The Baha’i religion centers around community and the oneness of humanity. At its root, the Baha’i faith values justice, equality, and peace. When someone of the Baha’i faith passes away, those core beliefs carry over to their death rituals, funeral, and the way the community mourns their death.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Baha’i Views on Death and Dying
- What Happens During a Baha’i Funeral?
- How Do the Baha’i Mourn and Remember the Dead?
Baha’i followers believe in the inherent nobility of each human being, which means they treat death with the utmost care and consideration. At the same time, Baha’i teachings profess that the soul is eternal: it doesn’t die just because the body ceases living.
If you’re interested in death in different cultures, you might like to know what funeral practices, death rituals, and mourning look like in the Baha’i religion. Below, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about death in the Baha’i religion and culture.
Virtual funeral tip: If you're planning a virtual funeral using a service like GatheringUs, you can incorporate some of the traditions of a Baha'i funeral. Your virtual funeral facilitator will help you put the details together.
Baha’i Views on Death and Dying
The modern-day religion of Baha’i receives its teachings from an authority called the Universal House of Justice. It’s believed that the Universal House of Justice received its authority from a divine messenger of God.
The Universal House of Justice guides Baha’i followers and upholds the values set forward in sacred Baha’i texts. Baha’i views about death and dying are based on guidance from the Universal House.
According to Baha’i teachings, a person’s “true identity” is their soul. The soul has free will, as well as powers of understanding and rationality. According to Baha’i, art, science, and all knowledge come from the intelligence of the rational soul.
When a human being dies, the Baha’i religion teaches that the soul leaves the body. It then continues on its journey towards perfection.
Life and death
According to Baha’i, an individual’s life begins at the moment of conception. That’s when the eternal soul, described above, joins together with the physical body on Earth. At death, the body returns to the Earth as dust, while the soul continues its journey to the afterlife.
Baha’i writings compare physical death to destroying a bird’s cage. When you destroy the cage, the bird doesn’t cease to exist. Instead, the bird experiences even greater feelings and more heightened perceptions than before.
According to Baha’i teachings, the physical world is an environment where people can complete an initial stage of development. But the afterlife is where the human soul reaches its full capacity.
Fear of death
The Baha’i religion teaches that death isn’t something people should fear. In fact, some Baha’i writings refer to death as a “messenger of joy.”
In death, Baha’i people see the opportunity to achieve their true potential spiritually. The progress of a person’s soul, according to Baha’i, is based on their good deeds on Earth, help from family and friends (in the form of prayer), and the grace of God.
Heaven and hell
Do Baha’i people believe in heaven and hell? In a way, they do. Like most religions, the teachings of Baha’i relate the actions of this world with the state of the soul in the afterlife. Good deeds result in peace, while negative actions result in consequences.
But while some cultures see heaven and hell as physical locations, Baha’i views the afterlife as an eternal journey toward spiritual perfection. It interprets references to “heaven” and “hell” in any holy scriptures as metaphorical, rather than literal.
In Baha’i understanding, “heaven” is a state of closeness with God in both this life and the afterlife. “Hell,” on the other hand, is a state of being separated from God.
What Happens During a Baha’i Funeral?
Baha’i funerals and burials are extremely simple, consisting of only a few rituals and traditions. The funeral service itself only consists of one prayer: the Prayer for the Dead, and the burial takes place quickly.
If you’re attending a Baha’i funeral (or you’re just curious about what one might look like), here’s what you can expect.
Prayer for the Dead
According to Baha’i, a soul needs the grace of God, as well as prayers from family and friends on Earth, to reach eternal perfection. Prayers, then, are a crucial part of a Baha’i funeral as a way to ensure the person’s soul finds peace in the afterlife.
The central prayer at a Baha’i funeral, and the only one which is mandatory, is the Prayer for the Dead. One member of the congregation recites the prayer, while all others stand in silence.
The Prayer for the Dead typically obligatory only if the deceased is an adult. It may be recited once or twice, depending on the local Baha’i Spiritual Assembly’s laws regarding funerals.
