HOLY DAY: Tonight Marks A New Dawn For the Baha'i
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
For the past 19 days, members of the Baha'i Community of Salt Lake City have prepared for the first of their faith's nine annual holy days by fasting between sunrise and sunset.
Finally, the Feast of Naw-Ruz has arrived; the hunger and reflection have ended and the celebration begins with the start of the Baha'i New Year today.
"This is a happy time for us, a time of new beginnings," said Joyce Booman, spokeswoman for the 250-member congregation.
Spring's arrival is a time for "expression of that one creative force, the great unknowable essence; the loving God, the Father who always guides his creation."
Baha'is will mark Naw-Ruz this evening with a brief prayer service, followed by music, socializing and the main event -- the holiday's culinary spread featuring numerous Persian dishes.
March 21 on the Gregorian calendar coincides with the first day of Baha, Arabic for "splendor" and the inaugural month of the Baha'is' unique year of 19 months of 19 days. It also is the first day of the year 159 of the Baha'i Era (B.E.), dating from the faith's beginnings in 1844 in Iran.
Naw-Ruz itself predates the Baha'i faith -- founded by Baha'u'llah (1817-1892) -- by thousands of years. An Iranian fertility festival, it was one of two great holidays -- along with the autumnal equinox -- celebrated by the ancient Zoroastrian religion.
That Baha'is put their own spin on Naw-Ruz is consistent with the faith's claims to being at the pinnacle of the world's ongoing religious evolution. Baha'is revere a line of "Messengers of God" -- including Hinduism's Krishna and progressing through Buddha, Zoroaster, Judaism's Abraham and Moses, Christianity's Jesus and Islam's Mohammed to the most recent, their own Baha'u'llah.
Naw-Ruz is the most festive of the faith's holy days. The next on the Baha'i calendar, the April 21-May 2 feast of Ridvan, commemorates the start of Baha'u'llah's public preaching -- a holy day on a scale of reverence accorded by Christians to the baptism of Jesus and his subsequent ministry.
Today, the religion claims 5 million members worldwide, spanning 235 countries and territories and 2,100 ethnic, racial and tribal groups. U.S. membership is estimated at 140,000. India, with about 2.5 million Baha'is, has the largest number of believers.
The diversity of the faith's followers reflects its teachings against prejudice and the universal truths conveyed by one God through the world's major religions. Unification -- of peoples, nations and their religions -- is a central theme of Baha'i teachings.
Other tenets of the faith include the equality of men and women, a commitment to social and economic justice and the pursuit of universal education.
Baha'is have faced persecution since the faith's beginnings. Baha'u'llah spent the last 40 years of his life in exile or incarcerated, and the estimated 350,000 Baha'is in predominantly Muslim Iran continue today to be viewed -- and treated -- as heretics. Hundreds have reportedly been executed and thousands imprisoned.
©Copyright 2001, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE