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RELIGION & ETHICS

Bahá'í

Customs

Becoming a Bahá'í

Membership of the Bahá'í faith is open to all those who believe that Bahá'u'lláh is the latest Manifestation of God and who accept the Covenant Bahá'u'lláh made with His followers about His Successor and Interpreter, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and the administrative institutions that govern the Bahá'í community.

A convert is not required to renounce their previous faith, but merely to recognise that their previous faith was in need of regeneration. However they cannot actually remain a member of their previous faith.

A person becomes a Bahá'í when they accept Bahá'u'lláh. This is something between the person and God and is very much a matter of individual conscience.

An essential part of being a Bahá'í is being part of the Bahá'í community. A person who has (as Bahá'is say) declared his faith then indicates to the Local Spiritual Assembly (or the National Spiritual Assembly, if there's no Local Assembly) that he/she would like to be part of the Bahá'í community.

Detailed procedures differ from country to country - it is left up to National Assemblies to determine how to process these requests.

In the UK, a person can indicate verbally to a Bahá'í friend or in writing or by email that they consider themselves a Bahá'í and wish to be part of the community. Unless there is some very good reason for not doing so, their enrolment in the community is accepted without question.

Enrolled Bahá'ís can serve on the Local Assembly (if elected) or in other Bahá'í administrative roles; they can also attend the Nineteen Day Feast. Almost every other Bahá'í meeting is open to anyone.


A service at the Sydney House of Worship

Worship

Bahá'ís see themselves as a people with a mission to bring harmony and unity in the world, and this is reflected in their spiritual practice.

The main purpose of life for Bahá'ís is to know and love God.

Prayer, fasting and meditation are the main ways of achieving this and for making spiritual progress.

'Meditate profoundly, that the secret of things unseen may be revealed unto you, that you may inhale the sweetness of a spiritual and imperishable fragrance...'
Baha'u'llah

Service to Others is Worship
Bahá'í texts state that work performed in the spirit of service to humanity is a form of worship.

Absence of Ritual
The Bahá'í faith has no clergy or sacraments, and virtually no rituals.

There are only three Bahá'í rituals:

There are two reasons Bahá'ís avoid ritual:

Shoghi Effendi wrote in 1949...

"Baha'u'llah has reduced all ritual and form to an absolute minimum in His Faith. The few forms that there are - like those associated with the two longer obligatory daily prayers - are only symbols of the inner attitude."

Events and Celebrations
Doing without rituals doesn't mean doing without celebrations or special events.


US House of Worship

Communal Worship

Bahá'ís have no liturgy, since the minimising of ritual makes it impossible to develop one.

The emphasis on prayer and meditation, and on social action in Bahá'í thinking means that congregational worship plays a much smaller part in Bahá'í life than it does in other faiths.

Bahá'í services are very simple with readings from the scriptures, along with interpretations of them and prayers. Hymns and poetry are allowed, but not common. The atmosphere is usually dignified.

Bahá'ís are encouraged to come together in communal worship, but there are no congregational prayers (apart from the Obligatory Prayer for the Dead, which is recited by one person in the presence of the congregation).

One person will recite prayers on behalf of everyone present.

This is because prayer is seen essentially as a private duty, and because there are no professional clergy within the Bahá'í faith.

Morning Prayer
Bahá'í scripture recommends that the community should meet together for prayer each morning, however this is not commonly done by modern Bahá'ís.

Nineteen Day Feast
For modern Bahá'ís the main occasion for group worship is the 'devotional portion' of the nineteen day feast.

Holy Days
Bahá'ís usually hold special worship events on holy days and festivals.

Prayer
Prayer is a vital part of Bahá'í spiritual life.

Bahá'ís believe that prayer is more than making requests to God; it's more like a conversation with God (in contrast to meditation, which is like a conversation with one's inner spirit).

So they believe that it is not the language which is important, but rather the attitude of mind in which prayer is made.

Baha'u'llah said that brief and joyful prayer was better than long but wearying prayer.

The aim and results of prayer
Prayer is intended to help Bahá'ís get closer to God, so its aim is change the person who is praying, and not to change God.

Bahá'ís do pray to change things. But the highest form of prayer is to change oneself, to come closer to God and to give praise to God.

The purpose of the obligatory prayers is to cultivate humility and devotion.

Prayer and Action
Bahá'ís believe that prayer and action go together.

A Bahá'í faced with an issue would pray about it, meditate on what they should do, and then do it.

Even if the action they take is wrong, they believe that God can use that action to help them discover what they should do.

This reinforces the concept of the Baha'i relationship with God as a dialogue.

