Friday, March 28, 2008

On Baha'is and Beads: Bead One, Pray Too

Baha'is and beads go together like peapods and peas. -gw

Bead One, Pray Too
Exploring contemplative prayer through making and using different forms of prayer beads. It continues themes found in the book “Bead One, Pray Too” by Kimberly Winston, author of the blog.

March 27, 2008 by kjwinston
I feel like starting with Baha’is and their prayer beads. Why? Don’t know. Not the oldest religion or the oldest prayer beads. Not the newest, either. Maybe I just feel like going alphabetically. No, I think I saw a picture of a set of Baha’i prayer beads as I was web-surfing the other day and I just felt like starting there. And I’ve had enough Christian prayer beads and rosaries after six weeks of Lent. And Baha’is are a good place to start because it is an extremely inclusive religion - they have never met a major prophet they didn’t like.

So, what is the Baha’i faith? It was founded about 150 years ago in the land that was once called
Persia and is now known as Iran. Like many religions, it was founded by someone who had an extreme mystical experience that forever changed his life. The founder of the Baha’i faith was a Persian nobleman named Bahá’u’lláh. Bahá’u’lláh claimed to be a messenger of God, a continuation of - not a repudiation of - the line of God’s prophets that began with Abraham (Judaism) and continued through Muhammad (Islam). His main message was that there is only one God and that all the other prophets and their followers were all of His children who should be united in their love for Him and for each other. I often think of the Baha’i faith as the ultimate feel-good religion (and I mean that as a very good thing).

Who are the Baha’is? Relatively speaking, their numbers are small.
Adherents. com lists 7.6 million worldwide, with perhaps 700,000 in the U.S. But their blanket is quite wide, with Baha’is today coming from more than 2,100 different ethnic and tribal groups, according to Baha’i International. The majority of Baha’is live in Iran, where many are persecuted for their faith.

Bahai’s have about the best description of prayer I have ever come across - they see themselves
“in conversation with God,” with whom they are “speaking a language of love.” One of the ways they pray was spelled out by Bahá’u'lláh in his Kitab-i-Aqdas:

It hath been ordained that every believer in God, the Lord of Judgement, shall, each day, having washed his hands and then his face, seat himself and, turning unto God, repeat “Alláh-u-Abhá” ninety-five times. Such was the decree of the Maker of the Heavens when, with majesty and power, he established Himself upon the thrones of His Names.

Some industrious Baha’i invented prayer beads that would aid in keeping track of the 95 repetitions of God’s name. One set
is a circle of 95 beads, with the first 19 either separated from or different from the rest. The second type is usually a strand, rather than a circlet, with three parts - a line of 5 beads, a transition bead, and a line of 19 beads. The strand is often finished with a tassel, called a “siyyid,” and the nine-point star that is the symbol of the Baha’i faith. The website 95 Prayers suggests the devotee sit with the 19 beads in his or her dominant hand and the 5 beads in the other hand. At each repetition of “Allah-u-Abha,” the fingers move down the strand of 19 until it hits the tassel. Then, the fingers of the non-dominant hand move down one bead on the line of 5, and the process is begun again. 5×19=95.

In a forthcoming entry, we’ll talk with a Baha’i about their use of prayer beads. Until then . . . happy beading and praying.

{Re-posted with permission}

Note: Kimberly's figures for numbers of Baha'is are a little off, but close enough for jazz, as the expression goes. The majority of Baha'is in the world are not in Iran, although the Baha'i Faith there is the largest minority religion. The number of Baha'is in the United States is much less than the figure she quoted, although I really like the sound of her figure. -gw


Kimberly Winston said...

Hey, George! Thanks for posting about my Baha'i prayer bead post (man, this bloging stuff gets a bit incestuous sometimes!). Numbers are tricky things. I mean, who knows how many people of any faith there really are? That's why I tend to use What numbers do you generally hear for Baha'is in the US - and in what nation do the largest numbers of Baha'is reside?

Anonymous said...

The glaring fact remains that the numbers of Baha'is in DEVELOPED is strikingly small, and hardly sloping upwards in places like the U.S.

The key finding is that in secular, progressive nations Organized Religions are not picking up speed

Anonymous said...

Great post to link to George!

Kimberly: We generally hear about 400,000 for the United States. I am pretty sure India has the largest number of Bahá'ís.