On October 20 of each year, Baha'is around the world celebrate the birth of one of the founders of their faith. The child born on October 20, 1819, in Shiraz, Persia, was of the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad and destined to become the Qa'im, the Promised One of Islam. But no portents marked his birth--he was, simply, a baby named Ali Muhammad.

The Bab's father died when he was quite young, and his maternal uncle, Haji Mirza Siyyid Ali, undertook the care of him. In later years, this uncle would become a martyr to the nascent Babi faith. When the Bab reached the proper age, his uncle enrolled him in school. On the first day of school, as part of the religious instruction given to all pupils, the teacher read a passage from the Qur'an and asked his new student to explain it. When young Ali Muhammad demurred, the teacher pretended that he himself did not know the meaning. The Bab then agreed to explain the verse, and did so with such breadth and depth of understanding that the teacher was astonished. When the Bab's uncle came to take him home, the teacher told him, "This boy has no need of schooling from one such as I." Nevertheless, the Bab's uncle returned him to school the next day, instructing him to be quiet and pay attention to the teacher. But the Bab's intuitive knowledge of the Spirit, like that of Jesus, could not be denied.

When his schooling was complete, the Bab joined his uncle, who was a merchant, in the family business and rapidly became renowned for his fairness and integrity. He wed a cousin, Khadijih, and suffered with her the loss of their only child, a son named Ahmad, who lived for only a few minutes following a harrowing delivery during which Khadijih's life was in grave danger as well. At the inception of his ministry, in 1844, they had had only two and a half years together. During the next six years, while his road took him first to Mecca, then to imprisonment in the heart of a mountain, and finally to his execution in a barracks-square in Tabriz, his wife would know the joy of his presence only a handful of times.

In some ways, the life of the Bab is strongly reminiscent of that of John the Baptist. Like John the Baptist, the Bab in his most important work, the Persian Bayan, exhorted people to purify themselves in preparation for the coming of "Him Whom God shall make manifest." Like John, who referred to Jesus as one "the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose," the Bab spoke of Baha'u'llah as one whose coming would be far more glorious than his own. And as John, who in his death at the hands of the oppressor became the first martyr to Christ, so the Bab became a martyr. But unlike John the Baptist and Jesus, the Bab and Baha'u'llah were not related by blood, and the Bab never met Baha'u'llah, although he sent him the gift of a pen. And unlike John, the Bab was the wellspring of a new faith, naming himself among Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.

Eleven holy days are celebrated in the Baha'i faith. On nine of these days, no work is to be done. Three of the nine commemorate the Bab--his birth on October 20, his declaration of his mission on May 23, and his martyrdom on July 9. While the youth of the Baha'i community and its lack of emphasis on ritual and tradition combine to make it difficult, if not impossible, to characterize Baha'i holy day celebrations, prayer and fellowship are always integral parts of any holy day observance. One prayer in particular, the Tablet of Visitation, which is also said by pilgrims to the Shrine of the Bab, is generally part of the devotional content of the day.

Other prayers and readings are chosen by the community. These are sometimes drawn exclusively from the Writings of the Bab, but frequently are not. Writings from other scriptures, such as the Bible or the Qur'an, may also be included. Some communities may host a formal dinner as part of the festivities; other communities may have a classic potluck. If the weather cooperates, picnics or other outdoor activities may be planned. Occasionally, members of a community will, as a group, participate in cultural or arts events after the spiritual requirements of the day have been met. Isolated believers will find meaningful ways to celebrate within the context of their own families. Often non-Baha'is who are interested in learning about the faith are invited to attend, since everyone is welcome to join in holy day celebrations.

The birth of every Manifestation is the rebirth of the world. In that simple fact lies the profundity and the glory of every day that is celebrated as the coming of God's messenger, be it the birth of the Bab on October 20, the Buddha's birth during the full moon in May, or Christmas. May we all find blessing within their light.

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