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COLLECTIONUnpublished articles
TITLEEntering into Obligatory Prayer: Introduction and Commentary
AUTHOR 1Ismael Velasco
ABSTRACTOverview of Bahá'í prayer, its historical background, and a detailed commentary on the preamble to the Long Obligatory Prayer.
TAGS- Metaphors and allegories; Arabic language; Arising; Forgetfulness; God; Left and right; Meditation; Nearness to God; Obligatory prayer; Obligatory prayer, Long; Prayer; Qiblih; Remembrance; Self; Translation; Words and phrases; Worship
CONTENT The distinctive nature of obligatory prayer

The significance of obligatory prayer is discussed extensively in the Bahá'í writings available in English, most particularly in Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i Aqdas and its supplementary "Questions and Answers"; the Bahá'í World Centre compilations The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, and Prayer, Meditation and the Devotional Attitude; and Helen Hornby's compilation, Lights of Guidance.[1]

Following Islamic precedent, the Bahá'í writings distinguish between obligatory prayer (Arabic, salat/Persian, namaz) and supplications and communes (du'a/munajat).[2] The difference between the two is that obligatory prayer is a ritual law with set obligations and compulsory on all the believers except within certain health parameters or in situations of danger, whereas other supplications are optional and voluntary. In the Lawh-i Tawil Bahá'u'lláh makes explicit this distinction, implicit in the consistent usage of these terms throughout the Bahá'í writings, criticising severely those Sufis who, by giving a metaphorical interpretation of the rituals associated with obligatory prayer, affirmed that there was no difference between du'a and salat, and thus exempted themselves from the requirements of the latter:

"Some souls who call themselves dervishes interpreted all the divine laws and commandments. If it were said that the obligatory prayer is a divine law they say that the obligatory prayer meaneth supplication and we have come with supplication during birth, and thus we have performed the true obligatory prayer. Such a wretch is devoid of the manifest meaning, much less the inner meaning thereof! The vain imaginings of the heedless souls have ever been, and are, beyond reckoning."[3]

Expatiating on the distinction between obligatory prayer and ordinary supplications, `Abdu'l-Bahá emphasises that obligatory prayer "is mandatory and binding. Man under no pretext whatsoever is excused from observing the prayer unless he is incapable of performing it or some great obstacle interveneth."[4] Obligatory prayer is regarded as "a spiritual obligation"[5] which is "conducive to humility and submissiveness, to setting one's face towards God."[6] On the other hand, "individual worship, invocations, supererogatory prayers, and specially recommended prayers are not binding."[7]

Both forms of prayer are considered spiritually crucial: "Obligatory prayer and other supplications are essential to servitude unto Him Who is the All-Sufficing."[8] And again, "Obligatory prayers and supplications are the very water of life. They are the cause of existence, of the refinement of souls, and of their attainment to the utmost joy."[9] The station of obligatory prayer, however, is beyond question the loftiest and most significant of the two, so much so as to be, according to `Abdu'l-Bahá, "the very foundation of the Cause of God."[10] This exalted rank is paralleled only by the law of fasting, which may be regarded as its twin, so that Bahá'u'lláh declares that obligatory prayer and fasting are "in the realm of worship, the two mightiest pillars of the law of God."[11]

Notwithstanding, while it is clear that non-binding supplications do not hold the same exalted station as obligatory prayer, yet the two are held to be "spiritual companions... like one soul in two bodies", so that ""when the Obligatory Prayers and other prayers are joined together and follow each other, worship attaineth its perfection." [12] Indeed, "the saying of any prayer individually after the Obligatory Prayers is well-pleasing and acceptable," although "no particular ones have been singled out."[13]

Historical background

The law of obligatory prayer evolved over time. First Bahá'u'lláh revealed an obligatory prayer consisting of nine rak'ahs (each rak'ah being a section of prayer accompanied by distinct ritual instructions). This prayer, revealed separately from the Kitáb-i Aqdas by Bahá'u'lláh for reasons of safety, was sent away for safe-keeping and is understood to have been finally lost among a group of tablets stolen after Bahá'u'lláh's ascension by Muhammad-Ali, the half-brother of 'Abdu'l-Bahá.[14] This first obligatory prayer was subsequently abrogated by Bahá'u'lláh Himself in the supplementary "Questions and Answers" addressed to His apostle and foremost scribe, Zaynu'l-Muqarrabin, and superseded by the three obligatory prayers currently binding on believers.[15]

The text of these three obligatory prayers was revealed in Akka and withheld from the believers for some time, until, on October 27 1887[16] it was shared with Hand of the Cause Mulla `Ali-Akbar Shahmirzadi (1258/1842-1910), Haji Akhund,[17] and thence disseminated to the community in the Tablet of the Most Great Glad-Tidings (Lawh-i Bisharat-i 'Uzma), also referred to by Zaynu'l-Muqarrabin as the "Tablet of Obligatory Prayer" (Lawh-i Salát).[18] This tablet was revealed by Bahá'u'lláh in the voice of His amanuensis, Mirzá Aqá Jan Khádimulláh, and introduces the obligatory prayers as follows:

"The Most Great Glad-tidings [Bisharat-i 'Uzma] is this: in the days when the laws of God were being revealed from the heaven of the will of the Lord of mankind, some were sent forth, and others withheld at His command from the Book. Among these was the law of obligatory prayer, until the matter presented itself at this moment. The countenance of my Beloved turned to me and said:

`We have purposed once again to bestow unto Alí Akbar, upon him be My glory. Dispatch the verses revealed in previous years specially for the obligatory prayer, and write: "By the righteousness of God! Its fragrances will attract the true lovers, will set those who are still and silent in motion, and will give life to the just.

`As to the first, one should perform it at whatever time one findeth oneself in a state of humbleness and longing adoration. The second is at dawn, noon and eve, and the third is from noon to noon.'"[19]

These three obligatory prayers may be found in most Bahá'í prayer books, as well as in the Bahá'í World Centre editions of the Kitáb-i Aqdas, and consist of the long obligatory prayer to be said once in 24 hours, which includes an elaborate set of ritual positions and recitations of the Greatest Name (allah'u'abhá); the medium obligatory prayer to be said three times a day including verses to accompany one's ablutions and prescribed movements to accompany various sections of the prayer; and a short obligatory prayer to be said once a day between noon and two hours after sunset, the only one without ritual movements and recitations of the Greatest Name.[20]

Spiritual dynamics of obligatory prayer

Within the practice of obligatory prayer, we are told, "are hidden and concealed a myriad effects and benefits...beyond computation."[21] Many of these potential effects and benefits are dazzlingly described in the Bahá'í writings, in truly touching and superlative terms.

The obligatory prayers are said to be "endowed with a special potency",[22] that causes a connection with God[23] and the attainment to "spiritual stations".[24] They are said to result in "awareness and awakening in man, and ... his protection and preservation from tests." Through obligatory prayer, it is further asserted, "man becometh spiritual, his heart is attracted, and his soul and inner being attain such tenderness and exhilaration that the Obligatory Prayer instilleth new life in him."[25] Indeed, through it "joy and vitality infuse the heart" enabling it "to taste such sweetness as to endow all existence with eternal life." [26]

By performing one's obligatory prayer, it is affirmed, "the gate of bounty may be opened and utmost spirituality attained; great signs will be witnessed and the spiritual ascent will be realized."[27] Indeed, if recited by someone "with his heart in a state of utmost purity," it is promised that "he will obtain the confirmations of the Holy Spirit, and this will entirely obliterate love of self."[28]

Given such dazzling promises, it is not surprising that Bahá'u'lláh should write of the practice of obligatory prayer: "How great would be a man's indolence and his injustice to himself if he were to abandon this ladder of ascent".[29]

Such a mystical experience of obligatory prayer, however, emerges in the Bahá'í writings as a lifelong and evolving process, rather than a mere ritual obligation or an instantaneous event, a process varying from individual to individual and deepening in richness and impact with practice. It is repeatedly described, following the Imam Ali, as "a ladder of ascent unto God",[30] which we are to gradually and progressively climb, refining our experience of it as we progress through its rungs. Thus the immense efficacy said to be latent in the obligatory prayers is made conditional on the spirit in which it is uttered, and to be gradually released through perseverance[31] in practicing the law, "that day by day thine awareness may increase",[32] and "so that day by day thou mayest attain to increased firmness and steadfastness and find greater joy and gladness. Thus the circle of divine knowledge will grow wider, and the fire of the love of God will burn brighter within thee."[33]

For this reason, no obligation to say one of the three above the others applies,[34] but on the contrary, the diversity of prayers is said to be precisely conceived to fit the spiritual requirements of different temperaments and levels of understanding, such that reciting the short obligatory prayer is encouraged for someone who cannot relate to the requirements of the long obligatory prayer.[35] The movements and postures prescribed for the long and medium obligatory prayers are held to be outward symbols of inner realities, and to contain powerful spiritual mysteries and truths, which, however, "we cannot force ourselves to understand or feel."[36] Obligatory prayer is meant to be offered with radiance and spirituality, in a state of detachment from all save God, and out of love for Bahá'u'lláh, and is described as "conversation with God".

