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9 Things I Didn’t Know About Obligatory Prayers

August 16, 2016, in Articles > Baha'i Life, by

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

Baha’u’llah says:

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!


Footnotes & Citations
  1. Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’i World Centre, 1992 edition, p. 254[]
  2. Ibid., p.3[]
  3. Ibid., note 20[]
  4. Questions and Answers 51[]
Posted by

Melanie King Dollie

Melanie is a Californian Baha’i and creative at heart with a background in printmaking and cultural anthropology. She has lived in Latin America, Israel, and Southern China, and is currently living in Sydney, Australia, where she stays productive by working on painting, illustration, and web design projects.
Melanie King Dollie

Discussion 8 Comments

Dear M.K.Dollie,
Thank you so much. As one who has well-passed the age of 70, I have forgotten verses I once knew to be recited to compensate for missed obligatory prayers and trying to find them in the Kitab-i-Aqdas has been difficult for me.

Again, thank you!

Jacques Frasunkiewicz

Jacques Frasunkiewicz (August 8, 2016 at 12:57 AM)

Thank you Melanie, the exemption for those over 70 years is new to me and I am glad to read this because I am 75 and sometimes cannot remember whether or not I have said the prayers. Sometimes I am too sick to say them. This will give me peace of mind.

Jean Beardsall

Jean Beardsall (August 8, 2016 at 5:59 AM)

The clarifications here really helped. Thank u.

Criselda R. Figuerres

Criselda R. Figuerres (August 8, 2016 at 12:31 PM)

Glad to be of help!

Melanie King Dollie

Melanie King Dollie (August 8, 2016 at 4:45 AM)

Ref: Synopsis And Codification, Section IV. Part A. (2) (d).
Turning to the Qiblih is mandatory while reciting the while offering any Obligatory Prayers.

William Lai

William Lai (September 9, 2016 at 1:41 AM)

Hello i need your help please, so i have not really been consistent with my obligatory prayers ever since i turned 15, i am 23 now and i am really trying to lead a good Bahai life and have been saying my obligatory prayers daily for a while now. Can i do the math from the age of 15 and then know how many times i must prostrate and recite this verse to compensate for the missed obligatory prayers for all those years? What about reciting Allah’u’Abha 95 times each day, what must i do if i am to miss a day?

kazim

kazim (March 3, 2021 at 12:43 PM)

I suppose you could do that but I think that God is “the Most Merciful”, “the Most Compassionate.” I think that the purpose of Baha’i life is to strive to be better, to grow toward perfection. It is not to belittle ourselves for those times when we are not as good as we wish. The prayer, “Refresh and gladden my spirit…” reflects this attitude and has been useful to me in forgiving myself for short comings. In addition, I think this quote applies:
82.8 Even though we find a defective branch or leaf upon this tree of humanity or an imperfect blossom, it, nevertheless, belongs to this tree and not to another. Therefore, it is our duty to protect and cultivate this tree until it reaches perfection. If we examine its fruit and find it imperfect, we must strive to make it perfect. There are souls in the human world who are ignorant; we must make them knowing. Some growing upon the tree are weak and ailing; we must assist them toward health and recovery. If they are as infants in development, we must minister to them until they attain maturity. We should never detest and shun them as objectionable and unworthy. We must treat them with honor, respect and kindness; for God has created them and not Satan. They are not manifestations of the wrath of God but evidences of His divine favor. God, the Creator, has endowed them with physical, mental and spiritual qualities that they may seek to know and do His will; therefore, they are not objects of His wrath and condemnation. In brief, all humanity must be looked upon with love, kindness and respect; for what we behold in them are none other than the signs and traces of God Himself. All are evidences of God; therefore, how shall we be justified in debasing and belittling them, uttering anathema and preventing them from drawing near unto His mercy? This is ignorance and injustice, displeasing to God; for in His sight all are His servants.
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 230-231)

Cynthia McDaniel

Cynthia McDaniel (June 6, 2021 at 11:56 AM)

Thank you, Melanie!! Very helpful. Love, tia

Anne Sadeghpour

Anne Sadeghpour (August 8, 2022 at 2:28 PM)

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