As Baha’is, most of us are familiar with the main aspects of the Obligatory Prayers: that there are three to choose from, and that one is to be recited, individually, each day. The three prayers, generally referred to as the short, medium, and long Obligatory Prayers, each have specific directions which accompany them, but all should be preceded by ablutions (washing of the hands and face) and are recited facing the Qiblih (Point of Adoration, i.e. Bahji, Akka). The significance of the Obligatory Prayers has been discussed in another Baha’i Blog post here.
As a junior youth, I knew that when I reached the age of 15, I would start to say my Obligatory Prayer every day. But it wasn’t until my late teens, when I read the Kitab-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book) for the first time, that I found out about the following exemptions and clarifications, and they added to my understanding of the importance and centrality of the Obligatory Prayers to our lives.
1. There is a special verse to be recited to compensate for missed Obligatory Prayers due to situations of insecurity, whether one is traveling or at home
When traveling, if ye should stop and rest in some safe spot, perform ye—men and women alike—a single prostration in place of each unsaid Obligatory Prayer, and while prostrating say “Glorified be God, the Lord of Might and Majesty, of Grace and Bounty.” Whoso is unable to do this, let him say only “Glorified be God”; this shall assuredly suffice him….Upon completing your prostrations, seat yourselves cross-legged—men and women alike—and eighteen times repeat “Glorified be God, the Lord of the kingdoms of earth and heaven.”1
Baha’u’llah clarifies further in the Questions and Answers section of the Kitab-i-Aqdas:
If, when the hour of obligatory prayer arriveth, there be no security, one should, upon arrival in safe surroundings, perform a prostration in place of each Obligatory Prayer that was missed, and after the final prostration, sit cross-legged and read the designated verse. If there be a safe place, obligatory prayer is not suspended during travel. (58)
2. Women on their period are exempt and have a special verse to recite instead
In the Kitab-i-Aqdas, it states:
God hath exempted women who are in their courses from obligatory prayer and fasting. Let them, instead, after performance of their ablutions, give praise unto God, repeating ninety-five times between the noon of one day and the next “Glorified be God, the Lord of Splendor and Beauty.”
Note 20 of the Kitab-i-Aqdas further clarifies that:
…in some earlier religious Dispensations, women in their courses were considered ritually unclean and were forbidden to observe the duties of prayer and fasting. The concept of ritual uncleanness has been abolished by Baha’u’llah.
3. Those who are ill are exempt from obligatory prayer
In the same way that those who are ill may decide to withhold from the Fast, it is clarified in Question 93 that:
…obligatory prayer and fasting occupy an exalted station in the sight of God. It is, however, in a state of health that their virtue can be realized. In time of ill health it is not permissible to observe these obligations; such hath been the bidding of the Lord, exalted be His glory, at all times.
4. Baha’i’s over 70 are exempt from obligatory prayer
In note 14 of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, it says:
In answer to a question, Shoghi Effendi has clarified that people who attain the age of seventy are exempt, whether or not they are weak.
As Baha’is, we know that the laws of God are “the lamps of My loving providence among My servants, and the keys of My mercy for My creatures.”2 So the idea of “exemptions” from obligatory prayer may at first seem contradictory to our desire to follow the laws of God. However, The Universal House of Justice has clarified that
… the provisions in the Kitab-i-Aqdas granting exemptions from certain duties and responsibilities are, as the word indicates, exemptions and not prohibitions. Any believer is, therefore, free to avail himself or herself of an applicable exemption if he or she so wishes. However, the House of Justice counsels that, in deciding whether to do so or not, the believer should use wisdom and realize that Baha’u’llah has granted these exemptions for good reason.3
5. In certain instances, there is a special verse that can be recited instead of performing ablutions
In the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’u’llah states:
Let him that findeth no water for ablution repeat five times the words “In the Name of God, the Most Pure, the Most Pure,” and then proceed to his devotions.
It has been further clarified that this verse can also be used instead of performing ablutions when there is no water available; if the believer has wounds on the face or hands; or if one has other aches and pains for which water would be harmful.4
6. Ablutions should still be performed even after a bath
Note 34 clarifies that “…ablutions have a significance beyond washing”, and therefore, “…even should one have bathed oneself immediately before reciting the Obligatory Prayer, it would still be necessary to perform ablutions.”
7. We can perform our prostrations on any surface that is clean
Although having a dedicated prayer rug may help us get into a prayerful mindset, Baha’u’llah has simply specified that prostrations are carried out upon “any surface that is clean”. Although that may seem obvious to some, note 15 explains that “in the Arabic Bayan the Bab called upon the believers to lay their foreheads on surfaces of crystal when prostrating. Similarly, in Islam, certain restrictions are imposed with regard to the surface on which Muslims are permitted to prostrate.” By specifying that prostrations may be carried out upon any clean surface, Baha’u’llah has abrogated such restrictions.
8. It is preferable for the short Obligatory Prayer to be said standing up
Whereas in most of our prayer books, the medium and long Obligatory Prayers are accompanied with instructions as to how to position our body, the short Obligatory Prayer isn’t. However, in Questions and Answers 81 of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’u’llah clarifies that “It is preferable and more fitting to stand in an attitude of humble reverence.”
9. “Morning”, “Noon” and “Evening” indicate a range of times
Must the short Obligatory Prayer be recited exactly at noon? What constitutes morning, noon, and evening for the medium Obligatory Prayer?
The answer, given in Questions and Answers 83, is that by “morning” “noon” and “evening“ is meant “…sunrise, noon and sunset. The allowable times for Obligatory Prayers are from morning till noon, from noon till sunset, and from sunset till two hours thereafter.”
That concludes my list of nine things I learned about the Obligatory Prayers. I hope you’ve learned some new and enriching things too!