Understanding the Badí‘ (Bahá’í) Calendar

Eric Stanton, a public librarian, has been a Bahá’í for twenty-five years. Yet he reports that The Badí‘ (Bahá’í) Calendar: Reshaping Our Material, Social, and Spiritual Reality (faculty, Nicola Daniels, Mark Lutness) has reshaped his mind and life in a number of ways:

  • He has made flash cards to aid his memorization of the Arabic and English names of the Bahá’í months.
  • He uploaded an Android app, which is customized to his time and place with sunrise, solar noon, sunset, and a geographical representation of the current date; an interactive calendar; an overview of upcoming Feasts and Holy Days; and a Qiblih compass.
  • With the app, he is reflecting more on the names of the days of the week and on the beginning and end of each Bahá’í day.
  • He is now able to explain Bahá’í religious observances to seekers and other non-Bahá’ís.
  • He is determined to adjust his schedule to increase his attendance at feasts and holy day observances.
  • Given that the Universal House of Justice has written that Bahá’í holy days “provide a time for reflection on the significance” of events “associated with the life and ministry of the divine Manifestations of God” and “a social opportunity to build community,” he is working harder to suspend work on holy days (see preface, Days of Remembrance: Selections from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh for Bahá’í Holy Days ix).
  • Recognizing that his physical life (work and other obligations) has its demands, he is working to elevate his spirit so that it can be more aligned with the rhythms of the Badí‘ calendar.

For his final community-building project in the calendar course, Eric decided not to prepare a PowerPoint but to write an article “sharing some of the salient points” he learned to “help others understand the calendar changes as we move closer to the upcoming bicentennial birthday observances.” A version of the article below is to appear in the June issue of The Capital Area Bahá’í News, which is distributed to Bahá’ís in the Greater Lansing, Michigan, Area.—THE EDITORS

by Eric Stanton

Eric Stanton

Eric Stanton

This spring I had the opportunity to take a course called The Badí‘ (Bahá’í) Calendar: Reshaping Our Material, Social, and Spiritual Reality 2017 through the Wilmette Institute, a Bahá’í Online Learning Center. Given the calendar changes that the Universal House of Justice instituted in 2015 and the upcoming bicentennial birthday observances of the Twin Manifestations, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, I thought it would be helpful to share what I learned with our community.

Calendars throughout History. At the beginning of the course, we were provided with an overview of some of the major calendar systems that have been developed and used throughout human history. I saw one common theme in most of them. The length of our planet’s orbit around the sun presented humans with the problem of trying to reconcile their natural inclination to use the phases of the moon as a method of measuring the passage of time with their practical need to know when the seasons of the year would occur. Therefore, most calendars had both lunar and solar characteristics.

Calendar developers went to great lengths to find ways to make up the difference between a 12-month lunar year (354 days) and a 365-day solar year. In some cases elaborate intercalation methods were devised to reconcile the lunar and solar years. These included leap years and other cycle adjustments.

We discussed the origins of the Gregorian calendar, which is used throughout the world and was established in the late sixteenth century. We also took a look at religious calendars. I learned that it was a common practice of some civilizations to use one calendar for organizing civic affairs and a second one to regulate their religious and cultural practices. In our contemporary world we see this with both the Muslim and Jewish communities.

The Badí‘ Calendar. Since I have been a Bahá’í, I have always wondered about the significance of the number 19. Now I know. It was fascinating to learn from the readings in this course that the significance of this number comes from the fact that the Arabic word for “unity” is “váhid” and that in the Abjad Numeral System its letters add up to 19. It was interesting to learn that the Báb based the Badí‘ calendar on the concept of unity and of all creation (all things) mirroring divine attributes. The names of the Bahá’í months are taken from the Du`ā Saḥar, an Islamic Ramadan dawn prayer. From sections (pp. 282–85, 326–29) in Nader Saeidi’s Gate of the Heart: Understanding the Writings of The Báb, I also learned the symbolism of the number 19 and its relationship to the Báb’s establishment of the early Bábí community and in the revelation of the Bayán. Here is a helpful link to a video slide-share on the Badí‘ Calendar that was presented in the course.

The information that I learned in this portion of the course will be useful to me in teaching the Faith. Specifically, it will help me in explaining Bahá’í religious observances to seekers and other non-Bahá’ís. For example, now when people ask me why we hold our regular religious observance every 19 days and why we have a calendar with 19 months of 19 days, I will finally have a reasonable answer.

The Twin Manifestation’s Birthday Observances. Before taking this course, I was unaware that the two Holy Days for the births of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb were celebrated on different dates in the East. I thought that the Báb’s and Bahá’u’lláh’s birthdays were celebrated worldwide on October 20 and November 12, respectively. After completing the course, the changes that the Universal House of Justice has instituted make sense to me now. We are one worldwide Bahá’í community. Therefore, we should be unified about the dates and times in which we celebrate our Holy Day observances. If you are still confused, here is a YouTube video, Twin Holy Birthdays: Bringing Two Calendars Together, which provides a very good explanation of the implementation of the new calendar provisions as it relates to the Twin Manifestations’ birthday observances.

Personal Reflection. “Reshaping Our Material, Social, and Spiritual Reality” was the subtitle for this course. I believe this accurately describes my experience in this course. I have always wanted to learn more about the reasoning behind the structure of the Badí‘ calendar and find a way to better integrate it into my life. For me, living as a Bahá’í in world that is governed by the Gregorian calendar has been difficult. Since we live in frenetic and chaotic culture, I think it is challenging for most Bahá’ís to spiritually align themselves with the rhythms of life inherent in the Badí‘ calendar. However, this course has inspired me to make a more concerted effort to adjust my schedule to increase my attendance and participation at feasts and holy days.

Through working to memorize important dates on our calendar and through the use of a Badí‘ calendar App that I downloaded to my phone, I am hoping that working Bahá’í observances into my schedule will not be so haphazard anymore. The Wilmette Institute will probably offer this course again in coming years, and I would highly recommend it for anyone who is interested.

An Additional Resource. A talk by Dr. Nader Saiedi: “Identity and the Spiritual Journey in the Badí’ Calendar.” After clicking on this link, scroll down the page, and click on the white arrow in the red circle to access this talk.

The Badí‘ (Bahá’í) Calendar: Reshaping Our Material, Social, and Spiritual Reality will probably be offered again in late 2018. Despite the questions many friends still have about the Badí‘ calendar, interest in the course has been dropping.

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