Prayer is an integral component of Baha’i life. It is the very foundation upon which our lives as spiritual beings are built. In my opinion, without prayer, we weaken the vessel which acts as our connection to the divine realm and revert to being physical beings living a solely physical life.
There are many different settings in which we can pray as Baha’is. But before we delve into some of these, it is important to explore what prayer is.
According to Abdu’l-Baha, prayer is conversation with God. It is the means by which God can communicate with us, through His Manifestations, and the means in which we can communicate with Him. Abdu’l-Baha says:
We should speak in the language of heaven—in the language of the spirit—for there is a language of the spirit and heart. It is as different from our language as our own language is different from that of the animals, who express themselves only by cries and sounds.
It is the language of the spirit which speaks to God. When, in prayer, we are freed from all outward things and turn to God, then it is as if in our hearts we hear the voice of God.1
The Universal House of Justice sheds further light on the qualities of prayer in the following excerpt:
The Twin Luminaries of this resplendent age [the Bab and Baha’u’llah] have taught us this: Prayer is the essential spiritual conversation of the soul with its Maker, direct and without intermediation. It is the spiritual food that sustains the life of the spirit. Like the morning’s dew, it brings freshness to the heart and cleanses it, purifying it from attachments of the insistent self. It is a fire that burns away the veils and a light that leads to the ocean of reunion with the Almighty. On its wings does the soul soar in the heavens of God and draw closer to the divine reality.2
Knowing how vital prayer is when it comes to feeding our soul and sustaining us, let us now explore some of the different situations in which Baha’is find themselves drawing closer to the divine reality.
One of the laws we are required to adhere to as Baha’is is the recitation of our daily Obligatory Prayer. Baha’u’llah has revealed three Obligatory Prayers – the short, medium and long. The short Obligatory Prayer should be recited once between the hours of noon and sunset; the medium Obligatory Prayer three times in 24 hours; and the long Obligatory Prayer once in 24 hours. It is up to each individual to decide which Obligatory Prayer they would like to recite on any given day. Baha’u’llah states:
Cling firmly to obligatory prayer and fasting. Verily, the religion of God is like unto heaven; fasting is its sun, and obligatory prayer is its moon. In truth, they are the pillars of religion whereby the righteous are distinguished from those who transgress His commandments.3
As for obligatory prayer, it hath been sent down by the Pen of the Most High in such wise that it setteth ablaze the hearts and captivateth the souls and minds of men.4
Personally, I think the fact that we have Obligatory Prayers as a Baha’i law, and more so as one of the pillars of our Faith, goes to show how crucial prayer is when it comes to our spiritual development. I love that even amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life, I must dedicate that moment every day to recite my Obligatory Prayer and feed my soul – albeit momentarily.
Reading the Writings in the Morning and Evening
Another time in which we are required to pray and meditate is in the morning and evening. While this isn’t regarded as obligatory per-se, Baha’u’llah does refer to it as an ordinance of our Faith when He says:
Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide. Whoso faileth to recite them hath not been faithful to the Covenant of God and His Testament, and whoso turneth away from these holy verses in this Day is of those who throughout eternity have turned away from God. Fear ye God, O My servants, one and all. Pride not yourselves on much reading of the verses or on a multitude of pious acts by night and day; for were a man to read a single verse with joy and radiance it would be better for him than to read with lassitude all the Holy Books of God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. Read ye the sacred verses in such measure that ye be not overcome by languor and despondency. Lay not upon your souls that which will weary them and weigh them down, but rather what will lighten and uplift them, so that they may soar on the wings of the Divine verses towards the Dawning-place of His manifest signs; this will draw you nearer to God, did ye but comprehend.5
Reading the holy verses every morning and evening is not only a refreshing way to start and close a day, but it can help to set our personal agenda for the day ahead as well as assist us when it comes to bringing ourselves to account, or reviewing how the day has gone. The Writings are indeed an ocean of gems and mysteries, and to have them as a source of guidance, strength and assurance is a true blessing.
