The Festival of Naw Ruz

March 20, 1912:
On the Festival of Naw Ruz

This is an authorized translation, provided in 2016 by the Research Department at the Bahai World Centre, of a talk Abdu’l-Baha gave in the Victoria Hotel in Alexandria (Egypt). The talk is recorded in Persian and published in Khetabat-e Abdu’l-Baha vol. 3 p. 101. It has also been published in full in the Persian compilations Ganjineh-ye Hudud wa Ahkam p. 407-411 and Resaleh-ye Ayam-e Tes`eh p. 349-353. I have not compared the texts.

An earlier translation was published in Star of the West volume 9, no. 1, pp 8-9 (March 21, 1918). The translator is not named. Extracts from that are published in Lights of Guidance Vol.2 pp 303-304, and in various editions of Baha’u’llah and the New Era, in the chapter on various ordinances and teachings.

Some notes on the dating and the contents of the talk can be found in the first comment to this posting.

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According to ancient custom, every nation has general holidays when all the people rejoice and are glad. That is, they choose the day of the year whereon a great or glorious event had occurred. On that day they manifest great joy and happiness. They visit one another; if they have any feelings of bitterness towards one another, they become reconciled on that day; hard feelings pass away and they unite in love for each other. As great events occurred on the day of Naw-Ruz for the Persians, that nation therefore made it a national feast and considered it a national holiday.

This is, indeed, a blessed day because it is the beginning of the temperate season and the commencement of springtime in the northern hemisphere. All earthly things, whether trees, animals or humans, become refreshed; they receive power from the life-giving breeze and obtain new life; a resurrection takes place and, because it is the season of springtime, there is a general marvelous activity in all contingent beings.

There was a time when the Persian dynasty died out and no trace remained thereof. On such a day [Naw-Ruz] a new one was founded. Jamshid ascended the throne. Persia became happy and at peace. Its power, which had been dissipated, once more returned. Hearts and souls became possessed of wonderful susceptibilities, to such a degree that Persia became more advanced than it had been in former days under the sovereignty of Kayumars and Hushang. The glory and greatness of the government and the nation of Persia rose higher. Likewise, a great many events occurred upon the day of Naw-Ruz that brought honour and glory to Persia and to the Persians. Therefore, the Persian nation, for the last five or six thousand years, has always considered the Feast of Naw-Ruz as a day of national happiness, and until now it is sanctified and recognized as a blessed day.

In brief, every nation has a day to mark as a holiday which they celebrate with joy. In the sacred laws of God in every cycle and dispensation, there are blessed feasts, holidays and workless days. On such days no kind of occupation, commerce, industry, agriculture, or the like, is allowed. All work is unlawful. All must enjoy themselves, gather together, hold general meetings, become as one assembly, so that the oneness, unity and harmony of the people may be demonstrated in the eyes of all. As it is a blessed day it should not be neglected or left without results by making it a day limited to the fruits of mere pleasure. During such blessed days institutions should be founded that may be of permanent benefit and value to the people so that in their conversations and in history it may become widely known that such a good work was inaugurated on such a feast day. Therefore, the intelligent must look searchingly into conditions to find out what important affair, what philanthropic institutions are most needed, and what foundations should be laid for the community on that particular day, so that they may be established. For example, if they find that the community needs morality, then they may lay down the foundation of good morals on that day. If the community be in need of spreading sciences and widening the circle of knowledge, on that day they should proceed in that direction, that is to say, direct the thoughts of all the people to that philanthropic cause. If, however, the community is in need of widening the circle of commerce or industry or agriculture, they should inaugurate the means of attaining the desired aim. If the community needs protection, proper support and care of orphans, they should act upon the welfare of the orphans, and so forth. Such undertakings as are beneficial to the poor, the weak and the helpless should be pursued in order that, on that day, through the unity of all and through great meetings, results may be obtained, the glory and blessings of that day may be declared and manifest.

Likewise in this wonderful Dispensation this day [Naw-Ruz] is a blessed day. The friends of God should be confirmed in service and servitude. With one another they must be in the utmost harmony, love and oneness, clasping hands, engaged in the commemoration of the Blessed Beauty and thinking of the great results that may be obtained on such a blessed day.

Today, there is no result or fruit greater than guiding the people, because these helpless creatures, especially the Persians, have remained without a share in the bestowals of God. Undoubtedly, the friends of God, upon such a day, must leave tangible, philanthropic or ideal traces that should reach all mankind and not only pertain to the Baha’is.

In all the prophetic Dispensations, philanthropic affairs were confined to their respective peoples only—with the exception of small matters, such as charity, which it was permissible to extend to others. But in this wonderful Dispensation, philanthropic undertakings are for all humanity, without any exception, because this is the manifestation of the mercifulness of God. Therefore, every universal matter—that is, one that belongs to all the world of humanity—is divine; and every matter that is sectarian and private is not universal in character—that is, it is limited. Therefore, my hope is that the friends of God, every one of them, may become as the mercy of God to all mankind.

