04/20/2011 08:20 pm ET | Updated Jun 20, 2011

Ridvan 2011: Baha'is Celebrate 'Most Great Festival'

Baha'is all around the globe are celebrating the 12-day Festival of Ridvan from April 21 to May 2. The Festival of Ridvan marks the public announcement by Baha'u'llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith, of His Prophethood to His companions and family prior to His banishment to Istanbul from Baghdad. The first, ninth and 12th days of Ridvan are Holy Days which Baha'is observe with community gatherings and worship and on which work is prohibited.

When the authorities came to Baha'u'llah and explained He was to be exiled, He took up a residence in a garden complex on the Tigris River in Baghdad which He named the "Garden of Ridvan (Paradise)." He referred to the first day of Ridvan as "the Day of supreme felicity" and called the Garden of Ridvan "the Spot from which He shed upon the whole of creation the splendours of His Name, the All-Merciful" Baha'u'llah named the period of Ridvan the "Most Great Festival."

Baha'u'llah announced that He was the Promised One expected by all the peoples and religions of the world:

To attempt an exhaustive survey of the prophetic references to Baha'u'llah's Revelation would indeed be an impossible task. To this the pen of Baha'u'llah Himself bears witness: "All the Divine Books and Scriptures have predicted and announced unto men the advent of the Most Great Revelation. None can adequately recount the verses recorded in the Books of former ages which forecast this supreme Bounty, this most mighty Bestowal."
God Passes By, pg. 100

Because the river was flooded, most of His family and companions were not able to reach Him until the ninth day. They stayed with Baha'u'llah until the 12th day when the party set out for an arduous three-month journey to Istanbul. The Garden of Ridvan was filled with visitors and well-wishers wanting to say farewell to Baha'u'llah.

Baha'u'llah and His family spent more than 40 years in prison or in exile. Baha'u'llah's final place of banishment was the most remote corner of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine. The sufferings of the Prophets of God are so that humankind might be redeemed. Baha'u'llah wrote of Himself:

The Ancient Beauty hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty. He hath drained to its dregs the cup of sorrow, that all the peoples of the earth may attain unto abiding joy, and be filled with gladness. This is of the mercy of your Lord, the Compassionate, the Most Merciful. We have accepted to be abased, O believers in the Unity of God, that ye may be exalted, and have suffered manifold afflictions, that ye might prosper and flourish. He Who hath come to build anew the whole world, behold, how they that have joined partners with God have forced Him to dwell within the most desolate of cities!
Gleanings From the Writings of Baha'u'llah, pg.100

The first day of Ridvan is also the day of the annual elections of local and national Baha'i institutions. The Baha'i Faith has no clergy and the affairs of the community are overseen by councils of nine elected adult believers. There are no nominations and no politicking. All elections are by secret ballot. In towns and cities, Baha'is elect a Local Spiritual Assembly to administer its affairs and minister to the community. Countries have a National Spiritual Assembly.

The representatives of the Baha'is of the United States will gather in Wilmette, Ill., from April 29 to May 1st.for the national convention where the assembly will be elected.