Some Background

Contextual information helps one appreciate the significance of the daily Baha'i Obligatory Prayers from a broader perspective.
"In Arabic, there are several words for prayer. The word "salat", which appears here in the original, refers to a particular category of prayers, the recitation of which at specific times of the day is enjoined on the believers."

(The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Notes, p. 166)

Baha'u'llah originally ordained only one obligatory prayer consisting of nine rak'ahs. Later he superseded this prayer with the three daily Baha'i obligatory prayers we now have. So, what's a rak'ah?

"A rak'ah is the recitation of specifically revealed verses accompanied by a prescribed set of genuflections and other movements...

"In the Bayan, the Bab prescribed an Obligatory Prayer consisting of nineteen rak'ahs which was to be performed once in a twenty-four-hour period -- from noon of one day to noon of the next.

"The Muslim prayer is recited five times a day, namely, in the early morning, at midday, in the afternoon and evening, and at night. While the number of rak'ahs varies according to the time of recitation, a total of seventeen rak'ahs are offered in the course of a day."

(The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Notes, pp. 167-68)

One Superseded By Three

"The Obligatory Prayer to be thrice repeated, three times a day, at morn, noon and evening, [the prayer of nine rak'ahs] has been superseded by three Obligatory Prayers subsequently revealed."

The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Synopsis, p. 148)

"The precise nature of this prayer [the prayer of nine rak'ahs] and the specific instructions for its recitation are unknown, as the prayer has been lost."

(The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Notes, p. 167)

'The original Obligatory Prayer [the prayer of nine rak'ahs] had "for reasons of wisdom" been revealed by Baha'u'llah in a separate Tablet... It was not released to the believers in His lifetime, having been superseded by the three Obligatory Prayers now in use. Shortly after the Ascension of Baha'u'llah, the text of this prayer, along with a number of other Tablets, was stolen by Muhammad-'Ali, the Arch-breaker of His Covenant.'

The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Notes, p. 169)

'An instance of the comprehension and tolerance with which He viewed human nature is the fact that He revealed a choice of three daily, and obligatory, prayers. While imposing on men the obligation of turning to their Creator once, at least, during the day, He provided a means of doing so suited to widely different natures. One takes about thirty seconds to recite and is to be said at the hour of noon; one is longer and is to be used three times during the day; and the third is very long and profound, accompanied by many genuflexions, and may be used any time during the twenty-four hours of the day. The Divine Physician provided us with what we might call a spiritual polish with which to brighten our hearts. We need this renewal which comes through turning to the Sun of Eternal Truth--as every bird and beast be it ever so humble, responds to the light of the physical sun at dawn--but He gave latitude to the individual state of development and temperament.

'Some Westerners have found the long Daily Prayer very strange; no doubt this is because the present generation has ceased to feel intimate with its God. For a man to stand alone in his room and stretch his arms out to nothingness, or kneel down before a blank wall, in the midst of familiar objects, seems to him unnatural or even foolish. This is because he has lost the sense of the "living God." God, far from being to him, as the Qur'an says, "nearer than his life's vein," has become more of an X in some vast equation... The prayers of Baha'u'llah will help lead us back to that warm sense of the reality and nearness of God, through use.'
(Ruhiyyih Khanum, "The Prayers of Baha'u'llah," Baha'i World Volume IX, 1940-1944, p. 801)

"...concerning the three daily obligatory prayers. The friends are free to choose any one of these three prayers, but have to follow the instructions revealed by Bahá'u'lláh concerning them... The believer is entirely free to choose any one of these three prayers for daily use."

(Shoghi Effendi, 27 April 1937,
Dawn of a New Day, p. 66)

The following three quotations explain where the obligatory prayers rank among Baha'u'llah's revelatory Writings, and why we should use them.

"Just as the friends have no difficulty in recognizing the value of the specific prayers revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, such as the Tablets of fasting and healing, so also they should recognize that the obligatory prayers are by their very nature of greater effectiveness and are endowed with a greater power than the non-obligatory ones, and as such are essential."

(Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 4 January 1936 to an individual believer)

"These daily prayers have been endowed with a special potency which only those who regularly recite them can adequately appreciate. The friends should therefore endeavour to make daily use of these prayers, whatever the peculiar circumstances and conditions of their life."

(Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 23 February 1939 to two believers)

"These daily obligatory prayers, together with a few other specific ones, such as the Healing Prayer, the Tablet of Ahmad, have been invested by Bahá'u'lláh with a special potency and significance, and should therefore be accepted as such and be recited by the believers with unquestioning faith and confidence, that through them they may enter into a much closer communion with God, and identify themselves more fully with His laws and precepts."

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi,
Baha'i Prayers, 2002 Edition, Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois 60091, p. 3)

In case one wonders, 'Just how obligatory is "obligatory"?'

"Except in insecure circumstances omission of the Obligatory Prayer is not permissible."

(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Questions and Answers, #59, p. 124)

"O thou spiritual friend! Thou hast asked about the wisdom of obligatory prayer. Know thou that such prayer is mandatory and binding. Man under no pretext whatsoever is excused from observing the prayer unless he is incapable of performing it or some great obstacle interveneth."

The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting, [IOPF], 2, VII)

"Thou hast written concerning obligatory prayer. Such prayer is binding and mandatory for everyone. Most certainly guide all to its observance, because it is like unto a ladder for the souls, a lamp unto the hearts of the righteous, and the water of life from the garden of paradise. It is a clear duty prescribed by the All-Merciful, in the observance of which it is in no wise permissible to be dilatory or neglectful."

(Abdu'l-Baha, IOPF, 2, XII)

"QUESTION: Concerning fasting and obligatory prayer by the sick.

ANSWER: In truth, I say that obligatory prayer and fasting occupy an exalted station in the sight of God. It is, however, in a state of health that their virtue can be realized. In time of ill-health it is not permissible to observe these obligations; such hath been the bidding of the Lord, exalted be His glory, at all times. Blessed be such men and women as pay heed, and observe His precepts. All praise be unto God, He who hath sent down the verses and is the Revealer of undoubted proofs!"

The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Questions and Answers, #93, p. 134)

"As regards the questions about the proper use of the Long Obligatory Prayer... If a believer is physically incapable of performing the genuflexions accompanying one of the prayers, and yet he longs to say it as an obligatory prayer, then he may do so. By physically incapable is meant a real physical incapacity which a physician would attest as genuine."

(Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 17 February 1955 to a Local Spiritual Assembly)

Those under age fifteen and those who have attained age seventy or older are exempt from the law of obligatory prayer.

In addition, Baha'u'llah has provided exemption, (optional exemption, not exclusion), from the recital of the daily obligatory prayer for women during menstruation--who are instead given a special verse to recite. Please see the Kitab-i-Aqdas for details regarding this and all other exemptions.

What if one forgets to say the obligatory prayer?

'The Universal House of Justice in a letter dated 26 April 1987, written on its behalf, provides the following general guidance concerning what is to done when an individual forgets to say the Obligatory Prayer:

"The action of a believer who forgets to recite his obligatory prayer is a matter of personal conscience."'

Next: "Daily Obligatory Prayers, Numbered"

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  1. After learning that the original single daily Baha'i obligatory prayer was nine rak'ahs, the question arises, 'How many rak'ahs are in the current Long Obligatory Prayer?' My best guess is it could be considered five rak'ahs. As to the Medium Obligatory Prayer, it may be one - said three times a day. Does anybody wish to share more insight on this?

  2. Baha'i scholar Nader Saiedi shares the following piece of information:

    "While the Bab enjoins the practice of daily obligatory prayer, consisting of nineteen rak'ahs, to be performed between one noon and the next, the Bab never revealed the words of the prayer itself, thus making the implementation of this law dependent on the arrival of the Promised One."
    Gate of the Heart, p.366

  3. I enjoyed this introduction. Very helpful and foundational. I get clearly the vital quality and essential nature of the Obligatory Prayers.

    Interesting note about westerners and the Long Obligatory Prayer-

    I liked the commentary on the alien nature many westerners may feel towards the Long Obligatory Prayer. Certainly makes sense, can surely see the point being offered.

    I find that amusing though seeing as I am newly declared and yet I love the Long Obligatory Prayer, it's motions and instructions I find keenly sharp, piercing the inner sanctum of my heart.

    Also of note, in 2011, being a 21 year old, I actually recite all my prayers from an iPhone Application. It's handy and extremely useful in growing close to God.