¶24. Feasts, Calendar, and Holy Days
An understanding of the Bahá'í community's meetings is vital in understanding the religion. Once every nineteen days, the first day (or the evening before the first day, since the Bahá'í day begins at sunset) of each Bahá'í month, all of the Bahá'ís of a locality are invited to a feast at the local Bahá'í center or an individual's house. Feasts are divided into three parts: first, prayers and devotional readings from the Bahá'í writings and other religions are chanted or read; second, the Bahá'ís consult, primarily on matters of community business and teaching projects; third, the members of the community socialize. Though the host will usually serve refreshments in the social portion, the feast is so named because devotionals and socializing with the community are food for the spirit.
Bahá'u'lláh inaugurates the institution of the feast in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, paragraph 57, which is further defined in Questions and Answers no. 48 and Note 82. Lights of Guidance 239-246 presents a full selection of excerpts about the feast. There are two compilations of Bahá'í scriptures of Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice on the subject: Bahá'í Meetings: The Nineteen Day Feast, and The Nineteen Day Feast, in Compilation of Compilations volume I.
Esslemont, 182-3 Huddleston, 102-3 Ferraby, 282 Momen, 67-8 Hatcher and Martin, 151-2
The Bahá'í Faith has its own calendar of nineteen months of nineteen days each. Each month is named after an attribute of God; furthermore, each day of the month is named for an attribute of God, as is each day of the week. Thus all time, in a sense, has been made into sacred time. This calendar, technically termed the Badí' ("unique," "wonderful") calendar, was established by the Báb and approved and slightly modified by Bahá'u'lláh. It is--unlike the Muslim calendar--a solar calendar, timed to begin with the March 21 spring equinox. The Bahá'í names of the various days, months, and years are given in every volume of the Bahá'í World up through Volume XVIII (1979-1983).
Bahá'u'lláh defines the Bahá'í calendar in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, paragraphs 16 and 127, Questions and Answers no. 35, and Notes 26-7, 138-9, and 147-8.
Esslemont, 16, 178-9 Huddleston, 127-8 Faizi, 104-6 Momen, 73-4 Ferraby, 280-82 Smith 1987, 35 Hatcher and Martin, 151 Smith 1996, 35
Nine days of the Bahá'í calendar are singled out as holy days on which work should be suspended and children should not attend school. These include Naw-Rúz (the March 21 New Year), anniversaries of births and deaths of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, and the declarations of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. There are no prescribed rituals or ceremonies for these days, but communities usually hold devotions and, in the case of the days of declaration and Naw-Rúz, celebrations. Another time Bahá'ís celebrate is Ayyám-i-Há, "Days of Há," the four or five intercalary days preceding the month of fast when Bahá'ís host social gatherings and give gifts (so named because the abjad numbering of the Arabic letter há is 5). The festival of Ayyám-i-Há, though not sacred, is a special time for the Bahá'í community.
Bahá'u'lláh discusses some of the Bahá'í holy days in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, paragraphs 16 and 110-1, Questions and Answers nos. 1-2 and 35-6, and Notes 25-6 and 138-9.
Esslemont, 181-86 Hatcher and Martin, 151 Faizi, 117-9 Huddleston, 128-9 Ferraby, 282-283 Momen, 74
John Walbridge's Sacred Acts, Sacred Space, Sacred Time touches upon all of the above. This collection of articles devotes a chapter each to "The Bahá'í Calendar" and "Bahá'í Festivals," in which he presents historical and philosophical observations on the system and significances of the Bahá'í calendar and history and descriptions of all the festivals and holy days. Kalimát Press is producing a series of books on the holy days which consist of collections of sacred writings and other contemporary accounts in events; thus far they have released The Ascension of Bahá'u'lláh, Days of Ridván, The Declaration of the Báb, The Martyrdom of the Báb, Naw-Rúz: New Day, The Passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and Twin Holy Days (the births of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh). Two further books, Ayyám-i-Há and the Fast and Day of the Covenant, are forthcoming.
¶25. Female Imagery / Maid of Heaven
A clue to the importance of female qualities for the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh and his new world order--one which 'Abdu'l-Bahá said would be "more permeated with the feminine ideals" (Lights of Guidance, 615)--is offered by the imagery of the Maid of Heaven. The Báb referred to himself as the Maid of Heaven bringing the new revelation (Selections from the Writings of the Báb, 54). For Bahá'u'lláh, the Maiden was the bringer of the revelation in much the same way as Gabriel brought the Annunciation to Mary and the Qur'án to Muhammad. In places, the Maiden was the personified symbol for the revelation itself. Another feminine religious symbol is the Islamic notion of the "Mother Book," which in Bahá'u'lláh's language is more often the "Mother Word" or the "Mother Tablet."
