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It’s Friday: thank God

Posted by Sen on April 11, 2009

calendaraddonI happened recently to be reading the wikipedia page for the Bahai Calendar and noted that it said “Like Islam, Friday is also the day of rest in the Baha’i Faith.”

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?

keil-on-timeThe 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.

creation11In 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: greentick 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:sow1-12-2friday

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:wob

“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)

The Persian Bayan (text is here and here, and on page 342 of the INBA version. It says:sunrise2

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: bayarab717

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.dhikr

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:bayarab819

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.”

noonsunBaha’u’llah explains

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:mas8-105

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. …

isfahanmosqueThis 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?

2booksMy 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.”

2booksI 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.

~~ Sen McGlinn
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10 Responses to “It’s Friday: thank God”

  1. Gerald Keil said

    Nice piece of work, Sen. I have two observations (for now), your comments upon which might supplement some of the points you have made.

    Your case for “ratification by association” is based primarily on a tablet in the collection Má`ide-ye Ásmání, in which Bahá’u’lláh endorses the Friday devotions stipulated by the Báb. At one point you say “This tablet continues with an address to the Babis …”, which prompts me to enquire about the date of composition. If it belongs to the Baghdad period, then it would be more appropriate to understand its content to be an explication of Bábí doctrine. Since at this time Bábís existed in at least two countries (in Iraq and Iran, but possibly also in Afghanistan and India), then the expression “on every soul today, in whatever [= whichever?] country he may live” would make sense in this context. If this is the case, then it is not entirely clear whether Bábí orthodoxy would automatically become Bahá’í orthodoxy on the strength of the fact that its explicator Jináb-i Bahá’ stands in a state of personal union with Bahá’u’lláh.

    The second observation is that, although Bahá’u’lláh said nothing about Friday as the day of rest, he did comment directly upon another part of Wáhid 7, Chapter 17 of the Persian Bayán:

    In the Bayán it had been forbidden you to ask Us questions.
    The Lord hath now relieved you of this prohibition …
    (Kitáb-i Aqdas 126)

    The provision which is here rejected occurs towards the end of 7:17: “he is not to be questioned about his acts”. This fact somewhat weakens the claim that, by virtue of accepting the Friday devotions, Bahá’u’lláh implicitly endorses the entirety of Wáhid 7:17. It is true that KiA was written many years after the tablet in Má`ide-ye Ásmání; but the assumption that the latter endorses all of 7:17 would imply that Bahá’u’lláh had in the meantime changed his mind. I am personally not comfortable with such an assumption, even though the wording “The Lord hath now relieved you of this prohibition” could be understood to mean “now, at the time of the composition of KiA” rather than “now, in this Dispensation”.

    Despite these open points you have presented an interesting case study of the “complicity” of Bábí and Bahá’í law, and I suspect that much more investigation of this sort will be required before something like a “Bahá’í theology” can properly emerge.

  2. I am afraid I do not know the date or other details of the tablet in Má`ide-ye Ásmání: I assume it comes after Baha’u’llah’s public declaration since he changes some aspects of that Law, without an explanation. That implies that he expects the reader to know that he has the authority to endorse, change or abrogate the Bayanic and Quranic law.

    When I say that a Bayanic law appears to be endorsed implicitly when a part of it is endorsed, I do not mean that a particular Bab or Vahid is endorsed, but the Law. In this case, the law on Friday devotions is spread over two different babs in both the Arabic and Persian Bayans, that is, over four Babs in total, and other laws and teachings are also included in the same babs.

    I agree that more investigation is required. I have found a number of examples in which Bahai writings make more sense if we suppose that their authors assume the complicity of Babi law in Bahai law, as self-evident. In each case, the outcome of this supposition is more satisfying and coherent with the other teachings than its opposite. The opposite supposition is that only what is specifically endorsed becomes part of Bahai teachings, and therefore that the Bayans, and the Quran, are irrelevant because we need only use the words of Baha’u’llah’s endorsement, not the words of the original. A case study approach would take both of these suppositions and look at their implications over a large number of Bahai laws and teachings, and then draw a conclusion. What I have found is suggestive, but I have not looked for cases that disprove my thesis.

  3. Gerald Keil said

    It is going to prove difficult to find counterexamples to your thesis. Firstly, as you point out, aspects of the same law may be spread over several different chapters (abwáb), and aspects of more than one different law may be contained within any given báb. Consequently, there exist formal criteria neither for determining the grain size of a Bayánic jurisprudential unit nor for defining the boundaries between individual units. For example, injunctions regarding personal hygiene and those insisting on wearing unsoiled clothing could be regarded as being separate laws or aspects of the same law; and conversely, laws concerning hygiene might be considered aspects of a more comprehensive law which also includes ablutions.

    Secondly, your hypothesis already accounts for the case where Bahá’u’lláh confirms part of a Bayánic law but explicitly rejects other parts. For everything that remains, there is by definition no explicit testimony one way or another from Bahá’u’lláh, so that your hypothesis cannot be scrutinised on the basis of scripture.

    Don’t misunderstand me, I am not arguing against your thesis, but I do think that the idea which you are pursuing is too important to let it rely on an hypothesis which does not admit falsification tests. Perhaps I am overlooking something.