Another space in which Baha’is and their friends can partake of the sweetness of prayer is during devotional gatherings. Identified as one of the core activities of community-building, and for good reason, these spaces aim to awaken spiritual susceptibilities within us as individuals and build spiritual foundations in our communities. Just as our bodies require spiritual sustenance before they can contribute towards meaningful change within ourselves and our neighbourhoods, so to do our communities require a spiritual foundation in order to be able to propel forward. According to the Universal House of Justice:
Devotional meetings are occasions where any soul may enter, inhale the heavenly fragrances, experience the sweetness of prayer, meditate upon the Creative Word, be transported on the wings of the spirit, and commune with the one Beloved. Feelings of fellowship and common cause are generated, particularly in the spiritually heightened conversations that naturally occur at such times and through which the “city of the human heart” may be opened.6
As community life is strengthened and developed, Baha’is build Houses of Worship as specific spaces where everyone is welcome to come and pray.
A Constant Condition
Recently, the Ruhi Book 1 study circle I was participating in was discussing how prayer could seamlessly become intertwined in all that we do. One of my favourite quotes from Abdu’l-Baha speaks on this very topic:
There is nothing sweeter in the world of existence than prayer. Man must live in a state of prayer. The most blessed condition is the condition of prayer and supplication. Prayer is conversation with God. The greatest attainment or the sweetest state is none other than conversation with God. It creates spirituality, creates mindfulness and celestial feelings, begets new attractions of the Kingdom and engenders the susceptibilities of the higher intelligence.7
To me, this passage implies that praying in the privacy of our chamber is not the only way in which we can converse with God. In fact, prayer is a state, a condition, which we must live in at all times. Whether we are working, whether we are serving, whether we are going about our daily activities – we can ensure that our actions become prayers themselves, particularly when undertaken in a spirit of selflessness, joy and detachment to all save God. Abdu’l-Baha also says:
…strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers. Turn towards God, and seek always to do that which is right and noble. Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute!8
Free From Ritual
Speaking about prayer, Abdu’l-Baha has been quoted as saying:
In the highest prayer, men pray only for the love of God, not because they fear Him or hell, or hope for bounty or heaven…. When a man falls in love with a human being, it is impossible for him to keep from mentioning the name of his beloved. How much more difficult is it to keep from mentioning the Name of God when one has come to love Him…. The spiritual man finds no delight in anything save in commemoration of God.9
With the above words in mind, and after exploring the different spaces in which we can commune with God, it is important to note that there are no hard and fast rules in the Baha’i Faith when it comes to how and when we should communicate with our Maker. According to Shoghi Effendi:
Daily prayers—with the exception of the specific obligatory prayers such as the “Namaz” —can be recited in any fashion or manner which the believer chooses. Uniformity in the case of such prayers should under no circumstances be imposed upon the friends. The worshipper should be left entirely free to pray as he wishes.10
Prayer is essentially a communion between man and God, and as such transcends all ritualistic forms and formulae.11
We are given the freedom to express our love for God in a way we deem appropriate and at a time and place that works for us. We can do so in a way that is free from tradition, superstition and ritual, but maintains a spirit of joy, respect and reverence. Nobody is pointing a finger or keeping tabs on us. This Faith recognises that we are all individuals traversing along our own spiritual journey, and I love it for that.
- from a talk reported by Miss Ethel J. Rosenberg, as quoted in J. E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, pp. 89-90 [↩]
- The Universal House of Justice, from a letter dated 18 December 2014 to the Baha’is in Iran [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, Compilation: The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas [↩]
- The Universal House of Justice, Message dated December 29 2015 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 41. [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks [↩]
- Report of Abdu’l-Baha’s words as quoted in J. E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, pp. 94–95 [↩]
- From a letter dated 6 July 1935 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer [↩]
- From a letter dated 15 June 1935 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer [↩]