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Changes in the Bahai calendar: what, how and especially, why?

Posted by Sen on September 22, 2014

Haab calendar from wikimedia commons

Relax – not the new Bahai calendar. But it does have 19 months

[December 26: the dates of feast days and holy days for the coming years have been added to the bottom of the blog. [Skip to the table]]

On July 10, 2014, the Universal House of Justice announced three decisions regarding the Badi` (Bahai) calendar that has been used, in two slightly different forms, by Bahais in Islamic lands and in the rest of the world. The changes take effect from the next Bahai New Year, from sunset on March 20, 2015. The full text of the letter from the Universal House of Justice is available in the documents archive of this blog. The changes modify the pattern of the Bahai year somewhat, harmonise practices for Bahais in the East and West and – in my view most significantly – they underline that the Bahai Faith is an independent religion and an independent religious community with its own identity. What are the changes about, how will they effect us in our local communities, and why are they introduced now? And the otherwise unspoken question, “Is this more than an unnecessary and irritating inconvenience, haven’t we (and haven’t they), got better things to do?”

The answers to these questions in brief are, that there are reasons in scripture and in what I will call cultural ‘politics’ why these changes should be made now, and that the new dates for feasts and holy days will not be difficult to use in practice, or very different from those we are used to. keil-on-timeThe House of Justice indicates, in its letter, that the first consideration has been to achieve unity in practice between the Bahais of the East and West, and that Naw Ruz in 2015 is chosen as it is “the end of the year 171, the close of the ninth Vahid” (19-year period) of the Bahai Era. I think it may also have something to do with some Bahai communities’ rather painful emergence from obscurity, in Iran and other Islamic countries, where the politics of religious identities are important, and the decisions will have a strong symbolic effect.

Rather than looking at the Bahai calendar and why there were problems with it that needed to be solved – which would require a detailed analysis of the kind provided by Gerald Keil in Time and the Bahai Era (for sale from George Ronald; Foreword online as a pdf), I will look at the three decisions and discuss what I think are their reasons and implications. Gordon Kerr has a brief but good discussion of the symbolic structure of the Bahai calendar, on Susan Gammage’s web site, and the Bahai-Library has “A Wondrous New Day: The Numerology of Creation and ‘All Things’ in the Badí’ Calendar” by Robin Mihrshahi. Nader Saiedi has a talk entitled “Identity and the Spiritual Journey in the Badi Calendar” on the “Bahai blog.”


Fixing the time of Naw Ruz

The first decision taken by the Universal House of Justice is that Tehran “will be the spot on the earth that will serve as the standard for determining, … the moment of the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere and thereby the day of Naw-Ruz for the Baha’i world.” The equinox occurs when the planet, in its orbit around the sun, reaches the point at which its poles incline neither towards nor away from the sun, with the result that the northern and southern hemispheres are equally illuminated. At that precise moment, the time of day or night differs around the globe (as at any astronomical moment). It may be noon in one country, and past nightfall in another country. In the Kitab-e Aqdas, Baha’u’llah states that, “The Festival of Naw-Ruz falleth on the day that the sun entereth the sign of Aries [that is, at the moment of the equinox], even should this occur no more than one minute before sunset.” The ruling of the House of Justice means that if the astronomical moment of equinox occurs before sunset in Tehran, on March 20, Bahais around the world whose daily lives are regulated by the Gregorian calendar will find they are celebrating Naw Ruz on March 20. If the equinox occurs when the sun has already set in Tehran, they will celebrate Naw Ruz on March 21.

This decision addresses two kinds of problems: one is that the practices of the Bahai communities in the Iranian sphere, and in the rest of the world, were different and not in line with the provisions of the Aqdas, the other is that not every detail of the Bahai calendar that would be required, to apply the calendar, had been specified in the Bahai Writings.

