Symbols of Faith

The symbol most frequently used for the Bahá’í Faith is a nine-pointed star. The word Bahá, (Glory) as used in the title Bahá’u’lláh, has a numerical value of nine in the Arabic abjad system. Other explanations sometimes given are that nine (in a decimal system) is the greatest single unit; that nine is the number of both unity and spirituality; that there are nine major religions in the world, etc. This symbol is the one most frequently used when portrayed alongside those from its sister religions, or on leaflets and similar materials. Its exact form and proportions are not important, and indeed artists and publishers sometimes use geometric designs based on the number nine, or rosettes with nine petals, rather than a star.

The “Ringstone” symbol gets its name from its common use on personal jewellery, although there is no requirement to wear it. It consists of stylised forms of the Arabic letters B and H, arranged in a particular way. Three of these letters are arranged horizontally, representing, from the top: the world of God, the world of the Manifestations of God, and the world of man. The central letter of the three is reprised vertically, to show symbolically how the Manifestations (Teachers) connect the world of man to the world of God. There are two stars to the sides of this design. Each has five sides, and they represent the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, the twin Manifestations of the Bahá’í dispensation. The design is frequently within an oval frame. This design is found on the outside of the Shrine of the Báb. It is worthy of note that Bahá’u’lláh had some of his letters to the world’s rulers and others of his most important works arranged in the shape of a five-pointed star (pentacle).

The Greatest Name, “Yá Bahá’u’l-Abhá” (O Glory of the Most Glorious!) is an invocation, and is presented visually in a stylised form which often appears in a prominent place in Bahá’í homes. This is the symbol which looks down from the highest point in the House of Worship.

Symbolism is in use in the practice of the longer obligatory prayers. Devotional practices such as bending down, putting one’s forehead to the ground, etc., symbolise a person’s humility before God. Also the believer faces the shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, near Akka, while saying the obligatory prayer.

Bahá’í prayers sometimes use animal metaphors to suggest desirable qualities which humans ought to acquire, e.g. “Be lions roaring in the forests of knowledge, whales swimming in the oceans of life”. Metaphors from nature are also used to illustrate the relationship between God, his Manifestation and humanity. For example, Bahá’u’lláh speaks of himself as the Nightingale of Paradise, as he warbles captivating melodies in a time of profound darkness. Another common symbol is that of water, with its flowing and cleansing properties: “Make my prayer, O my Lord, a fountain of living waters whereby I may live as long as Thy sovereignty endureth … ”

Symbolism is a useful tool to explain beliefs. Bahá’í scripture, for instance, compares the succession of Manifestations to the way in which the sun rises each day, but from a different point on the horizon. Similarly, when Bahá’u’lláh says that humans should be “the fruits of one tree” or the “leaves of one branch”, Bahá’ís understand that this implies that they should be unified, because they are all created from the same root. The frequent use of symbols derived from nature reflects the Bahá’í idea that the material world is, among other things, a teaching matrix for the training of the human soul.

Bahá’u’lláh also, echoing Sufi tradition, in his work, “The Seven Valleys”, compares the journey of the soul to a physical journey from valley to valley, or from one spiritual state to another. However, Bahá’ís are quite clear that such word pictures are symbolic rather than literal.

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