As we celebrate the Ninth Day of Ridvan (one of the three days of the 12 day Baha’i Festival of Ridvan where work should be suspended) I thought it would be interesting to look at the use and significance of the number nine in the Baha’i Faith.
First of all the Ninth Day of Ridvan is significant to Baha’is because this was the day where Baha’u’llah was joined by the rest of His family in the Najibiyyih Garden (known thereafter as the Garden of Ridvan) in Baghdad, but there are also numerous uses of the number nine in the Baha’i Faith, for example: Baha’i Houses of Worship are built with nine sides and nine entrances; each Baha’i institution, such as Local and National Spiritual Assemblies and the Universal House of Justice all have nine democratically elected members.
In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, he clearly explains that there are three reason for the significance of the number nine:
First, regarding the significance of the number nine: Its importance as a symbol used so often in various connections by the believers lies in three facts: first, it symbolizes the nine great world religions of which we have any definite historical knowledge, including the Babi and Baha’i Revelations; second, it represents the number of perfection, being the highest single number; third, it is the numerical value of the word ‘Bahá’.1
Shoghi Effendi’s first reference to the number nine symbolizing “the nine great world religions” is further explained in another letter:
The number nine, which in itself is the number of perfection, is considered by the Baha’is as sacred, because it is symbolic of the perfection of the Baha’i Revelation which constitutes the ninth in the line of existing religions, the latest and fullest Revelation which mankind has ever known. The eighth is the religion of the Bab and the remaining seven are: Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the religion of the Sabaeans. These religions are not the only true religions that have appeared in the world but are the only ones still existing. There have always been Divine Prophets and Messengers…2
Additionally, Shoghi Effendi’s reference to the “numerical value of the word ‘Bahá'” in the first quotation is based on the Abjad numeral system, a system based on Arabic, Hebrew and other semetic languages dating back to before the 8th Century. In this system, each letter of the alphabet represents a number, so the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, alif, is used to represent the number ‘1’; the second letter, bāʼ, is used to represent the number ‘2’, and so on. In an earlier letter to an individual, Shoghi Effendi explains this:
In the Semitic languages—both Arabic and Hebrew—every letter of the alphabet had a numerical value, so instead of using figures to denote numbers they used letters and compounds of letters. Thus every word had both a literal meaning and also a numerical value. This practice is no more in use but during the time of Baha’u’llah and the Bab it was quite in vogue among the educated classes, and we find it very much used in the Bayan. As the word Baha also stood for the number nine it could be used interchangeably with it.3
Perhaps one of the most commonly known uses of the number nine is its use in the nine-pointed star, which has become one of the popular symbols of the Baha’i Faith, and which is often used in Baha’i-related logos and jewellery world-wide. But Shoghi Effendi makes it clear that the nine-pointed star is not a part of the teachings of our Faith and it’s simply an emblem representing the number. He also goes on to make a clear distinction between the use of the number nine in relation to a nine-pointed star and to the number of sides used in the design of a Baha’i House of Worship. He writes:
The 9-pointed star is not a part of the teachings of our Faith, but only used as an emblem representing ‘9’. In telling people of the 9 religions of the world, that is existing religions, we should not give this as the reason the Temple has nine sides. This may have been an idea of the architect, and a very pleasing idea, which can be mentioned in passing, but the Temple has 9 sides because of the association of 9 with perfection, unity and ‘Bahá’.”4
In one of Baha’i Blog’s most popular posts called Top 10 Signs you are a Baha’i, one of the candid points made is that Baha’is “get unreasonably excited every time something has the number 9 or 19 in it” (yes, the number 19 also has significance in the Baha’i Faith, but I’ll leave that for another post). This ‘unreasonable excitement’ – although probably harmless – illustrates the attachment many of us Baha’is often place on the number nine, and perhaps what’s important to keep in mind is that the Baha’i Writings warn us against superstition. In light of this, I’d like to end with an extract from a document prepared on behalf of the Universal House of Justice by the Research Department of the Baha’i World Centre in regards to the number nine which supports this:
While the symbolic use of numbers in the Sacred Writings of Baha’u’llah and the Bab is important, there is no occult meaning to them, nor do Baha’is subscribe to divination by numbers or other such practices.
- Lights of Guidance, From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, July 9, 1939 [↩]
- Directives from the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, 1973 Edition p. 87 [↩]
- Lights of Guidance, From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, February 19, 1932 [↩]
- Lights of Guidance, Directives from the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, 1973 edition P.87 [↩]