sunset_1The Bab ruled that the moment of Naw Ruz should be fixed astronomically. He states: “God has related one day of the year to Himself, and called it the Day of God… This is the day whereon the sun passes from Pisces into Aries, whether it be night or day…” (Persian Bayan 6:14) Similarly, in Question 35 of the Ketab-e Aqdas, Baha’u’llah defines Naw Ruz as “the day that the sun entereth the sign of Aries, even should this occur no more than one minute before sunset.” By specifying “sunset,” Baha’u’llah solves one problem with the Bab’s wording: the equinox is not a day, it is a moment in time. Which day the moment falls in, depends on whether the day is considered to end at sunset, or midnight. Baha’u’llah says that for this purpose, the day ends at sunset. But that raises the question of the definition of ‘sunset.’ Is it sunset at one particular place on the globe, which serves as a reference point, or is each country to determine its own Naw Ruz according to whether the moment of equinox falls before or after the sun sets on its capital city? Or should it be decided locally? Nevertheless, Baha’u’llah had provided a perfectly good solution for the Bahais living in Iran, where the Solar Hijri calendar (a.k.a Shamsi, replacing the Jalali calendar) also fixes Naw Ruz in relation to the moment of the equinox, in Tehran. The exact moment is calculated and announced in advance. Since the Iranian day began at sunset in Tehran, the Bahais in Iran could simply take the sunset that precedes that moment of equinox as the beginning of their Naw Ruz day. They will continue to do this.
In the Gregorian calendar, the moment of the equinox can fall, at Greenwich, on March 19th (as it will in 2040), on March 20th, or on March 21st, and in the past 100 or so years it has done this. If the Bahais of the West had also used the equinox as their Naw Ruz, their calendar would not only have been jumping back and forth in relation to the Gregorian calendar, it would sometimes have been different in North America and in Europe. I have not discovered when the Bahais in the West began to use March 21st for Naw Ruz every year, or who, if anyone, made the decision, but the practice began in the time of Abdu’l-Baha. The first number of every volume of the Star of the West from 1910 to 1922 is dated 1 Baha and March 21st. From 1923 the Star of the West switched to appearing 12 times per year rather than 19, but a number of articles in the Star of the West in 1925 and 1928 show that Naw Ruz continued to be celebrated on March 21. In March 1925, the editorial begins “The New Year for Baha’is begins on the twenty first of March, the first day of spring.” (Vol. 15, no 12, p. 347). A ‘New Year Message’ by Shahnaz Waite in the same issue (p. 352) refers to “March the 21st, the time of the Vernal Equinox.” It would appear that the Western Bahais adopted a convention in non-specialist English literature, which treats March 21 as the first day of spring and sometimes calls it the equinox, just as the night of June 21 is called midsummer’s night, and June 21 is called the longest day, except in WWII movies. It may also be relevant that, from 1900 to 1911, in Greenwich, the equinox did fall on March 21 every year. In Washington, the equinox fell on the 20th in 1900, 1904 and 1908, but the Bahais in the United States might not have been aware of this, since the Astronomical Almanac (and tables based on it) presented all astronomical data in Greenwich Mean Time. By 1912, when equinox in Greenwich fell on March 20, there would have been numerous tables showing the dates of the Bahai Feasts and Holy Days in circulation, and published in Bahai literature, all with Naw Ruz marked on March 21st. Natural inertia would make it hard even to see the problem. However the question was discussed in mid-century, at least in the United States. The issue had become noticeable. Around 1940 the equinox would fall on March 21st (in the UK) for three years in a row, then one year on March 20th, then back to the 21st. This is the same pattern as the leap days in the Gregorian calendar. But by the mid-20th century the pattern was generally that the equinox would be on the 20th of March for two years, then on the 21st for two years, and back to the 20th for two years. The National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada raised this question with the Guardian, but a letter written on his behalf, on May 15, 1940, postponed any change:

“Regarding Naw-Ruz: if the vernal equinox falls on the 21st of March before sunset it is celebrated on that day. If at any time after sunset, Naw-Ruz will then, as stated by Bahá’u’lláh, fall on the 22nd. As to which spot should be regarded as the standard, this is a matter which the Universal House of Justice will have to decide…”

time-at-work_1Clearly this left an unresolved issue: the Bahais of Iran (mainly) and the rest of the world had different Naw Ruz definitions. The two Bahai calendars had to be harmonised before any solution to the second and third questions – the dates of Holy Days in general and of the Twin Holy Days in particular – could be implemented.

The Universal House of Justice’s decision is that “Tihran, the birthplace of the Abha Beauty, will be the spot on the earth that will serve as the standard for determining, by means of astronomical computations from reliable sources, the moment of the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere and thereby the day of Naw-Ruz for the Baha’i world.”

