On April 21, Baha’is across Canada will celebrate the first day of the Festival of Ridvan (pronounced RIZ-von), which commemorates Baha’u’llah’s public declaration as a Messenger of God. Baha’is refer to this time as “the Most Great Festival,” or the “King of Festivals.”
Ridvan is an Arabic word meaning ‘paradise.’ The name of this festival is taken from that of a garden renowned for its beauty that was once located outside Baghdad on the banks of the Tigris river.
In 1863, after a decade of exile in Iraq, Baha’u’llah and His family were informed by the Ottoman authorities that they were to be exiled further from his Persian homeland (modern Iran) at the request of the Persian government, due to the continuing spread of His influence. Before leaving Baghdad, Baha’u’llah crossed the Tigris for a 12-day stay in the garden to receive well-wishers, many of whom were deeply distressed about his impending departure. Nevertheless, the anniversary is celebrated with joy because it marks the occasion of Baha’u’llah’s public announcement of his role and mission.
Baha’u’llah’s exile later took Him to Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey), Adrianople (Edirne, Turkey), and finally to the prison city of Acre (Akka, Israel) in 1868, where He would spend His last 24 years.
It is because of His final exile to and burial in Israel that the international Baha’i administrative centre is located in Haifa. It is the site of the offices and agencies of the international governing council of the Baha’i community. This council is elected every five years by the members of the national Baha’i councils from around the world.
This being an election year, the nine members of Canada’s Baha’i council – the National Spiritual Assembly – will join their colleagues from 171 countries in Haifa during the Ridvan festival to elect the nine members of the international governing council, the Universal House of Justice. Likewise, at the local level, municipalities where Baha’is reside will gather for the annual election of their Local Spiritual Assemblies, which are responsible for the administration of their communities.
In all of these thousands of gatherings around the world, Baha’is will strive to maintain the spiritual nature of their elections. There is no process of nomination, no electioneering, and no campaigning. Voters are expected to show selflessness and detachment toward the election results, realizing that each individual has the freedom to vote for the people who best reflect the qualities “of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience.”
Three days of the 12-day festival, which spans April 21 to May 2, are observed as Baha’i holy days: April 21, the declaration of Baha’u’llah; April 29, the date His family joined him in the garden; and May 2, when Baha’u’llah and His family departed from the garden. Baha’is are expected to suspend work on these days.