a man who wrote almost 100 volumes and changed the interfaith world is commemorated today, on the Baha’i observance of the Ascension of Baha’u’llah. The founder of the Baha’i faith, Baha’u’llah lived in Persia but was buried in Bahji, in the shrine where his body still lies, in 1892 CE. For this solemn holy day, many Baha’is attend a service or study the writings of Baha’u’llah. (Learn more from the Baha’i Library.) It is recorded that Baha’u’llah contracted a fever and died a few days later, surrounded by family and friends in his home, at 3 a.m. on May 29.

Did you know? Baha’u’llah’s shrine is surrounded by elaborate and extensive gardens, which are designed to symbolize the order of the world in the future. Baha’u’llah wrote often of the unity necessary for peace in the future.

From the time he first heard about the Bab and the emerging Badi faith, Baha’u’llah became a follower. At age 27, Baha’u’llah was visited by a messenger of the Bab and accepted the Badi faith. The next several decades would be filled with exile, imprisonment and tumult, as Baha’u’llah expanded upon the claims of the Bab and began writing volumes of his own. (Baha’i.org has more.) The Bab taught that Baha’u’llah was the Promised One, and that he had been but the Gate for Baha’u’llah.

LETTERS, TABLETS AND PROPHESIES

Through his years of exile and imprisonment, Baha’u’llah wrote a great deal. In addition to larger volumes, he composed personal tablets and letters for kings and rulers of the time–urging them to resist greed and anger in favor of peace. Many of the leaders, from a Russian czar to Napoleon III of France, disregarded Baha’u’llah’s warnings. Baha’u’llah predicted that if these leaders did not resolve their differences and halt the insatiable desire for land, materials and power, they would fall—and, one by one, the leaders realized the fate that Baha’u’llah had warned against.

Today, approximately 6 million Baha’is in 192 countries and territories across the globe observe this holy day. For the Ascension of Baha’u’llah, the faithful reflect on the messages of unity—and Baha’u’llah’s suggestion that all of the world’s major religions derive from the same source, in unity, as part of the same family.

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Declaration of the Bab: A joyous Baha’i holiday and news from Wilmette

Overview of elaborate gardens and large white building with domed top over busy city

The Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDOWN FRIDAY, MAY 22: Baha’i communities across the globe commemorate the anniversary of the Declaration of the Bab, made on this night in 1844. Though the roots of this story began decades earlier—in 1783, precisely—it was not until this pivotal night that the Bab correctly answered a series of questions that revealed he was the Promised One. Mulla Husayn became the first to accept the Bab’s claims, and soon after, followers of the Bab became known as Babis.

SEARCH FOR A PROMISED ONE

According to Baha’i tradition: The search for “the Gate” began years before the Bab’s birth, in 1783, with a man named Shaykh Ahmad-i-ahsa’i. He began traveling through Persia with the announcement that a great day was coming: a day that would see a Promised One. Later, a follower of his teachings, Mulla Husayn,—who would find the Bab. (For details, visit Bahai.org.) Though the identity of the Promised One remained secret, it was through a series of descriptions, questions and seemingly impossible tasks that Persian merchant Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi convinced Mulla Husayn that he was the bearer of divine knowledge. This evening is now celebrated by Baha’is as the Declaration of the Bab. (For a meditative prayer set to music, visit New York Bahai.)

Large white domed building with still pool in front

The Baha’i temple in Wilmette, Ill., is the only temple of its kind in the United States. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Following the 1844 proclamations, which were later made public, Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi took the name of the Bab (Arabic for “gate”) and began writing. The Bab penned his messianic claims, teachings and new religious law. In a few short years, the Bab had acquired thousands of followers. (Learn more from the Baha’i Blog.) Starkly opposed by other clergy and the government, thousands of Babis were persecuted and killed. In 1850, at the age of 30, the Bab was executed by a firing squad—though not before finding Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith and the messenger of God whom the Bab had spoken of.

IN THE NEWS: Iran to Wilmette

The Baha’i International Community recently launched a campaign that marked the seventh anniversary of the imprisonment of seven former Baha’i leaders in Iran; events took place in communities worldwide. (International Business Times reported.) From protests in Rio de Janeiro to reports by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, it is evident that religious freedoms in Iran have continued to decline in the past year. For the week-long campaign, each day will be dedicated to a different Baha’i prisoner.

Near Chicago, the Wilmette Baha’i Temple opened its highly anticipated welcome center. (World Religion News has the story.) The Baha’i temple has been the only one of its kind in America since 1953, and the welcome center is the first major addition to the building.