By taking the decision necessary to implement the timing of Naw Ruz, and therefore the timing of all the Bahai feast days, we are asserting our independence of other religions, while also asserting the the Bahai Faith’s connection with Iran and the Persian cultural tradition. Linking the date of Naw Ruz to the equinox in Tehran has the effect of showing that the Bahai Faith is not a western appendage, that it really is born in Iran (and not hatched by colonial powers, as some critics claim), and Iran is the Holy Land for Bahais. If the shrine of Baha’u’llah or of the Bab had been chosen it would have reinforced the impression – widespread in the Middle East – that the Bahai Faith is an Israeli religion. Linking the date to the equinox in Tehran also means that the Bahai community and the Persian community, in every country, will be celebrating Naw Ruz at approximately the same time. Days in the Solar Hijri calendar begin and end at midnight, and the first day of the first month begins with the midnight nearest to actual moment of equinox in Tehran. So if the moment of equinox is after noon but before sunset in Tehran, the Solar Hijri new year’s day will be on the following day, while the Bahai Naw Ruz will be that same day. However the practice in Iranian communities is to mark the exact moment of the equinox, if this falls at a practicable hour, so in this example the Iranian community would probably celebrate Naw Ruz in the evening, which for them is the eve of Naw Ruz, while the Bahai community will celebrate its Naw Ruz at any time during the same day. In other cases the Bahai Naw Ruz and the Iranian Naw Ruz fully coincide.
As I mentioned above, there are periods in which the equinox consistently falls on one day in the Gregorian calendar, and periods in which it alternates, one (or two) years on one day and three (or two) years on another, and then there are exceptions. This is a relatively easy time to be decoupling the Bahai calendar from the Gregorian calendar, because the pattern for the coming years will be three years in which Naw Ruz falls on the 20th, one year when it falls on the 21st, and back to the 20th again. Naw Ruz will fall on March 21st in 2015, 2019, 2023, 2027, 2031, 2035 and 2039. However in 2043, when one might expect Naw Ruz to fall on March 21, it falls on the 20th. 2043 is also the last year for which Gerald Keil gives equinox times in Appendix D of his book, so I have not investigated beyond that. I’ve based my rough calculation on Tehran being 3 hours 25 minutes East of Greenwich, and I have supposed that sunset falls at about 6pm solar time, all over the world, around the equinox. This rough calculation omits all sorts of minor factors such as the elevation of Tehran, the earth not being a perfect sphere and the moon’s gravity making the earth’s orbit around the sun a bit wobbly, but these produce differences too small to affect the outcome, except possibly in 2039 when the equinox will fall within minutes of sunset in Tehran on March 20th.

The 19th-day feasts that we are familiar with will all fall one day earlier, with Baha on March 20, Jalal on April 8, Jamal on April 27, Azamat on May 16 and so forth, but in a ‘plus one’ year they will fall on March 21, April 9, April 28 and so forth, as they have in the West for the past century. Since 2015 happens to be a ‘plus one’ year, we will be using our familiar feast calendars until March 1, 2016. Why not to March 20th, 2016? It’s because the Feast of the last month in the Bahai calendar, ‘Ala, will be determined by counting back 19 days from the following Naw Ruz: The feast day is March 1 if the next Naw Ruz falls on March 20, but March 2 if the following year is a ‘plus one’ year. This means that it is not necessary to consider a possible Gregorian leap day, falling on February 29. Since Naw Ruz is on the 20th in 2016, the Feast of ‘Ala will fall on March 1st.

It will be interesting to see what the small Bahai groups in the west, such as the Unitarian Bahais, do with the changes. Their materials are largely a cut-and-paste from mainstream Bahai materials, which means that their calendars are oriented to March 21st. Either they will incorporate the new dates of Ridvan and the twin holy days, and so acknowledge the authority of the Universal House of Justice, or they will continue to use the old calendar, and so become identifiably different to the mainstream Bahai community. I do not think this was a consideration in the Universal House of Justice’s decision to make the change now, as many of the ‘groups’ are just one or a few individuals with a web presence, but it is an interesting side effect, and an example of the way a religious calendar is intertwined with religious identity (for more on calendars and identity, see Gerald Keil’s book).

The Universal House of Justice states in its letter that “A table prepared at the Baha’i World Centre that sets out the dates for Naw-Ruz and the Twin Holy Birthdays covering half a century will be provided to all National Spiritual Assemblies in due course.” This has now been done, and the dates for the first years are at the end of this posting.


The twin holy days

The second decision is that the birthdays of the Bab and Baha’u’llah will be celebrated on the “first and the second day following the occurrence [1] of the eighth new moon after Naw-Ruz.” The Bab was born on 1 Muharram in 1819 (the first day after the eighth new moon after Naw Ruz), and Baha’u’llah on 2 Muharram 1817, which was the second day after the eighth new moon after Naw Ruz. To put it another way, in both Gregorian years, Naw Ruz in the solar calendar fell within the lunar month of Jomada al-ula, the fifth month, which tells us that the new moon of the following Muharram (first lunar month) was the eighth moon after Naw Ruz.

Because the Bab and Baha’u’llah were born on 1 Muharram and 2 Muharram, respectively, Bahais in countries that use the Islamic lunar calendar have always celebrated these two Bahai holidays as a double festival. Bahais in Iran — which has a solar calendar — have also used the dates in the Islamic lunar calendar as the dates of the two Holy Days. In the past, Bahais in the rest of the world have celebrated these holy days on October 20 and November 12. Henceforth, the “twin holy days” will be celebrated on two successive days, as a ‘movable feast’ (like Easter), falling anywhere from mid-October to mid-November according to the Gregorian calendar. Next year, the two Holy Days will fall on November 13 and 14 (10 Qudrat and 11 Qudrat).

