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Hinduism and the Bahá'í Faith

by Moojan Momen

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Chapter 7

Laws, Rituals and Festivals


The Bahá'í Faith does differ from Hinduism to a great extent in the matter of laws, rituals and festivals. Every religion has its own laws, rituals and festivals and this applies to the Bahá'í Faith as well. The Bahá'í Faith claims to be an independent world religion. Therefore it does not seek to impose the laws and rituals of any particular previous religion on the whole world but rather it has its own. In general, however, compared to other religions, the Bahá'í Faith has very little in the way of law and ritual laid down.

The lack of personal laws, apart from the few that will be mentioned below, means that the activities of Bahá'ís are guided more by moral principles than by laws.

The comparative lack of ritual means that major personal events, such as weddings, can be arranged by Bahá'ís as they wish. They may wish to incorporate elements of local tradition. This is permissible as long as these do not imply adherence to another religion.
 

Bahá'í laws

Prayer

Bahá'u'lláh has said that all Bahá'ís must pray every day. He has given three prayers to the Bahá'ís. They can choose which one of them to say daily. There is a very short one that must be said between noon and sunset, a medium one which must be said three times a day, and a long one that is said once daily at any time during the day. The following is the short prayer:

I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast 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. (1)

There are many other prayers revealed by Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá. These may be said at any time that a person feels a desire to pray.
 

Fasting

All Bahá'ís should fast during the month preceding the New Year (`Ala, 2nd - 20th March). Fasting for Bahá'ís means that no food and drink should be taken between sunrise and sunset. The following are excused from the fast: anyone who is ill or travelling more than an hour's journey; women who are pregnant or nursing; children under the age of 15 and people over 70.
 

Reading the scriptures

All Bahá'ís should try to learn to read so that they can read the holy writings for themselves. Bahá'u'lláh has commanded the Bahá'ís to read a part of the holy writings every morning and evening. The aim of reading these passages should be to achieve a better and deeper understanding of them. A small portion read with understanding is better than a great deal read with no understanding. If a person cannot read the writings then some of them can be committed to memory.

All of the prayers and readings should be said in the language which the person knows best. Therefore the Bahá'í writings have been translated into over 800 languages including over 50 Indian languages.
 

Marriage laws

The family is the basis of society and so marriage is given great importance in the Bahá'í teachings. Each man may only have one wife and each woman may have only one husband. Both the man and the woman must agree to a marriage. The parents of both sides must also agree.

Contraception is permitted if it is used to space out the children in a marriage but not for preventing the birth of children altogether.

Sexual activity is only allowed within marriage.

Divorce is allowed in the unfortunate event that the marriage breaks down completely. But it is discouraged and every effort must be made to enable the couple to be reconciled.
 

Dietary laws

Bahá'ís are permitted to eat any food. Vegetarian food has been recommended by `Abdu'l-Bahá as being the most natural food for mankind. He states that, in the future, when the study of diet and nutrition is more advanced, all human beings will become vegetarians. But Bahá'ís are free at present to be vegetarian or non-vegetarian.
 

Drugs, alcohol and tobacco

Bahá'ís are forbidden to take any of the mind-altering and habit-forming drugs such as opium, heroin and marijuana (bhang). Alcohol is also a mind-altering and habit-forming drug and is forbidden. The smoking of tobacco is strongly discouraged as a filthy and unhealthy habit but it is not forbidden.
 

Death and burial

All Bahá'ís should make a will so that their wishes may be known. In this will they should ask that they be buried in accordance with Bahá'í law.

Bahá'í law states that the body should be buried within one hour's travelling distance of the place of death. Cremation is forbidden as it breaks the natural cycle and is, for the soul, too abrupt a decomposition of the body.

A Bahá'í funeral is simple and dignified. A programme of prayers and passages from the holy books may be chosen. There is also a special prayer for burial which should be recited.
 

Involvement with politics

Bahá'ís should not involve themselves in party and factional politics, nor even express a preference for a particular party. All such party political activity causes division. It runs counter to the Bahá'í aim of uniting society.
 

Obedience to the government and to the law

Bahá'ís must obey the Government of the country in which they live and must not break any of the laws of that country. The only exception to this is if the government asks a Bahá'í to renounce the Bahá'í Faith. In that case a Bahá'í must refuse to comply. But even then active opposition to the government is not permitted.
 

