Day of the Covenant: Baha’is celebrate Abdu’l-Baha, tenets of faith

Black-and-white photo of men in black coats in group, man with white beard in front

Abdu’l-Baha (at front, with white beard) in Paris in 1913. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDOWN TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 25: Two unique Baha’i holy days commence this week, with the Day of the Covenant and the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha. Both holy days are centered around Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’i founder Baha’u’llah. Yet these two holy days share another common trait: unlike most holy days of the faith, work is not suspended on the Day of the Covenant nor the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha. (Learn more at Bahai.us.)

Though revered internationally and by top leaders of several major world religions, Abdu’l-Baha never considered himself more than his father’s servant. Thus, it is with an intentional sense of humility that Baha’is commemorate Baha’u’llah’s Covenant.

‘MOST MIGHTY BRANCH’

As his death neared, the aging Baha’u’llah wrote, in his Book of Laws, “When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.” Baha’u’llah, in explicit intention of keeping the Baha’i faith unified after his death, directed his followers to his son, whom he called the “Most Mighty Branch.” Abdu’l-Baha was given authority as sole interpreter of Baha’u’llah’s writings and the executor of his teachings. (Bahai.org has more.) Abdu’l-Baha was made the center of Baha’u’llah’s Covenant.

From Baha’u’llah’s death in 1892, Abdu’l-Baha exemplified Baha’u’llah’s wishes by acting as an international advocate of peace. Abdu’l-Baha ensured that no schisms occurred within his father’s religious movement, and he demonstrated respect for persons of various religions and backgrounds. As his own death drew near, Abdu’l-Baha appointed his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as Guardian of the Baha’i Faith. Shoghi Effendi advanced the Baha’i community until it could maintain the institution of the Universal House of Justice, the elected international council and governing body that oversees the faith to this day. Each member of the Baha’i faith is expected to abide by Baha’u’llah’s Covenant in word and deed.

COVENANT WITH BAHA’U’LLAH

When Baha’is asked Abdu’l-Baha for a day to celebrate his birthday, Abdu’l-Baha refused to allow his actual birthday, May 23—as it was also the day that the Bab (“the gate”) declared his mission. Alternatively, Abdu’l-Baha gave the Baha’i people November 26 to celebrate the day of Abdu’l-Baha’s appointment as the Center of the Covenant. In the East, the Day of the Covenant is known as The Greatest Festival, in respect for Abdu’l-Baha as the greatest branch.

Day of the Covenant, Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha: Baha’is recall Servant of Baha

So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.”
Baha’u’llah

Green hill with trimmed path leading to ornate white building

Baha’u’llah’s Covenant established the framework for the Baha’i Universal House of Justice, the current governing body for the faith. Above, the Seat of the Universal House of Justice. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET MONDAY, NOVEMBER 25 and SUNSET WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 27: Baha’is worldwide commemorate two holy days this week, with the Day of the Covenant and the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha. Essentially, the two days have one element in common: Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah and the prime example of the way a devoted Baha’i should live. Before his death, Baha’u’llah—the founder of the Baha’i faith—announced to his followers that his son, Abdu’l-Baha, would be the center of his Covenant. When followers asked Abdu’l-Baha if they could celebrate his birthday, he instead gave them the Day of the Covenant as a time of celebration.

THE CENTER OF THE COVENANT: ABDU’L-BAHA

During his lifetime, Baha’u’llah created a covenant with a detailed set of instructions for the organization of the Baha’i faith. Following his passing, Baha’u’llah declared that another individual should be consulted by religious followers: his eldest son, Abdu’l-Baha. Literally “servant of Baha,” Abdu’l-Baha was deemed protector of the Covenant; he would protect the fledgling faith against schisms and sects, so that it would remain intact and unified. From 1892 until his death in 1921, Abdu’l-Baha visited several countries of the world, speaking Abdu’l-Baha to groups, organizations and persons of other faiths. (Baha’i.us has more.) He was the designated interpreter of Baha’u’llah’s writings, and the respected living example of his father’s teachings. Abdu’l-Baha spoke widely of cooperation and unity, and today, the Baha’i faith remains a singular body of faith.

ASCENSION OF ABDU’L-BAHA
RECALLS A GLOBAL FUNERAL

With the passing of Abdu’l-Baha in 1921, at age 77, the citizens of Haifa, Israel and the larger Baha’i community mourned openly. Abdu’l-Baha’s funeral on Mt. Carmel was attended by 10,000,  including Baha’is, Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druzes of various ethnicities. (Learn more from Bahai.org.) Of the funeral, the Governor of Jerusalem wrote: “I have never known a more united expression of regret and respect than was called forth by the utter simplicity of the ceremony.” Similarly, the British High Commissioner described: “A great throng had gathered together, sorrowing for His death, but rejoicing also for His life.” (Wikipedia has details.)

Note: Though these two holy days are celebrated by Baha’is, they are among the nine holidays during which work is suspended.