Summary: a Bahá’í commemoration of the death of Bahá’u’lláh
2018 Date: 29th May (usually starting at sunset on 28th May)
Celebrated by: Bahá’í
Linked Holidays: Birth of Bahá’u’lláh, Ridván (Bahá’í)
Background and Theological Significance
The Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh is the annual remembrance in the Bahá’í Faith of the death of its founder Bahá’u’lláh. Followers of the Bahá’í Faith believe that Bahá’u’lláh was a Manifestation of God who inaugurated a new spiritual tradition in the world, building on the previous revelations from other Manifestations such as the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammed. Bahá’u’lláh was a follower of the Báb, an early nineteenth-century spiritual figure from Iran who believed that God manifests his will progressively through a series of prophets, or Manifestations. Shortly after the Báb’s execution in 1850, Bahá’u’lláh declared himself to be ‘He whom God shall make manifest’ (in Arabic, من يظهر الله), a messianic figure foretold by the Báb. After he publicly announced this in the Garden of Ridván in 1863, Bahá’u’lláh spent many years in exile, teaching and gaining followers. He died in the city of Acre on 29th May 1892, and his burial place has since become the most important shrine for the Bahá’í Faith.
The Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh is a time for Bahá’ís to remember their founder and his declaration and teachings. Although the Bahá’í Faith is relatively small, with a little over five million followers, it is one of the most widespread theological traditions in the world, and every year the festival of the Ascension will be celebrated by believers in nearly two hundred countries. These followers will bear witness to Bahá’u’lláh’s principles of tolerance, unity, and peace across humanity and theology.
Bahá’u’lláh spent the last years of his life at the Mansion of Bahjí outside of Acre in modern Israel (at that time part of the Ottoman Empire). His son `Abdu’l-Bahá undertook most of the organisational work of the then small Bahá’í community, leaving his father to spend his time writing and contemplating. In May 1892, Bahá’u’lláh contracted a fever, and he died on the 29th May at about five minutes past three in the morning. He was buried the same day in the grounds of the Mansion of Bahjí. `Abdu’l-Bahá, who succeeded his father as the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, as well as later Guardians worked to turn his resting place into a shrine for followers of the Faith, beautifying the room in which he was buried and surrounding it with gardens.
The commemoration of Bahá’u’lláh’s death, or ‘ascension’ from this life into God’s presence, has been held annually on the day of his passing and is one of the eleven holy days of the Bahá’í Faith. The Bahá’í calendar is dated from the day when the Báb proclaimed his religion in 1844, and is composed of 19 months of 19 days, in addition to four intercalary days. The Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh is celebrated on 13 ‘Aẓamat, which corresponds to 29th May in the Gregorian calendar.
Followers of the Bahá’í Faith celebrate the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh as a time to honour their founder and his message of peace and the unity of religions. As with other festivals, they typically abstain from work and often gather together with other Bahá’ís to spend time in fellowship. Many members of the Faith meet at the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh in Acre itself to pay personal respects to their spiritual father. Other Bahá’ís celebrate in various ways around the world. It is traditional on the day of the Ascension to meet at 3am to remember the exact moment when Bahá’u’lláh died. Prayers are often said facing ‘Qiblih’ (Arabic for ‘direction’), meaning facing toward the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh. The rest of the day is often spent in prayer or reading from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, as well as time for food and celebration. This provides an opportunity to reflect on the teachings of the Faith, and to remember the many Bahá’ís who are still persecuted for their beliefs in parts of the world.