The Ridvan festival, which begins tomorrow and commemorates the 12-day period in 1863 when Husayn Ali proclaimed himself the new messenger of God, is celebrated by his followers, the Baha'is.
Q: Who was he?
A: A member of one of the great patrician families of Persia who was banished to Baghdad for spreading the word of the Bab, the forerunner of the Baha'i religion. The Bab (Mirza Ali Muhammad) was executed for his beliefs. Husayn Ali, who styled himself Baha Ullah (Arabic for "Glory of God"), was also persecuted, a fate that has befallen Baha'is in parts of the world ever since.
Q: What did he believe?
A: That each of the great religions of the world brought by the messengers of God (Moses, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus, and Muhammad) represented a successive stage in the spiritual development of civilisation. He believed he was the most recent messenger in the line. He called on nineteenth-century rulers to lay down their arms, reconcile their differences and devote themselves to universal peace.
Q: What happened to him?
A: He died in 1892. His eldest son, Abd ol-Baha, interpreted his teachings and spread the Baha'i faith to Europe and beyond. Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, who translated many Baha'i writings into English, was the guardian of the faith until his death in 1957. The Baha'i holy family died out with him. Now there are nine governors who are elected community leaders from around the world.
Q: What do Baha'is believe?
A: They want to establish a universal faith and a common humanity and are devoted to the abolition of racial, class, religious, and gender prejudice. Baha Ullah said: "The Earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens." Baha'is believe that God in his essence is unknowable. The religion has no initiation ceremonies, no sacraments, and no clergy, but Baha'is are obliged to pray, fast, abstain from drugs, and attend the Ridvan festival. They are expected to stop working on the first, ninth, and last days of the 12-day festival.
Q: Where are the religion's headquarters?
A: The Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel, is the home of the Baha'i governing body.
Q: How many followers does it have?
A: Some 5,000,000 worldwide. They are said to come from more than 2000 ethnic, racial, and tribal groupings. They work for the establishment of global society.
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