6. BAHÁ'Í LAWS


a. Prayer, reading of scripture, and meditation
b. Fasting
c. Marriage and divorce
d. Death and Burial
e. Cruelty to animals
f. Abolitions and Prohibitions
 

Nothing worthy of attainment can be achieved without discipline. We cannot hope to play a musical instrument well unless we submit ourselves to the discipline of hours of practice. The same is true in the spiritual realm. To progress spiritually, one must undergo a spiritual discipline. Bahá'u'lláh has introduced a number of laws which he has instructed his followers to carry out. Some of these such as prayer, meditation and fasting are to help the individual's spiritual progress; some, such as the marriage laws, have social implications.
 

One of the primary purposes of the laws, as well as the teachings, that Bahá'u'lláh has given is the uniting of the peoples of the world

O ye that dwell on earth! The distinguishing feature that marketh the preeminent character of this Supreme Revelation consisteth in that We have, on the one hand, blotted out from the pages of God's holy Book whatsoever hath been the cause of strife, of malice and mischief amongst the children of men, and have, on the other, laid down the essential prerequisites of concord, of understanding, of complete and enduring unity. Well is it with them that keep My statutes.(1)
 
In the West, people tend to see the law as something that limits their freedom and hence something that is only to be endured reluctantly because there is some indirect overall benefit. In the Bahá'í Faith, however, there is a more positive attitude towards the law brought by Bahá'u'lláh. It enables human beings to align themselves with the spiritual laws that govern the universe. We would not jump from a fourth-storey window because we know that the physical laws of the universe would cause us to injure ourselves badly. Similarly, Bahá'ís believe that we should not break these spiritual laws, otherwise we are inflicting spiritual harm upon ourselves. Bahá'u'lláh, therefore, does not see these laws as rigid legalistic framework, concerned with enforcement and punishment. He states that these laws are an indispensable part of a human being's spiritual progress; signposts on the mystic path.
Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power.(2)
 
And so our obedience to these laws should not be for fear of punishment, but out of joy and love.
Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty.(3)
 
 
 

a. Prayer, reading of scripture, and meditation

Part of the spiritual discipline that Bahá'u'lláh has given to his followers is to spend time every day in carrying out spiritual exercises. One of these is daily obligatory prayer. There are three obligatory prayers and a Bahá'í is free to choose any one of them to say daily. There are also many other prayers which one can use as part of one's devotions.
 

Bahá'u'lláh has also instructed his followers to read a passage of the scripture and meditate upon it twice a day, morning and evening. It is not the physical action of performing these spiritual disciplines that is important but rather the spirit in which they are done. The intention should be to turn away from the world and towards the spiritual realm. It is the quality of the time spent in this way that is important not the quantity.

Pride not yourselves on much reading of the verses or on a multitude of pious acts by day and night. For were a man to read a single verse with joy and radiance it would be better for him than to read with lassitude all the Holy Books of God . . . Read ye the holy verses in such measure that ye be not overcome by languor and despondency. Lay not upon your souls that which will weary them and weigh them down, but rather what will lighten and uplift them. (Bahá'u'lláh)(4)
 
 
 

PRAYER

The Short Obligatory Prayer -- to be said once daily between noon and sunset.

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. (Prayers and Meditations, no. 181, p. 314)

Other Prayers

Is there any remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants and all abide by His bidding. (The Báb, Bahá'í Prayers, p. 28)

O my God! O my God! Unite the hearts of Thy servants, and reveal to them Thy great purpose. May they follow Thy commandments and abide in Thy law. Help them, O God in their endeavour, and grant them strength to serve Thee. O God! Leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of knowledge and cheer their hearts by Thy love. Verily, Thou art their Helper and their Lord. (Bahá'u'lláh, Bahá'í Prayers, p. 204)

Create in me a pure heart, O my God, and renew a tranquil conscience within me, O my Hope! Through the spirit of power confirm Thou me in Thy Cause, O my Best-Beloved, and by the light of Thy glory reveal unto me Thy path, O Thou the Goal of my desire! Through the power of Thy transcendent might lift me up unto the heaven of Thy holiness, O Source of my being, and by the breezes of Thine eternity gladden me, O Thou Who art my God! Let Thine everlasting melodies breathe tranquillity on me, O my Companion, and let the riches of Thine ancient countenance deliver me from all except Thee, O my Master, and let the tidings of the revelation of Thine incorruptible Essence bring me joy, O Thou Who art the most manifest of the manifest and the most hidden of the hidden! (Bahá'u'lláh, Bahá'í Prayers, pp. 142-3)

O God! Refresh and gladden my spirit. Purify my heart. Illumine my powers. I lay all my affairs in Thy hand. Thou art my Guide and Refuge. I will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life. O God! Thou art more friend to me than I am to myself. I dedicate myself to Thee, O Lord. (`Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'í Prayers, p. 152)

 
 
 
 

 


When asked the reason that it is important for human beings to pray, `Abdu'l-Bahá replied:

O thou spiritual friend! Thou hast asked the wisdom of prayer. Know thou that prayer is indispensable and obligatory, and man under no pretext whatsoever is excused from performing the prayer unless he be mentally unsound, or an insurmountable obstacle prevent him. The wisdom of prayer is this: That it causeth a connection between the servant and the True One, because in that state man with all heart and soul turneth his face towards His Highness the Almighty, seeking His association and desiring His love and compassion. The greatest happiness for a lover is to converse with his beloved, and the greatest gift for a seeker is to become familiar with the object of his longing; that is why with every soul who is attracted to the Kingdom of God, his greatest hope is to find an opportunity to entreat and supplicate before his Beloved, appeal for His mercy and grace and be immersed in the ocean of His utterance, goodness and generosity.
Besides all this, prayer and fasting is the cause of awakening and mindfulness and conducive to protection and preservation from tests . . . (`Abdu'l-Bahá)(5)
 
Although the Bahá'í writings urge one to meditate, there is no set form for meditation prescribed. One is therefore free to use whatever method one prefers. Some Bahá'ís confine themselves to reading a passage of scripture and meditating upon it. Some use a particular method of meditation.
 

As an adjunct to prayer and meditation, there are a number of short phrases given by Bahá'u'lláh and more particularly by the Báb. These can be chanted in the same way as mantras or the Sufi dhikr. Bahá'u'lláh for example instructs that the phrase "Alláhu Abhá" (God is most glorious!) should be said 95 times each day.
 

Prayers can be said or chanted or even set to music:

Among some of the nations of the Orient, music and harmony was not approved of, but the Manifested Light, Bahá'u'lláh, in this glorious period has revealed in Holy Tablets that singing and music are the spiritual food of the hearts and souls. In this dispensation, music is one of the arts that is highly approved and is considered to be the cause of the exaltation of sad and desponding hearts.
Therefore . . . set to music the verses and the divine words so that they may be sung with soul-stirring melody in the Assemblies and gatherings, and that the hearts of the listeners may become tumultuous and rise towards the Kingdom of Abhá in supplication and prayer. (`Abdu'l-Bahá)(6)
 


 
MEDITATION

. . . while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed.

You cannot apply the name `man' to any being void of this faculty of meditation; without it he would be a mere animal, lower than the beasts.

Through the faculty of meditation man attains to eternal life; through it he receives the breath of the Holy Spirit - the bestowal of the Spirit is given in reflection and meditation. The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. Through it he receives Divine inspiration, through it he receives heavenly food.

Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries. In that state man abstracts himself: in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves. To illustrate this, think of man as endowed with two kinds of sight; when the power of insight is being used the outward power of vision does not see. This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God.

This faculty brings forth from the invisible plane the sciences and arts. Through the meditative faculty inventions are made possible, colossal undertakings are carried out; through it governments can run smoothly. Through this faculty man enters into the very Kingdom of God. Nevertheless some thoughts are useless to man; they are like waves moving in the sea without result. But if the faculty of meditation is bathed in the inner light and characterized with divine attributes, the results will be confirmed.

The meditative faculty is akin to the mirror; if you put it before earthly objects it will reflect them. Therefore if the spirit of man is contemplating earthly subjects he will be informed of these. But if you turn the mirror of your spirits heavenwards, the heavenly constellations and the rays of the Sun of Reality will be reflected in your hearts, and the virtues of the Kingdom will be obtained.

Therefore let us keep this faculty rightly directed - turning it to the heavenly Sun and not to earthly objects - so that we may discover the secrets of the Kingdom, and comprehend the allegories of the Bible and the mysteries of the spirit.

May we indeed become mirrors reflecting the heavenly realities, and may we become so pure as to reflect the stars of heaven. (`Abdu'l-Bahá, Paris Talks, pp. 174-6)


 

 



 
Click here for a more on the Bahá'í teachings on prayer and meditation

b. Fasting

Apart from prayer and meditation, the other major spiritual discipline or tool for spiritual advancement is fasting. Bahá'ís fast from sunrise to sunset for nineteen days of the year (2 March to 20 March). This is a period of spiritual regeneration.
It is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character. (Shoghi Effendi)(7)
 
Indeed fasting is a symbol for our desire to become detached from the things of this world.
For this material fast is an outer token of the spiritual fast; it is a symbol of self-restraint, the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven and catching fire from the love of God. (`Abdu'l-Bahá)(8)
 
 
 

c. Marriage and divorce

Marriage is considered in the Bahá'í Faith to be one of the most important social institutions. "And when He [God] desired to manifest grace and beneficence to men, and to set the world in order, He revealed observances and created laws: among them He established the law of marriage, made it as a fortress for well-being and salvation . . ."(9)
 

Marriage, although enjoined and highly recommended, is not obligatory. Bahá'í law allows only monogamous marriage between a man and a woman. The taking of more than one wife or husband at a time is prohibited. While many religions condemn all expressions of sexuality as being in some way base, the Bahá'í Faith "recognizes the value of the sex impulse"(10) but asserts that sexuality may only legitimately be expressed within marriage.