Bahá'u'lláh writes of the Maid of Heaven in Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 511-12 (Gleanings, 282-4) and 46 (Hidden Words Persian #77, also preserved as Gleanings, 91-2). Shoghi Effendi quotes Bahá'u'lláh's description of the Maiden's revelation to him in God Passes By, 101-2 and 121-122. Most of Bahá'u'lláh's tablets featuring this imagery have not yet been published in authoritative translation.Adib Taherzadeh explains in a few places some of the significances of the Maid of Heaven for Bahá'u'lláh, including Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, volume 1, 82-3, 213, 218, 242; volume 3, 143, 223-4; and volume 4, 16-7. The published scholarship on the topic includes Michael W. Sours' "The Maid of Heaven, the Image of Sophia, and the Logos Personification of the Spirit of God in Scripture and Sacred Literature," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 4.1 (Mar.-June 1991); Paula A. Drewek's "Feminine Forms of the Divine in Bahá'í Scripture," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 5.1 (Mar.-June 1992); and Lil Abdo's "Female Representations of the Holy Spirit," in Bahá'í Studies Review, 4.1 (1994). John Walbridge discusses the symbolism of the Maiden as found in some as-yet untranslated tablets in Sacred Acts, Sacred Space, Sacred Time, 158-164, 166-7, and 239. Ross Woodman examines feminine imagery and mystical union in "In the Beginning Was the Word: Apocalypse and the Education of the Soul," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 5.4 (Dec. 1993-Mar. 1994).
¶26. Funds and the Huqúqu'lláh
Two principles underlie the Bahá'í attitude about donating money, or zakát, to the administrative order. One is that Bahá'u'lláh clearly emphasized the need for just distribution of wealth, a tenet that 'Abdu'l-Bahá elevated to the status of a fundamental principle. The Bahá'í teachings do not advocate a complete financial egalitarianism, for the possession of wealth, financial or otherwise, is seen as a divine gift--Bahá'u'lláh wrote that God created us rich (Hidden Words, Arabic #13). Rather, the existence of extremes of wealth and poverty must be eliminated; 'Abdu'l-Bahá said that any time poverty is seen to reach a certain level, "it is a sure sign that somewhere we shall find tyranny." (Paris Talks, 153). An individual may seek to rectify economic injustice by giving direct assistance to the poor, but providing charity also one of the functions of the administrative order.
Another principle is that, since wealth is a gift of God, donating that wealth is a privilege. Hence, only Bahá'ís are allowed to contribute money to the administrative order. If one who is not a Bahá'í is aware of this and yet insists upon donating money, his or her money is used for charitable, but not Bahá'í, purposes.
Bahá'u'lláh mentions some of the Bahá'í attitudes towards wealth in the Hidden Words (Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 33-59), including the Arabic 11, 13, 56, and the Persian 11, 49, 51, 53-4, and Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 233 (Ishráqát, in Tablets 132-4). 'Abdu'l-Bahá talked about the chimera of complete financial equality versus the reality of just distribution of wealth in Paris Talks, 151-4, and quotations from the other primary figures and the Universal House of Justice on the topic are presented in Light of Guidance, 120-5 and 548-51. Compilations of writings on the Bahá'í fund are Lights of Guidance, 249-65, Lifeblood of the Cause (Funds), in Compilation of Compilations, volume I, Bahá'í Funds and Contributions, and Bahá'í Funds: Contributions and Administration.
Esslemont, 21, 142-6 Hatcher and Martin, 152, 177-8 Ferraby, 271-2 Huddleston, 141-4
THE BAHA'I FUND
Gloria Faizi's Stories about Bahá'í Funds is a collection of inspirational anecdotes about giving. Patrick Barker's Created Rich: How Spiritual Attitudes and Material Means Work Together to Achieve Prosperity is a relatively scholarly and detailed work on the Bahá'í treatment of money and the Bahá'í funds. Margit Warburg's brief research note "Economic Rituals: The Structure and Meaning of Donations in the Baha'i Religion," in Social Compass 40 (1993), is the only purely academic piece on the Bahá'í fund.