The regulations applying to all obligatory prayers are set out in the Kitáb-i Aqdas, and include the requirement to turn to the Qiblih, which today is the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh in Bahji;[37] the injunctions requiring ablutions before each obligatory prayer;[38] the applicable exemptions;[39] and the instructions in case of obligatory prayers missed on account of dangers while travelling or at home.[40] The application of the laws regulating obligatory prayer has been gradual, until, in December 28, 1999, the Universal House of Justice ruled that, for the entire Bahá'í world, "all elements of the laws dealing with obligatory prayer and fasting are, without any exception, now applicable."[41]

The fundamental requirements of obligatory prayer set out in the Kitáb-i Aqdas are supplemented and expounded in its addendum, "Questions and Answers", and further elucidated in subsequent letters from `Abdu'l-Bahá, the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice. Among these clarifications and expositions are the meaning of morn, noon, and eve;[42] the use of clocks to determine times of prayer;[43] Who to turn to spiritually in prayer;[44] how to raise one's hands in supplication;[45] how many times to raise one's hands in the Long Obligatory Prayer;[46] the form of the greatest name to be used;[47] the number and manner of repetitions of the greatest name and other phrases and their accompanying gestures;[48] the permission to say different obligatory prayers on the same day;[49] the inappropriateness of changing the gender and pronouns of the prayer;[50] the prohibition of congregational prayer and the injunction to say obligatory prayers individually not being conditional on privacy;[51] the stipulation that an obligatory prayer cannot be said by one person on behalf of another or of a group of people;[52] the clarification that the determination of physical fitness to perform the prayers is ultimately an act of private conscience;[53] the procedures for the substitution of verses in the medium obligatory prayer;[54] the manner of sitting in the medium and long obligatory prayers;[55] the undesirability of reciting obligatory prayers at meetings;[56] and the permissibility of saying the obligatory prayers either out loud or in silence.[57]

Approaching Obligatory Prayer: A Commentary on the preamble to the Long Obligatory Prayer

`Abdu'l-Bahá is reported to have said that for prayer to be effective, inner preparation was essential:

I would like to devote some time to the opening instructions of the Long Obligatory Prayer (Salat Kabir), as an example of how that preliminary, inner state of preparation might be achieved, an example susceptible to a myriad expressions and experiences in accordance with each individual's perceptions and insights. What follows is the fruit of the author's own meditation on the journey these verses imply, even before uttering the first word of prayer, in the hope that they might stimulate further, richer insights in others approaching the "myriad effects and benefits" said to be "hidden and concealed" in these prayers, so that the reader might "in proportion to the eagerness of his search and the efforts he hath exerted, partake of such benefits as have been pre-ordained in God's irrevocable and hidden Tablets."

In approaching this theme, a consideration of the Long Obligatory Prayer is in order.

This prayer ranks among the most spiritually potent writings ever revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, the only one among the obligatory prayers singled out for special mention. Of this prayer, Bahá'u'lláh writes:

"In truth, it hath been revealed in such wise that if it be recited to a rock, that rock would stir and speak forth; and if it be recited to a mountain, that mountain would move and flow. Well is it with the one who reciteth it and fulfilleth God's precepts."[58]

As we have noted before, however, the power of obligatory prayer is released by the spiritual state or condition in which it is performed. The inner motivation is indeed crucial, and particularly so as regards the Long Obligatory Prayer, which is specifically set aside to be recited "only" when one has achieved the appropriate motivation, so that Bahá'u'lláh writes:

"Of the new obligatory prayers that were later revealed, the long Obligatory Prayer should be said only at those times when one feeleth properly inclined."[59]

The meaning of "properly inclined" is further expounded by Bahá'u'lláh in the Lawh-i Bisharat i `Uzmá where we are informed regarding the Long Obligatory Prayer that "one should perform it at whatever time one findeth oneself in a state of humbleness and longing adoration."[60]

It is suggested that, when approached after due reflection, in conscious awareness and full concentration, the preamble to the Long Obligatory, rather than simply presupposing such a state, is in fact a means to engendering it, a journey towards it, and one of the distinctive elements that gives this prayer its special power. To aid in such preliminary reflection the following, very personal, line by line commentary of this preamble is humbly offered, examined in the light of relevant Bahá'í writings and the unique interpretive translations of Shoghi Effendi.

Text and commentary of the preamble to the Long Obligatory Prayer (Salat Kabir)


1: Whoso wisheth to recite this prayer,
2: let him stand up
3: and turn unto God,
4: and, as he standeth in his place,
5: let him gaze to the right and to the left,
6: as if awaiting the mercy of his Lord,
7: the Most Merciful, the Compassionate.
8: Then let him say:


1: "Whoso wisheth to recite this prayer"

This is the Guardian's translation of li'l-musalli, which literally translates as "[it is incumbent] upon the one who prays/the preacher/the holy, righteous".[62] In the literal translation then, we have not only connotations of an act - the one who prays, but also of a state - holy, righteous. Indeed, the verb from which both the words salat and musalli are derived is salla meaning "to hallow". The Guardian captures these two dimensions in his translation, which involves both an act "to recite this prayer", and an attitude - a wish, an inner state "whoso wisheth".

This reminds us of Bahá'u'lláh's admonitions that "the long Obligatory Prayer should be said only at those times when one feeleth properly inclined." More profoundly, one might meditate that the more ardently, yearningly one "wishes" to recite this prayer, the more intensely one will release the power it holds. This calls to mind one of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's explanations:

"The fountain of divine generosity is gushing forth, but we must have thirst for the living waters. Unless there be thirst, the salutary water will not assuage. Unless the soul hungers, the delicious foods of the heavenly table will not give sustenance... Unless the heart be filled with longing, the favors of the Lord will not be evident."[63]

The attitude which should guide our approach to the initiation of this prayer, not yet our performance of even its preliminary movements, might be summed up in a later section of the prayer: "Thou seest, O my God, how my spirit hath been stirred up within my limbs and members, in its longing to worship Thee, and in its yearning to remember Thee and extol Thee".

This yearning, this desire, this inner longing to worship, is itself a gift of grace, and it is God Who ultimately stirs up our spirit within our limbs and members, as the Báb reminds us in one of His moving supplications:

"O my God! Thou hast inspired my soul to offer its supplication to Thee, and but for Thee, I would not call upon Thee."[64]

"Whoso wisheth" then, may be taken to mean coming in touch with an inner longing to worship, a yearning to remember, that is, already, latent in our souls, and that we can cultivate, and work towards, but which is ultimately a gift of grace and, itself, an object of supplication. To quote the great Christian mystic, Bonaventura:

"if you wish to know how these things may come about, ask grace, not learning; desire, not understanding; the groaning of prayer, not diligence in reading; the Bridegroom, not the teacher; God, not man; darkness, not clarity; not light, but the fire that wholly inflames and carries on into God..."[65]

2:"let him stand up"

"Know thou", writes 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "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."[66] The instruction to stand up and turn unto God is one of these movements bearing wisdom, allusions and mysteries, some of which are, it is suggested, evoked in the sacred corpus of the Writings of the Faith.

