Obligatory Prayers and Ablutions
by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice, Bahá'u'lláh, Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendipublished in Bahá'í Studies Bulletin, 4:3-4
first written or published 1987-04-15
1. Letter from the HouseMr. Rob Stauffer
15 April 1987
Dear Bahá’í Friend,
Further to our letter of 30 March 1987, it has been noticed that, contrary to what is stated in the first paragraph, the first question you submitted in your letter of 16 December 1986 was not included in the memorandum prepared by the Research Department. We are now instructed to rectify this omission.
In response to your question regarding the recitation of a specifically revealed verse if the Obligatory Prayer is missed on account of danger or insecurity, asking whether this requirement applies to prayers missed on account of forgetfulness, ailment, inability to say the prayer while being in the company of others, and inability to speak, the Universal House of Justice has directed us to share with you a compilation entitled "Notes on Obligatory Prayers and Ablutions" as you will no doubt be interested in the extracts from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on the importance of reciting these prayers.
Concerning those who are unable to speak, in a letter dated 31 January 1949 written on behalf of the beloved Guardian in answer to a question about the recital of Obligatory Prayers it is stated: "The daily prayers are to be said by each one for himself, aloud or silent makes no difference."
The House of Justice points out that the law regarding actions to be taken in place of an Obligatory Prayer missed on account of insecure conditions is not binding upon the believers in the West. This is a matter on which the Universal House of Justice will legislate at the appropriate time.
For Department of the Secretariat
2. Compilation, "Notes on Obligatory Prayers and Ablutions"
From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláhOn pages 35-37 of Synopsis and Codification of the Laws and Ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas in sub-section A of "Prayer", Section IV, entitled "Laws, Ordinances and Exhortations" are found explicit texts concerning obligatory prayers and ablutions.
From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-BaháKnow thou that in every word and movement of the obligatory prayer there are allusions, mysteries and a wisdom that man is unable to comprehend, and letters and scrolls cannot contain.
The obligatory prayers are binding inasmuch as they are conducive to humility and submissiveness, to setting one's face towards God and expressing devotion to Him. Through such prayer man holdeth communion with God, seeketh to draw near unto Him, converseth with the true Beloved of one's heart, and attaineth spiritual stations.
O thou spiritual friend! Know thou that prayer* is indispensable and obligatory, and man under no pretext whatever is excused therefrom unless he be mentally unsound or an insurmountable obstacle prevent him.
From letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to individual believers unless otherwise statedConcerning the directions given by Bahá’u’lláh for the recital of certain prayers, Shoghi Effendi wishes me to inform you that these regulations - which by the way are very few and simple - are of a great spiritual help to the individual believer, in that they help him to fully concentrate when praying and meditating. Their significance is thus purely spiritual.
The instructions that accompany these prayers, such as the washing of hands and face, of bowing down and of raising one's hands, have been definitely ordained by Bahá’u’lláh, and as such should be entirely and confidently carried out by the believers, and particularly by the Bahá’í youth on whose shoulders has been laid the chief responsibility of vindicating the truth, and preserving the integrity of the laws and ordinances of the Faith.
The daily obligatory prayers are three in number. The shortest one consists of a single verse which has to be recited once every twenty-four hours and at mid-day. The medium which begins with the words "The Lord is witness that there is none other God but He" has to be recited three times a day, in the morning, at noon and in the evening. This prayer is accompanied by certain physical acts and gestures. The long prayer, which is the most elaborate of the three, has to be recited only once in every twenty-four hours, and at any time one feels inclined to do so.
The believer is entirely free to choose any one of these three prayers, but is under the obligation of reciting either one of them, and in accordance with any specific directions with which they may be accompanied.
Concerning the obligatory prayers; they are three in number, but the believer is free to choose anyone of them. The long prayer should be recited once every 24 hours; the middle one three times a day: at morning, mid-day, and evening; while the short one, consisting of only one verse, should be recited once a day at noon. All these three prayers should be read with the believer facing the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh at Bahji, 'Akka, which is also called the Dawning point of Revelation.
With reference to your question regarding the three daily obligatory prayers, the Bahá’í worshipper is not required to recite them all each day, but has to choose one, and should also strictly conform to any instructions revealed by Bahá’u’lláh in connection with its recital, such as the raising of hands, various genuflexions, etc. Those who for some reason or other, specially when physically unable to observe these regulations owing to illness or some bodily defect, cannot conform to these instructions, should preferably choose the short prayer which is exceedingly simple.
He would advise you to only use the short midday Obligatory Prayer. This has no genuflections and only requires that when saying it the believer turn his face towards 'Akka where Bahá’u’lláh is buried. This is a physical symbol of an inner reality, just as the plant stretches out to the sunlight — from which it receives life and growth — so we turn our hearts to the Manifestation of God, Bahá’u’lláh, when we pray; and we turn our faces, during this short prayer, to where His dust lies on this earth as a symbol of the inner act. Bahá’u’lláh has reduced all ritual and form to an absolute minimum in His Faith. The few forms that there are - like those associated with the two longer obligatory daily prayers, are only symbols of the inner attitude. There is a wisdom in them, and a great blessing, but we cannot force ourselves to understand or feel these things, that is why He gave us also the very short and simple prayer, for those who did not feel the desire to perform the acts associated with the other two.