Gambling, begging and back-biting

Gambling is forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'ís are encouraged to earn their own living and not to beg. Talking about the faults of others is very strongly condemned. Bahá'u'lláh considers this one of the greatest of human faults as it harms all: the speaker, the hearer and the victim of such talk.

There are no Bahá'í laws that need to be followed in the matters of dress or the giving of names. There is only the advice of Bahá'u'lláh that a Bahá'í should be moderate in all such things.

In the Bahá'í Faith, there is also no requirement for oblations or sacrifices. In Hinduism, oblations are often given to gods, for parents, for friends, and so on. In the Bahá'í Faith, these are replaced by prayers. For example, `Abdu'l-Bahá has given this prayer for one's father:

O Lord! In this Most Great Dispensation Thou dost accept the intercession of children in behalf of their parents. This is one of the special infinite bestowals of this Dispensation. Therefore, O Thou kind Lord, accept the request of this Thy servant at the threshold of Thy singleness and submerge his father in the ocean of Thy grace, because this son hath arisen to render Thee service and is exerting effort at all times in the pathway of Thy love. Verily, Thou art the Giver, the Forgiver and the Kind! (2)
Bahá'í calendar

The Bahá'í Faith has its own calendar beginning from 1844 AD. The calendar uses solar years and consists of 19 months of 19 days each. The Bahá'í months are named after various spiritual qualities or divine attributes.
 
 

Bahá'í month Translation Begins
Baha  Splendour 21 March
Jalal Glory 9 April
Jamal Beauty 28 April
`Azamat Grandeur 17 May
Nur Light 5 June
Rahmat Mercy 24 June
Kalimat Words 13 July
Kamal Perfection 1 August
Asma'  Names 20 August
`Izzat Might 8 September
Mashiyyat Will 27 September
`Ilm Knowledge 16 October
Qudrat Power 4 November
Qawl Speech 23 November
Masa'il  Questions 12 December
Sharaf Honour 31 December
Sultan Sovereignty 19 January
Mulk Dominion 7 February
`Ala'  Loftiness 2 March

 

There are four additional days before the last month of the year (`Ala') which make the number of days up to 365. These are increased to five days in a leap year. These days are specially set aside for hospitality and the giving of presents.
 

Bahá'í festivals

Bahá'í s celebrate a number of festivals that commemorate particular sacred events. For historical information on these events, see Chapter 8.

Naw-Ruz (New year) 21 March

Ridvan - first day 21 April

Ridvan - ninth day 29 April

Ridvan - twelfth day 2 May

The Bab's declaration of his mission 23 May

Passing of Bahá'u'lláh 29 May

Martyrdom of the Bab 9 July

Birth of the Bab 20 October

Birth of Bahá'u'lláh 12 November
 

Bahá'í Houses of Worship

At present, Bahá'ís in most local communities have no special place of worship. They meet either in each other's homes or at a Bahá'í centre.

It is envisaged, however, that in the future in each town there will be built a house of worship (Mashriqu'l-Adhkar). This will become the spiritual centre of the community. Around it will be built schools, libraries, medical facilities, orphanages and so on. At present Bahá'ís prefer to use their money on other projects and therefore only seven of these have been built around the world. The latest of these is a beautiful building in the shape of a lotus flower in Delhi.
 

Bahá'í shrines and pilgrimages

The majority of the holy places of the Bahá'í world are at the Bahá'í world centre in the Haifa-`Akka area and in Iran and Iraq. These are places linked to the lives of the central figures of the religion. The shrines of the Bab, Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá are all in the Haifa-`Akka area. Those Bahá'ís who can afford to do so without difficulty are encouraged to perform a pilgrimage to them. But the holy places in Iran and Iraq cannot at present be visited due to persecutions of the Bahá'í Faith in those countries. In India many Bahá'ís travel to New Delhi to see the Bahá'í House of Worship but this is not a religious requirement.

NOTES
    (for details of books cited, see Bibliography)

1. Bahá'u'lláh, Prayers and Meditations, no. 181, p. 240.

2. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Family Life, pp. 8-9.

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