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First of Ridvan: Baha’is prepare for elections and 12-day ‘Most Great Festival’

Terrace with patio and tropical trees and grasses high above big city below, sunny

An upper terrace at the Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET MONDAY, APRIL 20 and SUNSET TUESDAY, APRIL 28 and SUNSET FRIDAY, MAY 1: The most holy Baha’i festival worldwide is the 12-day period known as Ridvan. Named “Ridvan” for “paradise,” this sacred festival commemorates Baha’u’llah’s time in the Najibiyyih Garden—after he was exiled by the Ottoman Empire—and the first announcement of his prophethood. For Baha’is, Ridvan is the “King of Festivals,” and the first, ninth and 12th days are occasions for work and school to be suspended.

RIDVAN: THE STORY OF BAHA’U’LLAH IN THE GARDEN

The story of Ridvan actually begins years before Baha’u’llah revealed his identity and took up temporary residence in the Najibiyyih Garden, with a man who called himself “the Bab” (translated, the Gate). The year was 1844 CE when Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, of Shiraz, made the proclamation that he was the Bab—and that a Messianic figure was coming. Nine years later, the man known as Baha’u’llah experienced a revelation while imprisoned in Tehran, Iran: he was the Promised One foretold of by the Bab.

After release from prison, Baha’u’llah settled in Baghdad, which was becoming the center of the Babi (followers of the Bab) movement. Though he made no open claims related to his revelation, Baha’u’llah slowly began attracting more and more Babi followers. The growing Babi community, along with Baha’u’llah’s increasing popularity, caused the government to exile Baha’u’llah from Baghdad to Constantinople. (Learn more from the Baha’i Library Online.) After having packed his things, Baha’u’llah stayed in the Najibiyyih garden to both receive visitors and allow his family sufficient time to pack for the journey.

Precisely 31 days after Naw-Ruz, on April 22, 1863, Baha’u’llah moved to a garden across the Tigris River from Baghdad with his sons, secretary and a few others. In the Najibiyyih Garden, Baha’u’llah announced his prophetic mission to a small group of close friends and family. In addition, Baha’ullah made three announcements: that religious war was not permissible; that there would not be another Manifestation of God for 1,000 years; and that all the names of God are fully manifest in all things. (Wikipedia has details.) For 11 days, Baha’u’llah stayed in the Najibiyyih Garden. On the ninth day, the rest of his family joined him; on the 12th day, the entire group departed for Constantinople.

THE ‘MOST GREAT FESTIVAL’

The festival of Ridvan begins two hours before sunset—the approximate time when Baha’u’llah entered the garden. During Ridvan, those of the Baha’i community gather, pray and hold celebrations. Local Spiritual Assemblies—that is, the governing bodies of Baha’i communities worldwide—are elected on the first day of Ridvan.

IN THE NEWS:
TEMPLE UPGRADES;
MILLIONS OF LEGOS FOR A CAUSE

The Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois—the oldest surviving Baha’i House of Worship in the world and the only one of its kind in the U.S.—is set to dedicate a new welcome center next month. (Chicago Tribune has the story.) The temple, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and welcomes a quarter million visitors each year, will experience its first major architectural addition since its opening in 1953.

With millions of Lego pieces, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei created the images of more than 176 human rights prisoners—including Baha’i prisoners Faran Hesami, Kamran Rahimian and Navid Khanjani—and has exhibited them at the Alcatraz museum. (See images here, in an article from Iran Press Watch.) Weiwei has named the prisoners, “The heroes of our time.”

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Equinox: Spring brings Nowruz New Year, Hindu Ugadi and Pagan Ostara

Pink flower spring tree buds against blue sky

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

FRIDAY, MARCH 20 and SATURDAY, MARCH 21: All across the Northern Hemisphere, men, women and children are longing for spring, marked by the vernal equinox. This ancient cycle fuels celebrations worldwide:

  • In many parts of the Middle East and Asia, the ancient holiday is known as Nowruz. For Bahai’s, it’s Naw-Ruz.
  • For many Hindus, it’s Ugadi.
  • For Pagans and Wiccans, it’s Ostara.

Though the names and specific rituals may differ, the theme is joy in the promises of new life that comes in the spring season. As the darkness of winter lifts, communities rejoice. Whether it’s Kurds in Turkey jumping over fires, Iranians sprouting grains or Wiccans discussing the symbolism of the egg, all embrace the rejuvenation of the season.

