Annette Prosterman in a sociological study published in the Journal for Bahá'í Studies entitled "The Potential of the Bahá'í Faith to Grow in Scope and Influence" concludes by saying that whether the Bahá'í Faith,
will actually accomplish further growth and development depends, to a large degree, on the continued response of its adherents and institutions to the guidance regarding the teachings contained in the Bahá'í writings. (Prosterman, Potential, 31)
While this conclusion is beyond dispute I do think that it would be an oversimplification to assume that growth comes directly and exclusively from a response to scripture. Religious growth like all organic processes takes place in space and time. Real work and money are required to build buildings and time must be spent to synchronize one's life to a religious calendar. Understanding scripture is essential to this but it does not occur in a vacuum. An example is the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár, called the "silent teacher" because it transmits an influence on its own which both leads outsiders into the Faith and inspires and reinvigorates the faith of believers. What applies in space can be even more true in the time dimension, that is, the Badí' calendar. A community that succeeds in involving new adherents in feasts and festivals is much more likely to retain them than one that merely disseminates information, even if it is knowledge derived from scripture.
The introduction to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Traveller's Narrative credits the Báb, the "primal point in a new creation" with bringing humanity into a "new division of time in a calendar of nineteen months." (Principles, 53-4) In this essay I would like to look at this Badí' calendar in relation to its predecessors and attempt to assess the quality and extent of this novelty. I will focus on the distinctive features of one of its festivals in particular, that called 'Ayyam-i-Há.
Media theorists from Harold Innes to Marshal McLuhan have pointed out that our communication technologies profoundly and subtly condition how we think, articulate and what we remember of the past. In no case is this truer than with the tools that we use to keep track of time. In fact timekeeping technologies do more than mold thought, speech and history, they determine the present and plan the future. Calendars quite literally are the tools by which we write our future.
From the beginning of civilisation clocks and calendars were the prime enabling technology for innovation. The agricultural revolution began when calendars were devised that could chart the seasons with sufficient accuracy to determine the optimum planting time for each crop. Even today time technology is at the cutting edge of the computer and Internet revolution. Every microchip has at its heart a chronometer, which regulates and coordinates its every computation. Software is so dependent upon calendars that the so-called "Y2K bug" threatened disasters untold; billions of dollars were spent to make a minor calendrical adjustment.
Even today fully understanding how the calendar works is a surprisingly difficult challenge. One must imagine the spin and skew of our planet's orbit and the resulting apparent motion of the stars, the unrelated but somehow regular wanderings of the planets, the shifting dawning-points of the sun, the phases of the moon, the totally unrelated cycle of seven days in a week, plus factor in the still often unpredictable vagaries of seasons and weather. That this was accomplished through most of history without precision instruments and high technology is astonishing.
Not surprisingly, calendrical progress through the ages was slow and halting. Even when a few brilliant individuals mastered the recondite skills needed to improve a calendrical or timekeeping system there remained all the problems of standardization, both persuading other specialists and gaining the compliance of the mass of lay persons. What made agreement even more difficult is the fact that even the best observations made at one point on the planet will vary from those made only a few miles north or south. As a result each of the ancient Hellenic city-states for example maintained its own calendar similar to but confusingly incompatible with its neighbors.
Like the language we speak, the calendar we go by is more useful the more universally it is accepted and applied. Thus in spite of the fact that maintaining a calendar is essentially a scientific problem requiring skills which we now associate with the astronomer and mathematician in practice the responsibility devolved upon the priest, rabbi, shaman or other religious leader. Secular attempts to establish new calendars failed. The "metric" French Revolutionary calendar for example had fallen completely out of use before fifteen years had passed. Every popular and long lasting calendar had deep roots in cultural and religious traditions.
Conversely, calendars are an essential part of religion. Having a set of calendrical commemorations is in large part what distinguishes a religion from a mere set of opinions or a philosophy. This fact is often forgotten. When most people look at the history of religion they think of the learned religious leaders primarily as the guardians and interpreters of scripture. But additionally they had the important job of maintaining a calendar that would meet both practical (usually a solar calendar) and spiritual (usually lunar) needs of their flocks.
Of all priesthoods in history the Aztecs were perhaps the most meticulous in this respect. They believed (analogous to the doomsayers of the Y2K bug) that the universe would halt if they did not calculate the time and date absolutely accurately. They maintained two entirely separate calendars for practical and for spiritual purposes. In what is surely one of the greatest accomplishments of the pre-modern human mind the Aztec priests calculated the length of the year to within two one hundredths of a second, a calculation only matched in modern times. (Maestro, Story of Clocks and Calendars, 20) Similarly the faith of the Zoroastrians depended closely upon their calendar; in an early example of "writing the future" they believed that a written prayer would be invalid unless a careful record of the correct day and month at which the prayer was offered accompanied it. Long before computers automated the pen with "word processors" calendars were carefully guarded "time processors" guiding and organizing religious expression.
So the operative word for religious calendars then is not cold mathematical reckoning of time and seasons but reckoning in the original Old English sense of the verb "to reck," to care about something. The poet G. M. Hopkins for example said that humans "reck not His rod," they care not about divine law. Religion is all about caring; it is the forge of values and its hammer is the festivals and occasions of remembrance which continually reorient believers to Truth and Eternity. In the same way that religious architecture influences perception of holy space and the vastness of creation a religious calendar tests and sharpens how adherents reck the age in which they live.
