Bahá'í laws

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Bahá'í laws are laws and ordinances used in the Bahá'í Faith and are a fundamental part of Bahá'í practice.[1] The laws are based on authenticated texts from Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, and also includes subsequent interpretations from `Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and legislation by the Universal House of Justice.[2] Bahá'í law is presented as a set of general principles and guidelines and individuals must apply them as they best seem fit.[2] While some of the social laws are enforced by Bahá'í institutions, the emphasis is placed on individuals following the laws based on their conscience, understanding and reasoning, and Bahá'ís are expected to follow the laws for the love of Bahá'u'lláh.[2] The laws are seen as the method of the maintenance of order and security in the world.[1]

History[edit]

The Bahá'í Faith had its roots in the Bábí Religion which was started by the Báb in the mid-19th century in Persia. Originally Bábís adhered to the Islamic laws, but this changed when the Báb wrote a Bábí code of law in the Bayán, which replaced them.

However, the Báb's laws were not widely practiced by the Bábís, and instead many Bábís became antinomian; they also marked their new religious identity by deliberately not abiding by Islamic practice.[3]

Bahá'u'lláh, as both his initial role as Bábí leader, and then as Bábí messianic figure, condemned the antinomian tendencies of the community. At the request of his followers, he eventually wrote a book of laws, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, while he was in Acre, Palestine.[3]

Sources[edit]

The main source of Bahá'í law is the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, but it is supplemented by some supplementary texts written by Bahá'u'lláh, as well as further interpretations by `Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi, heads of the religion after Bahá'u'lláh's death, as well as legislation by the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body of the Bahá'ís.[3] The writings of Bahá'u'lláh, `Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi are considered fundamental and unchangeable, while the application of some of them depends on decisions by the Universal House of Justice. Legislation by the Universal House of Justice is seen as subsidiary and is subject to alteration and/or repeal by the Universal House of Justice to account for changing circumstances.[4] The laws written by the Báb are not applicable, except when Bahá'u'lláh specifically reiterated them.[3]

Bahá'u'lláh stated that the ordinances of his book of laws was the best method for the maintenance of world order and security, and that Bahá'ís should obey the laws with "joy and gladness", and that true liberty could be obtained by obedience to the laws.[1]

Gradualism[edit]

Bahá'u'lláh stated that the observance of the laws that he prescribed should be subject to "tact and wisdom", and that they do not cause "disturbance and dissension."[3][5] Bahá'u'lláh thus provided for the progressive application of his laws; for example certain Bahá'í laws are only applicable to Middle Eastern Bahá'ís such as the limit to the period of engagement, while any Bahá'í may practice the laws if they so decide.[3] Other Bahá'í laws such as the prohibition to drink alcohol have also been applied gradually in countries where it goes against social norms, and for which most Bahá'ís are new to the religion. Shoghi Effendi also stated that certain other laws, such as criminal laws, that are dependent upon the existence of a predominantly Bahá'í society would only be applicable in a possible future Bahá'í society.[3][4] He also stated that if the laws were in conflict with the civil law of the country where a Bahá'í lives the laws could not be practiced.[3] Furthermore some laws and teachings are, according to Bahá'í teaching, not meant to be applied at the present time and their application depends on decisions by the Universal House of Justice.

Individual conscience[edit]

In Bahá'í literature the laws are not seen as a constricting code, or a ritual, but are described as the "choice wine", and a means to happiness. The laws are generally presented as a set of general principles and guidelines which each individual Bahá'í must apply them to their own lives as they see fit.[2] Bahá'í law and teachings do not include details on many aspects of life, and the successive heads of the religion have been reluctant to prescribe specific and detailed codes of Bahá'í behaviour;[3] for example the heads of the religion have stated that details of Bahá'í behaviour, such as how to dress, are a matter of individual choice and not Bahá'í law.[2] This is in contrast to the provisions of Islamic law.[3]

The practice of Bahá'í law is firmly placed on individual conscience, understanding and reasoning.[2] The Bahá'í laws are not considered as binding to anyone until they become a Bahá'í, and becoming a Bahá'í is not conditional on a person's level of adherence to the laws; an individual is expected to gradually apply laws on a personal basis.[3] Bahá'ís are expected to follow the laws not because they will be punished for breaking them, but instead because they love Bahá'u'lláh and that they fear God.[2] The teachings of the Bahá'í Faith state that individuals are answerable to God.[2] The observance of personal laws, such as prayer or fasting, is the sole responsibility of the individual, but some laws may be enforced to a degree by Bahá'í institutions, by the loss of Bahá'í administrative rights, if they bring the Bahá'í community into public disrepute.[3]

