Prayer positions

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Prayer positions

Postby Jonah » Wed Oct 25, 2006 4:34 pm

This is probably what you're looking for: "Long Obligatory Prayer Movements," at ... Prayer.htm . Complete with diagrams. This is a personal website, it's not something prepared by any body with any authority. But I know that the author, Arjen Bolhuis, has contacted the House with a few specific questions about the Prayers and ablutions, so I'm sure what he's prepared is reliable.

I also prepared a PDF of his page, which you can download here: ... itions.pdf


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Postby Dorumerosaer » Wed Oct 25, 2006 11:13 pm

I would be interested in seeing any guidance from the House that specifies that being "seated" is as shown in those images, i.e. more of a kneeling position, not in a chair.

Although, the House is not emphasizing these details.

Also, the fact that Muslims pray that way is in no way guidance for Baha'is to do things that way. Our sole source is the Baha'i Writings; whereas in Islam, if early believers saw the Prophet Muhammad do something in a certain way, this got passed down, and became institutionalized and now everone does it. This practice is not followed in the Baha'i Faith.

Personally, when the prayer says to be seated, I sit in a chair.

Also, for those who do not wish to do the prostrations, Shoghi Effendi said that's why Baha'u'llah also revealed the two shorter prayers; so you can do what is most comfortable for you.


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Definition of noon

Postby Irish » Wed Nov 15, 2006 7:28 am

About the correct position for "be seated" in the Long Obligatory prayer. I'm of the opinion that kneeling (as in the picture on the website above, and as Muslims do it) is correct. The strongest reason why I think this is right is because it feels right. Each time that we must sit during the Long Obligatory prayer is right after a prostration (forehead on the floor). From this position, the most natural and flowing form of sitting would be to simply sit back onto your legs without taking your knees from the position they were in for the prostration. You can do without opening you eyes, and without losing your balance. In my opinion, sitting on a chair (or as I did for the first few years, sitting in the cross-legged position), break the flow of the prayer.

Even if sitting on a chair is permitted, surely it is not a necessary condition, for otherwise Baha'i could never pray sort of spontaneously in a natural setting, say, in a field.

Most likely, God won't mind if you sit on a chair or sit cross-leged. But no one can deny that kneeling back is the position which is simplest, easiest (and I would say, most comfortable, given that is only for a few seconds)

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Time of noon

Postby Irish » Wed Nov 15, 2006 7:33 am

In the instructions for the short and medium obligatory prayers, mention is made of the time of noon or mid-day. I don't think that this means 12 o'clock mid-day. I think that it means the time of the day at which the Sun reaches the highest point in the sky. Can anyone confirm if this is true. Has Shoghi Effendi or the Universal House of Justice clarified it, or is it obvious from the original Arabic?

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Postby brettz9 » Wed Nov 15, 2006 8:15 am

Hello Irish,

"The hour of noon should, of course, be observed in accordance with the position of the sun, not in accordance with local time-standards. The short obligatory prayer may be said at any time between noon and sunset."

(From a letter from the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the British Isles, cited in Principles of Baha'i Administration, p. 8)

An exception is made to the above, by the way, for those in extreme latitudes (e.g., in Lights of Guidance, no. 781, it is said Dublin is too south for this, whereas in no. 1531 the House says that Iceland (as with other countries in high latitudes) has the option to choose the use of clocks).

As we've compiled at , noon means from noon to sunset as far as the medium prayer too.

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Postby Irish » Thu Nov 23, 2006 6:10 am

I have some more questions about the Long Obligatory Prayers. I've numbered the instructions for easy reference.

1. Whoso wisheth to recite this prayer, let him stand up and turn unto God, and, as he standeth in his place, let him gaze to the right and to the left, as if awaiting the mercy of his Lord, the Most Merciful, the Compassionate. Then let him say:

2. Let him then raise his hands in supplication toward God -- blessed and exalted be He -- and say:

3. Let him then kneel, and bowing his forehead to the ground, let him say:

4. Let him then stand and say:

5. Let him again raise his hands in supplication, and say:

6. Let him then stand and raise his hands twice in supplication, and say:

7. Let him then raise his hands thrice, and say:

8. Let him then kneel and, bowing his forehead to the ground, say:

9. Let him then seat himself and say:

10. Let him then stand erect and say:

11. Let him then repeat the Greatest Name thrice, and bend down with hands resting on the knees, and say:

12. Let him then rise and say:

13. Let him then repeat the Greatest Name thrice, and kneel with his forehead to the ground, and say:

14. Let him then raise his head, and seat himself, and say:

In 1, 4, 10, 12, the website shows the man with hands raised to shoulder level. But the instructions in the prayers don't mention anything about where your hands should be. How do you explain this?

In 2 and 5, we are instructed to raise our hands in supplication. The picture shows a man with hands raised above his head. In 6, the instuction is the same, but this time the picture shows hands raised to shoulder height only.

The standing position seems to include a bend in knees. Where does this instuction come from?