When what are now the largest religions were young they faced the double challenge of altering converts' most cherished beliefs and then persuading them to cast aside time honored holidays and adopt a whole new set of gathering times. Evidently in order make this transition easier these leaders were surprisingly conservative in their choice of a calendar. In every case they retained with few changes whatever calendar was already in common use, even when its names and ideas glaringly contradicted their deepest convictions.
In Judaism for instance the month names are recognizably similar to those of their Babylonian captors; Christians took on the new epoch of Christ's birth but accepted the entire Roman calendar as reformed by Julius Caesar. Most countries took on either Roman or Norse gods for the names of weekdays. Some small but important improvements were made in the Gregorian Calendar which was not put forward until a decade before the sailing of Columbus.
The Muslim Hijri calendar also left the preexisting pagan Arabs' calendar largely untouched. The only major change was the elimination of the practice of intercalation, done to keep the twelve lunar months closer to the solar season. This was the result of the following condemnation in the Qu'ran,
The postponement of sacred months is a grossly impious practice, in which the unbelievers are misguided. They allow it one year and forbid it in the next, so that they may make up for the months which Allah has sanctified, thus making lawful what Allah has forbidden. Their foul acts seem fair to them: Allah does not guide the unbelievers. (Koran 9:37, tr. N. J. Dawood)
After that the very symbol of Islam was its lunar calendar in the form of a crescent moon. Its festivals and events followed the Hijri calendar's entirely lunar orientation, advancing slowly through the seasons of the solar year. The fasting month of Ramadan, for instance, can take place in winter or summer.
The Badí' Calendar
His beginning hath had no beginning other than His Own firstness and His end knoweth no end save His Own lastness. (Báb, Selections, 156-157)
In a characteristically revolutionary act the calendar called Badí' which the Báb instituted reinstates intercalation and re-anchors itself to a solar orientation. This must have seemed a shocking break with the lunar grounding not only of Islam but also of most other religious calendars.
Today we are used to an intercalary day interposed regularly at the end of February every fourth year but in the past an intercalary day or month was a traumatic event. For example when the Julian reforms were instituted it was known as the "year of confusion." Intercalation has the weird ability to seemingly add or take away whole days or months of our life. It arbitrarily pulls or pushes future events back and forth for reasons that seemed whimsical at best, sinister at worst. It took little for ignorant peasants to imagine them as precursors of doom, times when prodigies occur and strange magic rules the land. Priest-astronomers had to do a great deal of what is now called spin doctoring to fight the natural tendency to see the time as ill omened and unlucky.
One remnant of calendar propaganda that survives today is April Fools Day, which was originally an attempt to mock those who forgot that New Year's Day had been pushed forward from April to January in yet another attempt to keep the calendar in sync with the seasons. The peasants reciprocated such mocking with ill feeling and anti-intellectualism. This tension between lay and learned was such that only those intellectuals most closely allied with the people's deepest religious beliefs, ecclesiastics whose learning was deemed holy and untouchable, could hope to persuade the masses in compliance.
When the Qu'ran so roundly condemned intercalary interpositions God was in effect siding with the conservatives who look askance at changes and intercalations. This conservatism was characteristic of religion in general and calendars in particular until the coming of the Báb. For example the word in Arabic for heresy is Bid'a, or innovation. This is in contrast to Badí', which means something new ex nihilo, something that comes into being where there was nothing before. So in starting a Badí' solar calendar based on the formerly forbidden Intercalary Days the Báb in effect was siding with new over old, learned over lay and perhaps even making room for the principle of scientific religion which 'Abdu'l-Bahá later called "harmony between science and religion."
Because of brutal suppression and persecution, plus the fact that the Báb's laws were so closely followed by the Bahá'í revelation, the Báb's laws and calendar were never put into practice. In any case the Badí' calendar could not have been implemented because He did not specify where the Intercalary Days should go. This was not done until Bahá'u'lláh's laws were ordained in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. This book confirmed the number of months as nineteen (Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas 64) and gave the Intercalation a name, the "Days of H" or 'Ayyám-i-Há, and a place just before the fasting month of 'Alá (Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas 25).
Poet and historian Nabíl-i-'Azam took upon himself the task of setting up the Badí' calendar into its present form as a practical tool for organizing devotional life. He confirmed, for example, with Bahá'u'lláh that the Badí' epoch began not with His Declaration in 1863 but with that of the Báb in 1844. His inquiries about the calendar can be found in the second volume of Dawnbreakers summarized in the Bahá'í World volumes. As far as I know this is virtually the only original source on the Badí' Calendar available in English.
The effect of the adjustments to Badí' made in the time of Bahá'u'lláh was to reduce any potential tension between learned and lay. Both are placated and given a service. Decision-making and administration of the calendar are no longer handled by the learned but are placed in the hands of the rulers, the Bahá'í administration led by the Universal House of Justice. The learned still promote the calendar but are relieved of running it day to day. The laity is provided a built-in forum for democratic expression at the consultative section of the Feast, an addition which admittedly did not come about until the time of the Guardian. The Nineteen Day Feast is an excellent example of the moderating emphasis of the Badí' calendar.
The word calendar comes from a word for "announcement." Traditionally in Christianity and its predecessor religions Calends was when the laity gathered at the first of the solar month to hear the proclamations as to when the moveable feasts, that is lunar holidays, of the coming month were to take place. The Badí' Feast takes place, like Calends, on the first day of the month and it similarly handles practical matters during the administrative section. Though it does have a sacred role it does not include obligatory congregational prayers in the way of the Muslim Jum'ah.