This decision means that we will have festive seasons in Spring and in Autumn, and the Bahais of East and West will celebrate them at the same times. The change also means that the twin holy days will never fall in the Bahai Fast, as they did for the eastern Bahais in the past. Moreover, in the past, the Bahais in the East were celebrating two joyous festivals on the days leading up to the day of ‘Ashura, on Muharram 10, when Shiah Muslims commemorate the heroic defence and martyrdom of Imam Husayn at the Battle of Karbala. Now that these Bahai Holy Days have been linked to the solar year, rather than the lunar month of Muharram, they will only be close to the day of Ashura for one or sometimes two years in the 32-year cycle created by the fact that the solar year is about 11.25 days longer than the 354-day Islamic lunar year.


The dates of Holy Days

The third decision is to fix the dates for all remaining holy days in accordance with the Badi` calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar. This is made possible by the first decision, since we will now have one standard calendar throughout the Bahai world, but it also means that various historical questions, such as whether the Bab was in fact executed on July 8 or July 9, have been set aside.

Because the months in the Islamic lunar calendar begin with the sighting of a new moon, dates given in the Islamic calendar are always give-or-take a day, unless the person also says what day of the week it is. The moon might be sighted on one day in Tabriz, and the following day in Baghdad, so the 15th of the Islamic month might be a Tuesday in Tabriz and Wednesday in Baghdad. This means that historical reports of certain events, such as the martyrdom of the Bab, do not agree as to the precise day. Historical reports may also be contradictory. The Universal House of Justice has drawn on statements by Abdu’l-Baha in which he dates these events in terms of the Bahai calendar. These statements do not necessarily help the historians with their questions, for if Abdu’l-Baha says that the Martyrdom of the Bab was on Rahmat 17, the historians still have to figure out what the date of Naw Ruz was in that year, in Abdu’l-Baha’s calculations. But these statements do give us a tidy way to avoid the historical uncertainties: we will commemorate the Martyrdom of the Bab on Rahmat 17. If, for example, the historical Martyrdom of the Bab was found conclusively to have occurred on what was July 8th in Europe, that will make no difference. We will observe it on Rahmat 17, regardless of any “discrepancies in the historical record.”

The remaining Holy Days that have been specified in this way are:
Naw-Ruz, 1 Baha
The Festival of Ridvan, 13 Jalal to 5 Jamal
The Declaration of the Bab, 8 ‘Azamat
The Ascension ofBaha’u’llah, 13 ‘Azamat
The Martyrdom of the Bab, 17 Rahmat
The Day of the Covenant, 4 Qawl
The Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, 6 Qawl

Dates of Feasts and Holy Days for the coming years

The following dates have been taken from the calculator developed by Jeffrey Brown. Although he says the dates are provisional, I have checked them against the table provided by the Bahai World Centre, and can confirm they are correct. The advantage of Jeffrey Brown’s calculator, for practical planning purposes, is that it shows the dates of all Feasts and Holy Days during the year, whereas the BWC table only gives the dates of the Ayyam-e Ha, Naw Ruz, and the Twin Holy Days.

Feast Days in 2017    Holy Days and Ayyam-e Ha in 2017
Sultan    January 18
Mulk    February 6
‘Ala’    March 1
Baha    March 20
Jalal    April 8
Jamal    April 27
‘Azamat    May 16
Nur    June 4
Rahmat    June 23
Kalimat    July 12
Kamal    July 31
Asma’    August 19
‘Izzat    September 7
Mashiyyat    September 26
‘Ilm    October 15
Qudrat    November 3
Qawl    November 22
Masa’il    December 11
Sharaf    December 30
   Ayyam-e Ha February 25 to February 28

Naw-Ruz March 20

First Day of Ridvan April 20
Ninth Day of Ridvan April 28
Twelfth Day of Ridvan May 1

Declaration of the Bab May 23
Ascension of Baha’u’llah May 28
Martrydom of the Bab July 9

Birth of the Bab October 21
Birth of Baha’u’llah October 22

Day of the Covenant November 25
Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Baha November 27

Feast Days in 2018    Holy Days and Ayyam-e Ha in 2018
Sultan    January 18
Mulk    February 6
‘Ala’    March 2
Baha    March 21
Jalal    April 9
Jamal    April 28
‘Azamat    May 17
Nur    June 5
Rahmat    June 24
Kalimat    July 13
Kamal    August 1
Asma’    August 20
‘Izzat    September 8
Mashiyyat    September 27
‘Ilm    October 16
Qudrat    November 4
Qawl    November 23
Masa’il    December 12
Sharaf    December 31
   Ayyam-e Ha February 25 to March 1

