Journal of Communication and Religion, vol. 42, no. 4, 2019, pp. 5–27.
Abstract: During her brief life in the early nineteenth century, the Persian poet and theologian Táhirih advocated for a spiritual revolution. Authorities executed her for heresy in 1852. After death, Táhirih attracted admirers around the world; Western writers—especially women—have interpreted her history to argue for gender equality, religious renewal, and global interdependence. This Middle Eastern preacher has established a posthumous pulpit in the United States, as members of the Bahá’í Faith there have authored a dozen books about her. After introducing Táhirih’s rhetorical rebellions, this essay demonstrates her transnational influence by analyzing her afterlives in U.S. Bahá’í discourse.
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At the latitudes where I’ve lived the longest (between 40 and 43 degrees north of the Equator, to be exact), November through March are dark and frozen. The Baha’i (Badi) calendar has no celebratory Holy Days during most of this wintry season; the Day of the Covenant falls around US Thanksgiving, and Ayyam-i-Ha comes about a month before the Spring Equinox. In between, for most of the Gregorian months December, January, and February, there are no celebrations on our calendar, in contrast to other religions’ calendars, many of which feature holidays around winter solstice, casting light on the darkest time of year.
The Bab and Baha’u’llah were Twin Manifestations in a spiritual sense, as they both unfurled the Baha’i Dispensation, but also in a temporal sense, due to the closeness of their ages and birthdays. The anniversaries of their birthdays fall on consecutive days; this year, they occur on Saturday, October 21 (the Birth of the Bab), and Sunday, October 22 (the Birth of Baha’u’llah). The Twin Birthdays are always commemorated as Holy Days, anniversaries when Baha’is are asked to suspend work in honor of the occasion’s sanctity.
The Baha’i Era began 174 years ago, in 1844 CE, when the Bab announced His mission to a young Shaykhi named Mulla Husayn. How exhilarating it must have been to live during a new revelation—to have been a devotee of Buddha, an apostle of Jesus, a disciple of Muhammad, a first believer in any of the Manifestations of God, attuned to the flood of spiritual power that each divine dispensation initiated!
Recently, the interfaith center at my university invited religious groups to use the lobby’s display case to feature their ceremonial items for one month each. For the Bahá’í Campus Association, the project posed a perplexing challenge, because Bahá’ís don’t have ceremonial items. We avoid ritual; each Bahá’í individual, each family, each local community, can develop their own traditions to beautify and symbolize the Holy Days. But those traditions should remain flexible and never ossify.