Here Badí' is distinguished as well from the Zoroastrians who gather on the jashan or symmetrical day when the number of the month coincided with the number of the day. (Boyce, Zoroastrians, 70-4) This would be as if Bahá'ís celebrated the Feast of Jalal on the day of Jalál (2 Jalál), the Feast of Jamal on the day of Jamál (3 Jamál) and so forth. So in some important respects the Badí' Calendar seems to have been inspired by the Zoroastrian. But it is even more symmetrical (19 months and days with the same names, instead of the first 12 of 30 days having the same names as the 12 months) and does not place any significance upon or gather the community together on its symmetrical days.
However the Badí' calendar does resemble the Zoroastrian in that its nineteen are named each for an attribute of God similar to how the latter names its first twelve days of the month and all its twelve months after a deity in its pantheon. This built-in educative function of the calendar is a strong commonality and undoubtedly increased the appeal of the Bábí Faith to the early Zoroastrian community in Persia. Though this can hardly explain why so many who were already persecuted by the Shiites so often willingly paid the ultimate price for converting to the newer Iranian religions (Boyce, Zoroastrians 212).
There are now three Zoroastrian calendars but the earliest seems to have started out solar with five intercalary days. Later became an annus vagus and lost its synchronization with the solar year but retained the five intercalary days (Oxford, Year 749). By doing so they ceased to be intercalary days and became what the Oxford Companion to the Year terms epagomenal days, days added to make the number of a calendar's days equal the number of days in a year. According to this terminology only one of the five days of Ayyám-i-Há, the leap day that comes once in four years, is a true intercalary day. The other four days are strictly speaking epagomenal days. (cf. Glossary: Intercalary and Epagomenal days, Oxford Companion, 880-1) The five epagomenal days at the end of the Zoroastrian year are called Gatha days and are dedicated to the five divisions of the Gáthás or liturgical hymns. (Bowker, Dictionary of World Religions, 344) Gatha days are the closest predecessor to 'Ayyám-i-Há.
It is possible that the present totally solar calendar will not always be such a distinctive feature. While today the Bahá'í World follows the solar orientation the Feast may in future resemble Calends in one more respect. The Badí' calendar could one day include at least one lunar celebration or "movable feast." A future ruling of the Universal House of Justice will decide whether the entire Bahá'í world will follow the practice in Iran and the World Centre of celebrating the "twin" birthdays of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh in the way they were during their lives. Following the lunar reckoning these two holy days take place on subsequent days. We shall see that a great deal of the symbolic and historical significance would be retained if these holy birthdays are celebrated in a single forty-eight hour period.
I have mentioned that the Badí' Calendar was first instituted in the writings of the Báb. I am informed that the details are given in an untranslated section of His Persian Bayán (Váhid 5, Ch. 3). However Nabíl in adapting the calendar for implementation claimed to be inspired chiefly by the Kitáb-i-Asmá' or Book of Names, (Bahá'í World, vol. XIII, 750), perhaps because of its structure and emphasis on the names of God.
The Kitáb-i-Asmá' was revealed at Chihriq and consists of three hundred and sixty one chapters divided into nineteen Units or Váhids with nineteen chapters each. This system of Váhids of nineteen followed upon the number of the Báb's eighteen disciples (He Himself was the nineteenth) called collectively the "Letters of the Living" and foreshadowed the system of nineteen days, months, years and cycles of years in the Badí' Calendar. The Hebrew calendar synchronized its lunar and solar years with a cycle of nineteen years combining twelve common and seven leap years (Westrheim, Calendars of the World, 53). However this along with an even more tenuous similarity to the Chinese use of a nineteen-year cycle seems to be only an incidental precedent.
Overall the Kitáb-i-Asmá' lays great emphasis upon the "One Whom God Shall Make Manifest" and the importance of acting ethically and avoiding conflict in order that his adherents might make it through the "night" between His own Revelation and the one soon to come. His purpose of helping his followers through the night after the Báb's martyrdom to its imminent consummation in the Day of Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest is reflected in the very name of the calendar, Badí' or beginning. Badí' seems to have been chosen in order to demonstrate that the Báb's mission begins what that of Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest would end, that the two revelations are an integral whole. So having the twin holy birthdays of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh separated by only one short night in the lunar reckoning would be highly evocative of the central theme of the Báb's Mission and of the Kitáb-i-Asmá in particular.
The Kitáb-i-Asmá begins by identifying the Golden Rule with what was to become the central and distinctive ethical teaching of Bahá'u'lláh. "We have created you from one tree and have caused you to be as the leaves and fruit of the same tree that haply ye may become a source of comfort to one another. (Báb, Selections, 129) Believers, the Báb says, should be "one indivisible people" when they "return" to the One to come. It is useless, he seems to be saying, to become attached to the spectacular childhood of Bábism because it was meant only as a start, a prologue, a wonderful initiation into something greater to come.
Did ye possess, ere the point of the Bayan had called you into existence, any trace of existence, how much less a writ or authority? Disregard then your beginnings, perchance ye may be saved on the day of your return. (Báb, Selections, 148)
The Báb's self-description as the "primal point" is that of the dot made by the tip of a pen, the point or Nuqtá, which draws out all other letters. A point begins and ends all letters and in the Arabic alphabet it also determines the vowels. The image is of the Manifestation as the pen whose writing not only writes the future but draws out and delimits being and the universe. Again, the Báb's overweening purpose was to enable his letters to bear the "fruits of their night" (Báb, Selections, n., 129) through to the harvest Day that follows.
