All about prayer in Bahá'í life.
Last updated 2009-09-24
All about prayer in Bahá'í life.
Prayer is a vital part of Bahá'í spiritual life.
So they believe that it is not the language which is important, but rather the attitude of mind in which prayer is made.
Bahá'u'lláh said that brief and joyful prayer was better than long but wearying prayer.
Prayer is intended to help Bahá'ís get closer to God, so its aim is change the person who is praying, and not to change God.
Bahá'ís do pray to change things. But the highest form of prayer is to change oneself, to come closer to God and to give praise to God.
The purpose of the obligatory prayers is to cultivate humility and devotion.
Bahá'ís believe that prayer and action go together.
A Bahá'í faced with an issue would pray about it, meditate on what they should do, and then do it.
Even if the action they take is wrong, they believe that God can use that action to help them discover what they should do.
This reinforces the concept of the Bahá'í relationship with God as a dialogue.
Prayer is not seen as an end in itself nor as sufficient on its own for a Bahá'í to grow. Shoghi Effendi wrote in 1944:
Prayer and meditation are very important factors in deepening the spiritual life of the individual, but with them must go also action and example, as these are the tangible results of the former. Both are essential.
Prayers by the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá are used by Bahá'ís at their meetings. Iranian Bahá'ís quite often use prayers by Shoghi Effendi, although these haven't been translated into English. The aim is to bring forth an appropriate attitude of true adoration.
There are prayers for general use, for healing, for community life and for marriage.
Prayer need not be in words, but rather in thought and attitude... words without love mean nothing.
John Walbridge describes these Bahá'í prayers as usually being in a classical Arabic style reminiscent of the Qur'an and the Shi'i prayers, generally in a less complicated style than the prayers of the Báb. The tone is austere and lofty.
Since prayers written by Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, or Abdu'l-Bahá are regarded as the words of God, and as having special spiritual power, no change can be made to the words, even to correct gender specific language.
It is quite acceptable for Bahá'ís to make up their own prayers for use in their private prayer.
Bahá'ís can pray directly to God, or to God through his manifestation Bahá'u'lláh.
Bahá'u'lláh recommended that Bahá'ís should meditate for a period each day - thinking about what they had done during the day and on what their actions were worth.
Bahá'ís believe that through meditation the doors of deeper knowledge and inspiration may be opened, but they avoid any superstitious or New Age ideas about meditation.
There are no set forms of meditation or rituals prescribed in Bahá'u'lláh's teachings.
Bahá'u'lláh made daily private prayer a religious obligation for all Bahá'ís from the age of 15 upwards.
Each day, one of three obligatory prayers should be said:
The believer can choose any one of the three prayers, but must recite one of them.
These prayers must not be said in a congregational group, although they don't have to be said in private.
Ablutions must be performed before obligatory prayer. The prayer must be said in a clean place. The person praying must face the direction of the shrine of Bahá'u'lláh.
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou has created me to know Thee and to worship Thee.
I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth.
There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.
Bahá'í short prayer
Prayer can be preceded by ritual ablutions and should be said in the direction of the tomb of Bahá'u'lláh. Two of the set prayers involve rituals and prostration, but the short prayer does not.
There is no punishment for not carrying out the obligatory prayers each day - the only penalty is the spiritual one of knowing that one has failed in one's duty to God.
Only those who are ill or old (over 70) are exempt and they may instead recite a specific verse from their scriptures ('Glorified be God, the Lord of Splendour and Beauty') 95 times during a 24-hour period.
Travellers and women during their periods are partially exempt.
Reciting one obligatory prayer a day is not the only form of prayer; Bahá'u'lláh taught that one's whole life should be prayerful and lived in the right spirit.