The word stand up, in both the English and the Arabic (yaq˙ma), derives from the verb qama, to stand up, and involves motion, specifically, the very act of getting up. It seems to me that, as we found earlier, outward motion and inner motion are inseparable in this prayer, and therefore one is led to reflect on the inner dimensions of the act of getting up.

The same word, in the same conjugation is translated by the Guardian as "arise", and applied not so much to a physical motion, but to an inner act of will, as in the following passage which echoes a subsequent passage of the Long Obligatory Prayer where we also stand up and declaim "Here am I, Here am I!"[67]:

"It behoveth whosoever hath hearkened to the Call of God, as voiced by Him Who is the Day Spring of Glory, to arise [yaquma] and cry out: 'Here am I, here am I, O Lord of all Names; here am I, here am I, O Maker of the heavens!"[68]

Bahá'u'lláh uses the verb in the same sense of arising in many instances:

"Whoso hath recognized Me will arise [yaquma] and serve Me with such determination that the powers of earth and heaven shall be unable to defeat his purpose."[69]

And a final example of many:

"should a man, all alone, arise [yaquma] in the name of Bahá, and put on the armor of His love, him will the Almighty cause to be victorious, though the forces of earth and heaven be arrayed against him"[70]

In the plural, the same word in the same tense is also translated as being "stirred up."

"were I to hold my peace and cease to celebrate the wonders of Thy praise, all the limbs of my body would be stirred up [yaqumu] to extol Thee."[71]

It would seem, then, that it is not just our body, but also our will, our intention, our motivation that stands up, that arises, is stirred up within us, as we enter into prayer. The question arises as to whence are we standing up from, what is the recumbent state from which we are bidden lift ourselves. This question brings to mind the familiar topos recurrent throughout the Bahá'í writings of a metaphorical couch on which our spirits rest, and from which we are bidden to rise. The writings of Bahá'u'lláh speak repeatedly of a couch of heedlessness;[72] of a bed of ease;[73] a bed of forgetfulness and negligence;[74] and of shaking off the slumber of corrupt desires;[75] of the slumber of heedlessness,[76] of negligence,[77] of unknowing;[78] of sleeping in "chambers of oblivion."[79] Likewise the metaphor, recurrent in the world's scriptures, of arising from the tomb, which in the Bahá'í writings comprises the tombs, graves or sepulchres of nature,[80] of the body,[81] of self,[82] of sensual, vain or selfish desires,[83] of ignorance,[84] and of unbelief,[85] of heedlessness, waywardness and error.[86]

It may be that the act of standing up, of arising, of bestirring oneself, may have as its inner dimension taking awareness of these conditions in ourselves, which may perhaps be related to what Shoghi Effendi calls the "natural inertia" that "weighs" the believer "down in his efforts to arise, [and] shed, heroically and irrevocably, the trivial and superfluous attachments which hold him back."[87] An inertia that, he tells the British believers, "requires great effort" to "overcome."[88] It may be that, in "standing up" and stirring our limbs and members in daily in obligatory prayer, we make inroads in our efforts to overcome inertia, to become heedful, to leave behind the worldly desires and ties that hold us back, not only from service, but from a fully abundant experience of prayer itself, bestirring ourselves from our couch, and arising from our tombs.

This idea finds confirmation in Shoghi Effendi's translation of the word yaqumu, a plural of yaquma, as to "speed out", specifically, of our sepulchres:

"Do Thou destine for me, O my God, what becometh the greatness of Thy majesty, and assist me, by Thy strengthening grace, so to teach Thy Cause that the dead may speed out [yaqumu] of their sepulchers, and rush forth towards Thee, trusting wholly in Thee, and fixing their gaze upon the orient of Thy Cause, and the dawning-place of Thy Revelation."[89]

3: "and turn unto God"

The word "turn unto" (muqbilan) here derives from the same root as the word qiblih, translated as "point of adoration". It refers, in the first instance to a physical reorientation, as clarified in the "Questions and Answers" to the Kitáb-i Aqdas:

"QUESTION: Concerning the long Obligatory Prayer, it is required to stand up and "turn unto God". This seemeth to indicate that it is not necessary to face the Qiblih; is this so or not?

ANSWER: The Qiblih is intended."[90]

In relation to the Qiblih, the Notes to the Kitáb-i Aqdas further expound:

"The "Point of Adoration", that is, the point to which the worshipper should turn when offering obligatory prayer, is called the Qiblih. The concept of Qiblih has existed in previous religions. Jerusalem in the past had been fixed for this purpose. Muhammad changed the Qiblih to Mecca. The Bab's instructions in the Arabic Bayan were: "The Qiblih is indeed He Whom God will make manifest; whenever He moveth, it moveth, until He shall come to rest."

"...Bahá'u'lláh ordains His resting-place as the Qiblih after His passing. The Most Holy Tomb is at Bahji, Akka. Abdu'l-Bahá describes that Spot as the "luminous Shrine", "the place around which circumambulate the Concourse on High."[91]

The translation of qiblih as "point of adoration", suggests, already, the inner attitude implied in the outer act. A connection expounded by Shoghi Effendi:

"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 if 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."[92]

This passage further clarifies that it is not so much our bodies as "our hearts" that we turn, and that, to turn our heart to God, we concentrate our inner turning on Bahá'u'lláh. We can, in fact, pray either to God or to Bahá'u'lláh, but our understanding, we learn, has an important role to play:

"We cannot know God directly, but only through His Prophets. We can pray to Him, realizing that through His Prophets we know Him, or we can address our prayer in thought to Bahá'u'lláh, not as God but as the Door to our knowing God."[93]

While both are possible, the latter is held to be more "illuminating" on the one hand, and "effective" on the other:

"You have asked whether our prayers go beyond Bahá'u'lláh: It all depends whether we pray to Him directly and through Him to God. We may do both and also can pray directly to God, but our prayers would certainly be more effective and illuminating if they are addressed to Him through His Manifestation, Bahá'u'lláh."[94]

As we have seen, then, turning in adoration implies not only a position of the body toward Bahji, but, above all, a motion of the soul toward Bahá'u'lláh. Our sense of this motion is further enriched by turning once more to the Guardian's interpretive translations, which not only beautify, but implicitly illuminate the meaning of the Sacred Writings.

The word muqbilan, which in the preamble to the Long Obligatory Prayer is rendered as "turn unto", is also translated as to "direct" one's inner "eyes", as in:

"Direct, then, his eyes [muqbilan], O my God, towards the horizon of Thy loving-kindness";[95]

It is also rendered not simply as turning, but turning "wholly" toward God:

"Cause me, then, to turn wholly [muqbilan] unto Thee"[96]

This turning to God is even more clearly expounded in the translation of muqbilan as the setting our hearts towards and fixing them firmly on our God:

"I beseech Thee, by Thyself and by whatsoever is of Thee, to grant that I may help Thy Cause and speak of Thy praise, and set my heart [muqbilan] on the sanctuary of Thy glory"[97]

"I give Thee thanks, also, for having sent down upon me from the clouds of Thy will that which hath so sanctified me from the hints of the infidels and the allusions of the misbelievers that I have fixed my heart firmly [muqbilan] on Thee, and fled from such as have denied the light of Thy countenance."[98]

In conclusion, as we turn our bodies toward Bahji, we direct our inner eyes toward Bahá'u'lláh, as our Door to the knowledge of God, and turning wholly to Him, we set our heart on Him, fixing it firmly on His in sacred adoration.