Naw-Ruz March 21

First Day of Ridvan April 21 (about 3 p.m.)
Ninth Day of Ridvan April 29
Twelfth Day of Ridvan May 2

Declaration of the Bab May 24 (2 hours after sunset on May 23)
Ascension of Baha’u’llah May 29 (at 3 a.m.)
Martrydom of the Bab July 10 (about noon)

Birth of the Bab November 9
Birth of Baha’u’llah November 10

Day of the Covenant November 26
Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Baha November 28 (at 1 am)

Feast Days in 2019    Holy Days and Ayyam-e Ha in 2019
Sultan    January 19
Mulk    February 7
‘Ala’    March 2
Baha    March 21
Jalal    April 9
Jamal    April 28
‘Azamat    May 17
Nur    June 5
Rahmat    June 24
Kalimat    July 13
Kamal    August 1
Asma’    August 20
‘Izzat    September 8
Mashiyyat    September 27
‘Ilm    October 16
Qudrat    November 4
Qawl    November 23
Masa’il    December 12
Sharaf    December 31
   Ayyam-e Ha February 26 to March 1

Naw-Ruz March 21

First Day of Ridvan April 21 (about 3 p.m.)
Ninth Day of Ridvan April 29
Twelfth Day of Ridvan May 2

Declaration of the Bab May 24 (2 hours after sunset on May 23)
Ascension of Baha’u’llah May 29 (at 3 a.m.)
Martrydom of the Bab July 10 (about noon)

Birth of the Bab October 29
Birth of Baha’u’llah October 30

Day of the Covenant November 26
Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Baha November 28 (at 1 am)

Short link:

[Updated November 3, 2014: added reference to ‘Ashura.]
[Updated November 25, 2014: added note regarding the occurrence of the new moon.]
Updated December 26: added the dates of Feasts and Holy Days for the coming years.
[Updated March 19, 2016: added more years to the table]

[1] A note on the calculation of the new moon: The twin Holy Days are to be celebrated on the first and second days following the occurrence of the new moon, as determined by astronomical tables, using Tehran as the reference point, not the appearance of the moon in Tehran. The occurrence of the new moon, astronomically, is the moment of its closest conjunction with the sun, which may be at midday in one place, and midnight in another place; in one place the moon may be visible, while in another place (perhaps Tehran) it is not visible. The sunset in Tehran is relevant in deciding in which Bahai day that moment of conjunction falls. In the coming year, the moment of the new moon conjunction falls early in the day (that is, just after sunset) in Tehran, on Qudrat 9. The Holy Days are therefore on Qudrat 10 and 11.

[return to “the twin holy days“]
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22 Responses to “Changes in the Bahai calendar: what, how and especially, why?”

  1. KomaGawa said

    I pat myself on the shoulder for having read all of this as carefully as I could. Having once worked in the newspaper interview field, I can appreciate the “tough questions” which the interviewee may not appreciate, but the newspaper has a responsibility to address those who think that way. Nothing personal (perhaps?)

    “And the otherwise unspoken question, “Is this more than an unnecessary and irritating inconvenience, haven’t we (and haven’t they), got better things to do?”

    2. Regarding the use of the calendar. As a member of the lowest level of the academic pyramid (no it isn’t students, because they are customers now) I have had great difficulty raising the issue of Holy Day time off in addition to the already considerable National holidays. It just doesn’t look good asking for “more time off”. The Dept. Chairman’s list of possible replacements for my position, seem to cause less trouble, become more attractive.

  2. Sen said

    The situation regarding Holy Days differs very much from one country to another, depending on the labour laws and industry. In some countries the law allows employees a few days of unpaid leave in addition to paid holidays. These may be sufficient to allow a Bahai employee to take most holy days free, bearing in mind that some of the holy days will fall in the weekend or, for those on a rotating work schedule, on scheduled days off. In industries such as health care it is often possible to arrange to swap work days with a colleague so as to have a free day on the Holy Day.

    Some Bahais will not benefit from any of these things. If they were to ask their employer for unpaid leave on every Holy Day that falls on a working day, the employer might have to agree to 6 or 7 days, which in many cases would be unreasonable even to ask. By the standards of a 24-hour economy and the secularised version of the Protestant work ethic, that is a lot of leave! From the employer’s point of view, there are three considerations: the disruption of the regular organisation of work, privileging one employee over others and the resentment of those who may have to adjust their work plans, and the competitive disadvantage all this would entail, in comparison to other organisations that grant fewer days leave. In this situation, an employee who makes the suggestion that ALL employees should have the right to one or two days of special unpaid leave in recognition of their ethnic or religious identity, and who works within the bounds of good organisational discipline to promote this possibility, may be considered to have made an effort to be excused from work. A letter on behalf of the Guardian states:

