Baha’is around the world celebrate what is known as The Day of the Covenant on 4 Qawl, according to the Baha’i calendar.
The other Holy Days, commemorating days of historical significance in the Baha’i Faith, are fairly easy to understand. We celebrate anniversaries of the birth and declaration of both The Bab and Bahá’u’lláh. We commemorate the martyrdom of the Bab and the ascension of Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. We also celebrate Naw Ruz to mark the beginning of the Baha’i New Year.
But what exactly is the Day of the Covenant?
Simply put, The Day of the Covenant is a commemoration of Baha’u’llah’s appointment of His eldest son, Abdu’l-Baha as His successor. Abdu’l-Baha played a crucial role in guiding the early Baha’i community and ensuring that the followers of the Baha’i Faith remained united, rather than fragmenting into different sects.
Why 4 Qawl, rather than on a date such as the birth of Abdu’l-Baha (8 Azamat)?
Abdu’l-Baha: Servant of Baha
Interestingly enough, Abdu’l-Baha was born on May 23, 1844 – a day of great significance to Baha’is. This was the very same day that the Bab declared His mission to Mulla Husayn, thus ushering in a new era in the history of humanity.
Although there were Baha’is who wished to commemorate Abdu’l-Baha’s birthday, He stressed that 8 Azamat was a day to commemorate the Declaration of the Bab – and not His own birth. This was typical of Abdu’l-Baha, who lived a life of complete humility and utmost devotion.
After all, the very title “Abdu’l-Baha”, which He had chosen for Himself, simply means “Servant of Baha”. Abdu’l-Baha had said:
My name is Abdu’l-Baha, my identity is Abdu’l-Baha, my qualification is Abdu’l-Baha, my reality is ‘Abdu’l-Baha, my praise is Abdu’l-Baha. Thraldom to the Blessed Perfection [Baha’u’llah] is my glorious and refulgent diadem; and servitude to all the human race is my perpetual religion. Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha
Although Abdu’l-Baha was insistent that 8 Azamat not be celebrated as His birthday, the early Baha’is longed for there to be a day dedicated to Abdu’l-Baha, and the Day of the Covenant was established as such a day.
I find the close proximity of the two Holy Days relating to Abdu’l-Baha – the Day of the Covenant, tomorrow, and the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha on 6 Qawl – makes this week a time to reflect on the life of Abdu’l-Baha. However, it is also – in equal measure – a time to reflect on what it means to be a follower of Baha’u’llah and to be of service to His Cause.
I find it really interesting (and not at all surprising, in light of the numerous stories I have heard demonstrating Abdu’l-Baha’s humility) that the day which Abdu’l-Baha established – supposedly in acquiescence to the pleas of the Baha’is looking for a day to honour Him -was not actually meant to bring glory to Himself, which is probably exactly what the Baha’is wanting to celebrate His birthday were looking to do!
Instead, the Day of the Covenant turns the attention of the Baha’is once again to the Revelation of Baha’u’llah and service to the Faith and Cause of Baha’u’llah.
Abdu’l-Baha truly was the tireless “Servant of Baha”.
Abdu’l-Baha is the Centre of the Covenant, to whom the followers of Baha’u’llah were to turn to after Baha’u’llah’s passing. The Covenant is a fascinating and deeply important concept that I think that we, as Baha’is, need to continually strive to better understand.
What is the Covenant? There have been volumes of books and compilations published on the topic, but this quote from the House of Justice sums it up beautifully:
A Covenant in the religious sense is a binding agreement between God and man, whereby God requires of man certain behaviour in return for which He guarantees certain blessings, or whereby He gives man certain bounties in return for which He takes from those who accept them an undertaking to behave in a certain way. There is, for example, the Greater Covenant which every Manifestation of God makes with His followers, promising that in the fulness of time a new Manifestation will be sent, and taking from them the undertaking to accept Him when this occurs. There is also the Lesser Covenant that a Manifestation of God makes with His followers that they will accept His appointed successor after Him. If they do so, the Faith can remain united and pure. If not, the Faith becomes divided and its force spent. It is a Covenant of this kind that Baha’u’llah made with His followers regarding Abdu’l-Baha and that Abdu’l-Baha perpetuated through the Administrative Order… From a letter written by The Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 23 March 1975
The Covenant represents a promise from God to humanity that we will never be left alone and without guidance. Throughout the history of mankind, God has guided humanity by sending them Manifestations to reveal great spiritual truths. In this Dispensation, we are also protected by the irrefutable covenant which Baha’u’llah established by directly appointing Abdu’l-Baha as His successor to guide the community of early believers.
Our part in the Covenant, as individual believers, is to follow the teachings of God as made known to us through His Manifestations. However, this isn’t simply about reading the Writings and obeying the laws, but also about acting in unity and serving steadfastly – as a community – to serve humanity and to realize the vision for a new, peaceful and unified civilization that is found in the Baha’i Writings.
And this is precisely what Abdu’l-Baha did.
Throughout His life, he made sacrifice after sacrifice in service to the Faith – out of obedience to the revealed Teachings and love for all humanity.
The Day of the Covenant – as a commemoration of the appointment of Abdu’l-Baha as successor to Baha’u’llah – does not just call to my mind the numerous stories I have heard about Abdu’l-Baha’s amazing life and selfless service, but inspires me to reflect on what it means to be a follower of Baha’u’llah and what it means to be steadfast in my faith and devoted to serving the Cause.
Happy Day of the Covenant, everybody! We’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections on this Holy Day in the comments below!