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3 thoughts on “The Festival of Naw Ruz

  1. Notes

    The Persian text in Khetabat-e Abdu’l-Baha states that the talk was given on the “beginning [day] of Rabi`ath al-Thani” in 1330 AH. If that is the first day of the month, it corresponds to March 20, 1912. It is likely that the date given in Star of the West, March 21, is not calculated but rather assumed, on the basis of the Bahai custom (at that time) of celebrating Naw Ruz on March 21 in the West, regardless of the timing of the equinox. But it could also be that the meaning is “early in Rabi`ath al-Thani.”

    The Hotel Victoria is located more precisely in Ramleh, a suburb of Alexandria, but this is also the name of a city in Palestine, and is easily confused with Ramalleh, also in Palestine. Therefore although Abdu’l-Baha’s residence and most of his talks in Egypt were located in Ramleh, I have categorized them under Alexandria.

    The Persian text at several places uses the word mellat in the modern sense of nation (but not ‘State’). This is worth noting, since there are other works of Abdu’l-Baha and Baha’u’llah in which the word is used, apparently, in the Quranic and older Persian sense, referring to a religious community. Kasravi comments that the word mellat was first used in the sense of nation during the Constitutional Revolution in Iran (1906-1911). Later in the text, mellat is used in the sense of a religious community, and is translated “respective peoples.”

    The Persian dynasty” : more precisely, it is the institution of monarchy in Iran that had been effaced.

    Kayumars : In the Zoroastrian scriptures, Gayomart is the first person created, and the first to worship Ahura Mazda. In the great Persian Epic of the Kings, the Shahnameh by Ferdowsi, Kayumars is the first king in the world. He had two sons, Siyamak and Húshang: the first was killed in combat with demons and Húshang continued the dynasty.

    especially the Persians : more literally, ‘especially Iran and the Persians.’

    Philanthropic affairs: kheyreyyeh, meaning good deeds in general. Philanthropy in English now has the connotation of substantial funding, but the sense of kheyreyyeh in Persian (generally speaking) is broader. However sadaqat, translated as “charity” here, has a specific meaning in Islamic law: it is donations of money or goods for charitable purposes which are not obligatory. Sadaqat is classified as praiseworthy, in contrast to zakat, which is obligatory, and defined by rules as to its amount and the recipients. In light of Abdu’l-Baha’s explanation that ‘philanthropy’ has been limited, it would appear that the term kheyreyyeh — which in isolation has a very broad meaning — is used here in the sense of obligatory giving in fulfillment of religious law, for specific purposes, analogous to Islamic zakat and for Shiah, the khums, Judeo-Christian tithes or the Bahai Huququllah. Islamic Jurisprudence has defined the goals of obligatory giving, and does not explicitly limit its recipients to Muslims. In fact, one stated purpose is to “charm the hearts” of potential converts. In practice, naturally, most of the recipients under headings such as “the poor” and “ransoming slaves” or “relieving the debtors” and “assisting travellers in distress” were and are Muslims, and this is not blameworthy. The reasoning is that it would be a source of shame to any religious community, if it helped the needy in general but did not relieve the needy in its own ranks. The development of multicultural and multireligious societies, and our awareness of the structural causes of social problems, insert a new factor in the equation. The structural causes of problems such as poverty, unemployment and poor health outcomes can only be addressed by society as a whole, for society as a whole. These are “universal matters.” In my opinion, a universal approach to these matters does not mean that Bahais and other communities should not alleviate individual suffering and needs in their own circles. In fact I would say that one who serves humanity and neglects his family is not to be trusted. And God knows best.

  2. I agree, we need to look to what is under our noses as well as serve humanity. And, on that note, I quote the word of wisdom that says: “The beginning of magnanimity is when man expendeth his wealth on himself, on his family and on the poor among his brethren in his Faith.” I think the principle is contained here. I don’t know what the original word is that is translated here as “magnanimity”.

    Interestingly, there is a word of wisdom on charity, which says: “The essence of charity is for the servant to recount the blessings of his Lord, and to render thanks unto Him at all times and under all conditions.” Again, I don’t know what the original word is that is here translated as charity. But I think it is very interesting to consider Baha’u’llah’s take on charity, which has nothing to do with money and everything to do with adopting an attitude of gratitude. If we are grateful to God for God’s infinite gifts, then we will be aware of what we owe to others. This principle is reflected in the passage from Baha’u’llah that fasting is a way for the wealthy to remember what it is like to be poor.

    • The sections you refer to in the Words of Wisdom are:

      The beginning of magnanimity [ra’s u’l-hemmat] is when man expendeth his wealth on himself, on his family and on the poor among his brethren in his Faith.
      رأسُ الهِمَّةِ هی انفاق المرء علی نفسه و علی اهله و الفقراء من اخْوَتِه فی دينه
      Hemmat has the connotation of effort exerted, usually to a good end.

      The essence of charity [ra’s u’l-eHsaan] is for the servant to recount [azhar be-] the blessings of his Lord, and to render thanks unto Him at all times and under all conditions.
      رَأسُ الإحْسانِ هو اظهار العبد بما أَنعمه اللّه و شکرُه فی کلّ الاحوال و فی جميع الأحيان
      eHsaan has the connotation of loving-kindness, or a favour given.

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