A Resource Guide for Baha'i Studies--bibliography

46. Prayer and Meditation

Muslims frequently describe prayer and fasting as twin pillars of religion, a description that Bahá'u'lláh apparently endorses (see Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 76 and Kitáb-i-Íqán 39-40). Bahá'u'lláh revealed three obligatory prayers, and Bahá'ís are under a spiritual obligation to recite one of them each day, along with the performance of any actions the prayer entails (such as washing of the face and hands). Ablutions and a form of dhikr (in this case, repeating the "Greatest Name" Alláh-u-Abhá ninety-five times) are prescribed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, but are not yet binding upon nor often practiced by Western Bahá'ís. Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, and 'Abdu'l-Bahá all revealed, and Shoghi Effendi, wrote, scores of prayers for individuals to say in their daily devotions, many of which are for specialized subjects: illness, death, one's spouse, one's children, tests and difficulties, etc. Such prayers fall in a different category than the obligatory prayers, however, and are not a required part of a Bahá'í's daily spiritual life. The Bahá'í scriptures offer many descriptions about why one should pray.

Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 453 (Gleanings, LXXIX), and 681-86 (the obligatory prayers, also in Bahá'í Prayers 4-16), and Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 69-70, discuss prayer. One of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's clearest presentations of meditation is in Paris Talks, 173-6. The Importance of Prayer, Meditation, and the Devotional Attitude, in Compilation of Compilations, volume I, a reprint of Spiritual Foundations: Prayer, Meditation, and the Devotional Attitude, is a relevant compilation of Bahá'í scriptural passages. Lights of Guidance contains two sections that address meditation and prayer: 455-68 and 540-543.

Esslemont, 88-100                         Hatcher and Martin, 156-57                
Faizi, 55-7                               Huddleston, 52-3                          
Ferraby, 132-41, 283-84                   Momen, 23, 84-7                           

The central figures wrote frequently on the importance of meditation. Westerners often associate meditation with Eastern religions and occasionally assume that devotional and even ascetic practices are integral aspects of meditation. Bahá'ís, though, tend to think of meditation as quiet reflection, especially on passages of scripture. There is no set form of meditation given in the Bahá'í writings and Bahá'ís approach it many ways. However, Shoghi Effendi, through his secretary, warned that Bahá'ís "should guard against superstitious or foolish ideas creeping into" their meditative practices. (The Importance of Prayer, Meditation, and the Devotional Attitude, in Compilation of Compilations, volume I, 241.)

Wendi Momen discusses a variety of meditation techniques, such as those of Sufism, Yoga, and Zen, and selects a variety of Bahá'í writings related to meditation, in her short guide Meditation. William and Madeline Hellaby devoted their book Prayer: A Bahá'í Approach to discussing the meaning and function of prayer. R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram's Music, Devotions, and Mashriqu'l-Adhkár: Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History, volume 4 has passing references to American Bahá'í devotional practices. Julio Savi has a few mentions of prayer and meditation in The Eternal Quest for God, 120-4 and 158-9. Jack McLean's Dimensions in Spirituality is one of the most academic approaches to the subjects; he discusses prayer throughout the book, and meditation especially on pages 119-27. John Walbridge's Sacred Acts, Sacred Space, Sacred Time, especially 30-55, is another scholarly presentation of prayer in the Bahá'í community and some of its Muslim and Bábí antecedents.

47. Principles, Bahá'í

Bahá'ís often enumerate the basic tenets of their religion in the form of lists of principles. Some sample principles are oneness of humankind, independent investigation of truth, equality of sexes, just distribution of wealth, an international auxiliary language, etc. While all of these tenets can be traced back to the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, it was 'Abdu'l-Bahá who would occasionally distill them into lists. These lists vary slightly, and new principles are occasionally being suggested; for example, individual Bahá'ís have sometimes spoken of "responsible use of technology" as being a new principle.

Many of Bahá'u'lláh's laws and principles are found in the tablets of Bishárát, Tarázát, and Ishráqát (Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 181-92 and 220-38, also in Tablets 21-29, 33-44, and 101-134) and in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. One place in which 'Abdu'l-Bahá enumerates them most clearly, in this case listing eleven, is Paris Talks, 135-68; another is Promulgation of Universal Peace, 105-10.

