Intercalary Days and the Nineteen-Day Fast: Baha’is celebrate unity, fast

White walkway, open-air, with poles and blue shutters overlooking gardens below

A walkway and gardens at the Mansion of Bahji, now a shrine in the Baha’i faith and located in Israel. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

  • SUNSET MONDAY, FEBRUARY 25: Baha’is begin a period of special, “outside of time” days to correct their annual calendar.
  • SUNSET FRIDAY, MARCH 1: Baha’is begin the 19-day month of Ala, which is a 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 for recipients of the Baha’is’ charity.

Important update! As of March 20, 2015, the Baha’i calendar has reflected changes made by the Universal House of Justice: Naw-Ruz (New Year) now falls on the Vernal Equinox, as opposed to being fixed on the Gregorian March 21.

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.

THE NINETEEN-DAY FAST

 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-to-sunset fast. Many Baha’is regard the Nineteen-Day Fast as one of the greatest obligations of their faith.

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.

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Ninth and Twelfth Days of Ridvan: Baha’is celebrate ‘Most Great Festival’

Inside a white temple with red chairs

Inside a Baha’i temple in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Alex Proimos, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDOWN SATURDAY, APRIL 28 and SUNDOWN MONDAY, MAY 1: The most holy Baha’i festival worldwide is the 12-day period known as Ridvan, and on April 29 and May 2 this year (beginning at sundown April 28 and sundown May 1), Baha’is observe the Ninth and Twelfth Days of 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 ninth and 12th days (along with the first) are occasions for work and school to be suspended.

BAHA’U’LLAH AND THE PATH TO RIDVAN

The famous garden in Baghdad as it looked in 1925.

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. The Babi community grew, as did Baha’u’llah’s popularity among Babi followers, and the government exiled Baha’u’llah from Baghdad to Constantinople. 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.

IN THE GARDEN

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.

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’: 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—were elected on the first day of Ridvan (this year, the evening of Friday, April 20).

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Nineteen-day Fast: Bahai’s prepare for the new year during holy month of Ala

White intricate designs in temple

A portion of the Baha’i temple in Wilmette, Ill. Photo courtesy of pxhere

SUNSET THURSDAY, MARCH 1: Followers of the Baha’i faith have just celebrated the joyous Ayyam-i-Ha, a special period that aligns their annual calendar, and today begins the Nineteen-day Fast: a fast in preparation for the Baha’i New Year. As each month in the Baha’i calendar contains 19 days, today begins the month of Ala, which immediately precedes the start of spring and the start of the Baha’i calendar year.

AYYAM-I-HA: Sacred days “outside of time” were observed by members of the Baha’i faith as the Festival of Ayyam-i-Ha, or Intercalary Days. These “extra days” are used to bring awareness to God’s oneness, along with a focus on charity and unity.

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. 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.

Note: As of March 20, 2015, the Baha’i Universal House of Justice declared that Naw-Ruz (New Year) falls on the Vernal Equinox, as opposed to being fixed on the Gregorian March 21.

INTERCALATION 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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Birth of Baha’u’llah and the Bab: Baha’is celebrate a bicentenary

Gardens and white, domed building with blue water beyond

Baha’i gardens in Haifa, Israel. Photo courtesy of iha.com

SUNSET FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20 and SUNSET SATURDAY, OCTOBER 21: Five million Baha’is worldwide will celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the “Twin Holy Birthdays” this year, as adherents of the faith rejoice in the birth anniversaries of the two figures most central to their faith: Baha’u’llah and the Bab.

Parties commence worldwide, as Baha’is first celebrate the birth of Baha’u’llah—the “Promised One”—and the Bab—the forerunner of their faith, who is known as “the Gate.” (Note: The Bab’s official bicentennial won’t occur for another two years, in 2019, but this year is the bicentennial of Baha’is most central figure—Baha’u’llah—and the Bab is being honored alongside him, this year.)