    He wishes also to stress the fact that, according to our Bahá’í laws, work is forbidden on our nine Holy Days. Believers who have independent businesses or shops should refrain from working on these days. Those who are in government employ should, on religious grounds, make an effort to be excused from work; all believers, whoever their employers, should do likewise. If the government, or other employers, refuse to grant them these days off, they are not required to forfeit their employment, but they should make every effort to have the independent status of their Faith recognized and their right to hold their own religious Holy Days acknowledged. (To the American National Spiritual Assembly, dated 7 July 1947)

    This was quoted by the Universal House of Justice in 1966, and so far as I know it is still the policy, although encouraging Baha’i employees to take more Holy Days off work does not seem to be a high priority. Could I draw your attention to the last sentence, regarding the Holy Days as an opportunity to gain recognition for the independent status of the Bahai Faith. The UHJ’s recent decisions regarding the Bahai calendar seem to me to have the same purpose. Ultimately it is also in any organisation’s interest to recognise that its employees have diverse cultural and religious identities which are valuable, and employees will feel they are valued for themselves (and not just as ‘human resources’) if their identities are recognized. If you adopt this constructive spirit as you seek to gain recognition of your own commitment to Bahai ideals, even if it is in the form of one Holy Day free of work each year, your efforts are likely to bear fruit. If not in terms of free days allowed to you, at least in some awareness that you are a Bahai employee. I suggest that you will have more credibility if you focus on the same day or days every year. The twin holy days in the northern autumn might be a good choice, since even people who know nothing of religions will understand that believers celebrate the birth day of their prophet. If on the other hand you were to ask for different days free each year, having calculated which Holy Days will fall in the weekend, you might be perceived as an opportunist, seeking as many extra days off as possible.

  3. Bert Taylor said

    @bahai_calendar & appreciates the notice you sent of your presentation of your viewpoints on this subject

  4. Dean Betts said

    You write: “The change also means that the twin holy days will never fall in the Bahai Fast, as they did for the eastern Bahais in the past.”

    When, why, and how did the twin holy days ever fall in the Bahai Fast, since Muharram never falls in March?

  5. Sen said

    Muharram can fall in any Gregorian month. In 2003, Muharram 1 & 2 fell on March 5 & 6. The next time Muharram 1 & 2 will be in March is 2035AD, when they will correspond to March 11 and 12. It’s a cycle of roughly 23 years, since the difference in year length is about 11 days. But the twin Holy Days will no longer be celebrated on Muharram 1 & 2.

  6. Stephen Kent Gray said

    Sen, there is the implications that you ignored about choosing Tehran as the place as the basis of the calendar’s New Year. They could have chosen Baghdad as the location because it is the site of the destroyed House of Bahallah. The Shrine of Bahallah is in Israel which would have appeared Zionist, but the Tehran the capital of Iran will probably look [too] Shia to the majority of Muslims who are Sunnis. Shiraz also has the same drawbacks as Tehran, but it is the place of the Birth and House of the Bab. The Shrine of the Bab is also in Israel. In summary, Baghdad is the only site that is neither in Israel nor Iran. It also has the distinction of being the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate during the years 762-796, 809-836, and 892-1258 when it was sacked by the Mongols.

    Also, when should and when should not Bahais take Holy Days off? I remember there being some advice about Bahai doctors should work on Holy Days. I don’t know the specifics about that or simmilar important jobs, but several questions arise. Does it matter whether there are non Bahai doctors or other simmilar jobs to make up for the Bahai ones who are off for the Holy Days? What jobs other than doctors are simmilar important jobs? Would referring a person to a follower of a different religion be an option on Holy Days like non Bahai doctors? Is the advice for now or when the Bahai Faith is such a majority religion finding non Bahai doctors or other such jobs would be difficult if not impossible?

    Random thing, but if Ridvan is a twelve day event why are only three of the twelve days Holy Days? Holy Days can be defined a Birth, Declaration, and Death of a Manifestation. That was unrelated to the question, but I just wanted to say it.

    Back to the location chose, was it for Iranians or Muslims in general? Great choice if it was the former, but a specifically Persian/Shia choice given most Muslims are Sunnis like I pointed out earlier. I also specified why Bhagdad would have been the best choice for all Muslims given that most are Sunni.

  7. Sen said

    I would love to have been a fly on the wall when these questions were being discussed, but in fact I think nobody knows what options were considered. My guess is that, since the calendar originates with the Bab, Shiraz and Tehran would have been the main options: Shiraz for the House of the Bab, and Tehran as the capital city and the place where the Iranian national calendar determines Naw Ruz, in his day and today.

