The Number Nine (9) and the Baha’i Faith

Photo courtesy LEOL30 via Flickr.

Photo courtesy LEOL30 via Flickr.

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.


  1. Lights of Guidance, From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, July 9, 1939 []
  2. Directives from the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, 1973 Edition p. 87 []
  3. Lights of Guidance, From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, February 19, 1932 []
  4. Lights of Guidance, Directives from the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, 1973 edition P.87 []

About the Author

Naysan is the editor of Baha'i Blog and he has worked in various avenues of media for two decades. He’s passionate about using the arts and media to support and explore the teachings of the Baha’i Faith and he has produced and collaborated on popular music projects like the "DawnBreaker Collective" and the successful Ruhi-inspired sequence of "MANA" albums. His experience as a producer for CNN was invaluable while working on a number of special projects for the Baha’i World Centre, including the "Building Momentum" and "Pilgrimage: A Sacred Experience" videos. If there’s a media-related Baha’i project out there, chances are that Naysan was involved with it somehow!

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Discussion 28 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article Naysan, I think sometimes we do get a bit carried away by our excitement at seeing the number 9 in various situations. It can easily be interpreted by others as superstition or that we believe in numerology. The significance is so much more meaningful.

  2. Thanks for this Naysan. Nice and clear and a good reminder about the origins of the number nine. Also, Shoghi Effendi made a point of not having an excessive obsession for the number nine as he created eight-pointed stars in the gardens around the Shrines of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. When Shoghi Effendi was asked why he didn’t use nine-pointed stars, he jokingly answered, “Have you ever tried to make a nine-pointed star?” – I can’t remember the reference though.

      1. How can we thank Naysan enough for everything? Thank you also Lorraine for telling us about 8 pointed stars in the Gardens. I believe for the fact that the Guardian was infallible we must learn from his example and be very conservative and not volunteer to mention number 9. I also believe that in his infallible wisdom he wanted to be loving and not discouraging to the happy and excited pilgrims, so he humbly blamed himself for the difficulty he had in making 9 pointed stars. I bow my head and worship him because only a chosen one of God can be so humble – after so much he did and achieved.

  3. Thank you Naysan for a wonderful and informative article. As a fairly new Baha’i I was aware of the significance of 9, but now I have a very clear understanding.

    Alla’u’Abha
    Ross

  4. About a month ago I returned from Tehran where I attended the First Iranian National Congress of Esperanto. (Few believed that it would ever happen there!) During my study of the euphonic Persian language I ‘ve realized, perhaps erroneously, that in Farsi a ‘vahid’ signifies inter alia: ‘ a period of 19 years’ and that 95, carries significance for Baha’is as well as numbers 9 and 19. What seems at first glance to be missing is the number 5. Please don’t associate my referring to numbers as a superstition.

    Given my meager tuppence worth above, together with Naysan’s fine article, I’d venture to say that some of the friends will be surprised to hear what actually constitutes an official symbol of the Faith.

    The nine-pointed star is representative of the perfection of the Bahá’í revelation. Nine, the highest digit, symbolizes comprehensiveness and fulfillment of the expectations in all religions. The nine-pointed star is used as an emblem signifying culmination while the five-pointed star initiated by the Báb is an official symbol for the Bahá’í Faith:
    “Strictly speaking the five-pointed star is the symbol of our Faith, as used by the Báb and explained by Him.” {from a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in ”Lights of Guidance”, p. 110.}

    Shoghi Effendi later allowed both stars to symbolize our Faith.

    Now hear this for a coincidence: the international Esperanto emblem from near inception has been a five-pointed green star symbolizing the five continents harmoniously guided by the light of a neutral language. The color green contains the idea of healthy growth. The two, five-pointed Bahá’í stars, etched into Bahá’í ring-stones, represent Bahá’u’lláh and His Forerunner, the Báb. The body of man (mutatis mutandis: ‘woman’) with the head, the two arms and the two legs is also portrayed stylistically.

    The Oxford dictionary goes on to define a ‘coincidence’ as ‘a concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection’. It’s the ‘apparent’ part I find especially appealing

    Baha’i love

    Paul

    PS I can’t wait to return to Iran

    1. Thanks Paul Desailly, I enjoyed and learnt from your comments. Please tell us more about this Esperanto conference in Tehran (Iranian government a vicious criminal as well as a lying faker), and also why you love to go back to Iran.
      Regards

  5. Naysan, I think it would be a lot of fun to learn the Abjad reckoning with the Persian alphabet—it could be like a secret code for a Junior Youth Group and maybe we’d all learn the Persian letters, too. Any idea where I would find more than a and b? I just realized that the word Abjad is underlined up there, so maybe I’ll find it if I click it 😉

    1. Dear Estephnie, For information about Abjad letters/numbers there is a brilliant article in Ocean, Islam, miscellaneous…, Lewis – Abjad….. Also about 19, Cameron – Disconnected Letters of Quran

  6. 8 comments will suffice, a la the Guardian’s choice of an 8 pointed star, but number nine vis-a-vis 9 comments would be nice, what!?

  7. Nice article Naysan!
    When I visited the gardens in Haifa, something that really stood out for me was that some of the hedges were planted into the shapes of stars. These stars had 8 points. The guide explained that it was quite difficult to make them into 9 stars so Shoghi Effendi said to do them as 8 instead. For me that really highlighted the lack of attachment to numbers and superstition and the practicality of the Faith.