In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas Bahá'u'lláh instituted a tax system by which believers with sufficient means make a contribution to the head of the Faith--which since the death of Shoghi Effendi is the Universal House of Justice--called Huqúqu'lláh, "Right of God." As zakát is based on the preexisting Islamic institution of zakát (see Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Questions and Answers no. 107), so is Huqúqu'lláh similar to the Shí'í khums, in which 1/5 of an individual's wealth is donated. Bahá'u'lláh has reduced the size of the tax to 19%, a Bahá'í holy number, and explicitly outlined its details. Huqúqu'lláh is yet another means to both fund the Faith and to share wealth justly. Only one's discretionary income, i.e. the money left over after all debts and necessities have been deducted, is taxed. This tax is wholly voluntary, for one calculates its amount and pays it only how and when one chooses. Further, the primary payment of Huqúqu'lláh is made only once in one's lifetime, taxes on any further increases in wealth being paid at the individual's discretion.
Bahá'u'lláh instituted Huqúqu'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, paragraph 97. Its details are further clarified in Questions and Answers nos. 8-9, 42, 44-5, 69, 80, 89-90, 95, and 102 and Notes nos. 47 and 125. Compilations of quotations regarding and explaining it are Huqúqu'lláh, reprinted in Compilation of Compilations, volume I, and Lights of Guidance, 304-8.
Ferraby, 271-2, 277 Momen, 66
Little scholarly work has been done on Huqúqu'lláh. However, Gloria Faizi's Stories about Bahá'í Funds includes a chapter of anecdotes about it. Patrick Barker offers a number of observations of the import and meaning of Huqúqu'lláh in Created Rich: How Spiritual Attitudes and Material Means Work Together to Achieve Prosperity. Adib Taherzadeh also explains it in Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, volume 4, 248-56. The fullest, though still short, academic exploration of Huqúqu'lláh and its historical precedents is chapter 3 in John Walbridge's Sacred Acts, Sacred Space, Sacred Time.
¶27. Gender Issues and Equality
Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá both emphasized the equality of men and women and stated that women had a right to an education and to training in a vocation. The roles of men and women are not seen as the same as much as complementary (see, for example, 'Abdu'l-Bahá on the chimera of complete equality in Paris Talks, 152). Much effort remains to be made in the Bahá'í community to achieve the ideals that the Bahá'í scriptures have defined. Scholarship, though, is quite active on this topic.
Women: Extracts from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice provides many statements from the Bahá'í scriptures about women and gender roles. This is reprinted as Women, in Compilation of Compilations, volume II. See also Lights of Guidance, 612-22. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States has released an official statement, "Two Wings of a Bird: The Equality of Men and Women," printed in World Order, 28.3 (Spring 1997).
Esslemont, 146-50 Momen, 37-40 Ferraby, 94-95 Smith 1987, 46-7, 50-1, 92, 152, 178-9 Hatcher and Martin, 8-90 Smith 1996, 87, 127-8, 135, 143 Huddleston, 87-90
A starting point in the study of the Bahá'í perspective of gender is Trevor R. J. Finch's "Unclipping the Wings: A Survey of Secondary Literature in English on Bahá'í Perspectives on Women," in Bahá'í Studies Review, 4.1 (1994). Finch presents a well-annotated bibliography of some of the more important Bahá'í works dealing with gender and women's issues written in the past twenty years. Publications devoted to the study of the roles of women or gender issues include the Fall 1995 issue of World Order, 27.1, which is devoted to the topic of gender equality and complementarity. It includes Marilyn J. Ray's examination from a feminist perspective, "Women and Men: Toward Achieving Complementarity"; Martha Leach Schweitz's "Of Webs and Ladders: Gender Equality in Bahá'í Law"; and Jane J. Russell's "Spiritual Vertigo at the Edge of Gender Equality." The published proceedings of the Association for Bahá'í Studies of Australia's 1989 conference "The Role of Women in an Advancing Civilization," edited by Sitarih 'Ala'i and Colleen Dawes, includes a few useful articles on a variety of topics. Equal Circles: Women and Men in the Bahá'í Community, ed. Peggy Caton, is another collection of articles, including pieces on the myth of male superiority, the year of patience, violence, and racism.
Ann Boyles surveys the history of Bahá'í activities to realize gender equality in "Towards the Goal of Full Partnership: One Hundred and Fifty Years of the Advancement of Women," in The Bahá'í World: An International Record, 1993-94. Anne Gordon Atkinson briefly examines the history of the presentation of and participation by women in art in "Women in Art," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 4.2 (June-Sept. 1991). Baharieh Rouhani Ma'ani's "The Interdependence of Bahá'í Communities: Services of North American Bahá'í Women to Iran," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 4.1 (Mar.-June 1991), is a historical survey of prominent American women and their interactions with the Iranian Bahá'í community. Susan Stiles Maneck has explored the question of Táhirih, a prominent Bábí woman, as a role model in "Táhirih: A Religious Paradigm of Womanhood," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 2.2 (1989-1990): 39-54.