Therefore it behooveth you to return unto God even as ye were brought forth into existence, and to utter not such words as why or nay, if ye wish your creation to yield fruit at the time of your return. For none of you who have been born in the Bayan shall gain the fruit of your beginning unless ye return unto Him Whom God shall make manifest. He it is Who caused your beginning to proceed from God, and your return to be unto Him, did ye but know. (Báb, Selections, 148)
It would not have been lost on His Arabic readers that the beginning mentioned here constitutes the first part of the common formula that God is the Beginning and the End. This harks back to Revelation 1:8, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty." The Qu'ran often uses this, as does 'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, who wrote:
For He is counter to (khiláf) His creation, and there is nothing like Him among creatures. Now a thing is only compared with its like ('adíl). As for what has no like, how should it be compared with what is other than its like (mithál)? And He is the Beginning (al-badí') before whom was naught, and the Last (al-ákhir) after whom will be naught." (Chittick, Shiite Anthology, 33)
So the term Badí' identifies the Báb's brief mission as an utterly new beginning which in 1844, year One BE, broke with the past Prophetic Cycle of Muhammad, the seal or last of the prophets, and began the new epoch of fulfillment now called the Bahá'í Era.
In this vein the Kitáb-i-Asmá' identifies the Qu'ran as a tree in religion's orchard whose trustees refuse to hand it over to God, the true owner. (Báb, Selections, 135) This reference to the parable of the Vineyard identifies the kingdom of the One Whom God Shall Make Manifest with that foretold by Christ. As it turned out this ultimate repossession of God's orchard took place in 1863, one Váhid of nineteen years after the Báb's own declaration. The declaration of Bahá'u'lláh in the garden He called Ridvan ended the first and most crucial Váhid of the Badí' Calendar. This declaration later went out publicly in the proclamation of Bahá'u'lláh to the kings and leaders of the World.
These were all delivered by post except one, that intended for Násiri'd-Dín Shah. This letter addresses the Shah as "King of the Age" (Bahá'u'lláh, Proclamation, 59) and orders him to "look upon this Youth, O King, with the eyes of justice" and judge "between Us and those that have wronged us," (Bahá'u'lláh, Proclamation, 58) and to investigate the truth and background of Bahá'u'lláh independent of "those that surround thee." (Bahá'u'lláh, Proclamation, 58) He hints at the wonders covered up by His oppressors.
But for the repudiation of the foolish and the connivance of the divines, I would have uttered a discourse that would have thrilled and carried away the hearts unto a realm from the murmur of whose winds can be heard: `No God is there but Thee.' (Bahá'u'lláh, Proclamation, 59)
He concludes with a prayer that Bahá'u'lláh's suffering and imprisonment would release the necks of men from chains and fetters and cause them to turn to God with "sincere faces." (Bahá'u'lláh, Proclamation, 60)
This missive was to carry the Báb's beginning full circle back to the heart of darkness, from the Merciful back to the unrestrained tyrant whose repression of the Bábís and Bahá'ís showed a heart with all that's worst of apathy and hatred. The Shah in 1869 still imagined that his pogroms had extirpated the new religion. He would surely kill any of them who dared approach him. Many worthies, saints and scholars all, offered to take on this suicide delivery mission but all were refused. If the letter were to be delivered someone extraordinary, a living sacrifice would have to arise.
The idea of sacrifice on a schedule is reminiscent of the Aztecs who believed that when night comes and the world is plunged in darkness there is real danger that the sun will never rise again in the morning. To propitiate the sun a bloody, perverse superstition required that a freshly extracted, still beating heart be raised to it. In this case the bloodthirsty perversity was shown by those professed representatives of God, the Shah and his cruel Mujtáhids in Tihran. But nonetheless God really did seem to require a certain amount of blood sacrifice for the inauguration of His kingdom and era. For example Bahá'u'lláh wrote in the Kitáb-i-Badí,
Behold ... how immediately upon the completion of the ninth year of this wondrous, this most holy and merciful Dispensation, the requisite number of pure, of wholly consecrated and sanctified souls had been most secretly consummated. (Shoghi Effendi, World Order, 113-4)
After a long delay a seventeen year-old youth stepped forward, Aqa Buzurg of Khorásán. His father had been martyred for being a Babí'. Left without a father Aqa Buzurg had grown up a reprobate. Brought to faith by Nabíl himself he was renamed by Bahá'u'lláh "Badí." Badí' was transformed by the spirit to the epitome of the novelty packed into this many nuanced word "Badi". He personified the transforming station and mystical innovation of the true, determined believer.
Badí' carried the message to the Shah's summer place of recreation in Mázindarán and sat fasting and praying for three days. Curious, the Shah had Badí' arrested and brought before him. Astonished at finding that he was a Bábí the Shah ordered Badí' tortured and the materials he carried assessed and answered by the clergy. They overstepped their orders in having Badí' killed and under-stepped them with the letter by saying simply that it was unworthy of the kings attention. The Shah protested mildly and went on to other things. Before killing him with a rifle butt his torturers took Badí's picture to show what happens to the defiant. 'Abdu'l-Bahá later distributed the picture with this note:
We have also sent unto thee a photograph of His Holiness the glorious Badí' whom thy Lord did send to His Highness Nassir-ed'Din-Shah with a manifest epistle by which He perfected the proof and evidence to the people of Persia. ('Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets, 718)
To look into the eyes of Badí' in this photograph is to be shaken to the core of one's being. He shows a subdued strength that is frightening, like a lion that if he chose could have swallowed his captors in one bite.