4: "and as he standeth in his place"

In the Guardian's translation "as he standeth" translates two words, one qáma and the other astaqarra. If yaqumu denoted the motion of rising, qáma refers to the condition or state of standing up, of being upright. In further confirmation of our foregoing commentary, where we linked the act of standing up to the state of slumbering upon a couch of negligence, and to the sepulchre of the spiritually dead, the word qáma is translated by Shoghi Effendi in one instance as the state of being "quickened" from death:

"Every drop of that water would suffice to quicken [qáma] the dead"[99]

And in another as being "roused" from slumber:

"No sooner was He roused [qáma] from His slumber than He lifted up His voice and summoned the whole of mankind unto God, the Lord of all worlds."[100]

Astaqarra, on the other hand comes from the verb qarra, meaning to remain firm, stationary. Astaqarra is translated by the Guardian as "established" almost always in connection with a royal throne. It denotes sovereignty and dominion as well as permanence:

"Give me to drink of the river that is life indeed, whose waters have streamed forth from the Paradise (Ridvan) in which the throne of Thy Name, the All-Merciful, was established [astaqarra] "[101]

"I know not, however, O Thou the Beloved of the world and the Desire of the nations, the place wherein the throne of Thy majesty hath been established [astaqarra]."[102]

"Glory be to Thee, O Lord my God! I beg of Thee by Thy Name through which He Who is Thy Beauty hath been stablished [astaqarra] upon the throne of Thy Cause."[103]

Putting the two concepts together, we have moved from the motion of rising up, to the instruction to maintain the newly achieved state of standing up, to remain firm and become established in this, as we have seen, essentially inner state, standing still "in his place [maqámihi]".

The word used here for place is maqám. Our maqam, our place, in this prayer, is quite naturally the physical spot wherein we are standing. But it is, if we follow the metaphorical logic we have thus far pursued, much more than this. The word maqam is among the richest in allusion and meaning, and the Guardian's translation yield abundant fruit for contemplation. As a physical space, the use of the word in this prayer recalls its usage to designate the blessed court of Bahá'u'lláh's presence, the seat of His throne, already evoked by the word astaqarra.

"He, verily, loveth the spot [maqám] which hath been made the seat of His throne, which His footsteps have trodden, which hath been honored by His presence, from which He raised His call, and upon which He shed His tears."[104]

It is the place from which Bahá'u'lláh speaks to us, the habitation of His glory:

"The blessed Lote-Tree standeth, in this day, before thy face, laden with heavenly, with new and wondrous fruits. Gaze on it, detached from all else save it. Thus hath the Tongue of might and power spoken at this Spot [maqám] which God hath adorned with the footsteps of His Most Great Name and Mighty Announcement.[105]

"To this beareth witness the Tongue of Grandeur from His habitation [maqám] of glory."[106]

The place in which we stand then, as we set our faces toward Bahá'u'lláh, could transport us to a sense of entering His habitation, the seat of His glory, whence the Tongue of Grandeur speaks, so that, with our faculty of imagination, we might experience something of the wonder that E.G. Browne so eloquently recorded:

"The face of him on whom I gazed I can never forget, though I cannot describe it. Those piercing eyes seemed to read one's very soul; power and authority sat on that ample brow; while the deep lines on the forehead and face implied an age which the jet-black hair and beard flowing down in indistinguishable luxuriance almost to the waist seemed to belie. No need to ask in whose presence I stood, as I bowed myself before one who is the object of a devotion and love which kings might envy and emperors sigh for in vain!"[107]

Recalling such accounts as preparation for prayer, evoking in our souls the sensation of attaining to Bahá'u'lláh's presence, can, in the author's experience, greatly intensify and facilitate the condition of fixing our hearts firmly on Bahá'u'lláh, and enrich the sense, which clearly emerges as an aspiration from the readings we have examined, of standing before the divine presence of Bahá'u'lláh, as our closest approximation to coming before the presence of God Himself.

Beyond such evocations of sacred space, however, be it the sanctified surroundings of Bahá'u'lláh's Shrine in Bahji, the Court of Bahá'u'lláh's presence, or the very chambers hallowed by our performance of obligatory prayer, the spiritual location of our prayer, the place where we find ourselves standing if we have engaged in the journey implied in our commentary so far, is in fact a condition, an inner atmosphere of communion with the divine. It is interesting to note, in this respect, that the word maqám resurfaces very soon in the Long Obligatory Prayer, but this time in a different rendering.

"I love, in this state [maqám], O my Lord, to beg of Thee all that is with Thee, that I may demonstrate my poverty, and magnify Thy bounty and Thy riches, and may declare my powerlessness, and manifest Thy power and Thy might."[108]

Thus, standing in our place can mean our actual physical space, our imaginary journey to the sacred space of Bahá'u'lláh's presence, but, above all, standing in our "state" of prayer. Returning to our exploration of the terms qáma and astaqarra, this line seems to be suggesting that, as we begin from a sincere desire to pray, spiritually rise from the inertia of our lower nature, "the insistent self,"[109] and, turning spiritually to Bahá'u'lláh, fix our hearts on Him, we are now told to remain within and firmly establish ourselves, in this very state (maqám) of prayer.

The most common translation of maqám, however, is "station", as in the following passage:

"Much hath been written in the books of old concerning the various stages in the development of the soul, such as concupiscence, irascibility, inspiration, benevolence, contentment, Divine good-pleasure, and the like; the Pen of the Most High, however, is disinclined to dwell upon them. Every soul that walketh humbly with its God, in this Day, and cleaveth unto Him, shall find itself invested with the honor and glory of all goodly names and stations [maqámat].[110]

"Sanctify your souls, O ye peoples of the world, that haply ye may attain that station [maqám] which God hath destined for you"[111]

Beyond our temporary rarified state of prayerful concentration, therefore, we can say that to stand in our maqám is to stand in our spiritual station, our own distinctive stage of spiritual development, with its spiritual strengths and crying needs, its conquered trials and present tests, its certain knowledge and its bewildering uncertainties, its fire of separation and its light of reunion. It is here, in that inward spot, that place of authenticity, where we come in touch with our profound motivations, and invest in our prayer the depths of our being, releasing in that moment not just a spiritual and intellectual, but also an emotional response to the words that will follow.

The injunction to stand in our place, suggests, by implication, the possibility of standing somewhere else, outside our own maqám, our place or station. On the one hand, this means seeing with our own eyes and not with the eyes of another, that is, praying in a spirit of conscious awareness and not blind imitation, not faking sentiment in order to feel pious or closer to God, but on the contrary recognising that "we cannot force ourselves to understand or feel these things,"[112] and instead resolving to "persevere in the recitation of the Obligatory Prayer, and thus ...come to witness the power of entreaty and supplication."[113] That means neither, aggrandising, nor devaluing our stage of spiritual development, our degree of understanding and experience of prayer, our sense of nearness and of separation from God.

"To transgress the limits of one's own rank and station [maqám] is," Bahá'u'lláh avers, "in no wise, permissible. The integrity of every rank and station must needs be preserved. By this is meant that every created thing should be viewed in the light of the station it hath been ordained to occupy."[114]

The daily practice of obligatory prayer, not always straightforward or uplifting (otherwise "perseverance" would not be necessary", in this light, becomes a daily exercise in self-knowledge, an ever more intimate approximation to what lies buried and but partially apprehended within our own breast.

We remember the sublime prayer at the beginning of Gleanings:

"Whatever duty Thou hast prescribed unto Thy servants of extolling to the utmost Thy majesty and glory is but a token of Thy grace unto them, that they may be enabled to ascend unto the station conferred upon their own inmost being, the station of the knowledge of their own selves."[115]

And so, as we stand `in our place', in our station, we come closer to understanding condition, before God, His Manifestation, and His loved ones. To first rise and then stand in our place is to lift ourselves from the couch of heedlessness, above the noise of the world, beyond self-delusion, pride, and blind imitation, and ground ourselves in our station, in the reality of our own authentic relationship to God, however tentative or fragile, and in the humility of genuine and ever growing self-awareness, the station of the knowledge of our own selves.

