A story untold : Egypt’s Baha’is pt.II

Posted: April 22, 2008 in Journalism, Politics, Society

New Days




We all react to things according to the way we’ve been conditioned. Sometimes we can feel strongly enough about something to be able to overcome our conditioning.



"People here react differently to Bahá’ís. In my first job, when my boss found out that I was Bahá’í, he decided to grant me all my religious holidays as paid vacations. There are people here who do not define themselves by creed, color or religion," says Shady.

This is in the private sector, where granting paid holidays is left to the discretion of the business owner. But in the public sector, with the government not acknowledging the existence of the Bahá’í faith, Bahá’ís then take these days off unpaid. "Right now I am self-employed,” adds Shady, “so I no longer have to report to someone to approve which days I can or can’t take off. My employees have come to learn our calendar and the significance of each festive date.”


"There are nine days in the Bahá’í year that we take off, the Nayruz or Naw ruz [Farsi for ‘New Day’], is the first of them as the first day of the Bahá’í calendar.”


Originally a Zoroastrian celebration, the Naw ruz is celebrated by all Iranians no matter what their faith. This tradition carries on to this day, commemorated on March 21 by placing seven things that symbolize ‘life’ (such as a fish, an egg, green sprouts) in the house. This is said to help invoke positive energies, growth, and prosperity for the coming year. A fresh new cycle, a rebirth: a New Day.


Bahá’ís mainly follow the solar and not lunar calendar. Shady explains that the Bahá’í year "consists of 19 months, each made up of 19 days. This gives us 361 days, which leaves four days each year or five on a leap year. We call these days Ayyam al há‘ [Days of the há’] 3.


"Ayyam al há’ precede the final 19-day month of our year, the month of ‘Ola [high station]. This is our month of fasting, beginning March 2 and ending March 20. The four or five days before fasting are spent in festivities, charity work, and visiting one another.”


Each period in the Bahá’í year has a certain significance. The Naw ruz is both the end of a long spiritual period consisting of Ayyam al há’ and fasting of Al Ola, as well as the beginning of a new cycle. The preceding period is meant to boost you spiritually and launch you through the new year.


"Then there are the Days of Ridwan, starting April 21 and lasting twelve days. These are in commemoration of Bahá’u’llah’s public announcement of the Bahá’í faith. This happened while Bahá’u’llah was in exile from Iran, in the Sulaymaniyyah Gardens outside Baghdad. Hadrat Bahá’ullah and his followers had set up their tents in these Gardens, and during those twelve days he pronounced that he was the one alluded to as ‘the awaited one’ in the prophecies of the Báb. Of these twelve we celebrate the first, the last, and the 9th day… Also during the Ridwan feast, elections for the local and central [national] spiritual assemblies are carried out every year, and every five years for the appointments of the House of Justice.


"We then have another four days in celebration of the birth of ‘the harbinger’, the Báb, and the memory of his martyrdom; the birth of the messenger, Bahá’u’llah, and the remembering of his passing.” These birthdates are the only dates that Bahá’ís celebrate according to the Hijri calendar4. This is to ensure that the birthdays are not separated, so they can be celebrated at the same time.



"This leaves one day in our holy calendar, which is the day of the passing of Hadrat ‘Abdul- Bahá’, Bahá’u’llah’s son and successor as ‘Guardian of the Faith’. These are just the days we take off. There are other days that we revere and hold in high regard. In the Bahá’í faith, we believe the day ends when the sun sets, making Nayruz from sunset of March 20 till sunset March 21."





Words of Faith





The words of Bahá’u’llah and ‘Abdul-Bahá’ are sometimes read as prayers. "Their words address a great many topics, so we have prayers for healing, prayers for certain milestones in one’s life. We believe if these words are said in the correct spiritual frame, or with the correct intention, then they will have physical repercussions on the known world.”


Shady explains that Bahá’ís "are not trying to imply that these are his words. They are words of revelation. What God reveals to his messengers happens on a spiritual plane, which does not need the physical texture of words. Words are used to communicate what was revealed on a spiritual plane and share it on a physical one.”


All Bahá’u’llah’s writings have been made into books such as his letters to monarchs, tablets explaining faith. His tablet ‘The Seven Valleys’ describes the 7 pitfalls of the self on the journey from doubt to certainty. The only person permitted to explain Hadrat Bahá’u’llah’s words was his son ‘Abdul-Bahá’. The ‘Guardianship of the Faith’ alone, [that is the day-to-day management, as well as furthering the faith without affecting its principles], was passed from ‘Abdul-Bahá’ to his grandson, Shoghi Effendi. Shoghi Effendi is not seen to have explained the text in Abdul Bahaa’s passing though he is accredited with adding functionality to the principles of Bahá’u’llah, and ‘Abdul-Bahá”s theories. He was ‘the’ pioneer in putting their plans for the Baha’i faith into action.


The laws of the Bahá’í faith are all contained within the Kitab Al Aqdas [most sacred book], which is left open to individual interpretation; there are no ‘priests’ in this religion. “We are not permitted to declare anyone better than anyone else, or that someone is of higher religious statute,” says Shady, “because we believe that we all have the inherent quality to find God independently.”




Egyptian Baha’i




Shady on himself: "Both identities complement each other. I am fully Egyptian, and enjoy my Egyptian culture, as well as fully Bahá’í. Being Bahá’í should not conflict with any other identity. We are Egyptians, we don’t have to dress in a special way, or have special names to be Bahá’ís. All over the world, Bahá’ís celebrate this diversity. It demonstrates how the whole world can coexist and achieve unity. Among the International Bahá’í community I am Egyptian, and amongst Egyptians I am a Bahá’í, like any Christian or Muslim.


"Being an Egyptian Bahá’í is difficult on two levels. The government: because we can’t get our civil rights. The people: because I have to defend myself and my faith everyday. I feel that people need to try to understand and learn more about the Bahá’í faith. I want Egyptians to try to get to know the reality of the faith.


"We are waiting for the final court ruling regarding our ID cards. Many say that officials no longer want to escalate the ID /registration crisis. So all we have to do is wait to see the result… We hope that it is only a matter of time.


"Egypt is in the center of the world. Historically Egypt always had a major part to play. And now you’ll find Egypt is the heart of Sunni Islam, and Iran is the heart of Shi’a Islam. These are the two hearts of Islam. They are looked upon as examples. What happens in Egypt is recognized by many places in the Arab world. So if we are accepted in Egypt we will also be accepted in the Arab world.


"Egypt is going through major changes; whether political, social, economic. I feel I understand why all these things are happening. This is part of the change that will happen to the whole world. And Egypt is part of this world. This ongoing change is what Bahá’ís believe to be the evolution of global citizenship, and is simultaneous with a shift in world enlightenment and tolerance.”


"With all the events happening I feel I am part of [the making of] history. These stories will be told in the future.” And the final court ruling on their legal existence will determine how this chapter ends.





1 Eastern Easter is coming up in April.


2 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá enjoyed influential status amongst Egypt’s elite due to his close friendship with the revered Sheikh Mustafa Abdo.


3 The Haa ‘H’ is the 5th letter of the alphabet and the number 5 is the maximum number of days for Ayyam Al Haa when it corresponds to a leap year. And based on the numerological significance of Arabic letters, the Baa and the Haa [first 2 letters in Bahaa], hold special mathematical and spiritual value.

 4 This is done as to not separate the births of the Báb and Bahá’u’llah as they fall on 1st and 2nd of the Hijri month of Muharram, respectively. Bahaa’u Allah himself has said of this, ‘as we were twin signs in life, we shall remain so in memory’

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