‘TWIN HOLY DAYS’: CELEBRATING TOGETHER

In questions submitted to Baha’u’llah after he wrote the “Kitab-i-Aqdas,” Baha’u’llah described his own birthday and the birthday of the Bab as “twin birthdays” that are “one” in the “sight of God.” Though the birthdays had been celebrated according to the solar calendar each year in most of the world—and Baha’u’llah’s birthday fixed on November 12—that changed in 2015. The Universal House of Justice—the governing body of the Baha’i faith—announced that from March 20, 2015 onward, the “twin birthdays” would be observed on the first and second days following the eighth new moon after Naw-Ruz, and the observation date of the Birth of Baha’u’llah would change annually. These “Twin Birthdays” are now celebrated by Baha’is as one annual festival, wherein the closely interwoven lives of these two figures are commemorated together.

Domed building lit at dusk, on hillside

The acclaimed and award-winning Baha’i temple recently built in Santiago, Chile. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Santiago, Chile: One of the most recently built (and award-winning) Baha’i houses of worship was constructed in Santiago, Chile, and received more than 25,000 visitors in just its first few weeks open. In an open-air style of building with a nine-sided dome and nine entrances to symbolically welcome people from all directions of the earth, this YouTube video gives a small tour of the new temple. CNN covered the story.

THE BAB AND BAHA’U’LLAH: TWO LIVES, ONE MISSION

Born on October 20, 1819, the Bab would eventually declare his mission as preparing people of the world for the Promised One (Baha’u’llah). The Bab was born Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, in Persia, and at the age of 24, Siyyid announced the coming Messenger of God—the Promised One awaited for by multiple world religions. Siyyid changed his name to “the Bab” (meaning “the Gate”) and made his life a mission for the Promised One.

Six years following his first prophesy, the Bab was executed. The Shrine of the Bab now stands in Haifa, Israel, and attracts throngs of Baha’is on the birth anniversary of the Bab. Baha’u’llah described the Bab this way: “the Herald of His Name and the Harbinger of His Great Revelation, which has caused … the splendor of His light to shine forth above the horizon of the world.”

Mirza Husayn Ali (who would become Baha’u’llah) was born November 12, 1817, in Tehran, Persia (now Iran). The son of a wealthy government minister, Baha’u’llah was born into wealth and prestige. His family’s lineage could be traced to the ruling dynasties of Persia’s past, and at the time of his birth, Mirza Husayn Ali’s family still exercised influence over the court of the Shah.

From a young age, Mirza Husayn Ali was rumored to be “different” than his peers. The child was wise beyond his years, showed immense compassion for the poor and displayed an unusually alert mind. In adulthood, he showed support for the Bab and the emerging Babi religion; in 1863, Mirza Husayn announced himself as the One promised by the Bab, and became known as Baha’u’llah. As the years passed, Baha’u’llah was subject to exile, violence and imprisonment.

IN THE NEWS: A BICENTENNIAL YEAR

This year, Baha’is celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, in honor of these significant anniversaries, the Universal House of Justice has asked every Baha’i community around the world to arrange a celebration that expresses a shared experience and global solidarity.

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Ridvan: Baha’is wrap up the ‘Most Great Festival’ on sacred 12th day

Red chip path leading down tree-lined garden, blue bench and table with food to the sides of path

The Ridvan Garden. Photo by Daniela Kantorova, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET , MONDAY, MAY 1: The most holy Baha’i festival worldwide is the 12-day period known as Ridvan, and today, that festival wraps up with a day reserved for the recollection of a pivotal day: the day Baha’u’llah’s and his family departed the garden for Constantinople. For many Baha’is, work and school are suspended all day.

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.

THE BAB, BAHA’U’LLAH & THE NAJIBIYYIH GARDEN

The festival of Ridvan recalls a sacred period when Baha’u’llah, the Promised One for Baha’is, entered and temporarily took up residence in the Najibiyyih Garden, in 1863.

The story of Ridvan, however, actually begins years before Baha’u’llah revealed his identity and took up temporary residence in 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. 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.

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. For 11 days, Baha’u’llah stayed in the Najibiyyih Garden. On the 12th day, the entire group departed for Constantinople.

THE ‘MOST GREAT FESTIVAL’

Formerly known as the Najibiyyih Garden, the site was renamed by Baha’u’llah as “Ridvan,” meaning “paradise.” During the 12 days that he was in the garden, Baha’u’llah was hardly alone—visitors, family and friends filled the garden to pay tribute and spend time with Baha’u’llah. (Photos of the garden are at Bahaullah.org.)

 

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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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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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