The spirit of Badí' carrying the message full circle did not end with the Shah's messenger murder. Through the Bahá'í Era the same strengthening impulse drove ordinary people to sacrifice comfortable lifestyles to help spread the Bahá'í Administrative Order to the Four Corners of the earth. The "Who is Writing the Future?" document does not envision the struggle between spirit and an even broader oppression by the "detritus" of society wielding damaging materialistic conceptions as ended. The "human race is not a blank tablet upon which privileged arbiters of human affairs can freely inscribe their own wishes. The springs of the spirit rise up where they will " (BIC, Future, 14-15)
In view of the importance of Badi' of Khorásán's example of iron courage little wonder that Bahá'u'lláh chose to call his apologia the Kitáb-i-Badí' (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, 171], for the word Badí' carries a second meaning which the Guardian translated by "wonderful." (Glossary, Bahá'í World, Vol. XVII, 898) Martin Lings translates al-Badí' as "the Marvellous" and "Originator," and points to this term as the foundation of the concept of originality at the heart of Sufism, the mystical movement within Islam. (Lings, What is Sufism? 15) If Badí' is the basis of mysticism it is also the sense of newness and wonder that welcomes the birth of a newborn baby, as well as that new being's audacity in setting out in life. Into the young person who modeled this name Bahá'u'lláh Himself affirmed that "the spirit of might and power had been breathed." (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, 198)
So to reck wonder and marvels is at the heart of what the Badí' system sets out to instill. For myself and perhaps other proselytes the first great thrill of entering the Bahá'í fellowship was to realize that I could go to the ends of the earth and find common ground with other believers of any and all types and backgrounds. No headbutting over fundamentals, we could rapidly get down to what matters most. But the second wonder for me was the realization that the events of the Badí' calendar, the birth, declarations and passing of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh and the community gatherings of the Feast, all take place in a similar way on the same day all over the planet. Our consonance of thought is harmonized by a universal rhythm of the times, seasons and events of our spiritual lives.
Now that Bahá'í is recognized as the second most widespread religion on earth the Badí' calendar has quietly become one of the world's more widely used time reckoning systems. So quietly did this happen that in fact many if not most Bahá'ís are not aware that the name of our calendar is "Badí'" and not simply the "Bahá'í Calendar." Nonetheless while constructing buildings for holy space is rare at this early stage of Bahá'í development holy time is universally upraised. Every time a new Spiritual Assembly is formed in a community the Nineteen Day Feast can officially be held on the first of the Badí' month. This inaugurates the Badí' calendar in that community.
Thus does the melody of a thousand diverse cultures and traditions synchronize to a single beat. This surely is a wonder! As it becomes recognized and especially when the World Wide Web amplifies the effect and plugs meetings into the world, the Badí' system will surely become a tremendous inspirational power in the world. Its very structure seems designed to work the inspiration of a mystical perception of the universe.
As far as I have been able to determine, Badí' is the only calendar with purely theonomous and theophoric naming conventions for its days, weeks, months and years. That is, each unit of the calendar, the day of the week, the day of the month, the month and the year has a name derived from a particular virtue of God. This is in contrast to most calendars whose names almost invariably reflect an aspect of this world, a stage of its seasonal development, or even animals as in the Aztec and Chinese calendars.
By building upon the foundation of God's qualities the Badí' system creates what in the terminology of economics is called demand or a growth market for virtue. Specifically Badí' features nineteen monthly qualities plus four different ones in the seven day Badí' week (Grace, Justice, Majesty and Independence) as well as eighteen unduplicated virtues in the nineteen year Váhid cycle, including the sixteenth year which has the same name, Badí' or Beginning, as the overall calendar. Through these forty-one separate attributes the Eternal Oneness resonates from God's Beginning (Badí') and His End to our own beginnings and ends, the rituals, events and transformations of our lives.
Interestingly, Badí' seems to resonate on a daily level as well. New believers often ask why Bahá'ís intone the Greatest Name as a sort of mantra ninety-five times a day. Why not ninety-six or forty five times? One possibility is that the number ninety-five was chosen to reflect the fact that the ninety fifth of the ninety nine Muslim attributes of God is al-Badí', God as beginning of all things. If so this daily meditation is another entry into the timescape of Badí'.
The Oxford Companion to the Year gives another translation of the word Badí': "unprecedented." The Badí' system is not entirely without precedent in some of the calendar's features. But as part of a single world-embracing administration it certainly has the potential to draw out unprecedented innovations from humanity. The spirit of Badí' comes of a renewed monotheism and must be able, as the name implies, to create new things where nothing existed before.
Just as an artist stands apart from his painting the Godhead is separate from and transcends His creation. God is independent from what He does and His detachment allows innovation, destruction and renewal, the ability to cast off even His own holy religion every several hundred years and proffer a new remedy to humanity.
In its heyday Judaism gained fame for its creative enlightenment throughout the ancient world by means of its invention of the seven-day week. God's Oneness was emphasized by the setting aside of a day of rest, the Sabbath, the only day given a name. The other six days only had numbers. Now the Badí' week has theophoric names for all its days, from Jalál to Istiqlál. But the need for separation remains.