Laws and ordinances[edit]

The Kitáb-i-Aqdas goes over both religious and civil laws such as the recitation of a daily obligatory prayer, the time of fasting, the laws of inheritance, the abolishment of priests, the prohibition of such things as slavery, asceticism, and gambling, the condemnation of such things as idleness and backbiting, the specification of punishments for such things as murder and arson, the stating of the requirement of each person to practice a profession, and the emphasis for the necessity of the education of children, as well as the need to strictly obey the government of one's country.[6] Bahá'u'lláh also writes about general principles including statements telling his followers to work with people of all religions with amity, and warns his followers to guard against such things as fanaticism and pride. He also encourages such things as cleanliness and truthfulness.[6]

Prayer[edit]

The act of prayer is one of the most important Bahá'í laws for individual discipline and Bahá'í are enjoined to pray daily.[7] Prayer in the Bahá'í Faith consists of two distinct types, obligatory prayer and devotional (general) prayer.[8] The purpose of prayer in the Bahá'í Faith is to get closer to God and to Bahá'u'lláh and to help better one's own conduct and to request divine assistance.[9]

Bahá'ís must individually recite an obligatory prayer each day, using fixed words and form prescribed by Bahá'u'lláh. Obligatory prayer is performed individually while facing the Qiblih, preceded by ablutions.[10] Certain exemptions from obligatory prayer are given to those who are ill, in danger, and women in their courses.[9]

In addition to the daily obligatory prayer, Bahá'í scripture directs believers daily to offer devotional prayer as well as to meditate and study sacred scripture. In contrast with the fixed form prescribed for obligatory prayers, there is no set form for devotions and meditations, though the devotional prayers written by the central figures of the Bahá'í Faith and collected in prayer books are held in high esteem.[10]

Fasting[edit]

The Bahá'í fast is a nineteen-day period of the year, during which Bahá'í are asked adhere to a sunrise-to-sunset fast. Along with obligatory prayer, it is one of the greatest obligations of a Bahá'í, and its chief purpose is spiritual; to reinvigorate the soul and bring the person closer to God.[11]

During the period of fasting, from March 2 through March 20, Bahá'ís in good health between the ages of 15 and 70 abstain from eating and drinking. Exemptions are available for people who are travelling, ill, pregnant, nursing, menstruating, or engaged in heavy labour.[12] Fasting is an individual spiritual obligation, and cannot be enforced by Bahá'í institutions.[12]

Marriage and family life[edit]

The Bahá'í teachings recommend marriage, but it is not obligatory.[13] Marriage is emphasized as an assistance to one's self, as well as for the benefit of society; it is seen as both a physical relationship and a spiritual relationship that would continue in all the worlds of God.[13]

The requirements of Bahá'í marriage include that the partners be over the age of 15, and is dependent on the consent of the couple and all their living biological parents, so to strengthen the ties between the families.[13] According to the Bahá'í teachings, sexuality is a normal part of married life and is intended to enhance the relationship. However, sexual relationships are permitted only between a man and woman who are married. This precludes marriages that are homosexual or polygamous as well as any sexual relationship outside of marriage. Interreligious marriages are permitted, and interracial marriages are encouraged. Divorce is permitted, although discouraged, and is granted after a year of separation if the couple is unable to reconcile their differences.[13]

The Bahá'í teachings state that parents need to raise their children to be moral and religious, but not fanatical.[14] Parents are required to provide an education to their children, and children have a duty to obey their parents, which is seen as obeying God. Shoghi Effendi stated that preserving family unity is of utmost importance, and Bahá'ís are counselled to balance their desire to serve the religion with their responsibilities as parents, spouses and children.[14]

Inheritance[edit]

In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh wrote that all Bahá'ís must write a will where they have complete freedom in determining how to dispose of their property. Bahá'u'lláh, however, did create a schedule of inheritance in case of intestacy, that is, when the individual dies without leaving a will.[15] The system of inheritance in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is based on the provisions written by the Báb and provides for distribution of the deceased's estate among seven categories of heirs.:[15] children, spouse, father, mother, brothers, sisters, and teachers, with higher categories obtaining a larger share.[16] In cases where some of the categories of heirs do not exist, the share falls partly to the children and partly to the Local Spiritual Assembly. The distribution among heirs is uneven: children receive nine parts; the spouse receives eight; the father, seven; the mother, six; the brothers, five; the sisters, four; and the teachers, three.[16]