Prayer is not seen as an end in itself nor as sufficient on its own for a Bahá'í to grow. Shoghi Effendi wrote in 1944:

Prayer and meditation are very important factors in deepening the spiritual life of the individual, but with them must go also action and example, as these are the tangible results of the former. Both are essential.

Prayers
Prayers by the Bab, Baha'u'llah and Abdu-l-Baha are used by Bahá'ís at their meetings. (Iranian Bahá'ís quite often use prayers by Shoghi Effendi (although these haven't been translated into English)).The aim is to bring forth an appropriate attitude of true adoration.

There are prayers for general use, for healing, for community life and for marriage.

Abdu'l Baha wrote

Prayer need not be in words, but rather in thought and attitude... words without love mean nothing.

John Walbridge describes these Bahá'í prayers as usually being 'in a classical Arabic style reminiscent of the Qur'an and the Shi'i prayers, generally in a less complicated style than the prayers of the Bab. The tone is austere and lofty'.

Since prayers written by Baha'u'llah, the Bab, or Abdul-Baha are regarded as the words of God, and as having special spiritual power, no change can be made to the words, even to correct gender specific language.

It is quite acceptable for Bahá'ís to make up their own prayers for use in their private prayer.

To whom do Bahá'ís pray?
Bahá'ís can pray directly to God, or to God through his manifestation Baha'u'llah.

Meditation
Baha'u'llah recommended that Bahá'ís should meditate for a period each day - thinking about what they had done during the day and on what their actions were worth.

Bahá'í believe that through meditation 'the doors of deeper knowledge and inspiration may be opened,' but they avoid any superstitious or 'New Age' ideas about meditation.

There are no set forms of meditation or rituals prescribed in Baha'u'llah's teachings

Obligatory Prayers
Baha'u'llah made daily private prayer a religious obligation for all Bahá'ís from the age of 15 upwards.

Each day, one of three obligatory prayers should be said:

The believer can choose any one of the three prayers, but must recite one of them.

These prayers must not be said in a congregational group, although they don't have to be said in private.

Rules
Ablutions must be performed before obligatory prayer. The prayer must be said in a clean place. The person praying must face the direction of the shrine of Baha'u'llah.

The Short Prayer

I bear witness, O my God, that Thou has created me to know Thee and to worship Thee.

I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth.

"There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.

Prayer can be preceded by ritual ablutions and should be said in the direction of the tomb of Baha'u'llah. Two of the set prayers involve rituals and prostration, but the short prayer does not.

There is no punishment for not carrying out the obligatory prayers each day - the only penalty is the spiritual one of knowing that one has failed in one's duty to God.

Exemptions from Obligatory Prayer
Only those who are ill, or old (over 70) are exempt and they may instead recite a specific verse from their scriptures ('Glorified be God, the Lord of Splendour and Beauty') 95 times during a 24-hour period.

Travellers and women during their periods are partially exempt.

Reciting one obligatory prayer a day is not the only form of prayer; Baha'u'llah taught that one's whole life should be prayerful and lived in the right spirit.

Fasting

A Spiritual Fast
Bahá'ís practice fasting as a discipline for the soul; they see abstaining from food as an outer symbol of a spiritual fast.

By this they mean the practice of self-restraint in order to distance oneself from all the appetites of the body and so concentrate on oneself as a spiritual being and get closer to God.

Abstaining from food is not an end in itself but a symbol, and if it doesn't result in improvements in character and concern for others then it has not been undertaken in the right spirit.

Fasting was practiced by all the prophets revered by Bahá'ís.

The Nineteen Day Fast
Baha'u'llah designated a 19-day period of fasting each year immediately before the Bahá'í New Year.

The fasting is seen as a period of spiritual preparation and regeneration for the new year ahead. In the Western calendar, this occurs between 2nd and 21st March (the Bahá'í month of Ala meaning 'loftiness').

Exemptions from fasting
The sick, elderly, and very young are exempt from fasting, as are pregnant or nursing mothers, travellers and those doing heavy physical work.

If a Holy Day occurs during the traditional period of fasting, then the fast is not obligatory on those days.

The Nineteen Day Feast
Every nineteen days, the evening before the first day of each Bahá'í month, all of the Bahá'ís of a particular community meet at one of their houses, or the local Bahá'í centre for a Feast.

The Feast begins with prayers and readings from Bahá'í texts and those of other religions. After this there is a discussion of practical community issues. Finally, the Bahá'ís enjoy a social occasion.

Bahá'ís regard it as important (a 'duty and privilege') to attend the Nineteen Day Feast, as coming together as a community helps to build the unity that is fundamental to Bahá'í belief.

Although there usually are refreshments at the Feast, the name is given because the spiritual activities and socialising are seen as food for the spirit.

©Copyright 2003, BBCi (United Kingdom)


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