It’s Friday: thank God
Posted by Sen on April 11, 2009
That’s not true for Islam: Friday is the day on which attendance at the congregational prayers at noon in the mosque is obligatory for those Muslims who are able, but it is not a ‘day of rest’ in Islam. But what about the Bahai Faith? We do not say our obligatory prayers in congregation (although we may say them, each for himself, during the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar service, but that is another story). Do we have a day of rest, as the wikipedia article says?
The first thing I did of course is turn to Time and the Baha’i Era by Gerald Keil. For those that don’t know the book, this is much more than ‘a Study of the Badi` Calendar.’ Time is inseparable from every experience we have of the world, so there is a great deal more to be said about time and the Bahai Era than simply the names of the months and the time of Naw Ruz. There’s the symbolism of the heavenly bodies, the relationship to Zoroastrian solar and Islamic lunar calendars, the significance of the number 19 (and an appendix on the Abjad number system), the various methods of determining the date of the equinox, and a table working them out until the year 200 BE, and there’s a great deal about the cultural significance of the ways various civilizations have dealt with time in their calendars. The book should have a place in every Bahai reference library.
In chapter 5, Keil says that the seven-day week has no particular religious significance in the Bahai Faith, in the way that, in Judaism and Christianity, the week is an image of the seven days of Creation, or in Christianity Sunday is the day on which Christ was resurrected, or in Islam, Friday is the day of Hijra, when Muhammad left Mecca for Medina. Yet the 7-day week is part of the Bab’s calendar: he gave each of the seven days of the week a name. Keil says,
The Bahai Faith does not stand in competition with other world religions… The inclusion of the concept of the week in the Badi` calendar emphasized this aspired relationship with other religious communities and serves as a guarantee that the respective sabbath of each of the other religions … will continue to be respected throughout the Age of Fulfilment. (Page 113)
This is perceptive: the fact that the world has adopted a seven-day week and not, for example, a ten-day week facilitates the observance of the Sabbath, of Sunday and of Friday prayers. If the Bab had not included a seven-day week in his calendar, people of these religions would expect a society containing many Babis, or Bahais, to move to a nineteen-day cycle. It would have signaled an unwillingness to accommodate the needs of the older religions (which are not going to fade away: see ‘The future of religion.’)
Keil’s section about the significance of Friday within the Badi` calendar is in chapter 8, about ‘The Rhythm of Life’ in the Babi/Bahai calendar. The question is, is the seven-day work purely a collegial gesture to our sister religions, or does the week, or a particular day of the week, also have a role in the rhythm of Bahai life? Do we have a day of rest? Keil quotes a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer:
‘Abdu’l-Baha gives no reason whatever why Friday has been chosen as the day of rest in the Bahá’í calendar. He just affirms it. (cited in Lights of Guidance 2:372)
Keil says that he is unable “to find any text in the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha to which this statement might refer” and says:
..it seems to me highly unlikely that Shoghi Effendi would have elected to comment on an official ruling with regard to such a universal matter as this via a letter to an individual believer written by his secretary, …. We should bear in mind that “. . . whenever he [i.e. the Guardian] has something of importance to say, he invariably communicates it to the National Spiritual Assembly or in his general letters. His personal letters to individual friends are only for their personal benefit . . .”
Keil shows that Abdu’l-Baha expected the Western Bahais to hold weekly devotional meetings on a Sunday, and that in Palestine in the time of Baha’u’llah, it was customary for the Bahais to go to Bahji on a Friday to attend Baha’u’llah there. Given this, and the lack of any scriptural source for the special status of Friday in the Writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha, he says:
… it is conceivable that ‘Abdu’l-Baha had on some occasion simply described (perhaps to a Western pilgrim) the predominant practice in the Orient at some particular time, not intending such a remark to be elevated to the status of dogma.