5: "let him gaze to the right and to the left"

The word "gaze" translates yanzuru from the verb nazara, which as well as gazing and seeing also translates as "turning the eyes of the mind towards; attending to; pondering; estimating" (steingass). This line is rich in possibilities. It recalls, first of all, a beautiful prayer which says:

"Whenever I ponder my grievous shortcomings and my great trespasses, despair assaileth me from every direction, and whenever I pause to meditate upon the ocean of Thy bounteousness and the heaven of Thy grace and the day-star of Thy tender compassion, I inhale the fragrance of hope diffused from right and left, from north and south, as if every created thing imparteth unto me the joyous tidings that the clouds of the heaven of Thy mercy will pour down their rain upon me."[116]

It may be that, at one level of meaning, this fire of despair and light of hope may both be experienced or evoked as we turn to our right and to our left, awaiting his mercy. Our relation to these feelings may stimulate, according as we variously concentrate on them, a wide range of emotional response. Thus, generally in the Bahá'í writings the right is the direction that leads toward God, and the left that which leads away from Him. We thus find the right associated with certitude,[117] with the gates of heaven,[118] the blissful habitations (maqámat) of paradise[119] and the direction from which ascend the blessed cries of them that are near to God.[120] These are placed side by side with left of idle fancy,[121] the gates of hell,[122] the place where the people of the left sigh and bemoan,[123] and the direction whence is heard the clamor of the wicked doers.[124]

But, lest the left-handed become despondent, this polarity does not apply unfailingly. Both sides can also be positive. Thus when Bahá'u'lláh turned to His right and to His left whist repairing to a verdant garden, both vistas were dazzlingly luminous, and in the Beloved, both were bearers of surpassing gifts:

"One day of days We repaired unto Our Green Island. Upon Our arrival, We beheld its streams flowing, and its trees luxuriant, and the sunlight playing in their midst. Turning Our face to the right, We beheld what the pen is powerless to describe; nor can it set forth that which the eye of the Lord of Mankind witnessed in that most sanctified, that most sublime, that blest, and most exalted Spot. Turning, then, to the left We gazed on one of the Beauties of the Most Sublime Paradise, standing on a pillar of light, and calling aloud saying: "O inmates of earth and heaven! Behold ye My beauty, and My radiance, and My revelation, and My effulgence. By God, the True One! I am Trustworthiness and the revelation thereof, and the beauty thereof."[125]

Similarly, in certain passages the right is associated with the hosts of revelation and the left with the angels of inspiration,[126] the right with the living waters of grace and the left with the choice Wine of justice.[127]

The right and the left may also denote prosperity and adversity, as in Bahá'u'lláh's oral discourse reported by Nabil known as Panj Kanz (Five Treasures):

"Suppose that a person is taken to a vast plain, on the right side of which are placed all the glories of this world, its pleasures and comfort, together with a sovereignty which would be everlasting and freed from every affliction and grief. On the left-hand side of this plain are preserved for eternity all the calamities, hardships, pains and immense sufferings. Then suppose that the Holy Spirit appears before this person and addresses him in these words: "Shouldst thou choose to have all the eternal pleasures that are placed on the right side in preference to the calamities on the left, not the slightest thing would be reduced from thy station in the sight of God. And shouldst thou choose to be inflicted with innumerable sufferings that are placed on the left, not the slightest thing would be added to thy station in the estimation of God, the Almighty, the Unconstrained." 'If at that moment this person were moved to choose, with the utmost eagerness and enthusiasm, the left hand of abasement rather than the right hand of glory, then he would be worthy to attain My presence and hearken to My exalted words."[128]

Clearly all it is the lot of each human being to experience, by turns, and often simultaneously the impact of all these polarities, prosperity and adversity, doubt and certitude, the occasional tribulations attendant on choosing to do right, and the sighs of remorse that escape from our breasts when oppressed by the consciousness of having done wrong, the foretastes of paradise and heaven, and the dreadful apprehension of the hells we can build for our own selves within our souls. In our lives there are likewise moments when Revelation sets clearly our course, and times when before equally sanctioned, and at times equally urgent choices must rely on the mysterious forces of inspiration, moments to pant after the living waters of grace, and times to intoxicate the oppressed with the divine wine of justice.

In this sense we are all companions in that Cave of which Bahá'u'lláh's speaks in the Four Valleys, warning us to recognise the instability of life in this world, and to cling instead to the unfailing chord of the remembrance of God:

"On this plane, the traveler meeteth with many a trial and reverse. Now is he lifted up to heaven, now is he cast into the depths. As it hath been said: "Now Thou drawest me to the summit of glory, again Thou castest me into the lowest abyss." The mystery treasured in this plane is divulged in the following holy verse from the Surih of `the Cave' [Qur'an 18:16]: "And thou mightest have seen the sun when it arose, pass on the right of their cave, and when it set, leave them on the left, while they were in its spacious chamber. This is one of the signs of God. Guided indeed is he whom God guideth; but for him whom He misleadeth, thou shalt by no means find a patron." If a man could know what lieth hid in this one verse, it would suffice him. Wherefore, in praise of such as these, He hath said: "Men whom neither merchandise nor traffic beguile from the remembrance of God...." [Qur'an 24:37.] This station conferreth the true standard of knowledge, and freeth man from tests."[129]

6: as if awaiting the mercy of his Lord

And so, as we gaze to our right and to our left, we do so as if awaiting (yantaziru - from the same root as nazara, to gaze expectantly) the mercy of our Lord, we might consider the moment apt for bringing ourselves to account, as a preparation for entering prayer in full awareness and inner engagement. Bearing in mind our preceding commentary on the right and the left, and in the light of our maqám, our awareness of our state and our position vis-à-vis our advancement and shortcomings in the path of God, we may be looking for His mercy to rescue us from the left of error and preserve us in the right path of guidance. We may further be awaiting expectantly His mercy in the left of adversity, to help us be patient and thankful, and the right of prosperity, to preserve us from forgetfulness and nourish our generosity; or we may be seeking the mercy of receptivity to His revelation on the right and the guidance of His inspiration on the left. Alternatively, or in addition, we may tremble at the left hand of His justice and cast ourselves to the right hand of His grace. Our waiting on His mercy as we gaze to the right and to the left may be assailed by the winds of despair or on the contrary refreshed by the fragrances of hope, or indeed a simultaneous experience of both, depending on whether as we wake in our cave we find ourselves to the right or to the left of the Object of our adoration.

When we link these inner turnings toward God's mercy in the concreteness of our daily experience, our specific victories and failings in His path that very day, our particular and ongoing spiritual challenges and our very personal witness to His assistance, in other words, when we relate the evocative images of right and left in our Writings to the bringing ourselves to account in the light of His mercy, we place our actions in a potent, honest, and empowering spiritual framework, and so that the power of these images is powerfully released within our soul and our existential journey, and the act of physically turning to our right and to our left becomes at once inwardly revealing and potentially transforming.

As we place our hopes and our doings in the shadow of His mercy (rahmat), we might wish to appreciate the immense potentialities, the awe-inspiring extent and power latent in this majestic divine attribute, by far and away one of the most recurrent and elevated attributes that occur in our scriptures, over 400 times in the Guardian's translations alone.

