Chet Greason, firstname.lastname@example.org
Esperanto was invented in 1887 to be utilized as a universal language; easy to learn and to the point. The idea was that, rather than choose one existing language to be spoken throughout the world, leaving large swaths of the planet left struggling to catch up, everyone would learn the same language simultaneously; no one ahead, no one behind.
The end result would see people able to communicate and be understood no matter the continent.
It’s only fitting, then, that the daughter of the creator of Esperanto would also be an adherent to the Bahá’í faith. Bahá’í, in many ways, could be said to be the Esperanto of religions.
Founded in the 19th century by Persian exile Bahá’u’lláh, it is now estimated that there are more than two million Bahá’í followers worldwide, including over 60 in Stratford and the surrounding area. The community gathered at Raja on the evening of March 21 to celebrate Naw-Rúz, the Bahá’í new year. The night included prayers put to song, well-wishing, and, come sunset, eating.
Each of the 19 months in the Bahá’í solar calendar consists of 19 days, with four days left over as “Intercalary Days” (five in a leap year). For the entire month prior to Naw-Rúz, Bahá’ís who are physically able can choose to fast every day. Following a breakfast at dawn, nothing is eaten or drank until sundown. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, travelers, or those with physical ailments are encouraged to not participate in the fasting.
“In this case, fasting is a symbol,” explains Mitchell resident and Bahá’í adherent Charles Fitzsimmons, adding that, though a pregnant woman should not fast due to the well-being of herself and her child, she is still welcome to participate in the celebration at large.
“For those that do choose to fast, research has shown it produces anti-inflammatories that can make you feel good,” he adds.
According to Fitzsimmons, this idea of choice is integral to the Bahá’í faith. Followers don’t join until they’re old enough to decide to do so by their own volition after they turn 15. Adherents bring their own cultural traditions to the table, and choose for themselves what to integrate, celebrate, or keep separate.
The food served at Naw-Rúz celebrations depends largely on the culture where it’s celebrated. The Stratford Bahá’ís chose to eat at Raja simply because they enjoy the food and atmosphere there. The same goes for the songs that were sung, the greetings that were made, and any other traditions brought forth from the attendees; some wished each other a “Happy Naw-Rúz,” others exchanged cards. Nobody tells anyone else that they’re doing it wrong.
“The purpose (of the Bahá’í faith) is unity between all races and faiths,” says Fitzsimmons. “The idea is not (for followers) to give up their traditions, but to bring them forward.
“We believe that every person has had their education from God through various teachers all over the world, but now that we have the means available to communicate with each other, now is the time to bring the past forward and add a new chapter.”
Case in point is the festival of Naw-Rúz itself, celebrated on the vernal equinox when the sun is at its zenith over the equator and the day contains equal parts day and night. The name of the event stems from Persian, meaning “New Day’, and is taken from the ancient Zoroastrian celebration of a similar name and function.
Local Bahá’í Rose Najmi says most star-gazing cultures recognize the day in some manner. The Japanese call it Shanbun No Hi. The Iranian calendar similarly pivots around the day (called Nowruz), and it’s celebrated as a holiday in many Central Asian countries. The Jewish festival of Passover revolves around the annual astrological event, and the equinox is also recognized as the beginning of spring.
“It’s charming to have new years in spring … when everything is new and reborn,” says Fitzsimmons.
It’s also notable that in the country of Iran, the site of the consolidation of the Baha’í faith, its followers are heavily persecuted.
Fitzsimmons posits that the existence of a culture like Canada, where it is a crime to persecute someone based on their religion, is a sign of the universality of things to come.
“If two people are arguing about religion, then they’re both wrong,” he says.
“Religion is supposed to be about unity and love, no matter what you call it.”