VERNAL EQUINOX: SPRING IN THE NORTH

On March 20 at 22:45 UTC, the 2015 vernal equinox will occur—and for those in the Northern Hemisphere, that signals springtime. Though day and night are not exactly equal in duration on the equinox—that event is known as equilux, and varies by location—the plane of the Earth’s Equator passes the center of the sun on the equinoxes. During the equinox, length of daylight is (theoretically) the same at all points on the Earth.

In Chinese belief, spring is associated with a green dragon and the direction east: the green dragon for the green sprouts of spring, and east as the direction of sunrise and the beginning of each day. This year, a special astronomical event will occur on the equinox: a solar eclipse, estimated to be visible across Northern Africa, Europe and Northern Asia. (The UK’s Mirror reported.) The solar eclipse is expected to be the largest since August 1999.

NOWRUZ: IRANIANS, ZOROASTRIANS AND THE HAFT-SIN TABLE

Table in dark room with lit candles, covered in varied objects such as apples, garlic and golden eggs

A Haft-Sin table. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Spellings vary widely, but across much of the Middle East, Central and South Asia—Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and more—as well as by Zoroastrians and other religious and ethnic groups, the vernal equinox marks Nowruz, the New Year holiday.

Classified among UNESCO’s Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Iranian/Persian New Year dates back hundreds of years BCE. Many believe that Nowruz is rooted in Zoroastrianism and was started by Zarathustra, though some place the festival’s origin centuries before Zoroaster.

Nowruz dawns as the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. Nowruz is a very important holiday in Iran and for Zoroastrians. Extensive spring cleaning begins a month prior to Nowruz, and new clothing is bought in anticipation of the 12-day celebrations that include numerous visits to family and friends. Prior and sometimes during the festival, fires are lit that reflect the Zoroastrian perspective on light’s victory over darkness. Many Iranians put up a Haft Sin table, covered with seven symbolic items. Items vary slightly but may include apples, mirrors, candles, sprouted wheat or barley, painted eggs, rose water, dried fruit, garlic, vinegar, coins and a holy book. (Wikipedia has details.) Parsi Zoroastrians set up a “sesh” tray, filled with rose water, a betel nut, raw rice, raw sugar, flowers, a wick in a glass and a picture of Zarathustra. On the 13th day of the New Year festival, families head outdoors for picnics, music and dancing.

NAW-RUZ: BAHA’I NEW YEAR

Baha’is have been fasting for the past month, and after sunset on March 19, that fast is broken—for Naw-Ruz, the Baha’i New Year. One of nine holy days of the month, Naw-Ruz was instituted by Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, as a time for great joy. No set rituals exist for Naw-Ruz, and most Baha’is gather for a community meal and read sacred Baha’i writings. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, described the equinox as a symbol of the messengers of God, with their message as the spiritual springtime that is Naw-Ruz. This year, for the first time, the New Year will begin on the day of the vernal equinox, and not fixed on March 21. (Previously, Naw-Ruz was fixed on March 21 for Baha’is living outside of the Middle East.)

UGADI: RELIGIOUS FORECAST; SIX TASTES

Bunches of green leaves tied unto string, hanging, with Hindu structure in background

Garlands of tied mango leaves are strung for Ugadi. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

For Hindus and the people of the Deccan region of India, March 21 means (Y)ugadi, derived from Sanskrit as “the beginning of a new age.” Names for the festival vary by region, but across India, Ugadi specifically refers to the start of our current age, Kali Yuga. According to Hindu legend, Kali Yuga began in 3102 BCE, at the moment Lord Krishna left the world. On Yugadi, people traditionally gather to listen to the recitation of the religious almanac of the new year—or, in other words, a forecast of the coming year. Hindus used to gather in temples to hear the Ugadi forecast, but today, priest-scholar recitations can be viewed on television or the almanac might be read by an elder in other settings.

On this auspicious day, extended families gather and ritual baths are taken before prayers. Carefully cleaned homes welcome visitors with an entrance draped in fresh mango leaves. (Wikipedia has details.) In many regions, a dish of six tastes is partaken with a symbolism that represents the varied experiences of life. Most commonly, neem buds and flowers symbolize sadness; jaggery and banana signify happiness; green chili peppers represent anger; salt indicates fear; taramind juice symbolizes disgust; and unripened mango translates to surprise. This year, transportation corporations and railways have announced the necessity of hundreds of extra trains and buses for Ugadi crowds.

