As you might imagine, in a religion that really values questions and answers, the Baha’i Faith has plenty of both. In December the 19-day Baha’i month of Questions occurs, and in the 19-year Baha’i cycle of years, the twelfth year is named “Answer” (Arabic: jawāb/Persian: javāb).
The Baha’i Faith emerged from an Islamic society in the 19th-century, yet the Faith quickly established itself as an independent religion. That said, many Baha’i concepts can be illuminated by their Islamic background. Take, for example, the well-known Quranic “Ninety-nine Beautiful Names of God.” Name #45 is “the Answerer” (al-Mujīb):
Longing hands are uplifted to the heaven of Thy (God’s) grace and generosity: Where are the rains of Thy bestowal, O Answerer of the worlds? – Baha’u’llah, the “Fire Tablet,” Baha’i Prayers, p. 214.
Also in Islam, a remarkable prayer known as the Duʿāʾ al-Jawshan al-Kabīr (literally, “Prayer of the Great Coat of Mail”) contains 1,000 names of God, invoked as “the Answerer:”
O He (God), the Answerer to him who calls Him (96:1).
So think of the divine attribute of “Answer” as shorthand for God’s role as “The Answerer” and the “Lord (Who) … answers prayer.” God, in other words, actively listens and answers us. The Baha’i teachings reassure us that God is actively present and engaged in the life of every human being.
The Baha’i year of “Answer,” moreover, sheds light on the attribute of “Questions,” as explained earlier in “The Baha’i Month, and Godly Attribute, of Questions.” So how do questions and answers relate to each other in a Baha’i context?
First of all, the Bab derived the names of the nineteen months of the original “Badi Calendar” (which became the Baha’i Calendar) from the “Prayer of Glory” (Duʿāʾ al-Sahar), a dawn prayer for the Islamic fast of Ramadan:
I beseech Thee by Thy Questions which are most Agreeable of Thee for all of Thy concerns are truly beloved. I, verily, O my God! beseech Thee by the whole of Thine affairs. – translated by Steven Lambden
All of the italicized words in this prayer—questions, concerns and affairs—come from the very same word in Arabic (masāʾil). Therefore, we understand from this language that God is actively involved in the course of human affairs. According to the Islamic “Prayer of the Great Coat of Mail,” God is invoked as:
O He Who questions and is not questioned (50:5).
Here, the Arabic word for “questioned” is “al-Mas’ūl” (“the One Questioned”). This Islamic prayer says that God is “not questioned.” Yet, surprisingly, this very same term is used in the Baha’i writings as a positive, not negative, Name of God! In other words, God is “the One Questioned.”
Both “Questions” (Masāʾil) and “the One Questioned” (al-Mas’ūl) are closely related. According to Dan Gebhardt, faculty at Wilmette Institute, both of these words are nouns formed from the root, sa’ala by the addition of the ma- prefix. They overlap semantically, meaning that they are related in meaning.
According to Baha’i scholar Nosratollah Mohammadhosseini, Baha’u’llah, in a prayer, supplicates God, saying: “I am the One Who is asking the questions and Thou art the Source Who is answering the questions.” According to Dr. Mohammadhosseini, this provisional translation verifies our understanding that, by “Questions,” Baha’u’llah refers to God, “the Source Who is answering the questions.” In other words, God is “the Answerer of prayers.” Of course, if God is answering our questions, surely God is “the One Questioned.”
So “Questions” is shorthand for God’s dynamic role in answering our questions, as further indicated by this Baha’i prayer:
I entreat Thee, by Him Who is the Day-Spring of Thy names and the Dawning-Place of Thine attributes, to ordain for me what will enable me to arise to serve Thee and to extol Thy virtues. Thou art, verily, the Almighty, the Most Powerful, Who art wont to answer the prayers of all men! … No God is there but Thee, Who hearest and art ready to answer. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, pp. 26–27.
Here, Baha’u’llah assures us that God is “wont (accustomed) to answer the prayers of all men” and “hearest and art ready to answer.”
God, “the One Questioned,” responds in the reciprocal capacity as “the Answerer.” In other words, Baha’u’llah states that God is both the One who is asked, and the One who answers. According to Omid Ghaemmaghami, one closely-related way of referring to God is “the One Who hears” (al-Sāmīʿ):
O God, my God! Baha (Baha’u’llah) beseecheth Thee (God) and imploreth Thee, by the lights of Thy countenance and the billows of the ocean of Thy Revelation, and the effulgent splendors of the Sun of Thine utterance …. Potent art Thou to do what pleaseth Thee. There is none other God but Thee, Who hearest, Who art ready to answer. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 149.
So how can we translate this godly perfection into a goodly action? The following passage offers one important way of doing so:
Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 285 (emphasis added).