In recognition of this need the Badí' calendar reserves a place outside its corpus of nineteen in nineteen virtues for the Godhead Itself. The festival of Ayyám-i-Há is therefore a central pillar of the calendar because its name "Ha" is a symbol of the essence of God (Bahá'u'lláh, Aqdas, 178). It commemorates the transcendence of the personality of God over the attributes that rule "inside" the calendar year. Thus Ayyám-i-Há is at the heart of the innovating, scientific religious stance which the overall Badí' calendar teaches and organizes.
A hint is to be found in this prayer, the only one I know of in the Bahá'í writings which expressly petitions novel breakthroughs. It is no coincidence that this unique request comes in the prayer revealed for Ayyám-i-Há.
I implore Thee, O Thou the King of kings and the Pitier of the downtrodden, to ordain for them the good of this world and of the world to come. Write down for them, moreover, what none of Thy creatures hath discovered, and number them with those who have circled round Thee, and who move about Thy throne in every world of Thy worlds. (Bahá'u'lláh, Prayers and Meditations, XLV, p. 66)
The overall Badí' calendar demonstrates that all knowledge, qualities and associations emanate from God. But God we can never know. Just as what we know of time and seasons is a direct result of the earth's orbit around the sun, all eternity results from Being orbiting the Godhead. Thus the Ayyám-i-Há prayer invokes the metaphor of an orbit when it asks God that we be numbered with "those who have circled round Thee, and who move about Thy throne in every world of Thy worlds."
Ostensibly we can know what Ayyám-i-Há is. It is a set of four epagomenal days with a fifth intercalary or leap day once in four years. It is a time outed, not named or numerated, emptied of association or connection with Badí's other temporal landmarks. In the words of Bahá'u'lláh, these days "have not been bounded by the limits of the year and its months." (Bahá'u'lláh, Aqdas, 25) Other holy times are within the calendar and tied to specific events in the life of God's Holy Representatives. But the outdays of Ayyám-i-Há are of and for God alone Who cannot be bounded. Here stands the king of kings, the boss's boss, the sun behind the spirit's corona, the Manifestation's light.
The way Bahá'ís are encouraged to celebrate God and His Oneness during Ayyám-i-Há is by ourselves showing forth God's love, fellowship and unity. We are to give and accept gifts and hospitality in the same spirit that God creates. God who loves us before we exist, who takes outsiders into his Being and ever gives forth grace without thought of reciprocity. Such effusiveness requires a new attitude to the deity. It is natural to relate to Ayyám-i-Há in terms of what we know already, that is of course as a sort of "Bahá'í Christmas" held two months late.
However insofar as Ayyám-i-Há has historical precedents they rest, as we have seen, in the "spirit of joyful worship" of the gahambars of Zoroastrianism, a religion where misery is actually a sin. (Bowker, Dictionary of World Religions 343) This festive style of holy celebration in Persia was in stark contrast to the lugubrious, mournful leanings of Shiite Islam. The Intercalary ordained by the Báb, we noted, broke with a strong condemnation in the Qu'ran and sided with the older, much reviled "idol worshipping" Iranian religion.
In a strange coincidence the other major two happy occasions of the Badí' calendar, the twin birthdays of Bahá'u'lláh and the Báb, happen to fall on the first and second of Muharram, at the height of the Shi'ih period of mourning for the martyred Imaam Husayn. "Bahá'ís were frequently accused of ridiculing or `scoffing' at Islam because of their joyful celebrations..." (Momen, Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, n. p. 266) How often did it happen that the joyful acts of worship of both Zoroastrians and Bahá'ís were also expressions of high courage in the knowledge of the price to be paid at the blood-stained hands of the persecuting Mullahs.
Insofar as Ayyám-i-Há is concerned the earlier Zoroastrian stance of joyful adoration certainly seems the most appropriate since in the presence of the Godhead, if such a thing could be conceived, any attitude but utter astonishment, total happiness and overabundant generosity would undoubtedly be incongruous to the point of sinfulness.
But also it is important to bear in mind the broader historical context of this new festival among religious calendars. There has always been tension between the serious ethical purpose of religion and the people's natural love of celebrating together. Fatuous worldlings are all for any chance for wine, sexuality and song, and there is a natural tendency to proliferate happy occasions and events. The prophet protests: "My soul despises your New Moons and your appointed festivals." (Isa. 1:14) In modern times this popular tendency is intensified as the people become a milking cow for commercial greed, particularly at Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day and Easter.
Thus when Ayyám-i-Há was set up as the central happy celebration of the Badí' calendar it became sanctioned by God, as another prophet said, "These are the appointed festivals of the Lord..." (Lev 23:4) But the choice of Intercalary is significant, a knife that cuts both ways. As mentioned before, intercalation tends to be regarded popularly with great suspicion and fear. The Báb's intention seems to be in consonance with the theme of testing in religion which Bahá'u'lláh set forth in His Kitáb-i-Iqan, testing that is as important to religious methodology as experimentation is to the scientific method. Presumably if the people pass this test the holy happiness of Ayyám-i-Há will inoculate them against crassness and corporate exploitation.
Bahá'u'lláh confirmed the name "Ayyám-i-Há" for the Báb's five days of intercalation in His book of laws, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Ha is the letter "H" in the Arabic alphabet and its significance had been greatly emphasized by the Báb. `H' is of course part of the greatest name of God, Bahá. It is also one of the disconnected letters which begin certain chapters of the Qu'ran and which 'Abdu'l-Bahá interpreted as mystic symbols of the Godhead.