Esslemont, 71-87                          Smith 1987, 108                           
Hatcher and Martin, 74-84                 Smith 1996, 85-87                         
Momen, 53                                                                           

Christopher Buck examines the content of and differences in enumerating the Bahá'í principles in his dissertation Paradise and Paradigm: Key Symbols in "Persian" Christianity and the Bahá'í Faith, especially chapters 4 and 5. Denis MacEoin, in an article on 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the Encylopaedia Iranica, claims that some of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's Bahá'í principles were derived, not from Bahá'u'lláh, but from contemporary Western liberalist movement. A Bahá'í response to this is only available in Persian ('Andalíb, 2:5 (1983), 27-41), but has been summarized in Muhammad Afnán and William S. Hatcher, "Western Islamic Scholarship and Bahá'í Origins," in Religion, 15 (1985), 30.

48. Prophecy

The Bahá'í Faith teaches that the coming of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, and the events of the modern day have been prophesied in the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Islam. Bahá'ís have also written books suggesting that the Bahá'í Faith was prophesied in the writings of Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American religious traditions, and Mormonism. Their conviction that the Bahá'í Faith represents the fulfillment of these traditions is based on their concept of progressive revelation.

Bahá'ís also believe the Bahá'í writings contain prophecies that have been fulfilled or will be fulfilled in the future, for Bahá'u'lláh makes various references to future world events in his writings.

Bahá'u'lláh's reference to two wars on the banks of the Rhine, to the lamentations of Berlin, and to a popular revolution in Tehran, are all found in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 165-66, Synopsis and Codification extract 13 / Aqdas paragraph 78). After the First World War 'Abdu'l-Bahá made reference to a second world war, promised that the "movement of the left" would grow in importance, and stated that the Balkans would continue to be unstable ('Abdu'l-Bahá, quoted in Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, 89). In a tablet called "The Seven Candles of Unity," 'Abdu'l-Bahá described the major changes that would occur in the future organization of the world (Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 32). These promises play a major role in popular talks on the Bahá'í Faith.

Esslemont, 6-9, 211-51                    Ferraby, 56-65162-64                      

The only scholarly effort to study the Bahá'í approach to prophetic interpretation is Christopher Buck, "A Unique Eschatological Interface: Bahá'u'lláh and Cross-Cultural Messianism," in Peter Smith, In Iran: Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History, volume 3. Peter Smith's "Millenarianism in the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions," in Roy Wallis, ed., Millenialism and Charisma, is a scholarly exposition of prophetic, millenialist, and eschatological paradigms in the Bábí and Bahá'í religions. A few of the numerous non-scholarly works on Bahá'í prophecy include Robert F. Riggs' The Apocalypse Unsealed, an engaging, if not strictly academic, discussion of Greek, Hebrew, and Christian esoterics, the aim of which is to demonstrate the Bahá'í fulfillment of ancient prophecy and the Book of Revelation. Elena Maria Marsella takes a similar approach, though with more biblical detail, in The Quest for Eden. Gary L. Matthews presents Bahá'í fulfillment of prophecy in The Challenge of Bahá'u'lláh, in which he includes a unique examination of the fulfillment of Bahá'í "scientific" prophesies regarding elemental transmutation, atomics, evolution, space travel, physics, etc. Craig Loehle offers comments on the probability of prophetic fulfillment in On the Shoulders of Giants, 165-75.


Certain covenant-breaker groups have given a strong emphasis to millenarian predictions, predictions which tend to attract wide media attention (e.g., "End is nearish!" in Harper's, vol. 289 [1995]). One of the only scholarly studies of this phenomenon in the Bahá'ís Under the Provision of the Covenant was carried out by Robert Balch, Glen Farnsworth, and Sue Wilkins, and published as "When the Bombs Drop: Reactions to Prophecy in a Millenial Sect," in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 6:2 (1967).