Marriage must be with the free consent of the couple. To make marriage a stronger source of social cohesion, Bahá'u'lláh has also made it conditional upon the consent of their parents. He states that this is in order "to establish love, unity and harmony amidst Our servants."(11)
 

The Bahá'í marriage ceremony has no set form to it. The couple can therefore arrange their wedding ceremony according to their own wishes and can incorporate any features of their local culture that would be appropriate. The only set part of the ceremony is the exchange before witnesses of the marriage vow: "We will all, verily, abide by the Will of God."
 
 





 

 



 
A PRAYER FOR MARRIAGE

Glory be unto Thee, O my God! Verily, this Thy servant and this Thy maidservant have gathered under the shadow of Thy mercy and are united through Thy favour and generosity. O Lord! Confirm them in Thy servitude and assist them in Thy service. Suffer them to become the signs of Thy name in Thy world and protect them through Thy bestowals which are inexhaustible in this world and the world to come. O Lord! They are supplicating the kingdom of Thy mercifulness and invoking the realm of Thy singleness. Verily, they are married in obedience to Thy command. Cause them to become the signs of harmony and unity until the end of time. Verily, Thou art the Omnipotent and the Almighty! (`Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'í Prayers, p. 45-6)

 
 

 


It is customary in many parts of the world to give dowries and these frequently cause much conflict and distress, either because the giver is unable to afford it or the receiver considers the amount too small. Bahá'u'lláh has solved these problems by fixing the amount of dowries.
 

Divorce is strongly condemned. It is only permitted if there is irreconcilable differences and antipathy between the two parties. Several conditions must be met, including a year of separation during which efforts are made to effect a reconciliation.

 



 
Click here for information on the Bahá'í teachings regarding marriage and divorce.

 

 



 
 
 

d. Death and Burial

Death is regarded by Bahá'ís as a stage in one's eternal life. It is the point that marks one's passage to the next world . The body that has been the temple within which the human soul has resided should be treated with respect and the funeral ceremonies carried out "with dignity and honour"(12). Cremation is forbidden. `Abdu'l-Bahá explains that, according to the natural order of things, the body should be allowed to decompose gradually.(13) There is a specific prayer that should be said at the funeral. There are also other prayers that may be said at the funeral or at a later time for the dead person's spiritual progress in the next world .
 

Bahá'ís are instructed to write a will and are free to dispose of their wealth in any way they wish. Bahá'u'lláh has given a division of wealth for those who die without leaving a will. 
 
 
 

e. Cruelty to animals

Bahá'u'lláh has enjoined kindness to animals(14) and has specifically condemned burdening an animal with more than it can bear.(15)

Because animals do not have the power of speech, `Abdu'l-Bahá states that they are to be treated with even more consideration than are people: ". . . ye do worse to harm an animal, for man hath a language, he can lodge a complaint, he can cry out and moan; if injured he can have recourse to the authorities and these will protect him from his aggressor. But the hapless beast is mute, able neither to express its hurt nor take its case to the authorities. If a man inflict a thousand ills upon a beast, it can neither ward him off with speech nor hale him into court. Therefore is it essential that ye show forth the utmost consideration to the animal, and that ye be even kinder to him than to your fellow man."(16)
 
 
 

f. Abolitions and Prohibitions

A number of doctrines and practices which have grown up in various religions have been specifically abolished by Bahá'u'lláh. These include: the priesthood; the waging of holy war; asceticism and monasticism; the confession of sins; the burning of books; the use of pulpits; and regarding certain people or things as impure.
 

Bahá'u'lláh prohibited his followers from a number of activities including: slavery; begging; the kissing of hands; the taking of intoxicating drugs and alcohol; gambling; carrying arms unnecessarily; and homosexuality.
 

Some other laws such as the Huqúqu'lláh are referred to elsewhere .
 
 
 

 


Extracted and condensed from The Baha'i Faith: A Beginner's Guide


© Moojan Momen 1996. All Rights Reserved
 

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NOTES

1. Gleanings, no. 43, p. 97. Return

2. Kitáb-i-Aqdas, v. 5, p. 21. Return

3. Gleanings, no. 155, p. 332. Return

4. Kitáb-i-Aqdas, v. 149, pp. 73-4. Return

5. Bahá'í World Faith, p. 368. Return

6. Bahá'í World Faith, p. 378. Return

7. Directives of the Guardian, pp. 27-8. Return

8. Selections, p. 70. Return

9. Bahá'í Prayers, p. 105. Return

10. From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, cited in Lights of Guidance, no. 1156, p. 344. Return

11. Kitáb-i-Aqdas, v. 65, p. 42. Return

12. Kitáb-i-Aqdas, v. 28, p. 28. Return

13. Lights of Guidance, no. 669, p. 201. Return

14. Gleanings, no. 125, p. 265. Return

15. Kitáb-i-Aqdas, v. 187, p. 87. Return

16. Selections, no. 138, p. 159.Return