Bahá'í Obligatory Prayer and the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár
by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice1998-02-15
1. Letter to the House (see response below)DATE: 15 February 1998
TO: Universal House of Justice
RE: Bahá'í Obligatory Prayer and the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár
Beloved Universal House of Justice,
I have developed a deepening session designed to encourage the friends to hold devotional meetings as called for in the Four Year Plan, and to assist in envisioning these devotional meetings as one line of action set in motion for the development of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár. However, I am concerned that one point which I have made in past deepening sessions may be at variance with guidance given by the House of Justice, and I request clarification of this point, set out below, so that I may correct my understanding if it is erroneous.
In my deepening, the point is made that Bahá'í Obligatory Prayer may be offered in the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár (likely at a future stage of development). This is based upon the following text:
"As to the obligatory prayer (to be said three times a day): Each one must say his prayer alone by himself, and this is not conditional on a private place; that is, both at home and in the worshipping-place, which is a gathering-place, it is allowable for one to say his prayer; but each person must say his prayer by himself (i. e., not in company with others who might recite the same words and continue the same postures together at the same time).” (Tablets of `Abdu'l-Bahá Abbas, p.464)Also, my understanding is that many of the Tablets of the Master to the early Western believers which referred to prayer in the Temple used the Arabic term "salat" which the early Bahá'í translators often rendered into English as "communion" in an attempt to convey the meaning of "salat", as opposed to "du'a".
On the other hand, I recently re-read the following text from the House of Justice which appears to contradict the passage quoted above:
"It is striking how private and personal the most fundamental spiritual exercises of prayer and meditation are in the Faith. Bahá'ís do, of course, have meetings for devotions, as in the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár or at Nineteen Day Feasts, but the daily obligatory prayers are ordained to be said in the privacy of one's chamber, and meditation on the Teachings is, likewise, a private individual activity, not a form of group therapy." (Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to National Spiritual Assembly of Norway, 1 September 1983)Upon reflection it appears that there may be two ways to reconcile this apparent contradiction:
The Universal House of Justice received your email of 15 February 1998 requesting guidance concerning the appropriateness of offering the Obligatory Prayer in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, and it has instructed us to send you the following reply.
You quote a passage from Tablets of `Abdu'l-Bahá Abbas, p. 464. This has been checked with the original, and a new translation has been made which reads:
As regards obligatory prayer, this should be recited by each believer individually, albeit its performance is not dependent upon the availability of a private place. In other words, obligatory prayer may be performed alike at home or in the Temple, which latter is a public place, but on condition that each believer recite it individually. As for devotions other than obligatory prayer, if these be chanted jointly and with a pleasant and affecting melody, this would be most acceptable.You also cite the following statement from a letter dated 1 September 1983 from the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Norway which, you feel, contradicts the passage quoted above.
It is striking how private and personal the most fundamental spiritual exercises of prayer and meditation are in the Faith. Bahá’ís do, of course, have meetings for devotions, as in the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár or at Nineteen Day Feasts, but the daily obligatory prayers are ordained to be said in the privacy of one's chamber, and meditation on the Teachings is, likewise, a private individual activity, not a form of group therapy.We are asked to explain that, just as one should not deduce from Abdu'l-Bahá's Tablet that there are only two places where one can recite the Obligatory Prayer -- at home or in a place of worship -- so the phrase "in the privacy of one's chamber" should not be read literally and exclusively.
Both passages are applications, in response to specific questions, of the laws of Bahá’u’lláh which prescribe the saying of obligatory prayers (salat), but prohibit the practice of saying salat in congregation, with the exception of the Prayer for the Dead. In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer in 1949, this issue is expressed succinctly:
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