Bahai News -- Los Angles Times - Bahai holiday marks founder's death May 30, 2003

Bahai holiday marks founder's death

Keyvan Geula stayed up past 3 a.m. Thursday, saying prayers and remembering the man who founded the Bahai faith.

"It's the most spiritually enriched day of my Bahai life," Geula said.

Geula and other Bahais marked the Ascension of Bahaullah, the day their religious founder died. Bahaullah died in prison at 3 a.m. in 1892.

"The Bahais all over the world observe it at three in the morning," Geula said. "They stay up and say prayers, read history and remember who we are."

Bahaullah advocated the oneness of humanity and of all religions, equality between the sexes, and the elimination of racism. He shunned ritual worship.

The holiday is a reminder of the richness of the next life, said Susan Millett, a Bahai in Upland.

"It is a holiday where first you think, just as the crucifixion of Christ is very meaningful to Christians, (Bahaullah's) physical form dropped away and the spirit remained. It's the passing of the physical form of that one who reflected all the qualities of God."

Inland Valley Bahais also recently observed Declaration of the Bab. Each year Geula observes the day by filling her home with flowers and light. This year she welcomed worshipers to celebrate one of nine holy days in the Bahai calendar.

Two hours after sunset, they observed Declaration of the Bab, which commemorates when the Bab, the precursor to the Bahai faith, declared his mission to his first believer on May 23, 1844.

To Diane Gunther, treasurer of the Bahais of Rancho Cucamonga, the holiday is a reminder that the Bab was a manifestation of God.

"It has a very powerful significance that this is the age of fulfillment," Gunther said.

And despite the violence in the world, "This is the age where world peace is possible," she said.

"To me it's a day that is a symbol of the divine love for humanity," said Geula, 59, of Claremont.

The Bahai faith took root in Iran in the late 1800s. In 1844, worshipers of many faiths around the world believed their scriptures pointed to the coming of the promised one that year. In Iran, Islamic scholars were preparing their students for the coming of the messiah and believed he was in the southern part of the country.

A student, Mulla Husayn, came across Mirza Ali Muhammad during a search. Husayn learned that Muhammad was the promised one — he called himself the bab, or gate in Arabic. That year, 17 others found the Bab on their own, and also believed him to be the promised one. His existence was to prepare for the coming of Bahaullah, founder of the Bahai religion.

The 18 became the Bab's first disciples, or Letters of the Living, and began to preach his teachings.

The Islamic movement stirred upheaval and fear in Iran and the Bab, who had gained many followers, was imprisoned. Thousands of Babis were executed. The Bab was killed July 9, 1850.

The day is observed often in homes, with Bahais sharing their history, prayers and writings of the Bab. One writing, the "Letters of the Living," "are absolutely moving about human conduct and character," said Geula, a lifelong Bahai whose grandparents converted from Judaism in Iran.

Celebrants light candles as a reminder of the Bab's imprisonment.

Traditionally, on the day after the observance, Bahais take a day off work and perform community service.

©Copyright 2003, The Los Angles Times (CA, USA)

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