Short Obligatory Prayer - A Brief Study


Photo by Marco Abrar - Baha'iPictures.com

The Short Obligatory Prayer

I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth.

There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.
Short obligatory prayer, to be recited once in twenty-four hours, at noon.

(Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations, p. 314)

Point of reference: The numbers followed by a single parenthesis that precede the notes and quotations are for internal reference within this blog site.

1) QUESTION: Should the third [the Short] Obligatory Prayer be offered while seated or standing?

ANSWER: It is preferable and more fitting to stand in an attitude of humble reverence.

(Baha'u'llah,
Kitab-i-Aqdas, Questions and Answers, No. 81, p. 130)
The Essence of Life

I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee.


2) The following explanation was conveyed by the Guardian in answer to a question:

“The meaning of the Short Obligatory Prayer... is simply that Baha'u'llah has put into one brief sentence the very essence of life, which is that we come from one Father, and pass, on the road of life, through tests and trials and experiences, so that our souls may grow; and that the reason for our existence is to learn to know and understand our Creator. As we do this, we will increase our love for Him and will worship Him. This is really the deepest joy that comes to any soul. All others are merely reflections of this happiness, the happiness that comes when we worship the God Who made us, our Heavenly Father.”

(Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated 5 October 1953)

I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee.


3) Much of Daniel C. Jordan’s nine-page essay “Becoming Your True Self, How the Baha’i Faith Releases Human Potential” is reflection that stems from the Short Obligatory Prayer’s opening sentence. (Italics and emphasis are by Daniel C. Jordan in the original article.)

“Service to mankind is given quality by the depth and character of the capacities of the human being rendering it. What are these capacities? Baha’u’llah identifies them in His statement of the animating purpose behind man’s creation: to know and love God. Here the two basic powers or capacities of knowing and loving are clearly specified and linked to our purpose—our reason for being. Thus, for a Baha’i becoming one’s true self means the development of one’s knowing and loving capacities in service to mankind.

"This understanding gives substance to the notion of spirituality. A spiritual person is one who knows and loves God and who is committed to the struggle of developing those knowing and loving capacities for service to humanity...


"All other virtues can be understood as expressions of different combinations of these capacities of loving and knowing as they are applied in different situations...


"Each capacity supports and facilitates the development of the other. In order to know, for instance, we must love learning; if we are to love, we must know how to love and how to be loved.


"These two capacities constitute the basic nature of human potential. From a Baha’i point of view, true education refers to a drawing out or a development of potential to the fullest extent possible...


"The basic source of the power for transformation is the Writings of Baha’u’llah. Exposure to His Writings nurtures the development of faith—the first prerequisite for transformation. Basically, faith refers to an attitude towards the unknown or unknowable which ultimately enables one to approach it in a way that something more of it becomes known. It thus represents a special interplay of the two basic capacities of knowing and loving. In essence, faith means a loving of the unknown or unknowable—an attraction to whatever is unknown and a capacity to approach it. Since, as Baha’u’llah affirms, God is unknowable, it takes faith to become attracted and related to Him...

"It is interesting to note that, if our basic capacities are knowing and loving, and if we are created in the image of God, then knowing and loving must be among the attributes of God. In The Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah indicates that this is so. He says, O Son of Man! Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created Thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty."Further, if God is unknowable and if we are created in His image, then we may expect something in ourselves also to be unknown. This unknown is the as yet unexpressed potential within us—latent capacities for knowing and loving...

"The necessity for reciprocity...is clearly expressed by Baha’u’llah in
The Hidden Words. He states, O Son of Being! Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, my love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant. In this verse, God commands, through His Manifestation, that we love Him and accept Him in spite of the fact that He is unknowable. Being attracted to the unknowable is the essence of faith. If there is no faith, no attraction to that primary mystery—God, then we become alienated from the mystery in our own selves and cut off from the power to grow and develop. The statement quoted above starts with O Son of Being and ends with know this, O servant. Thus, in that very short verse, the two basic capacities of loving and knowing are again emphasized in the context of being and serving. It connects the process of being and becoming with that higher station of servitude.”

(Daniel C. Jordan, 'World Order,' A Baha’i Magazine, Volume 3, Number 1, Fall 1968, “Becoming Your True Self, How the Baha’i Faith Releases Human Potential.”)

"Nearing Akka" - photo by Ezra L. Hopkins

The Drop of Rain

4) In two of his books, Adib Taherzadeh correlates the following story to the obligatory prayers:

'There is a beautiful Persian story in verse... It concerns a drop of rain falling down from the clouds. The drop knows itself to be the water of life, the most precious element that God had created, and so it is proud of itself. Boasting all the way down, it suddenly sees that it is falling into an ocean, whereupon it recognizes its own insignificance and exclaims: "If this exists then what am I?" When the ocean hears this expression of humility it attracts the drop to itself and, as a reward, makes it a companion of the pearl.

'The following portion of one of the obligatory prayers of Baha'u'llah, though very brief, is reminiscent of the story of the drop and the ocean, and serves as a perfect confession of who we are:


"I bear witness, O my God, that thou has created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth."

'The daily recital of any of the three obligatory prayers can act as a mighty weapon in the spiritual battle against one's own self, a battle that every believer must fight in order to subdue his greatest enemy and drive the 'stranger' away. The recital of the obligatory prayer, which is enjoined upon every believer by Baha'u'llah and constitutes one of the most sacred rites of the Faith, is a major factor in enabling a soul to recognize its own impotence in relation to its Creator and to acknowledge its own shortcomings.


'The saying of obligatory prayers, along with the daily recitation of the holy writings as ordained by Baha'u'llah in the Kitab-i-Aqdas and a deeper study of the Revelation of Baha'u'llah, will enable the believer to gain a glimpse of the majesty and grandeur of the Blessed Beauty. Like the drop when it sees the ocean, he will become humble and self-effacing...'


(Adib Taherzadeh,
The Child of the Covenant, p. 406
See also Adib Taherzadeh,
The Covenant of Baha’u’llah, pp. 264-65)

I testify, at this moment


5) Immediacy is a characteristic of the obligatory prayers, as evidenced by how much of their text is in the declarative present tense, to the extent that here, in the Short Obligatory Prayer, one specifies, “I testify, at this moment…” [Emphasis added.]

I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness

6) "What power can the shadowy creature claim to possess when face to face with Him Who is the Uncreated?"

(Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations, LXXXVIII, p. 149)

“Wert thou to ponder in thine heart, from now until the end that hath no end, and with all the concentrated intelligence and understanding which the greatest minds have attained in the past or will attain in the future, this divinely ordained and subtle Reality, this sign [“the rational faculty”] of the revelation of the All-Abiding, All-Glorious God, thou wilt fail to comprehend its mystery or to appraise its virtue. Having recognized thy powerlessness to attain to an adequate understanding of that Reality which abideth within thee, thou wilt readily admit the futility of such efforts as may be attempted by thee, or by any of the created things, to fathom the mystery of the Living God, the Day Star of unfading glory, the Ancient of everlasting days. This confession of helplessness which mature contemplation must eventually impel every mind to make is in itself the acme of human understanding, and marketh the culmination of man's development.”

(Baha'u'llah,
Gleanings, LXXXIII, pp. 165-66) [Emphasis added.]

I testify...to my poverty
and to Thy wealth
7) The essence of understanding is to testify to one's poverty, and submit to the Will of the Lord, the Sovereign, the Gracious, the All-Powerful.”

(Baha'u'llah,
Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 155-56) [Emphasis added.]

'By “riches…” is meant independence of all else but God, and by “poverty” the lack of things that are of God.’

(Baha'u'llah, Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 132)

‘O SON OF MY HANDMAID!

Be not troubled in poverty nor confident in riches, for poverty is followed by riches, and riches are followed by poverty. Yet to be poor in all save God is a wondrous gift, belittle not the value thereof, for in the end it will make thee rich in God, and thus thou shalt know the meaning of the utterance, "In truth ye are the poor," and the holy words, "God is the all-possessing," shall even as the true morn break forth gloriously resplendent upon the horizon of the lover's heart, and abide secure on the throne of wealth.’


(Baha'u'llah,
The Persian Hidden Words, No. 51)


‘Thou art He, O God, Who hath proclaimed Himself as the Lord of Wealth, and characterized all that serve Him as poor and needy. Even as Thou hast written: "O ye that believe! Ye are but paupers in need of God; but God is the All-Possessing, the All-Praised." Having acknowledged my poverty, and recognized Thy wealth, suffer me not to be deprived of the glory of Thy riches. Thou art, verily, the Supreme Protector, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.’


