Rituals and Worship

Sacred Space

There are, according to Baha'i scripture, no places that are intrinsically holy, but any place can be made holy by reciting the word of God there. Some places are, however, made particularly holy by their association with a Manifestation of God . Even then, if the people who worship at a sacred place do not truly turn toward God or they do not recognize a new Manifestation of God when he comes, then they are, in reality, worshipping an idol.

Baha'i Houses of Worship (called Mashriqu'l-Adhkars) are built to a common pattern : a generally circular shape, with nine sides, nine gardens, and nine paths. However, within this pattern, there is a great deal of possibility for local cultural variation. The Baha'i House of Worship in Samoa, for example, reflects the traditional indigenous huts called fales, while the Baha'i House of Worship in Panama has some elements of the patterns of the indigenous peoples of the area on the supporting walls. Baha'i Houses of Worship are open to all. They are solely dedicated to the worship of God. Only passages from scripture are read, chanted, or sung a cappella in them. They have no pulpits; no sermons are preached in them, and there are no set ceremonies or rituals associated with them. They are open to people of all religions and the scriptures of other religions can be recited in them.

Rather than place a great deal of their resources into buildings, Baha'is have preferred to put their resources and efforts into spreading their religion and into service to society. While it is envisioned that in the future there will be a House of Worship at the heart of each Baha'i community, there are currently only a representative number of these. As of 2010, only seven Houses of Worship have been built (with an eighth one in the process of construction), scattered over nearly every continent of the world. As a symbol of the concept that the social and the spiritual should not be separated, each House of Worship is intended to become the center of a set of buildings that serve the social needs of the community: schools, a university, medical facilities, an orphanage, a traveler's hospice, and homes and facilities for the aged, infirm, and disabled.

In addition, Baha'is have taken major steps to beautify those holy places that they control. Of the two sites designated by Baha'u'llah as sites of pilgrimage, the House of the Bab in Shiraz and the House of Baha'u'llah in Baghdad, the first was destroyed by the Iranian Islamic government in 1979 and the second was seized by the Iraqi government and the Islamic authorities in Baghdad in 1922. Baha'is now focus their pilgrimages on a third center of pilgrimage that was designated by 'Abdu'l-Baha—the shrines in the Haifa-'Akka area where the Baha'i Faith is headquartered. The shrine of Baha'u'llah at Bahji, north of the city of 'Akka, is regarded by Baha'is as the holiest place on earth. The shrine on Mount Carmel in the city of Haifa that contains the remains of both the Bab and 'Abdu'l-Baha is also regarded as especially holy. Thus the Haifa-'Akka area is now the major site of Baha'i pilgrimage in the world. The Baha'i shrines and gardens in this area were designated a "World Heritage Site" by UNESCO in July 2007—the first modern religious edifice to be so designated.

Pilgrimages to the Haifa-'Akka area are performed on an organized basis, and pilgrims must apply to go. The standard pilgrimage lasts nine days and the pilgrims are guided round the various sites in the Haifa-'Akka area associated with the central figures of the Baha'i Faith; they also spend much personal time in the shrines. There are no set rituals of pilgrimage but there are special prayers (called Tablets of Visitation) that are recited when in the shrines.

Part of the Tablet of Visitation recited in the Shrines of Baha'u'llah and the Bab

I bear witness, moreover, that through Thy beauty the beauty of the Adored One hath been unveiled, and through Thy face the face of the Desired One hath shone forth, and that through a word from Thee Thou hast decided between all created things. . .

I bear witness that he who hath known Thee hath known God, and he who hath attained unto Thy presence hath attained unto the presence of God. Great, therefore, is the blessedness of him who hath believed in Thee, and in Thy signs, and hath humbled himself before Thy sovereignty, and hath been honored with meeting Thee, and hath attained the good pleasure of Thy will, and circled around Thee, and stood before Thy throne . . .

I bear witness that the eye of creation hath never gazed upon one wronged like Thee. Thou wast immersed all the days of Thy life beneath an ocean of tribulations. At one time Thou wast in chains and fetters; at another Thou wast threatened by the sword of Thine enemies. Yet, despite all this, Thou didst enjoin upon all men to observe what had been prescribed unto Thee by Him Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.

There are a few other sites of international importance, such as the House of Baha'u'llah in Edirne in European Turkey and the grave of Shoghi Effendi in London; these are often visited especially by the Baha'is living in certain Muslim countries who cannot visit Israel. In addition, there are a number of buildings and graves that are of national importance and are often visited by the Baha'is of a particular country, such as, for example, places that 'Abdu'l-Baha visited in North America and Europe.

Many of the larger Baha'i communities have a Baha'i center, which acts as a meeting hall for Baha'is and often also has offices for local Baha'i institutions. Their function is mainly practical however, although the name that is given to them, Haziratu'l-Quds, means "the sacred fold." While Baha'is will not usually have any room in their house dedicated solely as a sacred space with holy images and so forth, they will often have an area that they use for their prayers and meditations.

From the Writings of Baha'u'llah

Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified.

Recited by children:

Sung:

In general however, the Baha'i concept is that any place where God is remembered and mentioned becomes by that very fact a sacred place. Baha'is can thus sacralize all of the spaces in their life. Taking this point together with the understanding that Baha'is are striving to make all of time sacred, it can be said that the ideal Baha'i life renders all of time and space a sacred unity. Indeed it could be said that for Baha'is, the division between the sacred and profane is artificial and illusory; all of creation is sacred because it manifests one or more of the names of God. This is then paralleled in the human world where Baha'u'llah brings about unity by abolishing the concept of ritual purity and declaring all humanity to be one with no division into believers, pure or saved ones, on the one side, and infidels, the impure or the damned, on the other.


Study Questions:
     1.     What makes a place holy for Baha’is?
     2.     What is a Mashriqu’l-Adhkar and what features do they all have in common?
     3.     What are the main centers of Baha'i pilgrimage and what form does Baha'i pilgrimage take?
     4.     What is regarded as the holiest place on earth by Baha’is?
     5.     Why can it be said that Baha’is seek in their lives to abolish the distinction between the sacred and the secular (profane)?

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