Backbiting and gossip[edit]

Gossip and backbiting are prohibited and viewed as particularly damaging to the individual and their relationships.[17] Backbiting, speaking of the faults of others in their absence, is described as the greatest sin and the most hated human characteristic. This practice is seen as having a deeply negative effect on the community as well as the individuals involved.[17]

"On no subject are the Bahá'í teachings more emphatic than on the necessity to abstain from fault-finding and backbiting while being ever eager to discover and root out our own faults and overcome our own failings. ..."[18]

Alcohol, drugs and tobacco[edit]

Bahá'ís are forbidden to drink alcohol or to take drugs, except by a doctor's order. The reason being that God has given human beings reason and intoxicants take that away and lead the mind astray.[19] The non-medicinal use of opium and other mind-altering drugs are particularly condemned in the Bahá'í scriptures.[19] Bahá'ís are also asked to try to avoid working in jobs that involve the manufacturing or large-scale sale of alcohol and avoid any involvement in the drug trade.[19] Smoking tobacco is not forbidden but is discouraged.[19]

Huqúqu'lláh and giving to funds[edit]

Huqúqu'lláh, the "Right of God", is a law which requires Bahá'ís to pay 19% of their surplus net-worth (i.e. those things that they do not need to live comfortably), after the discharge of all debts. The sum is calculated annually however it is paid only if the annual net worth amount increases - if their net worth stays the same or decreases the amount of Huqúqu'lláh is zero.[20]

Payment is an individual spiritual obligation, and is seen as a spiritual bounty to bring the individual closer to God. No Bahá'í can be solicited for it, and the contribution is confidential and a personal matter.[21] The money collected is used by the Universal House of Justice for such things as the promotion of the religion, the upkeep of properties, and general charity.[21]

Bahá'ís are also expected to make financial contributions to Bahá'í funds. However, contributions are strictly confidential, including whether or not a believer makes one, and is up to individual discretion. Donations are never solicited, and contributions are not accepted from non-Bahá'í sources.[22]

Other laws[edit]

Other laws that have been prescribed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas include:

  • Pilgrimage to be one of two places: the House of Bahá'u'lláh (destroyed) in Baghdad, and the House of the Báb (destroyed) in Shiraz.[23]
  • The holding of a Nineteen Day Feast which are regular community gatherings, occurring on the first day of each month of the Bahá'í calendar and consist of a devotional, administrative, and social part.[24]
  • After death it is forbidden to carry the body more than one hour's journey from municipal boundary of the place of death.[25] The body should be wrapped in a shroud of silk or cotton and placed in a coffin made of polished stone, crystal or hard wood. A specific prayer must be read before burial.[26]
  • Engaging in a trade or profession is made obligatory and is exalted to the rank of worship.[6]
  • Being obedient to the government of one's country. Civil law takes priority over Bahá'í religious law.[6]
  • The compulsory education of children.[6][27]
  • Repetition of the Greatest Name 95 times a day.[9]
  • The hunting of animals is allowed provided that the name of God is invoked before hunting. If the game is found dead in a net or trap its consumption is not allowed.[28]
  • If someone comes upon a treasure trove, one third of the treasure is the right of the discoverer, and the other two thirds is the right of the House of Justice. This law is designed for a future state of society and these matters are currently covered by the civil law of each country.[29]
  • If someone comes upon lost property in a town, they must try to find the owner and wait one year before taking possession. If the property is of significantly small value, they must wait one day. If the property is found in an uninhabited area, they must wait three days. This law is designed for a future state of society and these matters are currently covered by the civil law of each country.[29]

Other prohibitions[edit]

Prohibitions included in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas include:

