On Tuesday, March 20, Asheville’s Bahá’í community will gather to celebrate the new year (164 Bahá’í Era). This festive day, which runs from sunset to sunset, is also the vernal equinox—the first day of spring. All over the world, Bahá’ís celebrate Naw-Ruz (pronounced “no-rooz”) according to local custom. American Bahá’í communities typically have a potluck dinner along with prayers from Bahá’í scriptures.
Bernice and William Tucker brought the Bahá’í faith to Asheville in the 1950s. Born in eastern North Carolina, Bill studied optometry before moving here. In the ‘60s, the Tuckers raised eyebrows by welcoming African-Americans to their home on Crockett Avenue. One night the police were called, and the Tuckers were forced to move from their rental house. Bill and “Bunny” relocated outside the city limits, where they were free to invite people of all colors.
Dr. Tucker was active in proclaiming his faith and even went on the radio. In October 1962, Asheville resident Herb Turner met Bill after hearing a radio announcement. Born in 1925 in McDowell County, Turner was raised as a Baptist but began studying other religions while in the Navy. When nine people over the age of 21 accept the Bahá’í faith, a local administrative group may be formed (Bahá’ís have no “church” or clergy). When Turner joined in April 1964 he became the ninth adult member, and the first “local spiritual assembly” of Bahá’ís in Asheville was formed.
The local Bahá’í community has grown greatly since then. People of all faiths are welcome to attend weekly devotional meetings and children’s classes, held each Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at the WNC Baha’i Center (5 Ravenscroft Drive in downtown Asheville).
The solar-based Bahá’í calendar includes 19 months, each with 19 days, plus four or five intercalary days. Naw-Ruz is one of the nine Bahá’í holy days on which work and school are suspended.
Naw-Ruz also marks the end of a 19-day fast, similar to Lent for Christians, Yom Kippur for Jews and Ramadan for Muslims. From sunrise to sunset, Bahá’ís between the ages of 15 and 70 abstain from eating, drinking and smoking (travelers, hard laborers, pregnant and nursing women, and people who are ill are exempt). Along with daily prayer, this is one of the greatest obligations of being a Bahá’í. During this period of meditation and prayer, Bahá’ís strive to make adjustments in their inner life and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in their souls. Fasting is symbolic—a reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires.
The Bahá’í faith was founded in Iran in 1844 by Bahá‘u’lláh, (pronounced “Ba-ha-oh-la”), who is said to have been a direct descendent of Abraham. Bahá’ís have always been a sorely persecuted minority in Iran, and under the current regime, their suffering is intolerable.
Naw-Ruz and the autumnal-equinox celebration are the two great annual festivals of Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Iran. Naw-Ruz probably began as a pagan pastoral celebration; legend credits King Jamshid, a mythical Zoroastrian ruler, with establishing the holiday. After the triumph of Islam over Zoroastrianism, Iranians continued to observe Naw-Ruz, which is celebrated wherever Iranian culture has taken hold (notably among the Zoroastrians of India and in immigrant communities around the world). Bahá‘u’lláh adopted Naw-Ruz as the Bahá’í new year.
Like the Christian Easter holiday, the Naw-Ruz celebration includes many symbols of renewal, including painted eggs. Among the best known customs is Haft Sîn, in which seven objects whose Persian names begin with the letter S are decoratively displayed on a table. The traditional meal is “sabzi polo” (steamed rice, herbed with parsley, coriander, chives, dill and fenugreek) served with fish or chicken.
“The earth is but one country and humanity its citizens” summarizes the teachings of the Bahá’í faith, which emphasizes the oneness of all religions and all people. We invite everyone to join Bahá’ís from Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Madison, Transylvania and Yancey counties in bringing in this new day for humanity.
[Weaverville resident Roya June Shahrokh is a business consultant who was raised as a Bahá’í.]
The Naw-Ruz celebration will happen Tuesday, March 20, at the Asiana Grand Buffet (1968 Hendersonville Road; 654-8879), starting at 7:30 p.m. A buffet dinner with one beverage costs $13.50/adult, $12/kids 8-12, and $8/kids 4-7 (no charge for kids 3 and under). For more information about the dinner, call 251-1051. To learn more about the Bahá’í faith, visit www.bahai.org or www.bahai-library.org