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Prayer in the Bahá'í Faith refers to two distinct concepts: obligatory prayer and devotional prayer (general prayer). Both types of prayer are composed of reverent words which are addressed to God, and the act of prayer is one of the most important Bahá'í laws for individual discipline. The purpose of prayer in the Bahá'í Faith is to get closer to God and to Bahá'u'lláh and to help better one's own conduct and to request divine assistance.
Bahá'ís between the ages of 15 and 70 are required to perform one of three prescribed obligatory prayers daily and individually, according to a set form and in accordance with specific laws. In addition to the daily obligatory prayer, Bahá'í scripture directs believers daily to offer devotional prayer as well as to meditate and study sacred scripture. There is no set form for devotions and meditations.
Devotional prayers may be offered in the believer's own words. In addition, there is a large corpus of devotional prayers written by the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, the central figures of the Bahá'í Faith, which are used extensively by Bahá'ís in their devotional life. These prayers, encompassing many topics that include meetings, times of day, and healing, are held in high esteem. The specific words are believed by many Bahá'ís to have special power. Group reading from prayer books is a common feature of Bahá'í gatherings. Commonly, Bahá'ís gather informally in each other's homes to read prayers in events known as devotionals. Participants in a devotional gathering take turns reading aloud from a prayer book, while the others listen in reverent silence.
Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, encouraged Bahá'ís to pray frequently; he wrote that prayer should be used both individually as an act of worship in turning to God, and collectively in meetings. The Bahá'í writings state that prayer is essential to the development of spirituality, and that it is natural to have the impulse to pray. The benefit of prayer, however, is not obtained by the act of praying itself, but the spiritual state induced by prayer. In that regard, Bahá'u'lláh wrote that a brief prayer that is joyful is better to a long prayer which does not induce a spiritual state; that it is the spirit in which the prayer is offered that is important.
In the Bahá'í writings, the purpose of prayer is to get closer to God and to Bahá'u'lláh and to help better their own conduct and to request divine assistance. Prayer is used to express an individual's love of God and to affect their inner self. Prayer can also be used to obtain specific material ends, but the Bahá'í writings state that it is more important to pray for the love of God without any other hope or fear. Bahá'u'lláh wrote that prayer is essential to any undertaking, and that it attracts confirmations from God.
The Bahá'í teachings state that individual prayer should be performed when one is alone, and when free of distractions such as early in the morning or late at night. Collective prayers, which usually are performed by individuals taking turns in reading prayers, are also encouraged; collective prayers are usually performed at the beginning of meetings such as Nineteen Day Feasts, and Bahá'í administrative meetings. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, wrote that prayers may be addressed to God, Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, or other messengers from God; he recommended, however, that the prayers be addressed to Bahá'u'lláh.
Obligatory Bahá'í prayers
In addition to general prayers, Bahá'u'lláh prescribed a daily obligatory prayer in his book of laws, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. The obligatory prayer is a primary religious obligation starting at the age of fifteen and it is the most important kind of prayer. The purpose of the obligatory prayer is to foster the development of humility and devotion. Unlike almost all other prayers in the Bahá'í Faith, there are specific regulations concerning the obligatory prayers; however, obligatory prayer is a personal spiritual obligation and thus no Bahá'í administrative sanction can be obtained if a Bahá'í fails to say his prayer daily.
Bahá'u'lláh wrote three obligatory prayers — the short, the medium and the long — and Bahá'ís are free to choose to say one of the three each day. The short and the medium prayer have to be said at specific times; the short has to be said once between noon and sunset and the medium has to be said three times daily: once between sunrise and noon, once between noon and sunset and once between sunset and two hours after sunset. The long prayer can be said at any time in the day. The medium and long prayers also include movements and gestures during the prayers, which are themselves obligatory except when a person is physically incapable of performing them. Shoghi Effendi has written that the motions and gestures are symbolic and are used to help concentration during the prayers. Furthermore, the obligatory prayer is to be preceded by ablutions, the cleaning of the hands and face, and one has to face the Qiblih, which is the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh.
Corpus of general prayers
Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb — who told of Bahá'u'lláh's coming — `Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi wrote thousands of prayers; many of these prayers where originally included in letters to individuals. Most of these prayers were written in Arabic and Persian, and `Abdu'l-Baha wrote a few in Turkish. A large number of these prayers have been translated in English and many hundreds of languages; the short obligatory prayer has been translated into 501 languages. Prayers have been written for awakening, for travelling, healing, spiritual growth, detachment, protection, forgiveness, assistance, and unity, among others. The prayers may be said aloud, sung and/or repeated, and the text should not be changed. When saying a general prayer, one does not need to face the Qiblih.
Bahá'í prayers vary considerably in form; however a typical prayer starts with the supplication of the attributes of God, then a statement of praise, and then a request such as guidance or protection. The end of the prayer is usually composed of a list of God's attributes. The prayers often use imagery, including references to Islamic literature and Persian poetry.
Other special prayers
There also exist a number of prayers which can be said in specific circumstances or occasions, and they include prayers for the fast, and specific Bahá'í holy days; these prayers, while not obligatory, have an importance nearly equal to that of the obligatory prayers. Three other prayers are often seen by Bahá'ís to have particular power, including the Báb's short prayer for the removal of difficulties, and the Tablet of Ahmad and the Long Healing Prayer, both by Bahá'u'lláh. The Tablet of Visitation is a prayer that is used during visits to the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh and of the Báb, and is also used during Bahá'í holy days associated with them; the tablet is composed of passages taken from several of Bahá'u'lláh's writings. There is also a Tablet of Visitation for `Abdu'l-Bahá which is a prayer that expresses humility and selflessness. Bahá'u'lláh also wrote a specific prayer for the dead, which is to be said before the interment of a Bahá'í who has reached the age of fifteen. The prayer is read aloud by a single person while others who are present stand in silence; the prayer is the only Bahá'í congregational prayer.
The Greatest Name
- Walbridge, John. "Prayer and worship". http://bahai-library.com/encyclopedia/prayer.html. Retrieved 2008-04-27.
- Hatcher, W.S.; & Martin, J.D. (1998). The Bahá'í Faith: The Emerging Global Religion. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. 156–157. ISBN 0877432643.
- Smith, Peter (2000). "prayer". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 274–275. ISBN 1-85168-184-1.
- Stockman, Robert. "Scripture". bahai-library.org. http://www.bahai-library.org/encyclopedia/scripture.html. Retrieved 2008-04-27.
- Smith, Peter (2000). "visitation, tablets of". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 353. ISBN 1-85168-184-1.
- Bahaiprayers.org - A collection of Baha'i prayers
- Prayer, Meditation, and Fasting
- The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting - a compilation from the Bahá'í writings, compiled by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice
- 'Questions on Obligatory Prayer and Repetition of the Greatest Name Ninety-five Times a Day', by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice