Responsibility & Belonging
Being a Bahá’í fundamentally involves a sense of belonging to the Bahá’í community. This creation of a united community is fundamental to the purpose of the Faith. At the same time, a Bahá’í believes that Bahá’u’lláh is the Messenger of God for this age, so following his laws is also a basic expression of this belonging.
Bahá’u’lláh wrote three special prayers which are known as Obligatory Prayers. Each day a Bahá’í should say one of these prayers, e.g. the short one which is to be said in the middle of the day. Each morning and evening Bahá’ís should read something from the Bahá’í scriptures and meditate upon it.
Bahá’ís should try to find a job which is useful and constructive. If a person does a job to the best of his or her ability, in a spirit of service to others, this is another way of worshipping God. Bahá’ís should be honest, trustworthy and fair.
Once each Bahá’í month, Bahá’ís meet together for a “Feast”. There are three parts to this. First there are prayers together. Then there is discussion on local matters. Then it becomes a social gathering, strengthening the social bonds. There are also 11 Holy Days commemorating various events in Bahá’í history, and on nine of these Bahá’ís should not work.
There is no baptism of children – up to the age of 15 they are automatically accepted as belonging to the Bahá’í community. Bahá’í children are taught about all the religions of the world. When they reach the age of 15 they can decide for themselves.
Bahá’ís fast for one Bahá’í month in the year. This means that they do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset each day. Children under the age of 15 are exempt, as are the elderly, pregnant and nursing mothers, people who are ill or travelling.
In each area the Bahá’ís elect a Local Spiritual Assembly to organise their affairs. Bahá’ís should support these bodies with their prayers and follow their guidance and turn to them with any problems. Only Bahá’ís can give money to support the Bahá’í Faith.
Accepting a religion into one’s life is by definition a personal decision. No other person has the right to insist on particular forms of behaviour. Nevertheless, for a Bahá’í there are clear obligations laid out by Bahá’u’lláh himself. One of three “Obligatory” prayers should be chosen, and recited each day. There is a mantra to assist in a short daily meditation. From 2nd – 20th March, there is a daytime fast, which is applicable to those between the ages of 15 and 70, who are in good health. (There are exceptions: pregnant women, nursing mothers, those travelling, etc.) The practice of all of the above is a personal matter between the individual and God.
However, these outward forms should be mirrored by spiritual behaviour: kindness, honesty, consideration, etc., which are essential if a more unified, more spiritual civilisation is to be achieved. The various virtues or attributes of the spiritual person are expressed in Bahá’u’lláh’s teaching for the individual, but although explicit, are not codified into measurable forms. To do so would run counter to the Bahá’í spirit of individual search for truth and to healthy, organic development of both the community and the individual.
Bahá’ís should not drink alcohol or take drugs, nor should they indulge in sex outside marriage. However, there are no stipulations as to dress or, for example, the cut of the beard.
However united a religious community may be, the individuals will, in reality, understand the common beliefs in slightly different ways. To prevent the Bahá’í Faith splitting into competing sects, Bahá’u’lláh set out clearly, in writing, that the only person authorised to interpret his Writings after his passing would be his eldest son, `Abdu’l-Bahá. In terms just as clear, `Abdu’l-Bahá left written instructions that all the Bahá’ís should turn to his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Cause, for authorised interpretation of anything considered unclear. The Universal House of Justice is now the body to which Bahá’ís turn with questions for elucidation, but it has been made very clear that, “At the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views”. For example, Bahá’í study circles consist of a number of “collaborators”, each with a workbook, and the method is one of question and answer. One of the great strengths of this system is the varied insights of the different members of the circle, and another is the way that the questions invite the members to explore ideas, rather than expecting uniform responses.
The level of “commitment” of the individual believer is a personal thing, and no-one else has the right to judge it. Bahá’u’lláh encouraged everyone to attend the Nineteen Day Feast unless illness prevents it. Every Bahá’í has the right to give to the Fund, but as with prayer, fasting and attendance at meetings, no other person has the right to monitor this.