    48.1. Biblical and Islamic Prophecies.

The Bahá'í scriptures devote much space to biblical and Islamic prophecies, and usually they are treated together, not separately.

Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Íqán (Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 63-155) is a lengthy treatment of biblical and Islamic prophecy; most of the first half of the book examines and interprets specific passages. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in Some Answered Questions, 36-72, 116-21, explains and gives commentary on specific biblical passages. Commentary can also be found in Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, 162-75.

Esslemont, 6-9, 15-16, 212-33             Ferraby, 164-69, 171-74                   

Bahá'ís have been prolific in writing about the Bible, though they have nearly always done so from a popular perspective, and with little or no awareness of Christian biblical scholarship. The only scholarly works were written by Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl between 1880 and 1914; the longest is his Bahá'í Proofs, but also of great interest are Miracles and Metaphors and Letters and Essays 1886-1913. The classic example of Bahá'í popular interpretation of the Bible is William Sears' Thief in the Night, which may be read as a work that is useful for understanding the psychology and sociology of the Bahá'í community. More recently there has been a flood of books about the Bahá'í interpretation of biblical prophecy, such as Nabil Hanna's Bible Proofs: A Fireside Aid for Teaching Christians, which consists of a compilation of Bahá'í scriptures on various prophetic subjects, with minimal commentary; Thomas Tai-Seale's Thy Kingdom Come: A Biblical Introduction to the Bahá'í Faith, which consists largely of commentary on specific biblical verses; Michael Sours' Preparing for a Bahá'í/Christian Dialogue, Volume One: Understanding Biblical Evidence; and Hugh Motlagh's I Shall Come Again.

    48.2. Prophecies in Hinduism and Buddhism.

The one lengthy work in English is Jamshid Fozdar's Buddha Maitrya Amitabha Has Appeared. This book primarily discusses Buddhist prophecy, but mentions Hindu prophecies as well. While Fozdar's books have been criticized as non-scholarly, they remain the most extended studies of the Bahá'í Faith and Eastern religions, primarily Buddhism. Ferraby, 170, also discusses both. There is some discussion of Hindu prophecy in Moojan Momen's Hinduism and the Bahá'í Faith.

    48.3. Native American Prophecies.

There are two short works on this topic: William Willoya and Vinson Brown, Warriors of the Rainbow: Strange and Prophetic Dreams of the Indian Peoples; and Annie Kahn, Olin Karch, and Blu Mundy, Four Remarkable Indian Prophecies of the Navajos, Toltecs, Mayas and Indians of Idaho.

    48.4. Other Prophecies.

Kenneth D. Stephens' So Great A Cause! A Surprising New Look at the Latter Day Saints describes Mormon prophecies and their fulfillment by the Bahá'í Faith.

49. Psychic Phenomena and the Occult

The Bahá'í teachings affirm the reality of much of what is referred to as the "paranormal." Just as in the womb we have faculties which only come into use in this world, so in this world do we have faculties which are designed for the next. Those of the so-called "psychic" powers which the Bahá'í writings declare to be real are said to have their proper sphere of application in the next world only. As such, 'Abdu'l-Bahá strongly discouraged exploring and using them. Moreover, as we do not have the capacity to understand the proper nature of things paranormal, many of the phenomena people believe in are seen to be the products of imagination and simple superstition.

'Abdu'l-Bahá discussed astrology, communication with spirits, and spiritual healing in Some Answered Questions, 245-247 and 251-256. Two compilations of primary text quotations are Lights of Guidance, 2d edition, 512-522, and Spiritualism, Psychic Phenomena and Related Subjects, a compilation from the Universal House of Justice, 1974.