  4. True, there is no evidence from Baha’u’llah about how he would treat the parts of laws he does not mention: what I have done is look at what Shoghi Effendi and Abdu’l-Baha have done with those parts of the relevant law. The Bayan has both devotions and a day of rest for Friday; Baha’u’llah endorses the devotions, with changes, Abdu’l-Baha is then reported to say that Friday is a day of rest. It is a falsification test – he could have said, “there is no day of rest specified in the Writings” and that would have told us that he did not treat the Bayanic law as the initial source of Bahai law.

    Likewise for polygamy: the Aqdas literally says “two”, but Shoghi Effendi asserts that “the Aqdas” “prescribes monogamy” (God Passes By, p. 214). That makes sense if Shoghi Effendi took it for granted that “the Aqdas” in fact has the Bayan folded up inside it, for it is the Bayan that tells us that this “two” is a special exemption granted to childless couples, and the fact that there is such a special exemption tell us that in other circumstances monogamy is “prescribed.”

    Each such chain of reasoning is only indicative, but so far, I have found no counter-examples.

  5. Gerald Keil said

    Point taken. If one should find one single instance of a statement from `Abdu’l-Bahá which contradicts some aspect of Bayánic law which might otherwise be inferred from a partial endorsement of the sort we have been discussing, then that would be sufficient to falsify your thesis as it stands. That clarification lets you off the hook – it’s up to the rest of Bahá’í academia to go hunting.

    Shoghi Effendi is a different and highly intriguing matter. As we all know, the Guardian is responsible for the interpretation of scripture, matters not expressly mentioned in the Writings being the concern of the Universal House of Justice. Now, those aspects of Bayánic law which are candidates for endorsement by association (such as the details of writing a will [here belongs a hypertext link to Sen’s article, but I don’t know how to do that]) appear to be to be an admixture of the two: they are “scripture”, but they are not expressly mentioned (in the sense of being explicitly ratified) in the Writings. So it is not clear whether they fall under the aegis of Shoghi Effendi or that of the House (or both, or neither). In fact, it is not clear who has the final say in this very question of competence, which has implications for the ground rules of exegesis. If the lot falls to Shoghi Effendi, then Bahá’í hermeneutics will forever have to do without an authoritative statement – which might be just as well.

    Another interesting question is raised by the issue of monogamy [assume hypertext link to Sen’s blog entry], for which the clarification of `Abdu’l-Bahá’s confirmation assumes ratification by association with a Qur’ánic passage. Now, there appears to exist a three-tier system in which the relationship between Bahá’í and Bábí law is historically comparable to the relation between Bábí and Qur’ánic law. Strictly, then, we would have to justify `Abdu’l-Bahá’s assertion that the KiA prescribes monogamy on the basis of a Bábí position on mono/polygamy – one which is itself perhaps determined on the basis of ratification by association with some aspect of Qur’ánic law. Jumping directly from Bahá’í to Qur’ánic law, as your blog entry does, implies a different structure, one in which Qur’ánic law stands on the same level with Bábí law. This has the side-effect of re-defining the relationship between these two, with all the implications that would have on the interpretation of the Bayán(s) in light of the Qur’án.

    This might have the appearance of splitting hairs, but after all, that is what jurisprudence is all about …

  6. S said

    Can you tell me what a person is allowed to do on friday. I am not a Bahai, I am curious though if a person is allowed to work, travel, etc from thurday at sunset until friday at sunset for non religious reasons. I am confused after reading what you wrote.

  7. The only explanation I know on this is in the Bab’s Persian Bayan, 7:17: “God … 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,…”

    That tells us that rest from usual work, and doing good deeds, are recommended. There is no mention of a limitation on travel, and there is also no limitation on travel on Bahai Holy Days, which are also intended for rest from work and for doing good deeds.

    Perhaps there is more information in texts I have not found, but it is often the case in Bahai law that a principle is explained, and each person is expected to apply it for themselves, in their own situation. There are no Rabbis or ulama you can ask for a ruling on whether a particular kind of work is incompatible with “purity, refinement and rest.” So if a Bahai wishes to observe Friday as explained in the Bayan, they must become their own Rabbi; consult their own conscience and good sense.

    If the Universal House of Justice at some stage considers it necessary, it can make a ruling which would be binding on all Bahais. I think it is unlikely to do so, because the House of Justice, like the Bab and Baha’u’llah, encourage us to become mature and take responsibility for ourselves. Baha’u’llah describes the relationship between the scriptures and our own understanding like this:

    We have caused the rivers of Divine utterance to proceed out of Our throne, that the tender herbs of wisdom and understanding may spring forth from the soil of your hearts. (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 43)

    If we follow someone else’s reasoning, we do not develop wisdom and understanding ourselves.

  8. Gerald said

    Would these sort of devotions require the use of ablutions?

  9. The texts I found do not mention any ablutions, therefore I assume that these are not required.

  10. Gerald said

    Thanks Sen. I have decided to add these to my regular devotional life, starting slowly, without the dhikr. I am going to be including ablutions simply because I find them enriching. I think I will enjoy and benefit from it. Thanks for bringing them to my attention, I have always envied Muslims their Friday prayers. Ritual like that is really effective in helping me appreciate and immerse myself in prayer. Posted a bit about it on my blog. (Which by the way, you have linked to in your sidebar at it’s old place, Seventy and Two. It had to move, and got a new name. it is at now)

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