OSTARA: PAGANS AND WICCANS CELEBRATE

Symbols of eggs and rabbits illustrate the Pagan and Wiccan holiday of Ostara, known also for the goddess of spring by the same name. Ostara, or Eostre, is the ancient goddess of spring and dawn who presides over fertility, conception and pollination. Symbols of eggs and rabbits represent the fertility of springtime, and in centuries past, these symbols were often used in fertility rituals. The next full moon, also called Ostara, is known as a time of increased births.

As the trees begin to bud and new plants emerge, modern Pagans and Wiccans fast from winter’s heavy foods and partake in the fresh vegetables and herbs of springtime. (Learn more from Wicca.com.) Traditional foods for this time are leafy green vegetables, dairy foods, nuts and sprouts; favored activities include planting a garden and taking a walk in nature.

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Categories: Baha'iFaiths of IndiaHinduInterfaithInternational ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Intercalary Days & Nineteen-Day Fast: Baha’is mark holy period before New Year

Shades of purple, pink and blue in calm water and rocks at sunset with sky

Beginning at sunset, and for three days, Baha’is will observe the joyous Ayyam-i-Ha; following will be the Nineteen-Day Fast, which ends the day before New Year. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

  • SUNSET WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 25: Baha’is begin a period of three special days to correct their annual calendar.
  • SUNSET SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28: Baha’is begin the 19-day month of Ala, which is a special fasting month in preparation for the Baha’i New year.

AYYAM-I-HA or DAYS OF HA

Sacred days “outside of time” begin for members of the Baha’i faith, as the Festival of Ayyam-i-Ha, or Intercalary Days, commences. Until sunset on February 28, Baha’is mark a break in their 19-month calendar: the “extra days” are used to bring awareness to God’s oneness, along with a focus on charity and unity.

Ayyam-i-Ha—literally, the Days of Ha—plays on a double meaning of “Ha”: Ha, the first letter of an Arabic pronoun commonly used to refer to God, is used as a symbol of the essence of God in Baha’i writings; the Arabic abjad system designates the letter Ha as having a numerical value of five, which has always been the maximum number of days allowed for the period of Ayyam-i-Ha. (Wikipedia has details.)

Baha’u’llah designated that Ayyam-i-Ha should be filled with “good cheer” and “joy and exultation”—for Baha’is, their kindred and recipients of the Baha’is’ charity.

Important update! As of March 20, 2015, the Baha’i calendar will reflect changes made by the Universal House of Justice. Starting in 2015, Naw-Ruz (New Year) will fall on the Vernal Equinox, as opposed to being fixed on the Gregorian March 21.

The Nineteen-Day Fast takes place during the entire final month of the Baha’i calendar, known as the month of Ala. Intercalary Days account for the days “in between” the 18th month and Ala. This year, because Vernal Equinox falls on March 20, Intercalary Days will last an unprecedented three days.

When the Bab began creating a calendar for the new Babi religion in the 1840s, intercalation—which is not practiced in Islam—was implemented to differentiate it from the existing Islamic calendar. When the Bab did not specify where the Intercalary Days should be inserted, Baha’u’llah—the one foretold of by the Bab—designated that they should be placed before the fasting month of Ala. (Learn more from BahaiTeachings.org.) Today, Baha’is still observe the Nineteen-Day Fast throughout the entire month of Ala. A New Year begins the day after Ala ends.

NINETEEN-DAY FAST

SUNSET SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28: With the festive days of Ayyim-i-Ha behind, Baha’is enter the final month of the calendar year with the Nineteen-Day Fast. For the entire final month of the Baha’i calendar year—Ala, which lasts 19 days—Baha’is observe a sunrise-sunset fast. Many Baha’is regard the Nineteen-Day Fast as one of the greatest obligations of their faith. (Learn more from Planet Baha’i.) Instituted by the Bab and revised by Baha’u’llah, the Nineteen-Day Fast is intended to bring a person closer to God. According to the Bab, the true purpose of the fast is to abstain from everything except divine love. Fasting guidelines, exemptions and more are in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’u’llah’s book of laws.

IN THE NEWS: AUSTRALIAN SINGER RELEASES BAHA’I SOUL BALLADS

A young singer whose online demos nabbed the interest of a Grammy-winning producer has created an album of “Neo-soul” beats, as she joins an emerging wave of Baha’i artists on the international music scene. (Read more at ABC.net.) Shameem, a native of Australia, recently released The Second City, so named for one of Baha’u’llah’s works, The Seven Valleys. Shameem’s songs use vivid imagery of concepts such as the Valley of Love, and her 2015 Australian tour will feature songs from the new album.

Interested in Shameem’s music? Check out a YouTube video of one of her songs, Under One Sun.

 

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