Our God, we are constantly assured, is indeed a God of mercy,[130] of all who show mercy, the Most Merciful.[131] His mercy, we are told, has not only preceded, encompassed and surpassed all created things, both the visible and the invisible, whether in heaven or on earth,[132] but also permeated them, for His mercy is all-pervading[133] and its breezes wafted over all created things.[134] So integral is God's mercy to the divine act of creation, that "if for one moment the tide of His mercy and grace were to be withheld from the world, it would completely perish." It is for this reason, we are told, that "from the beginning that hath no beginning the portals of Divine mercy have been flung open to the face of all created things," and that it will be so "to the end that hath no end... Such hath been God's method continued from everlasting to everlasting."[135] Given such affirmations of the cosmic immensity of God's mercy, we recognise in wonder that "none can fathom His all-embracing mercy."[136]

It is out of Divine mercy's rushing waters, "that He Who is the Day Spring of the signs of God and the Revealer of the evidences of His glory" did appear "without veil or concealment associating and conversing with the peoples of the earth."[137] Indeed, He Himself was that water which is life indeed, poured forth from the clouds of God's mercy.[138] It is out of His mercy that He conferred upon man the gift which is pre-eminent above all others, and pertains to God Himself, the gift of Divine Revelation,[139] unsealing its choice wine and wafting its holy, its hidden, and musk-laden fragrance upon all created things.[140] Out of His mercy, He summoned the Maids of Heaven to emerge from behind the veil of concealment, and clothed them in words of consummate power and wisdom, and rivers of mercy have streamed from His pen,[141] so that those words might prove the Truth divine should the evidence of His own Self and of His Revelation both prove insufficient to guide us to its shores.[142]

Out of His mercy the Ancient Beauty consented to be bound in chains, imprisoned and made to drain the cup of sorrow to its dregs, as a ransom for the true emancipation, the abiding joy and gladness, of the entire human race.[143] The living waters of His mercy are fast pouring down and Bahá'u'lláh's heart is melting with the heat of His tenderness and love, so that at no time has He been able to reconcile Himself to the afflictions befalling His loved ones, or to any trouble that could becloud the joy of their hearts.[144] His enemies, on the other hand, are they who have forgotten the wonders of His mercy, and caused Him to lament on account of His loneliness.[145]

It is out of His mercy that He enjoins upon us what will profit us, when in fact "He Himself can well dispense with all creatures", in such wise that neither can our evil deeds presume to harm Him, nor our good works profit Him.[146]

The overflowing rain of His mercy has the power to purify us from all that is not of Him,[147] to cleanse us from the remembrance of all else but Him, and bring us near to the ocean of His grace,[148] while the stirrings of our hearts under the influences of mercy's winds[149] can cause us to be satisfied with His good pleasure, and enable us to turn unto Him and be detached from anything save Him. It is by His mercy that we turn our face wholly towards God, and seek His shelter, and become steadfast in His love.

Such as deeply inhale the fragrance of God's mercy, will hasten with such speed unto the living waters of His grace, that no dart will hinder them from turning unto Him, nor any spear from setting their faces towards His Revelation.[150] Every drop of those waters would suffice to quicken the dead, and to set their faces in the direction of Thy favors and Thy gifts, and to rid them of all attachment to aught else except God, endowing them with new life, as long as His own Kingdom endures.[151] His mercy that keeps back from us the darts of the evil suggestions of the wicked doers,[152] and gladdens the hearts of His servants, who have turned towards Him and helped His Cause.

We frequently do not know what God has ordained for us by virtue of His mercy,[153] for the evidences of His mercy can lie hidden,[154] so that there come moments in our lives when outwardly we are weak and helpless, and inwardly we are but orphans,[155] approaching as paupers the door of His mercy.[156] However, we are assured that "His mercy surpasseth the fury of His wrath,"[157] to such an extent that it has caused most people to imagine "that the one true God is unaware of what they have privily committed."[158] And yet, it is the very straying from His path that makes the ensign of His mercy to be unfurled, and we are reassured that God, indeed, has more mercy upon us than we have upon our own selves[159] it is far, we are told, far from His greatness to "deprive one who hath held fast to the hem of His mercy."[160] On the contrary, the breath of God, blowing from the source of His mercy, blows over all such of His creatures as set themselves towards Him, and awakes them from their slumber.

Given such overwhelming promises, effects and potentialities, we are admonished not to withhold ourselves from the Mercy of God, for to do so would leave us in "grievous loss."[161] Rather, we are summoned to set all our hope in God and cleave tenaciously to His unfailing mercy,[162] and to strive, that our eyes may be directed toward it.[163] The keys to His mercy lie in His commandments, and unlocking mercy's doors takes place through our renunciation of all save God,[164] our hearkening to His words, and our repentance and return unto Him.[165]

7: "the Most Merciful, the Compassionate."

This twin appelation (ar-Rahman'u'r-Rahim) is the most Quranic of invocations, having given rise to centuries of spiritual reflection in Islamic spirituality. With it we are introduced to the first of a series of twinned attributes which characterise this prayer, and which constitute a prominent motif of the Bahá'í revelation. Guy Sinclair has written a paper on this, and Khazeh Fananapazir comments as follows:

"In the Long Obligatory Prayer quite often there is a twinness, a duality [which to my mind is an indication of the twin Manifestations]

O Thou Who art the Lord of all names and the Maker of the heavens! (Bahá'u'lláh: Prayers and Meditations, Page: 317)

[2 invocations]
I beseech Thee by them Who are the Day-Springs of Thine invisible Essence, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious (Bahá'u'lláh: Prayers and Meditations, Page: 317)

The Invisible Essence's Daysprings have two attributes ['Ali] = the Most Exalted and Abha= the All-Glorious]
O Thou the Desire of the world and the Beloved of the nations! (Bahá'u'lláh: Prayers and Meditations, Page: 317)

again one Reality with two attributes is invoked

I implore Thee by the Ocean of Thy mercy and the Day-Star of Thy grace (Bahá'u'lláh: Prayers and Meditations, Page: 317)

again two entities are implored by...
and so on

cf twinness in this Message:

Announce to friends of East and West the following: furnishing Mazra'ih, completion of restoration of historic house of Bahá'u'lláh in Acre,(1) scene of prolonged afflictions sustained by Founder of Faith, as well as supreme crisis suffered by Abdu'l-Bahá at hands of Covenantbreakers. Greatly enhanced international endowments in Holy Land in twin cities of Acre and Haifa, now include twin Holy Shrines situated on plain of Acre and slope of Mount Carmel; twin Mansions of Bahji and Mazra'ih, twin historic Houses inhabited by Bahá'u'lláh and Abdu'l-Bahá; twin International Archives adjoining the Bab's Sepulcher and the resting-place of the Greatest Holy Leaf; twin Pilgrim Houses, constructed for Oriental and Occidental pilgrims; twin Gardens of Ridvan and Firdaws, associated with the memory of the Author of the Bahá'í Dispensation. (Shoghi Effendi: Messages to the Bahá'í World, p.8)

8: "Then let him say:"

These words signal the beginning of the recitation of the Long Obligatory Prayer. The use of the word then (thumma) indicates that the words that follow require and anticipate the spiritual preparation, cultivation and journey implied in the verses discussed so far, which set the tone and impose the conditions, necessary for a fulfilling experience of this unfathomably potent of prayer.


If one thing becomes clear from this exercise, it is that whatever may be written as to the meaning of obligatory prayer can at most allude to and evoke - never describe - the experience and mysteries enshrined therein ("the pen steppeth not into this region, the ink leaveth only a blot"[166] ), an experience which for believers is, of course, the central fact of the obligatory prayers, above and beyond historical, textual, and even hermeneutical considerations. For prayer itself is, the Bahá'í writings maintain, in essence an intensely personal experience, a "mystic feeling which unites Man with God",[167] "a prayer that shall rise above words and letters and transcend the murmur of syllables and and sounds—that all things may be merged into nothingness before the revelation of Thy splendour."[168]

This being the case, a reflection that remains at the level of textual analysis might perhaps be considered incomplete. For this reason I venture to place before the reader, instead of a conventional conclusion rigorously attempting to tie up the ever elusive and sacred content of these prayers, and as further commentary on this sublime preamble, a poem written by the author on the very lines dissected earlier. It is submitted as merely one example of the intense subjectivity of obligatory prayer understood not only as text, but also, as has been discussed earlier, as process, as lived experience. It represents one very personal response to this mysterious ladder, a response which, rather than furnishing answers and conclusions, presents instead the polysemic questions of spiritual striving.


"Whoso wisheth..."

Whose own wishes
spread like canvas
for His hand to trace
its wishes on?

Who so wishes
so longs
so yearns?

Who so wishes
"let him stand up"
above what
from what
reclining state
"and turn"
at last away from all

"unto God"
the Wish of Him
Who wishes
we might wish so?

Who so wisheth
to recite this prayer
let him stand up
and turn
unto God.

Additional quotations

The worshipper must pray with a detached spirit, unconditional surrender of the will, concentrated attention and a magnetic spiritual passion. His innermost being must be stirred with the ethereal breeze of holiness. If the mirror of his life is polished from the dross of all desires the heavenly pictures and star-like images of the kingdom of God will become fully reflected therein. Then he will be given power to translate these celestial forms into his own daily life and the lives of many thousands. - SW, Vol. 5, p. 433.