Keil’s surmise is correct: the Guardian’s secretary is referring to the contents of a pilgrim’s note, from notes recorded by Mason Remey in Haifa, 1910. It is very brief:
Q. Which day of the week will the Bahais eventually observe as a day of rest?
A. Friday. (Star of the West, Vol 1, No. 12, p. 2)
The secretary’s letter does not endorse this as a practice: it simply tells the questioner what is in the pilgrim’s note, or rather, what is not there: a reason.
Is this source to be relied on? The other contents of Remey’s pilgrim’s notes are more than usually suspicious: either the translator was very bad, or Remey’s note-taking left much to be desired. Reliable or not, it’s a pilgrim’s note, not a Bahai teaching or law. Shoghi Effendi writes:
“I truly deplore the unfortunate distortions that have resulted in days past from the incapacity of the interpreter to grasp the meaning of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, and from his incompetence to render adequately such truths as have been revealed to him by the Master’s statements. Much of the confusion that has obscured the understanding of the believers should be attributed to this double error involved in the inexact rendering of an only partially understood statement. Not infrequently has the interpreter even failed to convey the exact purport of the inquirer’s specific questions,…” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah pp. 4-5)
Back to the Bayan
On the face of it, we have another myth busted: a Bahai belief that turns out to be based on no authoritative text. But Keil notes that EG Browne’s summary of the Persian Bayan says
“God has created Friday for purity and pleasantness, and the resting of His servants from what they undertake on other days” … (Vahid 7, 17)
Regarding the recitation on Fridays of the following verse while facing the sun “Glory (Baha) from God be upon your rising, O sign of the countenance [of God]. Bear witness to that to which God himself has borne witness: that there is no god but him, the adored, the best beloved.”
This is because God the Knowing has created Friday for the purity, refinement and rest of the servants from that with which they are burdened during the [other] six days, and every act performed on the day or night of Friday is rewarded like [an act performed for] a whole week, and also because the spirit of every thing depends on man, and the witness borne by every thing is the witness borne by man. Therefore it is ordained that on Friday, in the presence of the sun, people should take it as a witness to that which is more powerful, to their confession of unity of God, to their faith in the point of the Bayan, and in that which is revealed in it. May the same be said on the day of resurrection in the presence of the sun of reality, and may witness be given to the unity of God in his presence and to the veracity of whoever obeys him. This is the fruit of this command, for those of understanding.
There is no doubt that following the manifestation of the Cause, every soul, on Friday, will recite, but on the day of resurrection this will be effaced unless you recite in the presence of God. On the day of revelation it is obligatory for all to recite these words every Friday in the presence of him whom God will make manifest. [This applies to] whoever may be in his presence, providing he has given ear to whatever may please Him in that revelation, “He does what he wills, and whatever he wishes: he is not to be questioned about his acts, but all are questioned about all things.
The corresponding text in the Arabic Bayan says:
The seventeenth chapter: On Fridays face the rising sun and recite the following verse, so that, on the day of resurrection, you may recite it as you desire in the presence of the sun of truth: “Glory (Baha) from God be upon you, O sign of the countenance [of God]. Bear witness to that to which God himself has borne witness: that there is no god but him, the adored, the best beloved.
There’s another mention of Friday in section 8:19 of the Persian Bayan, here and the INBA version here at page 306. In my translation, “call to remembrance” and “remember God” refer to the Sufi practice of reciting dhikr, which is familiar for Bahais in the form of reciting the Greatest name 95 times each day. To ‘call on God’ has the connotation of asking God to send the Promised One.
When the name of the tree of is mentioned, pronounce blessings upon it, and when the letters of the living are mentioned, say ‘peace be upon them.’ Call to remembrance God, and Muhammad and the manifestations of his command every Friday, by night and day, two hundred and two times. Then remember God in that day four thousand times [with the words] “Ya Allah.”
The abridgment of this chapter is that every time he whom God will make manifest is mentioned, you should recite blessings, and every time his ‘Letters of the Living’ are mentioned, mention the Glory [of God] for their sake. And recite dhikr for what has been manifest and what will be manifest.
Every Friday night, and during the day of Friday, recognise the rank of that day, for that is the night and the day during which [good] works are doubled. Therefore recite dhikr for he whom God will make manifest and his Letters of the Living two hundred and two times. Call on God with the essence of desire four thousand times.