A provocative article about the subject of the roles of men and women is Linda and John Walbridge, "Bahá'í Laws on the Status of Men," in World Order, 19.1/2 (Fall 1984/Winter 1984-85). It and Sen McGlinn's "Some Considerations Relating to Inheritance Laws," in Bahá'í Studies Review, 5:1 (1995), each examine the gender differentiation in the inheritance laws as laid out in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Partly in response to the Walbridge's "Bahá'í Laws," dialogue devoted an issue to "A Question of Gender: A Forum on the Status of Men in Bahá'í Laws," in dialogue 2:1 (Summer/Fall 1987). Six authors--Susan Stiles-Maneck, R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, Julie Pascoe and Jim Bartee, Baharieh Ma'ani, and Anthony Lee--responded with commentary and further discussion. John Hatcher's "The Equality of Women: The Bahá'í Principle of Complementarity," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 2.3 (1989-1990), reprinted as "Some Thoughts on Gender Distinction in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Bahá'í Principle of Complementarity," in The Law of Love Enshrined: Selected Essays presents many considerations on this issue, as does Linda O'Neil's commentary on his article in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 2.4 (1989-1990). A well-written presentation of the Bahá'í principle of equality of men and women is Constance Conrader's "Women: Attaining their Birthright," in World Order, 21.1/2 (Fall 1986/Winter 1986-1987). The Spring 1975 issue of World Order (9.3) was devoted to the rights of women. Hoda Mahmoudi's "From Oppression to Equality: The Emergence of the Feminist Perspective," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 1.3 (1989), analyzes Bahá'í teachings on gender equality in contrast with current feminist thought, and her "The Role of Men in Establishing the Equality of Women," in World Order, 26.3 (Spring 1995), examines social attitudes leading to oppression and ways to reform them. Janet Huggins' "Exploring Male Oppression from a Family-Systems Perspective," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 3.2 (1990-1991), explores sexual inequality from a family-systems perspective. Moojan Momen's "In All the Ways that Matter, Women Don't Count," in Bahá'í Studies Review, 4.1 (1994), advances that the solution to achieving gender equality is not simply to equalize the gender roles but to produce a wholly new, and more feminine, society. Lata Ta'eed discusses the nature of gender as it impacts on and shapes individual personality in "Sex, Gender, and New Age Stereotyping," in Bahá'í Studies Review, 4.1 (1994).
¶28. God, Concept of
The Bahá'í Faith sees God as a personal God, to whom one can pray and with whom one can commune, but acknowledges that God is much more than anything humans can experience. It conceives of God as an unknowable essence, which is manifested in the world through its attributes, such as love, power, mercy, and forgiveness. Bahá'u'lláh, however, warns that God is "sanctified above all attributes and holy above all names" (Bahá'í Prayers, 12), and thus that the essence of God will always remain inscrutable to humans.
Since almost the entirety of Bahá'u'lláh's and 'Abdu'l-Bahá's writings discuss the Bahá'í concept of God, only one succinct definition will be listed here: the opening pages of part two of the Kitáb-i-Íqán, 98-100, reprinted in Gleanings, XIX-XX and Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 406-7. Brief comments are in Lights of Guidance, 477-9.
Esslemont, 201-3 Huddleston, 29-35 Faizi, 27-29 Momen, 91-103 Ferraby, 33-36 Smith 1996, 37, 64-5 Hatcher and Martin, 74-75, 123-26
An excellent, analytical summary of the Bahá'í concept of God can be found in Juan Cole's "The Concept of the Manifestation in the Bahá'í Writings," Bahá'í Studies, no. 9, 3-10. A detailed and careful discussion of the Bahá'í concept of God is the central theme of Julio Savi's The Eternal Quest for God. William Hatcher has explored scientific and philosophical "proofs" for the existence of God in "From Metaphysics and Logic," in Logic and Logos, and "A Scientific Proof of the Existence of God," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 5.4 (Dec. 1993-Mar. 1994). Craig Loehle discusses a few arguments for the existence of God in On the Shoulders of Giants, 176-90.
THE SACRED AND THE HOLY
The best way to capture the Bahá'í concept of the sacred is by reading Bahá'í prayers about the greatness and mysterious nature of God; doctrinal statements do not convey the feeling appropriate to this subject. The Seven Valleys (Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 3-18) also contains many descriptions of God and of the experience of God, and thus constitutes a kind of description of the sacred.
Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 387-88 (Gleanings, I); 412-16 (Gleanings, XXVI, XXVII); 596-601 (Prayers and Meditations, LXXV-LXXX).