Automatic, formalistic prayers which do not touch the core of the heart are of no avail. - SW, Vol. 8, p. 45

What is prayer? It is conversation with God. While man prays he sees himself in the presence of God. If he concentrates his attention he will surely at the time of prayer realize that he is conversing with God. Often at night I do not sleep, and the thoughts of this world weigh heavily on my mind. I toss uneasily in my bed. Then in the darkness of the night I get up and pray and converse with God. It is most sweet and uplifting.

Prayer and supplication are so effective that they inspire one's' heart for the whole day with high ideals and supreme sanctity and calmness. One's heart must be sensitive to the music of prayer. He must feel the effect of prayer. He must not be like an organ from which softest notes stream forth without having consciousness of sensation in itself.

(Words of Abdul Baha; from the Diary of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab, March 15 1914, cited in: Rabb, Mary M. The Divine Art of Living: A Compilation. Chapter IV. Prayer)
- Star of the West, 17 May 1917, 8(4):41.

NIYYAT (intention) is made while saying the takbir of iftitah (beginning). It is permissible to make niyyat before that, too. In fact, it is permissible if a person who has left his home in order to perform namaz in jamaat follows the imam without niyyat. But on the way he mustn't do one of the things that would nullify namaz. Walking or making ablution does not give harm. To make niyyat for namaz means to pass through heart its name, time, qibla, to wish to follow the imam (when performing namaz in jamaat), to mean to perform namaz. Knowledge only, that is, knowing what is to be done will not be niyyat. - Hanafi Fiqh, Endless Bliss Fourth Fascicle, ch. 14, Waqf Ikhlas, 1993.

When in prayer we are freed from all outward things and turn to God, then it is as if in our hearts we heard the voice of God. Without words we speak, we communicate, we converse with God and hear the answer. It is said that Moses in the wilderness heard the voice of God. But that wilderness, that holy land was his own heart. All of us when we attain to a true spiritual condition can hear the voice of God speaking to us in that wilderness. We must strive to attain to that condition by being separated from all things and from the people of the world and by turning to God alone. It will take some effort on the part of man to attain to that condition but he must work for it, strive for it. (Words of Abdul Baha; extract from a talk given to Miss Laura Barney) - SW, Vol. 8, p. 42

"If there be no love, if there be no pleasure or spiritual enjoyment in prayer, do not pray. Prayer should spring from love, from the desire of the person to commune with God. Just as the lover never ceases from wishing to communicate with the beloved so does the lover of God always wish for constant communication with the Deity.

"Prayer need not be in words, but in thought and attitude. But if this love and this desire are lacking it is useless to try to force them. Words without love mean nothing. If a person talks to you as an unpleasant duty with no love or pleasure in his meeting with you, do you wish to converse with him? Efforts should first be made to make attachment to God."

When asked how this attachment is to be made, how the love of God is to be obtained, since there are many people in the world who admit the existence of a Deity but without any emotion, 'Abdu'l-Bahá said:

"Knowledge is love. Study, listen to exhortations, think, try to understand the wisdom and greatness of God.

The soil must be fertilized before the seed be sown." (Words of Abdu'l Baha, from an article in The Fortnightly Review, June, 1911) - SW, Vol. 8, p. 42.

Question: Is prayer, attitude or word?''


''Prayer is both attitude and word, it depends upon the soul condition. It is like a song, both words and music make the song. Sometimes the melody will move us, sometimes the words." (Words of Abdul Baha; Ten Days in the Light of Acca, p. 15) - SW, Vol. 8, p. 43.

The prayerful attitude is attained by two means. Just as a man who is going to deliver a lecture prepares therefore and his preparation consists of certain meditations and notations, so the preparation for the prayerful attitude is detaching one's mind from all other thoughts save the thought of God at the time of prayer and then praying when the prayerful attitude shall be attained. (Words of Abdul Baha; A heavenly Feast, p. 19) - SW, Vol. 8, p. 43

In answer to the question, "Why should one pray through Christ as the Christians do, or through another manifestation of God and why should we not pray to God direct?" Abdul Baha said "If we wish to pray we must have some object upon which to concentrate.

If we turn to God we must direct our hearts to a certain center. If man worships God otherwise than through his Manifestation he must first form a conception of God and that conception is created by his own mind. As the finite cannot comprehend the Infinite so God is not to be comprehended in this fashion.

That which man conceives with his own mind he comprehends. That which he can comprehend is not God. That conception of God which a man has is but a phantasm, an image, an imagination, an illusion. There is no connection between such a conception and the Supreme Being.

"If a man wishes to know God he must find him in the perfect mirror, Christ or Bahá'u'lláh. In either of these mirrors he will see reflected the Sun of Divinity.

"As we know the physical sun by its splendor, by its light and heat so we know God, by the spiritual sun, when he shines forth from the temple of Manifestation by his attributes of perfection, by the beauty of his qualities and by the splendor of his light. The Manifestations of God are the focal centers of the world.

"The epitome of all worship is the worship of the attributes of Christ, not his personality." (Words of Abdul Baha; a talk given to Mr. Percy Woodcock, Acca, Syria) - SW, Vol. 8, p. 47-48

Regarding thy question about the morning prayer. Both meanings are in included in the word dawn — the natural dawn, and the dawn of The kingdom. - SW, Vol. 8, p. 48