The letter Ha occurs at the start of the following eight Suras, listed in chronological order of revelation along with the accompanying letter or letters: Ch. 46, Al-Ahqaf, Ha mim; Ch. 45, Kneeling, Ha mim; Ch. 44, Smoke, Ha mim; Ch. 43, Ornaments of Gold, Ha mim; Ch. 42, Counsel, Ha mim: ain sin qaf; Ch. 41, Revelations Well Expounded, Ha mim; Ch. 40, The Forgiving One, Ha mim; and lastly, Ch. 20 called Ta Ha with the eponymous letters ta and ha.
So by calling the epagomenals "H" Days Bahá'u'lláh was investing them with a more purely monotheistic religious significance than for Zoroastrians and was in effect confirming the Islamic roots of the new religion.
Another important theme to do with the name Ayyám-i-Há, "Days of `H', is the connection of "Ha" with the number five in the Abjad system of numerological mysticism. Five is the maximum number of epagomenal days that occur in a leap year.
Five is also the number traditionally symbolizing humanity. The five-pointed star is illustrative of our four limbs and head. When the asymmetrical point is depicted on the bottom it is regarded as satanic, feet pointing heavenwards. Man, created in God's image, must have the top point of the star as the head and seat of reason because reason rules the universe in the same way that the head controls the body. The Báb, confirmed by Shoghi Effendi, also considered this five pointed star to be the symbol of the Faith itself (Shoghi Effendi, Directives, 48). The Ringstone Symbol depicts two stars commonly thought to be for the twin Manifestations.
So the corollary of the top fifth point in a five-pointed star in the Badí' festival of Ayyám-i-Há is that weird fifth day, the only true intercalary day. This mysterious leap day Brigadoon like disappears for three years and returns only on the fourth. People born on that day can live twenty years and still have only five birthdays behind them. So the strangeness of the fifth is a reminder of the transcendence of God, that the highest spirit and reason do not rule exclusively here in this ephemeral world, that lower levels interfere most of the time. Like the disappearing fifth star point our mind and heart should most of the time turn away from bodies and physicality and turn toward the world of spirit.
Other meditations arise during these mystical, mysterious days dedicated to the Unknowable Being. In most years there are only four Intercalary days just as there are four causes of Aristotle, Material, Efficient, Formal and Final, which rule material causation. Also one is reminded of the four - and sometimes five - ways of knowing things that 'Abdu'l-Bahá taught: senses, scriptural tradition, reason, and inspiration, along with a transcendent fifth, the "promptings of the Holy Spirit," ('Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation, 20-22) as well as His five "Aspects of Spirit." ('Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, Chapter 36, 163)
It is true that Ayyám-i-Há is separated from the ordinary tallying of days and that this symbolizes God's transcendent nature above event and causation. But notwithstanding that is not to say that the festival is so dichotomized that it plays no role in the overall Badí' system. Rather Ayyám-i-Há is crucial and integral to the devotional life inculcated and organized by the calendar. Specifically, Ayyám-i-Há takes on corollary functions that formerly were part of New Year celebrations and fasting times in older calendars.
In Iran hospitality and gift giving traditionally take place at Naw Ruz. Naw Ruz is a feast that lasts twelve days (1st to 12th Farvardin) and is followed by a "Public Outing Day." (Oxford Companion to the Year, 737) The Bahá'í Naw Ruz, squeezed into one day and without the traditional Persian custom of gift giving, which has been pushed forward to Intercalary Days, is still a time to celebrate. However, Naw Ruz now seems less for confirmation and renewal of societal bonds than it is a celebration of the future, a launching point. Naw Ruz, as a solar or "fixed feast" occupied an uncomfortable position in the Muslim calendar and even at times in the Zoroastrian one. Under Badí' it becomes a combined religious and secular festivity with an unprecedented role in inaugurating new plans, institutions and initiatives.
Another way in which the Badí' lifestyle differs from that of its cradle is in its fast. Unlike Ramadan, Alá's fast is no longer a lunar "movable feast" that can take place at any season of the solar year. Its overall duration is shorter and the time without food and drink less variable. A fixed and stable fast during the month of Ala gives fasting a new and more integral role as follow-up to the God-fest of Ayyám-i-Há and as preparation for the New Year.
Thus Ayyám-i-Há hoists us up for a peek at the sunlit uplands of month number nineteen, the number of Váhid, Unity, and its divine virtue called Alá, Loftiness. Having gone through the year's seasons from spring to winter, the festivities of Ayyám-i-Há renew and consecrate the social love-links forged during the year among family, friends and fellow believers. It's concentration on God as separate Being braces and fortifies the will to undergo the freedom in restraint of Alá's fast, a trial that fires the individual only, not any group or collectivity.
This shift in emphasis seems to change the nature and purpose of the Bahá'í Fast in a subtle way. Muslims are encouraged to perform acts of charity as part of their Ramadan fast. They hold fundraisers with the proceeds going to the poor. For example where I live Muslims hold a contest for children to see who can best recite a passage from the Qu'ran. The money raised by this activity goes to the homeless and unfortunate. While almsgiving and charity are of course never forbidden in the community life of Bahá'ís, the charitable acts of the Muslim fast seem to have been shifted forward to Ayyám-i-Há, which Bahá'u'lláh calls "these days of giving that precede the season of restraint..." (Bahá'u'lláh, Aqdas, 25)
By the time 'Ala's fast begins our acts of charity, gift giving, visiting the ill, and other social expressions of love have already taken place intensely and at length during several Ayyám-i-Há days. For Bahá'ís the main purpose of fasting seems now to be inward spiritual purification, renewal and personal contemplation.