    As for Holy Days, there is a general principle in Islamic jurisprudence (and common sense), which is endorsed by Abdu’l-Baha, that “necessities make forbidden things lawful.” (Abdu’l-Baha, quoted in the compilation Wisdom of Burying the Dead). And in the Gospel of Mark, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”

    In the questions and answers appended to the Aqdas, Baha’u’llah stipulates “The Most Great Festival commenceth late in the afternoon of the thirteenth day of the second month of the year according to the Bayan. On the first, ninth and twelfth days of this Festival, work is forbidden.”

    Lady Blomfield, Adib Taherzadeh and the Agnes Alexander prilgrim’s notes of 1937 state that the ninth day was when Baha’u’llah was joined by his family, which may be true but is not necessarily the reason why Baha’u’llah picked on the ninth day as one when work is forbidden. Perhaps it is simply because it is the ninth, and nine is the number of Baha’.

  8. Stephen Kent Gray said

    Sen, I find the fact that intercalated is not at the end of the year and that new year is now astronomically rather than mathematically determined unique. Take for instance the Gregorian and French Republican calendars, the former is mathematically based so leap day being Feb 29 is a non issue and the latter is based on new year being autumn equinox in Paris with five or six leap days each year.

    The reason such calendars like the French Republican Calendar are like that is because the calendar doesn’t get messed up because of an astronomical prediction that strays from what actually happens.

    The Badí calendar has Ayam I Ha before the last month rather than after the last month. It could lead to the problematic situation of the spring equinox being different than predicted which would lead to problems since the last month is back counted from the predicted day rather than having the leap days as a flexible buffer zone like all other such calendars.

    If the Ayam I Ha were after the last month, the calendars wouldn’t be in danger of miscalculations. If the spring equinox came earlier or later then predicted, it would be easy to add or subtract a day at the last minute. The current calendar has no such fail safe now, unlike all the other such calendars.

  9. Sen said

    The risk that the Naw Ruz pre-calculation may prove wrong is minimal. There is zero chance of the earth wobbling in its orbit, or speeding up or slowing down, so it comes down to the risk of an error in the astronomical tables. Since these have been used and refined for a century or more, they may be regarded as reliable. The errors there were in the first editions have been detected.

    And if it should prove that the equinox was a millisecond or two before sunset, when it had been predicted to fall a millisecond after – so what? The Bahai world will happily use whatever date has been announced, probably years in advance, and all over the world its feasts and holy days will be on the same days. Whether that is theoretically a day too early or late is neither here nor there. We have celebrated Naw Ruz on March 21, when the equinox has usually been a day earlier, and the sky has not fallen. The niceties of ritual correctness are a long way down the priorities list for the Bahai community.

  10. Sen, many thanks for your superb post outlining these issues. Having been away from the Baha’i community for a few years now, I only happened across this change by chance and it is very interesting to see the development.

    Regarding the main significance of this move, I thought the fact that the Baha’is of the ‘East’ were celebrating holy days differently to Baha’is of the ‘West’ was a clear problem for a religion emphasising its global unity. I’m very glad the UHJ took this step to tidy this up. Their solution seems quite neat in many ways.

    I agree this is also very much that this is about establishing the independence of the Baha’i Faith. Detaching the Baha’i religious calendar from both the Gregorian and Islamic calendars does this in a symbolic way.

    Is there also an element here where western Baha’is are being subtly “Iranianised”? On the one hand the Baha’i Naw Ruz has been brought together with the Iranian Naw Ruz, for western Baha’is they are seeing the “twin holy days” – previously just an eastern practice – brought over and they have had the calendar detached from the Gregorian one.

    Do you know how this has gone down with Baha’is in the west? Presumably the vast majority of Baha’is have gone along with it out of loyalty, but I imagine it will be an inconvenience at least as all the old calendars have to be binned!

    I ask this from the context of the community in England. Here, we seem to have two distinct ‘types’ of religious minorities, who play subtly different roles in society: first, you have ‘communal’ minorities – eg Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, Catholics and Quakers. Religion is part of their heritage, ancestry and identity, but there is little movement into and out of the religions through conversion. The second group is ‘convert’ minorities – eg Hare Krishna, Neo-Pagans, FWBO, Evangelicals. Most adherents are converts but many of these groups are quite sizeable. The two groups have a quite different attitude to inter-faith work in particular. I have sensed for a while a tendency for the Baha’is of England to move more and more into the first camp, given the large Iranian (or part-Iranian) ancestry and low rate of conversion (combined with low rate of retention). I wonder if this change will further this trend.

    I would be interested as always to hear your take of this particular angle.

  11. KomaGawa:

    “I have had great difficulty raising the issue of Holy Day time off in addition to the already considerable National holidays.”

    I never had any difficulty in my line of work as I simply took them off as annual leave. It always seemed strange to me that someone would expect to have special treatment as additional paid, or even unpaid, leave.