    [1] The main sources of guidance on the obligatory prayers in Persian may be found in Ishraq-Khavari, Ganjinih-'i Hudud va Ahkam, and the third volume of Fadil Mazandarani's Amr va Khalq.
    [2] This second category includes both the recitation of prayers found in the Sacred Writings (other than obligatory prayers) and the spontaneous, personal prayers of each individual. For examples of the validation and inclusion of personal prayer under this category see, for instance, Tablets of `Abdu'l-Bahá Abbas, vol.3, page 545, where He writes "The short prayer which thou hast written at the end of thy letter is in reality original, beautiful, sweet and effective. Chant it always."
    [3] Mehran Ghasempour provisional translation, in
    [4] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no VII
    [5] Lights of Guidance, no. 1525.
    [6] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no VI
    [7] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no XIII
    [8] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no IX
    [9] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no XVIII
    [10] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no XIV
    [11] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no II
    [12] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no IX
    [13] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no XXIII
    [14] See Kitáb-i Aqdas, paragraph 6; "Questions and Answers", no.63; and the accompanying "Notes" 4 and 9.
    [15] Kitáb-i Aqdas, "Questions and Answers", no.63
    [16] The original manuscript bears this date at the end of the tablet. For this and the following information on the Lawh-i Bishárat-i `Uzmá I am indebted to the Universal house of Justice, for sharing a memorandum from its Research Department on "Questions Related to the Obligatory Prayers", dated 16 April 2002.
    [17] For biographical information see Moojan Momen,
    [18] Cf. Kitáb-i Aqdas "Questions and Answers" number 63. See Persian edition (Bahá'í World Centre, 1995) for Arabic designation.
    [19] Opening paragraphs of the Lawh-i Bisharat-I `Uzmá. I am grateful to Dr Khazeh Fananapazir for this provisional translation, with further comments from Mehran Ghasempour and Moojan Momen. The last paragraph is as cited in the Kitáb-i Aqdas, "Questions and Answers", no.82
    [20] The Arabic original of these prayers may be found accurately printed in the Persian edition of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Bahá'í World Centre, 1995). The old editions of Ad'iyyih-i-Hadrat-i-Mahb˙b likewise included this tablet, however in these editions the text of the Short Obligatory Prayer is incomplete. The 1999 edition of this book (in 464 pages) corrects this and includes the complete text of the prayer on page 79.
    [21] Bahá'u'lláh, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 1, no X
    [22] Principles of Bahá'í Administration, p.7
    [23] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no VII
    [24] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no VI
    [25] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no IX
    [26] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no XIV
    [27] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no XV
    [28] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no XI
    [29] Bahá'u'lláh, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 1, no X
    [30] Ibid. no X
    [31] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no XI and XVI
    [32] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no XVI
    [33] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no XVII
    [34] Kitáb-i Aqdas, "Questions and Answers" no. 63; Lights of Guidance, no. 1523, 1526, 1529
    [35] Lights of Guidance, no. 1523.
    [36] Ibid. For a beautiful and thought-provoking reflection on the prescribed motions of the medium and particularly the long obligatory prayer see Christopher White, "Searching for God in Time and Memory: an Examination of Bahá'í Prayer as "Remembrance", Bahá'í Studies Review vol. 7, 1997.
    [37] Qiblih is translated as the "Point of Adoration", which Bahá'u'lláh ordains to be Him Whom God shall make manifest (namely His own person). 'Abdu'l-Bahá states in a tablet that Bahá'u'lláh ordained that after His death the Qiblih should be His luminous resting place (Cf. Kitáb-i Aqdas, paragraphs 6 and 137; "Questions and Answers" no. 14 and 67; "Notes" 7, and 8). The Qiblih is described by `Abdu'l-Bahá as "fixed, specified, holy and blessed" (The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no XXI).
    [38] Kitáb-i Aqdas, paragraphs 18 and 10; "Questions and Answers", no. 18, 51, 62, 66, 77and 86; "Notes" 16, 20, and 34.
    [39] Kitáb-i Aqdas, paragraphs 10 and 13; "Notes" 14 and 20.
    [40] Kitáb-i Aqdas, paragraph 14; "Questions and Answers", no. 21, 58; 49, 60 and 61; "Notes" 21.
    [41] The Universal House of Justice, 1999 Dec 28, Further Application of Devotional Laws
    [42] Kitáb-i Aqdas, "Questions and Answers", no.83; "Notes" 5.
    [43] Kitáb-i Aqdas, paragraphs 10; "Questions and Answers" no. 64, and 103; "Notes" 17; Lights of Guidance, no.1531 and 1532.
    [44] `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no XX; Shoghi Effendi, Dawn of a New Day, p. 66; Lights of Guidance, no. 1490, 1492, 1493, 1699.
    [45] See instructions for Medium Obligatory Prayer, just before seating oneself, which refer to the same word which is used for raising one's hands in the Long Obligatory Prayer; and Lights of Guidance, no 1537.
    [46] Ibid. no 1534,
    [47] Lights of Guidance, no. 1533
    [48] Lights of Guidance, no. 1533, 1534, UHJ 28 Nov 2000,
    [49] Implicit in Kitáb-i Aqdas "Questions and Answers", no. 86; cf. "Synopsis and Codification of the Kitáb-i Aqdas", 10 (c)
    [50] UHJ 28-11-2000; Principles of Bahá'í Administration, p.8.
    [51] Lights of Guidance, no. 1527.
    [52] Lights of Guidance, no. 1522.
    [53] UHJ 27-3-2000
    [54] Lights of Guidance, no. 1535
    [55] Lights of Guidance, no. 1536
    [56] UHJ 28-11-2000
    [57] Lights of Guidance, no. 1528.
    [58] Bahá'u'lláh, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 1, no XI
    [59] Ibid.
    [60] This translation is as cited in the Kitáb-i Aqdas, "Questions and Answers", no.82
    [61] The line by line arrangement and numbering are the author's own, for ease of reference in the course of the ensuing commentary.
    [62] The definition comes from F. Steingass, A Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary. London: Routledge, 1988 [1892].
    [63] Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 195
    [64] Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 210
    [65] Bonaventura, The Journey into the Mind of God, VII.6
    [66] 'Abdu'l-Bahá: Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Vol. I, p. 85
    [67] See the tenth passage of the Long Obligatory Prayer
    [68] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 163
    [69] The Kitab-i-Aqdas, para. 38
    [70] Cited in Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 57
    [71] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p. 182
    [72] Cf. Persian Hidden Words, nos.20 and 30; and Summons of the Lord of Hosts, pp. 65, 67, 168, 187.
    [73] Cf. Persian Hidden Words, no. 28; Summons of the Lord of Hosts p.227; Traveller's Narrative, p.111;
    [74] Prayers and Meditations of Bahá'u'lláh, no. CXIII, p.191
    [75] Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p.23
    [76] Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed After the Kitab-i-Aqdas, p.176; Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá, p.289
    [77] Kitáb-i Iqán, pp.171, 196; Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, L, p.103, Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p.168, Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'í Administration, p.147
    [78] Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá, p.35
    [79] Bahá'u'lláh,.Tabernacle of Unity, p.69
    [80] Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Bahá, p.198
    [81] Kitáb-i Iqán, pp.60, 117; Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p.133; Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p.118; Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Bahá, p.13;
    [82] Kitáb-i Iqán, p.120; Gems of Divine Mysteries, p.56
    [83] Kitáb-i Iqán, p.92; Summons of the Lord of Hosts, pp.50, 87; Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Bahá, p.36
    [84] Abdu'l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 80
    [85] Shoghi Effendi, Dawn of a New Day, p. 79
    [86] Kitáb-i Iqán, pp.26,119; Gems of Divine Mysteries, p.42; Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p.62; Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p.119
    [87] Citadel of Faith, p.148
    [88] Unfolding Destiny, p.351
    [89] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p. 56ff.
    [90] Question 67
    [91] Kitáb-i Aqdas, Notes, 7 and 8
    [92] Lights of Guidance, section 1523
    [93] Ibid. Section 1699
    [94] Ibid. Section 1489
    [95] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p. 53
    [96] Ibid., p.255; cf. Ibid, p. 24
    [97] Ibid., p.165
    [98] Ibid. p.110
    [99] Ibid. p.51
    [100] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.99
    [101] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p,4
    [102] Ibid. p.280
    [103] Ibid. p.235
    [104] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.15
    [105] Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p.152
    [106] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.217
    [107] Cited in Hasan M. Balyuzi, E.G. Browne and The Bahá'í Faith, p. 56
    [108] Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 94
    [109] Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 256
    [110] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh p. 159
    [111] Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 3.
    [112] Lights of Guidance, section 1523
    [113] Abdu'l-Bahá, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, sec. 2, no XVI
    [114] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 188
    [115] Ibid. p.1
    [116] Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p.112
    [117] Ibid., p.42; Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 110
    [118] Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 12
    [119] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.40
    [120] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p. 7
    [121] Ibid., p.42; Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 110
    [122] Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 12
    [123] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.40
    [124] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p. 7
    [125] Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p.37
    [126] Ibid. p.182
    [127] Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 55
    [128] Cited in Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, vol. 2, p.140
    [129] The Four Valleys, p. 53
    [130] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 41, 44, 132, 148, 243, 299, 313; Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp.46, 54, 75, 86, 94, 96, 126, 132
    [131] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p.47
    [132] Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp.25, 128, 144, 146; Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, pp.76, 195, 274, 308, 324, 325, 345; Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, pp.4, 19, 24
    [133] Gems of Divine Mysteries, p.33; Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.65
    [134] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.14
    [135] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 68ff.
    [136] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.76
    [137] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.271
    [138] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p.51
    [139] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.195
    [140] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.327
    [141] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.286
    [142] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.105
    [143] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.99
    [144] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.308
    [145] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p.39
    [146] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, pp.140, 148
    [147] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p.13
    [148] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.301
    [149] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p.21
    [150] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p.44
    [151] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p.51
    [152] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p.16
    [153] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.274
    [154] Prayers and Meditations by Bahá'u'lláh, p.63
    [155] Ibid.
    [156] Ibid. p.235
    [157] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.130
    [158] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.204
    [159] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.259
    [160] Gems of Divine Mysteries, p.33
    [161] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.104
    [162] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.323
    [163] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.297
    [164] Gems of Divine Mysteries, p.18
    [165] Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p.130
    [166] Seven Valleys, p.30
    [167] Directives from the Guardian, p.86
    [168] Bahá'í Prayers: A Selection of Prayers Revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, the Bab, and `Abdu'l-Bahá, p.71 (US BPT, 1991 edition)

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