(Baha'u'llah,
Gleanings, LXVIII, p. 134)


“The essence of wealth is love for Me; whoso loveth Me is the possessor of all things, and he that loveth Me not is indeed of the poor and needy.”


(Baha'u'llah,
Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 156)

I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness
and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth.

8) "I beseech Thee, O my Lord, by Thy most effulgent Name, to acquaint my people with the things Thou didst destine for them...Inspire them, O my Lord, with a sense of their own powerlessness before Him Who is the Manifestation of Thy Self, and teach them to recognize the poverty of their own nature in the face of the manifold tokens of Thy self-sufficiency and riches, that they may gather together round Thy Cause, and cling to the hem of Thy mercy, and cleave to the cord of the good-pleasure of Thy will."
(Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations, pp. 46-47) [Emphasis added.]
I testify
9) In declaring, "I testify," one is grounding one's self, affirming one's resolve in the presence of God. The daily recital of an obligatory prayer is crucial to maintaining one’s Baha'i identity. In His great love for us, Baha'u'llah has mandated as spiritual law the imprinting process of annunciating one's faith daily, using the words of God.
  • “I bear witness” is found in the English translation of all three daily obligatory prayers.

  • “I testify” and “I bear witness” are the same word in the original Arabic, and both expressions are used in the Long and the Short Obligatory Prayers.

  • Every adult Bahá'í declares daily.



There is none other God but Thee

10) "Praise be to Thee, O Lord, my Best Beloved! Make me steadfast in Thy Cause and grant that I may be reckoned among those who have not violated Thy Covenant nor followed the gods of their own idle fancy."

(The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 215)


"God Himself has indeed been dethroned from the hearts of men, and
an idolatrous world passionately and clamorously hails and worships the false gods which its own idle fancies have fatuously created, and its misguided hands so impiously exalted... Their high priests are the politicians and the worldly-wise, the so-called sages of the age; their sacrifice, the flesh and blood of the slaughtered multitudes; their incantations outworn shibboleths and insidious and irreverent formulas; their incense, the smoke of anguish that ascends from the lacerated hearts of the bereaved, the maimed, and the homeless.
(Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 113) [Emphasis added.]

For a more in-depth examination of the statement in the Short Obligatory Prayer, "There is none other God but Thee," please see Notes 66-68 of the Long Obligatory Prayer study on this site.

Also recommended is H. Richard Gurinsky's book, Learn Well This Tablet, a masterpiece of accessible Baha'i commentary. In it he devotes chapters 33-37 to a discussion of the statement from the Tablet of Ahmad, "verily He is God and there is no God but Him."

the Help in Peril11) Although there are many dangers in this existence, what peril could be greater than the one described in the following?
“If it ["the soul"] be faithful to God, it will reflect His light, and will, eventually, return unto Him. If it fail, however, in its allegiance to its Creator, it will become a victim to self and passion, and will, in the end, sink in their depths.”

(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, LXXXII, p. 159)

the Self-Subsisting.

12) ‘In your second letter, you have stated that the term "self-subsisting", which Bahá'u'lláh often uses to characterize God, "means nothing" in the English language. It is likely that this term signifies in some way a basic concept of the Faith; namely, that creation is an emanation from God, without Whose continuing bounty and grace it would cease to exist. The term thus underscores the immense contrast between our reality, which is related to the contingent world, and His reality which is independent of any cause and which entirely transcends the world of being. Indeed, the point is that He is the Cause of being itself. There is a way to deduce such a meaning, however, solely from the common meaning of the words. According to its primary dictionary definition, "to subsist" means to have existence, to persist or continue. The addition of "self" makes it reflexive. Knowing just these two things, can we not then say that if God is self-subsisting it means that there is nothing other than Himself upon which He depends for His continuing existence? In other words, He exists in and of Himself without being dependent on any other cause: He has no creator and there is nothing prior to Him.’
(The Universal House of Justice, 21 January 1993, “Translations of the Guardian,” p. 1)

Easy of Accomplishment

13) Baha’is have been enjoined to recite an obligatory prayer every day. I find the following two quotations pertinent to observing this law.



"Be watchful lest the concerns and preoccupations of this world prevent you from observing that which hath been enjoined upon you by Him Who is the Mighty, the Faithful."
(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 66-67)


"How often have things been simple and easy of accomplishment, and yet most men have been heedless, and busied themselves with that which wasteth their time!"

(Baha'u'llah,
Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 137)


Next: "To Be Recited"

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