    Frankly as a manager if someone asked me for it now – whatever their religion – I would say no.

  12. Sen said

    As I explained in the post, the Bahai New Year will not always coincide with the Iranian New Year, since while they are both using Tehran and the moment of equinox, the Bahai day begins at sunset while the Iranian day begins at midnight. Therefore there will be leap days to take into account when converting dates from the Iranian to the Bahai calendar. Nevertheless, the choice of Tehran as a reference point is a strong assertion that the Bahai Faith is Iranian, not Israeli or British, in origin.

    It has been convenient to have the Bahai calendar pegged to the Gregorian, but I have encountered few grumbles. Those that did grumble I think were troubled mainly by the effort required to get their heads around the concepts. Why is a reference point needed at all? How can it not be obvious which day is the equinox? It did require a bit of 3-dimensional thinking, and there was a misconception that the equinox is the day that is equally as long as the night, while to understand the need for a reference point, one has to think of the equinox as the moment when the earth passes through the magic point in its orbit around the sun. Hence the article, which I think explains it in plain language.

    Age demographics and inward/outward orientation are related I think. I can only speak of the Bahai communities in the Netherlands and New Zealand. In the former, there are quite a few youth, perhaps enough to keep the community looking outward and engaging in society. Just as well, because there are a large cohort of Bahais my age and older, who see one another mainly at funerals. In New Zealand I don’t see that youth engagement, and a large part of the community come from the hippy generation, like me. It has not reached the point where we see each other at funerals, but the day is coming. The Dutch community is probably growing slow and steady, as it has for decades; the New Zealand community is shrinking I think.

  13. Kokal Japheth said

    Interested in the information and will appreciate reading more bearing in mind the The Universal House of Justice is the Head of Baha’i Faith and is infalable

  14. Sen said

    For an in-depth study of the Badi calendar, can I recommend “A Wondrous New Day:
    The Numerology of Creation and ‘All Things’ in the Badí’ Calendar” by Robin Mihrshahi, available online at the Bahai-library.

  15. There is also an article by Mr. Ali Nakhjavani in the January/February 2015 issue of the American Baha’i, a periodical distributed to Baha’is in the United States, which may shed additional light on this subject. It is entitled “The ninth cycle of the Bahá’í calendar,” and you can read it online here:

  16. Thanks for this article, Sen. I, like Andrew in another comment above, have been away from my community for quite some time. When I heard this mentioned at a 19-Day Feast several months ago in relation to some upcoming events I was confused but did not want to speak up and derail the topic or agenda. Tonight I was working on putting dates for 2016 into a new app that I am using on my iPhone, iPad and computer with the intention of getting more organized. When I looked at the online Baha’i Calendar provided by, it seemed to be the one I have always known for the past 40 years, so I knew it was time for me to dig deeper. The old calendar was much more simple to plug-in as recurring events in typical calendar programs. Hopefully, someone will create a calendar that can be chosen as an option to view in a Google Calendar similar to the following

    I really enjoy using technology as a support to my day-to-day interactions and look forward to seeing more developments in this area.

  17. Denise Godsey said

    I’m a little confused too. What happened to “leap days”?

  18. Sen said

    The leap days are still in the same place, they are part of the “ayyam-e ha.” The table for 2016 shows the Ayyam-e Ha between February 26 and February 29 this year, thus four days. If the calendar was getting ahead of the sun, it would be five days, to set the beginning of the next Bahai year back by one day.

  19. prsamy said

    Thank you for this article. You have clarified some confusion I had regarding some dates viz. the Martydom of the Bab.

    With due respects, I wonder if the use of ‘celebrate’ in the following context is ok.

    “we will celebrate the Martyrdom of the Bab on Rahmat 17. If, for example, the historical Martyrdom of the Bab was found conclusively to have occurred on what was July 8th in Europe, that will make no difference. We will celebrate it on Rahmat 17, regardless of any “discrepancies in the historical record.”

    Perhaps the word ‘observe’ rather than ‘celebrate’ would be more appropriate for the occassion.

  20. Sen said

    Thank you, I have made the required changes. You feedback illustrates why blogging is so much to be preferred above articles in academic journals.

  21. Pascal said

    Dear Sen

    I have noticed you have censored some of my articles. I have therefore decided not to visit your website ever again.

    In this article you have written “..the day of ‘Ashura, on Muharram 10, when Shiah Muslims commemorate the heroic defence and martyrdom of Imam `Ali at the Battle of Karbala..”

    Imam Hussain was martyred on 10 Muharram in Karbala by the army of Yazid. Imam Ali was Imam Hussain’s father.

  22. Sen said

    Thank you, I have fixed the error. This is not a discussion board, certainly not for discussions between those who post comments. There are forums for discussions, where I also participate. See the guidelines on the ‘about’ page.

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