Rituals and Worship

Worship and Devotion in Daily Life

Compared to some other religions, there are only a few daily prayers and devotions in Baha'i religious life. The Baha'i scriptures indicate that God does not need humanity's prayers and devotions; the only reason that Baha'u'llah  made these acts obligatory is because they are part of the spiritual discipline that leads to the development of the human soul (which is the purpose of human life on earth). Baha'u'llah said that his followers should obey his commandments out of love for him.

In his writings, Baha'u'llah made it a sacred obligation for his followers to spend some time each day in prayer and meditation. He wrote three special prayers and Baha'is are obliged to choose one of these to say each day. The long prayer is said once every twenty-four hours and is said with certain ritual movements. The medium prayer is said three times a day. The short prayer is said once a day between midday and sunset.

Baha'u'llah stated that each Baha'i should also read the scriptures every morning and evening and that they should then meditate on these. Also, at the end of the day they should call themselves to account: to reflect on what they have done that day and what they could have done better.

Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.

There are also many prayers given by the Bab, Baha'u'llah, and 'Abdu'l-Baha that Baha'is can say at any time as part of their personal devotions. Some of these are for specific purposes, such as for assistance in times of difficulty or for the sick, but many are praising God and recalling His attributes. Prayer should be offered out of love for God and not out of fear of punishment or hope of reward. Since humans cannot truly conceptualize God, prayers can be addressed to Baha'u'llah, to one of the other Manifestations of God, or even to 'Abdul-Baha or through these figures to God.

A time of particular concentration on devotions and the individual's spiritual development is the period of the fast, which occurs during the last month of the Baha'i year (March 2-20). Baha'is do not eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset. There are exemptions from this requirement for the sick, the elderly, the traveler, and for pregnant and breast-feeding mothers. This fasting is a symbol and reminder of how human beings should be detached from all physical things. It is used as a period of spiritual renewal each year. It should be mentioned, however, that although prayer and fasting are obligatory, these are personal obligations and there are no communal mechanisms for checking up on or sanctioning a failure to observe them.

Baha'is are encouraged, moreover, to have a wider attitude to prayer than the specific words addressed to God; the spiritual state induced by this action is more important than the saying of the words. Prayer should induce in the individual a turning toward God, a state of spiritual exaltation. Therefore Baha'u'llah taught that a brief period of joyful prayer is preferable to lengthy prayers that are wearisome and depress the spirit. Although prayer is often said asking God for specific things, the true higher form of prayer is one in which humans move toward aligning their will with the will of God. The aim is that the whole of one's life should become a prayer addressed to God. Thus for example, the Baha'i scriptures assert that work performed in the spirit of service is worship.

Although personal devotions and spirituality are an important aspect of Baha'i life, Baha'is assert that, by itself, it is not enough to achieve the spiritual development that is the aim of human life. A person can only become truly spiritual if he or she actively seeks to acquire those spiritual qualities that are described in the Baha'i scriptures, such qualities as love, patience, justice, forgiveness, and wisdom. These qualities are best gained in a life that balances personal spiritual practices with service to the community. It is only through service to the community that individuals can judge whether they have truly acquired these spiritual qualities, since it is in service that these qualities are put to the test.

It is for this reason that certain spiritual practices such as asceticism and monasticism are prohibited since they prevent the social interactions that are necessary for spiritual growth. Short periods of retreat are, however, permitted and encouraged, and most national Baha'i communities hold summer or winter schools and other such activities, which, together with the pilgrimage, are designed to form a break from one's normal life, a period of prayer and reflection and activities designed to bring spiritual refreshment and a renewal of the individual's commitment.

Study Questions:
     1.     What devotional activities are Baha’is obliged to perform each day?
     2.     Describe the Baha'i fast and its purpose.
     3.     What do the Baha'i teachings say is the purpose of prayer?
     4.     Can one, according to the Baha'i teachings, achieve spiritual development through prayer and devotions alone? What else is needed?

Back to Religion Library