Mystical Themes in Bahá'í Obligatory Prayer

By Ghasem Bayat

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #34
Bosch Bahá'í School: California, USA
May 18–20, 2001
(see list of papers from #34)

    Prayer is an act of reverent petition to God. It is an act of devotion, confession, praise and thanksgiving. It is about communion with the Object of our adoration. Prayer means adoration, praise of man for God and special attention to Him, and grace of God for man. In the Hebrew language, it refers to a temple, and in Arabic it means a stronghold. Although there are many prayers in the Bahá'í Faith, obligatory prayers are given special significance and form an essential part of the daily observances of a believer.

    Bahá'u'lláh recalled the revelation of the verses of the obligatory prayers as "The Most Great Glad Tidings." He gave us the choice of three obligatory prayers to recite daily. Observance of this daily worship, like other Bahá'í laws, is for the love of the Blessed Beauty. Recital of the daily obligatory prayer brings comfort, peace, and certitude to one's heart. It allows the bird of the human soul to soar free from the limitations of the material world and its entanglement, and move towards the Abha Kingdom. No wonder obligatory prayer is referred to in the writings as "a fortress," "a cord of God's love," "a mighty pillar of God's holy Law," "ladder for the ascent of the believer" and "the foundation of the Cause of God."

    During the recital of an obligatory prayer, a believer communes with his Lord and his Beloved, asking to become worthy of rendering a service at His threshold and begging for assistance and confirmation in following His Laws and Commandments. 'Abdu'l-Bahá states that obligatory prayers and supplications cause man to reach the Kingdom of Mystery and the worship of the Supreme One. He further states, "When saying an obligatory prayer, one must turn towards the Holy Reality of Bahá'u'lláh, that Reality which encompasseth all things." A believer, in order to reach Bahá'u'lláh's Presence and drink the water of life from His Hands, must burn away all veils that separate him from his Lord. This spiritual ascent is attained through His love.

    For over 1,400 years, the believers, the mystics, the Sufis and the poets prayed and wrote their supplications and longings in Arabic and Persian, in the forms of poetry and prose. This developed the language used into a worthy instrument for Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation. Bahá'u'lláh used the Arabic language as the medium for the revelation of the verses of all three obligatory prayers as this language is rich with mystical themes and stories, proverbs and metaphors, and has a wide range of vocabulary. As a result, each verse is heavily laden with meanings, resembling a multilevel mine full of inestimable gems. In the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Know 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."

    In a brief review, some of the main mystical themes of these prayers will be highlighted and their special significance in the light of the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh will be addressed.

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