And the corresponding text in the Arabic Bayan (8.19) says:
On hearing the mention of the Point, pronounce blessings upon him and upon the letters of the living, perhaps they will guide you on the day of the Manifestation. To remember them once will suffice you. During the night of Friday, and then during the day, say, “Praised be Thou O God, and praised be the substance of the seven letters, and the Letters of the Living, with majesty and splendour.”
In a tablet in the collection Maa’deh-ye Aasmaanii, volume 8, Baha’u’llah endorses these Friday devotions as a Bahai practice. The topic of this section is not Friday as such, but rather the wisdom of turning to the ‘sun,’ and what it symbolises. On pages 104-105 Baha’u’llah quotes the Arabic passage in the Persian Bayan 7.17 in which we are told to address the rising sun (quoted above) and another similar Arabic citation whose source I cannot trace, and follows with an exegesis:
Since in those days the sun had risen, but was still enfolded in clouds until the time appointed by God, therefore that Essence of Being [the Bab] faced the rising sun, which was the greatest symbol of the sun of reality, to demonstrate his submission to God, the One, the Peerless, the Incomparable. The people were to invoke this Most Great name [Baha], so that on the day of the Manifestation, they might bear witness to that to which they had been bearing witness. This verse is one of the root principles of the divine commandments, revealed in the Bayan, and incumbent on every soul today, in whatever country he may live: on Friday he is to turn towards God, uttering these words, and remember the beloved of the worlds. [Another section of this tablet is translated by Wil McCants on his blog.]
People of insight have recognised that the ‘sun’ was simply one of the signs of God. Nevertheless, that Pure and Ancient Being, who has created all beings with a single word, permits you to demonstrate your humility and lowliness in this way, before one of the signs [of God], for love of the One foretold in the tablets, just as someone who receives a letter from his loved one will be full of humility and lowliness in handling that letter. …
This tablet continues with an address to the Babis concerning outward signs and inner meanings. For my purposes, the words in bold are the important ones. They show that there are particular devotions for Bahais to perform on Friday, but not that Friday is a day of rest. What Baha’u’llah says would allow these devotions to be performed individually or collectively, so the text does not establish a particular day of prayer for the Bahai community. But the Persian Bayan 7:17 said “God the Knowing has created Friday for the purity, refinement and rest of the servants from that with which they are burdened during the [other] six days.” Does this also become part of Bahai law?
My supposition is that the brief mention of a Bayanic law in the writings of Baha’u’llah implies the endorsement of the whole of that law (except parts explicitly changed by Baha’u’llah): since Baha’u’llah cites this law and says it is “incumbent on every soul today,” and the law also stipulates the Friday is a day of rest, I conclude that Friday is indeed a day of rest in the Bahai calendar. Naturally it is for the Universal House of Justice to decide when and how this might be implemented.
Two aspects of the Bayanic law are changed by Baha’u’llah in this tablet:
+ The devotions stipulated in the Bayan were to be performed when facing the rising sun, but they are now to be performed facing the Qiblah at Bahji, since Baha’u’llah says “he is to turn towards God,”
+ While the Bayan had said “On the day of revelation it is obligatory for all to recite these words every Friday in the presence of him whom God will make manifest,” Baha’u’llah says it is obligatory on all “in whatever country he may live.”
I have discussed the apparent continuity between the Bayan and Bahai law elsewhere, in relation to the writing of a will and polygamy. I have found that the words of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha (and in the case of polygamy, Shoghi Effendi) make the best sense, if we suppose that they suppose that “Bahai law” is one body of laws, in two sources: the Bayan and the Aqdas (and their extensions in other tablets). That supposition makes it quite plausible that, when Remey asked him about the Bahai day of rest, Abdu’l-Baha would answer “Friday.” The reasoning would be based on the fact that the Bayan names Friday as a day of rest and specifies devotions for it, and that Baha’u’llah has endorsed the devotional part of this, therefore the ‘rest’ part is also endorsed.