Also, Shoghi Effendi has translated two very similar instuctions in two different ways. In the Medium Obligatory prayer, the Arabic is:
"Thumma yaqumu lil-qabut wa qul", translated as
"Then, standing with open hands, palms upward toward the face, let him say:"

In the Long Obligatory Prayer, Arabic is: "Thumma yarfa'a lil-qabut Allah tabaraka wa'l-ala wa yaqul", translated as " Let him then raise his hands in supplication toward God -- blessed and exalted be He -- and say:"

So, it would be logical that the fuller description in the Medium Prayers translation should apply to the Long Obligatory Prayer instruction too, no?

Maybe someone has made an eyewitness account of how 'Abdu'l-Baha used to pray so that we can copy Him. Good idea or bad?

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Postby brettz9 » Thu Nov 23, 2006 7:53 am

Hello Irish,

These pictures are not authoritative, and you have identified one mistake in them. I think people refer to these instructions because it is the only one anyone (to my knowledge) has made available with pictures. But it should be corrected.

Before addressing your question, in case anyone else was confused, you omitted one instruction from the prayer:

Let him then raise his hands, and repeat three time the Greatest Name.
Let him then bend down with hands resting on the knees before God - blessed and exalted be He - and say:

As far as the hands to shoulder level in 1, 4, 10, 12, my guess is that he is not intending to show them as being raised to shoulder level, but rather to do still show the hands for contrast with the times they are raised up higher. One can presumably place one's hands as one wishes during these instructions.

As far as no. 6 in your numbering (the 7th instruction), you are correct, this should be raised higher to be consistent with his other pictures. If someone has a copy of a PDF editing program, we would be grateful for a corrected version.

As far as the bend in knees in the standing position, there is no need to do this, as the instructions in the prayer make clear to stand. I think the artist just bent the knees a little so that the stick figure didn't look like it was missing legs or something, since in the standing position, it wouldn't be clear.

I don't know about your Arabic questions, but if the language in Arabic were in fact not to mention it, we wouldn't need to follow the Medium Obligatory Prayer's instructions, unless the Writings specified this. Likewise with instructions for how to sit during the prayer. Although, in the absence of guidance, we can follow whatever preferences we may have, the Writings quite often warn us not to add requirements (such as in our discussions with other people) which are not in the Text. But if the Arabic did say so, then that would be a good question to ask of the House of Justice.

As far as the case of sitting, I might add that the Aqdas contains instructions in different circumstances ranging from sitting cross-legged to sitting on chairs to sitting with no specific designation mentioned, so there is even less reason to think that one way must inherently be better (though again, the most important reason is that the Writings repeatedly warn against adding requirements not spelled out in the texts).

As far as an eyewitness account of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, while that may be interesting (if one existed), we are strongly advised not to adhere to pilgrim's notes. Bahá'u'lláh wanted to avoid the problems of doing this as occurred in Islam. Even assuming the observer observed correctly, we would not be able to know whether 'Abdu'l-Bahá was simply showing a personal preference (such as a preference He may have had for certain foods, etc.--i.e., not a spiritual preference), or taking some action specific to His circumstances at the time. Although this is itself only heresay, I seem to recall reading (from 'Abdu'l-Bahá?) an anecdote of how in Islam the prayer caller's traditional use of cupping the hands over the ears was started, not to any Qur'ánic requirement or even "authentic" tradition, but rather due to a desire to protect their ears (from what I don't recall). Although this particular example without a source is not helpful, I think it demonstrates the potential for error in such observations.

Although i don't think it necessarily adds anything to these questions, you may be interested in sections 3 and 4 at ... _prayer#s3

best wishes,

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Postby brettz9 » Fri Nov 24, 2006 6:07 pm

As far as your point about the Medium obligatory prayer, I did find an answer to your question. It seems the instructions about palms upwards toward the face would also apply to the long prayer (congrats on your Arabic catching that!):

The instruction to raise one's hands occurs once in the medium Obligatory Prayer and five times in the long Obligatory Prayer. The term used in the original Arabic for the first, second and fourth occasions in the long Prayer is the same as that used in the medium Prayer. Therefore it would be entirely correct for the worshipper, when raising his hands on these occasions during the recitation of the long Obligatory Prayer, to follow the more specific instructions given in English by the Guardian in his translation of the medium one. On the third and fifth occasions the instruction is given in the long Prayer, the words 'in supplication' are omitted. The House of Justice does not wish at this time to give any specific guidance in this connection; it leaves the matter to the discretion of the friends."

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, April 1, 1982: Notes on Obligatory Prayers and Ablutions, A Compilation of the Universal House of Justice, in Lights of Guidance, no. 1537)

As far as sitting, I also found this, which though it doesn't state a preference for the style of sitting, does suggest the floor:

" of the believers asked the Guardian a question about the correct position for sitting. From the context it seems clear that this question is related to the medium Prayer, but this is not explicitly stated. The Guardian's reply states that sitting on a chair is permissible, but to sit on the floor is preferable and more fitting."

