17. Congregational Prayer: Haram or Mustahabb?
"It hath been ordained that obligatory prayer is to be performed by each of you individually. Save in the Prayer for the Dead, the practice of congregational prayer hath been annulled. He, of a truth, is the Ordainer, the All-Wise." (Aqdas #12, Shoghi Effendi translation)This says that the Obligatory Prayer is to be performed "individually". Does this mean:
a) Privately with nobody else around?
b) Privately or with others but each one reciting for him or herself?
Which one? I've asked many of the Friends this question, but nobody can tell me the answer.
Did Baha'u'llah mean to forbid:
a) all "congregational prayer" except for the Prayer for the Dead. If this is the case, do not the Friends already engage in "Congregational Prayer"?
b) only forbidding congregational prayer when reciting the daily obligatory prayer?
I think it is "b". Here is why:
Baha'is offer "congregational prayers" every time they meet! One "recites" and the other bow their heads. That _is_ a "congregational prayer"!
Congregational Prayer (a leader/reciter and a congregation bowing their heads, or prostrating themselves) is allowed in the Faith! Baha'is use congregational prayers all the time. There is a "Reciter" (one who recites the prayer) and a "congregation" which bows their heads!
Shoghi Effendi did not give a word-for-word translation of the Kitab-i-Aqdas. He did not "transliterate" it. He gave in English the "gist" of what he believed Baha'u'llah was trying to convey. Here is a transliteration of Number 12 in the Kitab-i-Aqdas:
"Worship as individuals has been ordained for you; the commandment [fard] regarding group worship is remitted [rufi'a], except in worship for the dead. He is the Wise One, the Commanding One." (Elder R. Earl translation, 1961)The Arabic word rufi'a (translated here "remitted") also can be translated "abrogated". In other words, Baha'u'llah was abrogating the "commandment" that made congregational prayer obligatory. He is saying that the commandment (that made it obligatory) has been abrogated; making congregational prayers no longer obligatory. But He did not "forbid" congregational prayer. He simply said it was no longer a "commandment".
In Arabic there are five actions in relation to the Straight-Path (Law):
Mustahabb: Recommended/Virtuous but not commanded
Makruh: Offensive but not forbidden
Haram: Absolutely forbidden!
He Baha'u'llah wanted the Friends NOT to ever practice Salat (congregational prayer where a reciter recites and the congregation bows their heads or performs the rahkahs) He would probably have written: "Ye are forbidden to perform the salat!" or something like that. He wrote:
"Ye are forbidden [HARAM] to commit adultery [ZINA], sodomy [LIWAT] and lechery [SIHAQAQ]. Avoid them, O concourse of the faithful." (Adqas #107)HARAM means "That action which is absolutely forbidden!" ZINA means heterosex outside of legal marriage. LIWAT refers to "the sin of the people of Lot" (i.e. male homosexual sex-acts) ("not" to anal sex as it does in modern American English), and SIHAQAQ means "pounding/grinding" and refers to the female homosexual sex-act.
Baha'u'llah did not "forbid" (HARAM) congregational prayers! He merely abrogated (rufi'a) the FARD (commandment) that made Congregational Prayers obligatory! If Baha'u'llah wanted ALL "congregational prayers" forbidden, then:
1) He would have used the word HARAM. He did not.
2) If so, then ALL prayers in which are "congregational" in nature (a reciter and others bow their heads) should also be "forbidden". But, they are not! Baha'is offer such prayers all the time, and have so since the beginning.
3) If Baha'u'llah DID NOT WANT the Baha'is to perform congregational prayers on Fridays, exactly as the Muslims do, then WHY did 'Abdu'l-Baha and the Baha'is of Haifa and Akka continue to do exactly this long after the Aqdas was revealed, while Baha''u'llah was still alive, and until the death of 'Abdu'l-Baha?
It all makes no sense at all if Baha'u'llah wanted to HARAM (forbid) congregational prayers. Clearly, He did not! He simply abrogated the FARD (command) that made such prayers mandatory/obligatory.
Therefore, it is my recommendation that those who want to practice the Middle and Long Obligatory Prayers, with a Leader of Prayer (but not Minbar---because Baha'u'llah did pronounce Minbars HARAM), in unison with other Baha'is, may do so, in Baha'i Centers, on Friday evenings and Saturday Afternoons.
'Abdu'l-Baha is the Exemplar of the Faith. He practiced the Salat to the end of His life! I say, that Baha'is strive to follow His example; not as a FARD (commandment), but as a MANDUB (recommended/virtuous, but not obligatory).
Baha'u'llah DID forbid the use of Minbars (translated by Shoghi Effendi as "pulpits". A Minbar is not a pulpit! A minbar is a group of steps that the Imaam sat upon to give his Friday sermon. He sat high above the congregants. The only purpose of a Minbar is to give a sermon after the Friday prayers. Apparently, Baha'u'llah did not want such sermons given. Forbidding the Minbar makes NO SENSE at all unless Baha'u'llah intended Baha'is to continue going to Friday prayers.
Baha'u'llah made congregational Prayers for the Dead obligatory, but all other congregational prayers were to be MUSTAHABB (recommended but not commanded). That is why 'Abdu'l-Baha and the Baha'is of Akka and Haifa continued to go to Friday Prayers at the Masjids.
If He wanted ALL "congregational prayers" (except for the Prayer for the Dead" to be forbbiden (HARAM), then Baha'is are violating His Will each and every time one Baha'i "recites" a prayer while the others bow their heads!
Naturally, permission must be gotten from the House. I suggest the following question to them:
To the Universal House of Justice,
Baha'u'llah said in the Most Holy Book that Congregational Prayer is now "annulled". Yet, the Friends use a form of congregational prayers at all our meetings. There is a reciter (one who reads/recites the prayer) and the rest who bow their heads in silence). We also understand that until His death, 'Abdu'l-Baha attended Friday Prayers at masjids in Haifa and Akka. Was He violating the ban on congregational prayer? Or, is is possible that Baha'u'llah never wished to forbid (haram) Friday prayers, but abrogated them; making them not a commandment, but optional. If the Friends wish to perform the Middle and Long Obligatory Prayers, in unison, with a Reciter, as an optional practice on Friday evenings or Saturday afternoons, would this be permissible as an optional practice? Our questions are:
1) Must the Friends offer the Daily Obligatory Prayer in absolute privacy, or with no others present in the room?
2) May the others present remain silent or can they recite the same Prayer in unison, or must they be out of unison when they recite?
3) May the others present remain silent while the Reciter/Leader of Prayer recites alone?
4) May the Friends perform the Middle and Long Obligatory Prayers, in one room, facing a Qiblih, while a Riciter/Leader of Prayer leads them in the rakas while reciting the prayer?
5) If all congregational prayer is forbidden, except for Prayers for the Dead, then why did 'Abdu'l-Baha and the Baha'is of Haifa and Akka continue to attend Friday prayers in Muslim masjids?
5) If all congregational prayer is forbidden, except the Prayers for the Dead, then is not the way Baha'is prayer together now, sitting in a circle or semi-circle with a reader/reciter who recites a prayer, and the other Friends bowing their heads in silence, a form of congregational prayer?
Salat (non-obligatory) will bring an added dimension of spirituality to the Faith which will attract and retain many spiritual Seekers
Ask the House. It is as simple as that.