Background and beliefs
The Bahá'í Faith is the youngest of the world's independent religions. Its founder, Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892), is regarded by Bahá'ís as the most recent in the line of Messengers of God that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad. The central theme of Bahá'u'lláh's message is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification in a peaceful global society.
The Bahá'í Faith does not have a clergy. Local Bahá'í community life is administered by elected bodies, formed at the municipal level, which are known as Local Spiritual Assemblies. Men and women are considered as equals.
The Bahá'í Faith teaches that there is a separate consciousness or soul for every human being. Upon death, the soul is freed from physical bonds and enters the spiritual world. Bahá'ís hold that the individuality of the soul is retained in this eternal realm, that life on earth will be remembered, that the soul will recognise and associate with loved ones and others known during its earthly span, and that prayer offered in this world can assist the soul in its progress in the next. Death represents release from this world into another one freed from material cares. It is, therefore, not something to be feared, although there may be grief at the impending separation from loved ones.
Disclosure of medical prognosis and language
In general, truthfulness is considered a foundational virtue in the Bahá'í Faith. However, those of the Bahá'í Faith recognise that emotional and spiritual health may affect physical health, and so understand that encouraging words may have a beneficial effect. It is best to ask the person if they wish to hear their prognosis directly or if they prefer that health professionals speak with family.
In the case of a terminal illness, whether a person wishes to hear the truth about their condition or not may depend upon his/her cultural background and personal preference. Bahá'ís come from all cultural backgrounds. Those of Western background may prefer to know their prognosis to assist them in making plans for the time they have left. Those of Persian (Iranian) background may be reticent to discuss poor prognosis and these potential sensitivities need to be taken into consideration.
Who should be involved?
It is best to ask the patient their preferences. In general, the patient and their family should be involved in decision-making around treatment options, and/or a Medical Power of Attorney if one has been appointed.
Advice on having the ACP conversation
This depends very much on the circumstances of each individual case.
In care giving, the patient's spiritual needs and dignity should be respected whenever possible. It is a matter of personal choice whether a doctor of the same gender be assigned to a Bahá'í.
Rituals and practices
There are few rituals in the Bahá'í Faith. The body of the departed should be treated with honour and respect, and the family or Local Spiritual Assembly should be contacted. There are no formal last rites for Bahá'ís. However, prayers may be offered by family and friends. Funeral arrangements are the responsibility of the family, in consultation with the Local Spiritual Assembly, which has the responsibility to ensure that Bahá'í laws regarding burial are followed.
Bahá'ís may wish to have symbols such as a picture of a nine-pointed star (placed in a position of respect) a photograph of 'Abdu`l-Bahá (son of the Prophet Founder of the Bahá'í Faith), a prayer book, or other books containing Bahá'í Writings present in their hospital room. Bahá'ís are required to observe daily prayer, but no special room is needed.
Cremation is prohibited and embalming of the body is to be avoided. When circumstances do not permit interment of the body soon after passing, or when it is a legal requirement, the body may be embalmed provided the process delays the natural decomposition of the body for a short time only. Autopsies are permitted where required by law. Burial should take place within an hour's travel time from the place of death. There is no provision as to the time limit before burial. However, the sooner it takes place the more fitting and preferable. A special Prayer for the Dead is to be said before interment.
Festivals and special dates
Bahá'í holy days are based on a unique calendar in which the Holy Days change slightly from year to year.
They celebrate the Herald of the Faith, the Báb, and its Founder, Bahá'u'lláh, commemorating their birth, declarations and passing.
Overall there are nine holy days on which normal activities are suspended during the year.
In 2016 the Holy Days are as follows:
- 20 March:
Naw Ruz, the Bahá'i New Year
- 20 April:
First Day of Ridvan, marking Bahá'u'llah's declaration of His mission as a Messenger of God. This is the most important holy day and is the start of the twelve-day Festival of Ridvan ("Paradise")
- 28 April:
Ninth Day of Ridvan
- 1 May:
Twelfth Day of Ridvan
- 23 May:
Declaration of the Bab, marking the anniversary of the Bab's announcement of His mission in 1844
- 28 May:
Ascension of Bahá'u'llah, marking the passing of Bahá'u'llah in 1892
- 9 July:
Martyrdom of the Bab, who was executed in 1850
- 1 November:
Birth of the Bab
- 2 November:
Birth of Bahá'u'llah
Where possible, urgent advance care planning conversations should be planned around special dates.
To learn more about Bahá'í holy days, please visit:
"The central theme of the Bahá’í Faith is that humanity is one single family and the time has come for unification into a peaceful global society." - Bahá'í Representative
"In the Bahá’í Faith we have a great respect for knowledge and for the skills of medical practitioners." - Bahá'í Representative
"To Baha’is, death does not represent extinction, but rather release from this world into another one free from material cares." - Bahá'í Representative
"The patient’s spiritual needs and dignity should be respected whenever possible." - Bahá'í Representative