What is Obligatory Prayer and Why is it Important?

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Prayer, according to the Baha’i Faith, is central to one’s spiritual existence. It is the means by which creation communicates with the Creator.There are numerous prayers revealed by Baha’u’llah, the Bab and ‘Abdu’l- Baha, and each of these prayer express our innermost needs and offer us guidance, in a way that our own words can’t.

In addition to the many revealed prayers, there are also the daily obligatory prayers – revealed by Baha’u’llah – which are to be recited individually and privately, every day. Individuals can choose from one of three prayers – the short obligatory prayer to be said between noon and sunset, the medium obligatory prayer to be recited three times a day, or the long obligatory prayer to be recited anytime during the course of the day.

Bahá’u’lláh states that “obligatory prayer and fasting occupy an exalted station in the sight of God”. Abdu’l-Bahá affirms that such prayers are “conducive to humility and submissiveness, to setting one’s face towards God and expressing devotion to Him”, and that through these prayers “man holdeth communion with God, seeketh to draw near unto Him, converseth with the true Beloved of his heart, and attaineth spiritual stations”.

What does it mean for prayer to be ‘obligatory’?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, obligatory means “of a legal, moral or other rule; compulsory… having a binding force.”

Putting the word ‘obligatory’ in front of ‘prayer’ conjures a certain defiance in me, similar to how as a child you knew you had to do your chores before you would be allowed to go out and play. My lower self doesn’t want to feel like I’m being ordered to do anything and so obligatory prayer becomes a daily struggle to overcome that lower self.

It is a struggle that I am grateful for, and even though I have to struggle to remember to say my prayer in the midst of being distracted by the busy schedule of my worldly existence, I also know how blessed I am to have the prayers that have been revealed to us by a Manifestation of God.

What about these three prayers is so important that it has been made obligatory?

Baha’u’llah refers to obligatory prayer and fasting as Twin Pillars, sustaining “the revealed Law of God…that through them the believers may draw nigh unto God.” It is through these two pillars that we become closer to God, follow his Laws and live the life we have the potential to live.

If you have ever tried daily affirmations, you may see how repetition can make significant changes in your life: your focus may become more defined; your brain is reprogramming itself to pay attention to particular phenomena; you begin to structure your life around specific goals and move toward achieving them. A daily prayer is like a daily affirmation, but with a divine power behind it.

In a Tablet commenting on the presently-binding Obligatory Prayers, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá indicates 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”.

Shoghi Effendi explains that the few simple directions given by Bahá’u’lláh for the recital of certain prayers not only have a spiritual significance but that they also help the individual “to fully concentrate when praying and meditating”.

Prayer and fasting are the cause of awakening and mindfulness and conducive to protection and preservation from tests. The obligatory prayer is revealed from the Supreme Pen.Compilations, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 466

These daily obligatory prayers… have been invested by Bahá’u’lláh with a special potency and significance, and should therefore be accepted as such and be recited by the believers with unquestioned faith and confidence, that through them they may enter into a much closer communion with God, and identify themselves more fully with His laws and precepts. Compilations, Principles of Baha’i Administration, p.7

The requirement that Baha’is face Qiblih (the place where Baha’u’llah is buried in Akka, Israel, and the most hallowed spot) while reciting the obligatory prayer is also an interesting one, filled with spiritual significance. It is explained by Shoghi Effendi as “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 of God, Bahá’u’lláh, when we pray; and we turn our faces … to where His dust lies on this earth as a symbol of the inner act.”

This requirement alone sums up much of what obligatory prayer is: a daily reminder to remember God. Obligatory prayer gives us the focus and structure we need for spiritual growth and brings us closer to God. It guides us in our daily lives and shapes our potential to contribute to our families and communities.

Given the central role in plays in our lives and in our spiritual wellbeing, it becomes easy to understand why it is “obligatory”. The requirement of obligatory prayer serves as more of a protection than simply a law, drawing our attention to the daily sustenance that our soul needs, and ensuring that we take time out of our busy lives to address this important need.

 

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Discussion 15 Comments

  1. Congratulations on your explanation of Obligatory Prayer!

    My understanding of the Writings states that ONLY the Prayer for the dead requires facing the Qiblih.

    Balyuzi in the third book of Bahaullah elucidates the power of facing the Qiblih when reciting prayers.

    Abdul Baha explains to a western enquirer why Persians were facing the Qiblih when saying their prayers with the words, “They are returning the Grace of God to its source for others to benefit. It is a mark of respect and gratitude”. Star of the West.

    I have not read anywhere in the Writings that it is a “Requirement’ to face the Qiblih when reciting the Obligatory Prayers.

    Please advise.

    Arthur

    1. Thank you for beautiful explanation on this vast subject.

      Facing the Qiblih when reciting the Obligatory Prayers can be found in “THE KITAB-I-AQDAS page 111 No. 14.

    2. Arthur, I believe this is in the Q&A section:

      ” Facing in the direction of the Qiblih is a
      fixed requirement for the recitation of obligatory
      prayer, but for other prayers and devotions one
      may follow what the merciful Lord hath revealed
      in the Qur’án: “Whichever way ye turn, there is
      the face of God.” ”

      (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 111)

      And please see also:

      ” 11. The Prayer for the Dead is published in Prayers and Meditations of
      Bahá’u’lláh, No. CLXVII. It is the only Bahá’í obligatory
      prayer which is to be recited in congregation; it is to be recited
      by one believer while all present stand. There is no requirement
      to face the Qiblih when reciting this prayer. (p. 37) ”

      (Baha’u’llah, Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 58)

  2. The reciting one of the obligatory prayers each day can be likened to going to mass in the Catholic faith. At first I thought the latter somewhat of a streach, but after some thought I decided that it does ring true.

  3. Thank you for the correction Jodie!

    How I miss the weekly Deepening sessions, where these type of questions are answered immediately face to face, by the more knowledgeable in the community. Perhaps this blog is the new deepening arena?

    I totally missed the Aqdas quote, having put that Gift to Man in a place of reverence.( from the Greek re -vere = to fear again and again ) Probably have that wrong too! Must go back to school and relearn what I thought I knew.

    It appears that I have reversed my understanding of facing the Qiblih. Please put it down to old age and the wanderings of a dinosaur.

    Arthur

  4. Hi Jodie

    I am interested in the Baha’i faith but there’s one thing I can’t get my head around and it’s about the obligatory short prayer, specifically this part:

    In my understanding there might be times when life is difficult or when all seems lost but because God created us I AM never powerless or poor though I might FEEL like it. To say so feels like insulting God. I understand there might be translation issues but I read it in German as well and it’s basically the same. Can’t God be great without me having to diminish myself?
    In another translation it read “I am nothing” which had me thinking that maybe this was referring to the idea that if we are no-thing we are not fixing ourselves like a dead object but embodied potential.
    Any thoughts, I’d really like to know. Thank you.

    1. Sorry it somehow cut out the part I was referring to:
      I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth.

    2. Hello Kristen,

      I realize this thread is 3 years old and everybody involved may have moved on from this topic, but I am a Bahai and have had the same question you do about the short obligatory prayer. The words “my powerlessness and to Thy might. My poverty and to Thy wealth” can be seen as self defeating. I still question the words, but have resolved to believe that it is in relation to God that I am “powerless” and “poverty” stricken. I’m actually glad to hear from someone else who had this same concern.

  5. I think another prayer may shed some light on Kristen’s question. It’s the one on Praise and Gratitude that starts out like this “All praise, O my God, be to Thee Who art the Sourse of all glory and majesty, of greatness and honor, of soverenty and dominion, of loftiness and grace, of awe and power.” So maybe the short obligatory prayer is to remend us that when compared to our Creator we are pretty much poor and powerless. However, the former prayer indicates that God is the source of true power and I might add true wealth. I think it is very important to always keep in mind the distinct levels: man or human; prophet or manifestation; & God the One Creator….

  6. Kristan, I can understand your difficulty in understanding the words ” I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth” when taken in the context of daiy life.

    In everyday life we are not completely powerless, nor necessarily poor. Sometimes quite the opposite!

    However when supplicating our Creator, who is All Powerful, in fact the source of ALL power etc. we humbly say that we believe, at this moment in time, that compared with You, the Creator, we are as nothing, in fact powerless to do what You can do. We believe, that at this moment in time, our spiritual wealth is as nothing, compared to Your Spirit, the source of all Spirituality.

    The Obligatory Prayer repeated daily, is to remind ourselves that we are what we are,- as nothing compared to our Creator. When ego or pride gets in the way of our spiritual progress, this daily reminder helps us to regain an equilibrium.

    Obligatory prayers are not given to us as a penance or ritual. They are a guidance to assist us to develop spiritually. What better way than a daily reminder, that we ,ourselves choose to undertake?

    Choose? Yes, there is a choice of three , short, medium and long. The joy of being in a position in our busy lives to recite the long Obligatory is boundless! The guidance contained in that prayer is like having a light switched on in our brain and all manner of understanding is revealed.

    And how often do we deny ourselves the bounty of these jewels because we are too busy with the material world!

    Peace,

    Arthur

  7. Dear David and Arthur

    Thanks for your comments. I am glad you explained yourselves so well and didn’t consider it some kind of insult.

    Peace,

    Kristen

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