Nonetheless something of charity seems inherent to fasting. During those long afternoons of the fast I am constantly mindful of the saying of Muhammad, "Every good deed is charity, and it is a good deed that thou meet thy brother with a cheerful countenance..." (Azizullah, Glimpses, #66, 83) Food deprivation shortens my fuse so every fast afternoon I must go to great lengths not to look daggers at everyone I meet. Sometimes I sink to the point where seek out a mirror periodically in order to literally rub out the scowl from my face with my fingers. It takes much more effort for the likes of me during the fast to be pleasant, even civil, than to shell out monetary donations for charity. So yes, perhaps fasting remains a season of charity for Bahá'ís albeit of a more restrained and silent kind.
No doubt there is the same danger with fasting as with Ayyám-i-Há of considering it as wholly separate from the overall Badí' system. So while fasting often takes great self discipline to control gross physical desires and passions I do not think that any less effort is required at other times. Often prayer requires great effort to focus and concentrate. And what is true of the two pillars of religion, prayer and fasting, is perhaps more so for the more social occasions falling under the Badí' calendar.
For example a prayer said with a wandering mind may be useless but at least it is not dangerous. This is not true in a social context. Take a social event too casually and it becomes difficult not to slip into gossip, criticism, or backbiting. These are mortal sins and highly destructive. Even ignoring the grosser dangers it takes a great deal of work to avoid the vices of idle "junk food" topics of conversation, sweet nothings, superficial pleasantries, trivialities, personality and easy congeniality.
Ayyám-i-Há, by combining sacred consciousness of the Godhead with charity, gifts and visiting, seems designed to cut away at idleness and thoughtlessness in relationships. I suppose one could react to the impending fast with an attitude of "let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." But remember that a calendar is like a song or poem, hearing it once is never enough, the meaning and pleasure are enhanced by repetition. This festival happens year after year. What comfort comes from the syncopated melody of these pre-spring reversals and transitions!
We go from lonely winter to Ayyám-i-Há's mysticism, its charity, visiting and hospitality. Then back to the fast's controlled privation and private charity. Then at Naw Ruz once more feasting and celebration, dedications, resolutions and social reunion. Each phase offers a chance in its own way to retrospect, reflect, detach oneself and fly high into the new day, which is what Naw Ruz literally means (another important reference to newness built into this Badí' Calendar).
Conclusion: Badí' and Writing the Future
There remains yet another nuance to the word "Badí'" which is highly relevant to the calendar which bears its name.
It is a central Bahá'í belief that God sends His Manifestation to the place where He is most needed, to the people most degraded and fallen into corruption. Muhammad came to the desert Arabs and the Báb to the Persians because, like the Jews in the time of Jesus, they were the most arrogant, prideful and intolerant people on earth, notwithstanding their intelligence and former contributions. But these peoples did have a positive qualification that I think in part singled them out for the honour of being personally visited by God's Representative on earth. That is their language. Both in Araby and Persia poets were given all the adulation that crooners and rock stars get today. Westerners have always been surprised to find that an illiterate peasant straight from the field in these lands can recite far more Háfiz than most professors of English can ever quote from Shakespeare.
Poets are essential to innovation because they forge the metaphors and other tools of language from which the ability to conceive of innovation arises. Nabíl quoted the Bab Himself as citing this tradition: "Treasures lie hidden beneath the throne of God; the key to those treasures is the tongue of poets." [Dawn-Breakers, 258-9] So to say that Badí' has been used for a thousand years as a rhetorical term for trope in Arabic is not to denigrate or stultify its extreme importance. "...'ilm al-Badí' was that branch of rhetorical science which dealt with the beautification of literary style." (Gibb, Encyclopaedia of Islam, 857) The poet and caliph Ibn al-Mu'tazz wrote a ninth century treatise called the Kitáb-al-Badí' showing that the figurative expressions and inventions recently termed Badí' were not as unprecedented as the name implies, they had a long history in both the scripture and poetry of the Arabic language. (Gibb, Encyclopaedia of Islam, 858) Later a genre of poem called Badi'iyya became popular. Such a poem goes through all the various types of figures of speech categorized as Badí' one after the other, rather in the way that a canon in music puts all the instruments to use in succession.
Like a Badi'iyya poem the Badí' calendar runs through an entire congeries of over forty virtues, daily, monthly, yearly, by Váhid and Kull'-i-Shay' in order to draw out novel innovations in virtue based on a unified scriptural convention. Virtues are the variegated flowers its gardener seeks through Badí' to breed and propagate.
In this age of high technology the details of calendration are handled, indeed built into the very silicon and fiber-optic "grains of sand" that connect and deliver all knowledge to all people. Many fear the fact that computerization, automation and robotics are making brute physical labour obsolete. Indeed many evolved intellectual tasks and skills are becoming redundant as well. However the creative work of knowing and worshipping God in space and time, artistic and poetic creation, is needed more than ever. The virtues around which the Badí' system revolves provide an infinite and inexhaustible source of inspiration. As its influence grows this world embracing calendar will draw a hundred thousand Michaelangelos to paint its ceiling and have it write their future, creative people from every imaginable culture, medium and personality on the planet.
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