Students of comparative religion often ask Baha’is questions about rituals.
Most of the older faith traditions have developed rituals over time, or have ritualized something the Prophet and Founder of their Faith asked His followers to do. Many readers will be familiar with the Christian Eucharist, for example, a memorial of the Passover supper Jesus Christ shared with His disciples.
Question: Is there a set of religious rituals that always occurs when Baha’is congregate?
No – Baha’is don’t have religious rituals. Baha’u’llah discouraged Baha’is from creating rituals, because they can begin to define the group, and eventually harden into dogmas that become more important than the spiritual teachings themselves.
Baha’is often do say prayers at the beginning and end of many gatherings. Prayer is, after all, represent one of the ways we communicate with God; and it feels natural to say or chant prayers when Baha’is hold devotional meetings. These prayers, usually offered by individuals, may be spoken, chanted, or sung as the believer wishes. Baha’u’llah also wrote:
Intone, O My servant, the verses of God that have been received by thee, as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him, that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul, and attract the hearts of all men. Whoso reciteth, in the privacy of his chamber, the verses revealed by God, the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by his mouth, and shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb. Though he may, at first, remain unaware of its effect, yet the virtue of the grace vouchsafed unto him must needs sooner or later exercise its influence upon his soul. Thus have the mysteries of the Revelation of God been decreed by virtue of the Will of Him Who is the Source of power and wisdom. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 295.
Baha’is congregate for lots of reasons. Baha’is celebrate a spiritual “Feast” every nineteen days, observe the Baha’i Holy Days, get together for study circles and parties and elections and open meetings called firesides for seekers, and hold social and spiritual gatherings for a wide variety of other purposes. While Feasts have devotional, consultative and social portions, what those look like depends entirely on who hosts the event. At some Holy Days, Baha’is can say special prayers that have been revealed, but no actual ritual goes with the saying of the prayer.
Shoghi Effendi, the appointed Guardian of the Faith and Baha’u’llah’s great grandson, wrote in a letter that the Baha’is:
…should take great care lest any uniform procedure or ritual in this matter (in this case funerals) be adopted or imposed upon the friends. The danger in this, as in some other cases regarding Baha’i worship, is that a definite system of rigid rituals and practices be developed among the believers. The utmost simplicity and flexibility should be observed, and a selection from the Baha’i Sacred Writing should serve the purpose at the present time, provided this selection is not rigidly and uniformly adopted on all such occasions. – Principles of Baha’i Administration, p. 14.
This flexibility is intentional, because the goal of the Baha’i Faith centers around creating unity in diversity, rather than uniformity. So, if you go to a Baha’i gathering in Pocatello, Idaho or on any other Indian reservation, you may find worship includes native dances, chanting, instruments or sand painting. If you go to one in Georgia, you may hear Gospel-style music. If you go to one in Mongolia, there will probably be native drummers. The host of a Baha’i meeting sets the tone and chooses the scriptures, music and atmosphere of worship – with the idea of building harmony and unity for all.