  • Interpreting the Bahá'í writings (`Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi were the only approved interpreters of Bahá'u'lláh's writings).
  • Slavery[6]
  • Asceticism[6]
  • Monasticism[6]
  • Begging[6]
  • Clergy[4]
  • Use of Pulpits[6]
  • The kissing of hands (As a form of obeisance)[6]
  • Confession of sins[30]
  • Gambling[31]
  • Homosexual acts[32]
  • Cruelty to animals[6]
  • Sloth[6]
  • Calumny[6]
  • The carrying of arms unless essential.[33]
  • Assault
  • Shaving of one's head and the growth of men's hair beyond the lobe of the ear.[29]
  • Adultery and sexual intercourse between unmarried couples:[6] Sexual intercourse between unmarried couples is punishable by a fine paid to the Local Spiritual Assembly; the penalty for adultery is left to the Universal House of Justice.
  • Arson: The punishment for arson is either the death penalty or life imprisonment. If the death penalty is applied the convicted person is killed by burning. The details of the law such as the degree of the offence and the circumstances are to be taken into account to decide which of the two sentences is to be selected has been left to the Universal House of Justice.[29][34] The Universal House of Justice has stated that the law is intended for a future condition of society, at which time they will be supplemented and applied by the Universal House of Justice;[34] the Universal House of Justice has written "In relation to arson, this depends on what 'house' is burned. There is obviously a tremendous difference in the degree of offence between the person who burns down an empty warehouse and one who sets fire to a school full of children."[35]
  • Murder: murder is punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment. The details of the law such as the degree of the offence and the circumstances that are to be taken into account to decide which of the two sentences are to be selected has been left to the Universal House of Justice;[34] the Universal House of Justice has stated that the law is intended for a future condition of society, at which time they will be supplemented and applied by the Universal House of Justice.[29][34] In the case of manslaughter, it is necessary to pay a specified indemnity to the family of the deceased.
  • Theft: Theft is punishable by either imprisonment or exile; on the third offence, however, a mark should be placed upon the thief's brow so it is easy to identify the person and disallow him in the "cities of God". The purpose of the mark on the forehead serves in warning other people of the thief's proclivities. The details of the nature of the mark (how the mark is to be applied, how long it has to be worn, and under what conditions it may be removed) and the circumstances that are to be taken into account in deciding which sentence is to be applied have been left to the Universal House of Justice; the Universal House of Justice has stated that the law is intended for a future condition of society, at which time they will be supplemented and applied by the Universal House of Justice.[29][34]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Smith 2008, pp. 158
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Smith 2008, pp. 159
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Smith, Peter (2000). "law". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 223–225. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  4. ^ a b c Smith 2008, pp. 160
  5. ^ Bahá'u'lláh 1873, p. 6
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Bausani, A (1989). "Aqdas". Encyclopædia Iranica. 
  7. ^ Hatcher & Martin 1998, pp. 156–157
  8. ^ Walbridge, John. "Prayer and worship". Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  9. ^ a b c Smith, Peter (2000). "prayer". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 274–275. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  10. ^ a b Smith 2008, pp. 161–162
  11. ^ Smith, Peter (2000). "fasting". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. p. 157. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  12. ^ a b Smith 2008, pp. 162
  13. ^ a b c d Smith 2008, pp. 165
  14. ^ a b Smith 2008, pp. 166
  15. ^ a b Smith 2008, pp. 169
  16. ^ a b Smith, Peter (2000). "inheritance". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 197–98. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  17. ^ a b Smith, Peter (2000). "backbiting". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. p. 64. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  18. ^ Shoghi Effendi quoted in Hornby 1983, p. 88
  19. ^ a b c d Smith 2008, pp. 168
  20. ^ Research Department of the Universal House of Justice 2007
  21. ^ a b Smith 2008, pp. 163–164
  22. ^ Smith 2008, pp. 186
  23. ^ Smith, Peter (2000). "Pilgrimage". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. p. 269. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  24. ^ Smith, Peter (2000). "feast, nineteen day". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. p. 158. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  25. ^ Hornby 1983, p. 196
  26. ^ Hornby 1983, p. 195
  27. ^ Smith 2008, pp. 145
  28. ^ Smith, Peter (2000). "animals". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. p. 39. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  29. ^ a b c d e f Universal House of Justice 2001
  30. ^ Hornby 1983, p. 179
  31. ^ Hornby 1983, p. 357
  32. ^ Smith, Peter (2000). "homosexuality". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 184–185. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  33. ^ Universal House of Justice 1992, p. 240
  34. ^ a b c d e Smith 2008, pp. 172
  35. ^ Universal House of Justice 1992, p. 203

References[edit]

External links[edit]