COLUMBIA — The Birth of the Bab is a Baha'i holiday that commemorates the birth of one of the young religion's founders each Oct. 20 with prayer, devotion and community social gatherings.
The Bab, born on Oct. 20, 1819, was a prophet who heralded the coming of Baha'i founder Baha'u'llah during the faith movement's infancy in the 19th century. He is often compared to John the Baptist, who, according to Christian tradition, heralded the coming of Jesus. However, above and beyond the scale of John's mission, the Bab founded an independent religion and claimed to be on the same level as Baha'u'llah, making his role and mission more comparable to that of Jesus or Islamic prophet-founder Muhammad.
Born Ali Muhammad, the Bab was believed to be a blood descendant of Islam's Muhammad. As a child in Persia, he quickly demonstrated deep spiritual understanding and knowledge of the Quran, the sacred book of Islam, astonishing his teachers. As an adult, he followed his uncle and caretaker into the family business as a merchant before beginning his ministry.
The Bab's birthday is one of 11 holy days in Baha'i. Three of those holy days honor important events in the Bab's life. The Declaration of the Bab, celebrated on May 23, commemorates the beginning of his ministry, while the Martyrdom of the Bab, celebrated on July 9, recalls his execution for his faith in 1850.
On nine of Baha'i's holy days, including the Birth of the Bab, work is suspended. Baha'i does not emphasize ritual and tradition, so no other special observances are prescribed for this or any other Baha'i holy day. The faithful typically gather for worship and celebration, reciting Baha'i prayers and reading from the Writings of the Bab and other scriptures such as the Bible or the Quran. Fellowship and feasting also accompany the observance.
For more information about Columbia's Baha'i faith community, go to comobahai.org.