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, April 1, 1982: Ibid., in Lights of Guidance, no. 1536)

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location of prayer

Postby Irish » Sat Dec 02, 2006 11:29 am

I know that congregational prayer is prescribed for Baha'is, except in the case of the Prayer for the Dead, (to be used at funerals by all the mourners, I think).

I have also heard some people say that congregational prayer (except Prayer for the Dead) is actually forbidden to Baha'is? Lately, I have thinking about the meaning of congregational prayer, and I can't define it. Have the Interpreters said anything about it?

Obviously, Baha'is often say prayers together, but this isn't "congregational", because we don't all recite the same words and the same time. Also, there is no leader of the prayers. The others who are not reciting the prayer are not regarded as having said that prayer (although they should be "prayerful" while the prayer is being said by another). Book 1 has a lot about this. We are supposed to "live in a state of prayers".

Also, I have heard that obligatory prayer should be said alone (like, in your room.)
Questions: can Baha'is say obligatory prayer in public. Like, could we say the obligatory prayer in the public park, where there may be others around to see what we are doing. What about in a library (silently), or a quite corner of large department store, or in a carpark?

Will Baha'is be able to say obligatory prayer in the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar. Aloud or silently? Can they perform it in a group? Of course, there would be no "prayer leader/ Imam", but what if there is just a group of people present who all want to say the same prayer at the same time. Just by coincidence, say. Would they have to start at different times, so that their standings, and sittings, and prostatings are not all synchronised, making it seem like a congregational prayer.

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Long Obligatory Prayer positions for non-muslim baha'is

Postby curt » Sat Dec 02, 2006 2:15 pm

Hello Irish,

You asked very interesting questions. I will try to address the spirit of them without too much emphasis on details.

I am not aware of Baha'u'llah mandating or prohibiting congregational prayer. However, the Bab has the following to say:

The reason why privacy hath been enjoined in moments of devotion is this, that thou mayest give thy best attention to the remembrance of
God, that thy heart may at all time be animated with His Spirit, and not be shut out as by a veil from thy Best Beloved. Let not thy tongue pay lip service in praise of God while thy heart be not attuned to the exalted Summit of Glory, and the Focal Point of communion.
pp 93-94, Selections From the Writings of the Bab

So the Baha'i custom of private prayer seems to have its origin in the Revelation of the Bab.

When I was on Pilgrimage, I noted that while at the Shrines Baha'is often said their obligatory prayers and there was no synchronicity and little uniformity in interpretation of the various gestures, etc. Baha'u'llah gave us the basic gestures and we must interpret them for ourselves. I concluded that God seems to like diversity and man, on the contrary, seems to like uniformity and rigidity.

I am unaware of any prohibitions on where not to pray. I would not be bothered by seeing a Baha'i reciting the long obligatory prayer in a park for example. It would not bother me at all. In fact, I would probably admire such boldness. But that is just me. Others may disagree.

The important thing is to pray.


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Postby Irish » Mon Dec 04, 2006 8:06 am

Thanks to Curt and Richard for thought-provoking responses.

I have found many of the answers to my own specific questions in Lights of Guidance, but the same quotes are in almost any compilation on prayers. It had been a while since I read those. Basically, we cannot ever say the obligatory prayer, all together, in co-ordination. It does not matter if there are other people around, even other praying people, even other people saying the same obligatory prayer. What matters is that the Bab has recommended praying in private (see quote in Curt's message) and that Baha'u'llah has forbidden congregation prayer in the Aqdas (according to the synopsis and codification), except the prayer for the dead.

There is also an interesting quotation from the House that says that a group reciting a prayer together is not congregational prayer. They seem to say that a requirement of congregational prayer is that is i) a ritual, to be performed according to a precription and ii) there is usually a prayer leader/imam. I hope I have understood that correctly. Also, I think they say that the Obligatory prayers can be recited at meetings, but only be individuals. They should not be set to music and sung by groups.

Richard, I love the thoughts you posted about prayer. Reminds me of something I heard at summerschool. Nader Saedi was telling us about a tablet by the Bab, called the Interpretation of the Occultation Prayer. It was a prayer said by Shi'is to ask God to reveal the Hidden Imam, I think. The Bab said that quoted another tradition saying, "the greatest sin is to ask something from God." His interprets the Occulation Prayer as a prayer to be said by a servant who wants to be released from the occulation of his own soul from God. We are all created by the Revelation of God, and the purpose of prayer is for man to remember where we came from, to connect our souls to their source, so much so that we disappear and all that remains is the Revelation of God which is really the essence of our true inmost beings.

This is just my recollection of what he told us. It was an amazing talk. He has a paper on it coming out soon. Anyway, I think the point is that asking for "things", and "gratification", is, as you say, pretty immature. Although I wouldn't say it's forbidden. And remember, in many prayers revealed for us by Baha'u'llah, we ask God to ordain for us and our families to best of this world and of the next, and for the hastening of the victory of the Faith.

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