Esslemont, 193                            Smith 1996, 38, 151, 156                  
Smith 1987, 10, 35-8, 84, 111-12, 154-5                                             

Trey Yancy and Randy Ricklefs have published an introductory look at astrology and the Bahá'í Faith in "Astrology: A romantic view of science," in Deepen, 2.1 (Spring 1994). Glenn A. Shook has briefly addressed occultism in Mysticism, Science, and Revelation, 108-119. The relation of occultism to early Bahá'í history is one deserving of further study; elements of esotericism (e.g. the bátiníya) have a long and involved history in Shí'í Islam, and the writings of Shaykh Ahmad Ahsá'í are heavily weighted towards the esoteric. Abbas Amanat's Resurrection and Renewal discusses the occultism of Ahsá'í and the Báb on pages 45-46, 48-50, 117-118, and 144-146. Denis MacEoin has argued that the Báb adopted to a large extent Ahsá'í's occasionally supernaturalist fascinations. MacEoin has included sections on the use of amulets and talismans in Sources for Early Bábí Doctrine and History 99-101, Rituals in Babism and Baha'ism 14-21 and 48-51, and "Nineteenth-century Bábí Talismans," in Studia Iranica 14.1 (1985). Christopher Buck has challenged MacEoin's emphasis on this aspect of Bábí and Bahá'í practice in his "Review of Denis MacEoin's Rituals in Babism and Baha'ism" in the International Journal of Middle East Studies, 28.3 (1996), 420. Another discussion on relations between the Bahá'í Faith and occult movements is in Elham Afnan's "'Abdu'l-Bahá and Ezra Pound's Circle," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 6.2 (June-Sept. 1994), 3-6.


The writings of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá are almost entirely devoid of things occult. The one possible exception to this is a prevalent use of the abjad system of numerology. The practice of assigning numbers to letters in order to derive additional meaning from words is found in all Semitic languages, most famously Hebrew and its various forms of Qabbalah, or Cabala. It should be noted, though, that the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh used abjad numerology simply to derive greater poetic significance from alphabetical and numeric language and not for divination or occult ritual, as some later Qabalists and numerologists did. Wendi Momen has reproduced the abjad system in A Basic Bahá'í Dictionary, 5-6. Notes to the Kitáb-i-Aqdas define the numberings of some of Bahá'u'lláh's terminology (n28, n50, n122, n172, and 252). Robert F. Riggs' non-scholarly but intriguing The Apocalypse Unsealed examines and employs occult numerology, gematria, and astrology in demonstrating a Bahá'í fulfillment of the Book of Revelation. Elena Maria Marsella takes a similar approach, though with a greater exploration of biblical symbolism, in The Quest for Eden. Abbas Amanat gives some examples of the use of numerology by early Bábís in Resurrection and Renewal, 94-95. Mention should also be made of Martin Gardner's "Farrakhan, Cabala, Baha'i and 19," in the Skeptical Inquirer, 21:2 (March/April 1997), which is a misinformed and somewhat unsympathetic discussion of Bahá'í numerology.

50. Psychology

Very little has yet been written on the Bahá'í approach to psychology. Hossain Danesh's "The Violence-Free Society: A Gift for Our Children," in Bahá'í Studies, vol. 6, was one of the first works produced that explored psychological issues professionally. Rhett Diessner's "Selflessness: Congruences between the Cognitive-Developmental Research Program and the Bahá'í Writings," in Bahá'í Studies Journal, 3.2 (1990-1991): 1-13, is one of the attempts to relate Bahá'í insights to the field of developmental psychology. Fereshteh Taheri Bethel has conducted a broad, if simple, study of one aspect of psychology, the psychology of martyrdom, in her dissertation, A Psychological Theory of Martyrdom: A content analysis of personal documents of Bahá'í martyrs of Iran written between 1979 and 1982, aspects of which she published as "A Psychological Theory of Martyrdom," in World Order, 20.2/3 (Spring/Summer 1986). Ronald Roesch offers some observations of the relevance of individual psychology to the establishment of world peace in "Psychology and Peace," in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 1.2 (1988-1989). Two works on the psychology of spirituality are Horace Holley's "The Angel in the Garrison," reprinted from Star of the West in Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 3.3 (1990-1991), which, though first printed in 1924, is still of interest, and H. B. Danesh's more recent book The Psychology of Spirituality.

Back to:
Bibliography of Scholarship Table of Contents
Main Table of Contents for A Resource Guide for Bahá'í Studies

  • Return to Digital Library Page

  • Return to H-Bahai Home Page