  8. It is technically incorrect to say that National Spiritual Assemblies and the House of Justice are “democratically elected”. They are elected by delegates, not the whole body of believers.

    1. Government elections everywhere take place through a multilevel process. As far as I know at local level political parties form committees from the rank and file (so called in Aust.), then they choose a suitable member of the party as candidate for that electorate to be voted for in general election.

    2. Hi Tod

      Please consider expanding vis-a-vis your take on the election process.
      I mean, for starters, that NSAs and the Universal House of Justice are not elected by ‘the whole body of believers’ in direct balloting first passed the post is not an undemocratic process

      What do you think Naysan about a prima facie honest story when it’s presented in full fair and square for people to decide for themselves? More detail? Who’s your arbiter?

      Baha’i love

      Paul

  9. Hooshang has requested more info about an historic event in Iran: i.e. Esperanto, which is directly referenced over and over by the Master and by the Guardian and i m o indirectly alluded to by Baha’u’llah Himself in ‘Epistle to the Son of the Wolf’ (1891), in which He chides Kamal Pasha for wasting his life in studying various languages. Ergo, how is it that Dr Zamenhof’s language of peace and even the principle of a universal auxiliary language are rarely spoken of in any depth in public by our rulers or by our learned or by our academics and famous writers in the Faith? Hooshang’s very strong words describing Iran’s theocratic government are mirrored in my two reports (including photos) on the unprecedented first national congress of Esperanto in that benighted land.

    This Baha’i Blog forum and its Number 9 thread is probably not the right time or place to air those two reports entitled HYPOCRISY which I’ll forward on request gratis and copy right free to any one. That none of the four levels of Baha’i administration (Local, Regional, National, International) in receipt of those reports a month ago have expressed any objection vis-a-vis this amateur airing his views on the Iranian Esperanto congress I guess I may continue in my current vein. That no negative repercussions have arisen in the wake of HYPOCRISY’s release a fortnight ago into the one million strong Esperanto community confirms my position.

    Baha’i love

    Paul

  10. Hi again Naysan
    19 comments will suffice of course but 45 would be nicer i m o vis-a-vis such a fascinating subject
    Baha’i love
    Paul

  11. As regards your second paragraph and reference to “nine entrances” to the Houses of Worship. In a letter to the German Baha’i community, written on behalf of the Guardian, it is stated that “Likewise the Guardian indicates, it is not essential that there be nine doors.”

    You can have a look at the references searching for “nine doors” on the new Mashriqu’l-Adhkár compilation.

    Further, though not in reference to the ‘nine doors’, but in relation to that institution, the Guardian writes: “In telling people of the nine 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 the idea of the architect, and a very pleasing idea, which be mentioned in passing, but the Temple has nine sides because of the association of 9 with perfection, unity and ‘Bahá’.”

  12. Paul I would love to see the reports ( hypocrisy) thanks for your wonderful comments they were very informative!

    1. Hi Jerry or should I say ‘Bon jour.’

      Being a bit of a chicken and known for decades as a writer contributing articles etcetera to the Baha’i Esperanto League, which reports directly from the National Spiritual Assembly of Germany to the Universal House of Justice, I expected the worst on arrival at Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini Airport. What transpired there in my case at the airport and during the congress, though not for many other Baha’is over the years, was the exact opposite – a rose on arrival, officials waiving rights vis-a-vis customs and immigration, a chauffeur and a car waiting in the airport car park reserved for my use, some of Iran’s best young TV artists performing sketches and the piece de resistance – simultaneous translating provided by professors from Teheran University, a feat, done to perfection, which I’ve never previously witnessed at home or abroad despite attendance at many bilingual congresses as a representative and speaker for the Faith

      If it’s prophecy to repeat over and over like a voice in the desert for a quarter of a century the Master’s predictions regarding Esperanto call me a prophet, albeit of a much much lesser quality than any previous prophet. However that may be, I ever recall that a prophet is without honour in his own country or home:

      Given that a national congress of Esperanto has never previously occurred in that benighted country, so lost that two Manifestations of God arose to redeem it, what I didn’t expect and what shocks me yet – more than three months after that historic event in the land of Ta – is the lack of response from any of the four layers of Baha’i institutional structure, vis-a-vis my lengthy reports to all of them, reports requesting just that – input and consultation

      I’m ever ready to forward the reports in question Jerry but I don’t have your address

      Bahaame

      Paulo

  13. Saluton Paul
    Nice to meet you here on this blog. I myself would like to recive your report on the Iranian EO congress. For a while I tried to get hold of your email address but without result. I do have some questions to your Esperanto book.
    Please write to me:
    [email protected]

  14. I like your article, especially your explanation that there is no occult meaning in it. It’s good to have a sense of humor too. I am a Baha’i and I sometimes have a friendly joke with my Baha’i friends about the number 9. For instance, the number 9 appears in my name (Jeanine) so that must mean that I am the most “perfect” Baha’i. Just kidding, of course, I am far, far, far form perfect! I just bought tickets to a Baha’i event and the ticket price was….I’m not going to tell. You already know. 😉

  15. Sehr interessant lieber Naysan. Die Schriften von Shoghi Effendi sind viele leider nur in englisch. Es gäbe da noch sehr viel zu lernen. Das hier lieber Naysan, war aber schon ganz toll. In den deutschen Schriften steht nicht sehr viel über die Zahlenworte? Aber es ist darin enthalten! Ganz herzlich Danke lieber Naysan für den tollen Artikel

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