Like a Baha’i funeral service, burial following Baha’i teachings is very simple and straightforward. That’s because Baha’i teachings value simplicity and flexibility over tradition and rigidity.
There are, however, a few hard-and-fast laws one must follow for burying the dead according to the Baha’i faith:
Bury the body nearby. It’s forbidden to bury a person’s body more than an hour away from where the person died, according to Baha’i. This applies to travel by air, land, and sea. The sooner the burial takes place, according to Baha’i teachings, the better.
Choose burial over cremation. The proper method of interment, according to Baha’i funeral and burial laws, is burial. Cremation of the dead is not acceptable according to the laws.
Skip the embalming. A Baha’i funeral will typically be closed-casket. That’s because Baha’i burial laws disallow treatments like embalming.
Recite the Prayer for the Dead first. The congregation must recite the Prayer for the Dead, as described above, before the burial can take place.
Observe the proper burial dress. Baha’i burial laws state that the body should be wrapped in a simple shroud made of silk or cotton. Additionally, a ring may be placed on the person’s finger bearing the inscription:
"I came forth from God, and return unto Him, detached from all save Him, holding fast to His Name, the Merciful, the Compassionate."
Use the right kind of casket. Baha’i burial law also states that the casket should be made of stone, hard fine wood, or crystal.
How Do the Baha’i Mourn and Remember the Dead?
Baha’i people take great care to honor the dead at funerals and burial services. Although their services are simple, they represent the Baha’i faith’s core teachings.
According to Baha’i, it’s also recommended that believers who have deceased loved ones, and the community as a whole, remember the dead on a regular basis.
Influence of ancestors
Baha’i people believe that a freed soul—the spirit of someone who died—has an influence on our world. The soul of a person who’s passed away can continue to impact the progress and advancement of people on Earth.
Because ancestors and the souls of people who’ve passed away have influence over our daily lives, according to Baha’i beliefs, it’s important to offer them assistance and prayer where possible.
The prayers of family and friends are essential to a soul’s journey towards spiritual perfection, according to Baha’i. Therefore, the religion recommends that believers offer prayers for the deceased at regular intervals.
Prayer is also a key part of the Baha’i religion, in general. Believers recite three distinct types of prayer each day, and they take part in devotional gatherings regularly.
These prayers and meetings are designed to promote community life cemented by spiritual belief. They’re also thought to help deceased Baha’i community members achieve perfection in their eternal existence.
Baha’i teachings dissuade members of the faith from taking part in rituals and customs that are associated with other systems or religions.
If a family wishes to hold a memorial gathering for someone who has passed away, they’re encouraged to do so following only Baha’i rites and customs. They’re asked to demonstrate the Baha’i way of life to any attendees who might be unfamiliar with the faith.
Baha’i gravestones and cemeteries
Like Baha’i funerals and burials, Baha’i cemeteries are simple but meaningful. They’re often well-manicured and cared for, and might include lush foliage or even water features.
Baha’i cemeteries are designated for believers of the faith, but family members of those believers may also be accepted. This is often left up to the individual cemetery’s Spiritual Assembly.
Baha’i headstones are typically sparse and simple, though they may feature spiritual emblems or quotes in addition to the individual’s name.
Death According to Baha’i
According to the religion of Baha’i, death isn’t the end of life but the beginning of a person’s true and perfect spiritual existence.
If you’re preparing to attend a Baha’i funeral, and you’re not sure what to expect, or you want to send condolences to a friend who’s Baha’i, you now have the information you need to offer your support.
- “A practitioner’s guild to culturally sensitive practice for death and dying.” Texas State University. April 2002. digital.library.txstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10877/4361/Practitioner%27s%20Guide%20to%20Culturally%20Sensitive%20Practice%20for%20Death%20and%20Dying.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
- “What Baha’is believe.” Bahai.org. www.bahai.org/beliefs/
- Bahá'u'lláh, Shoghi Effendi, and Universal House of Justice. “Burial, Baha'i.” Compilation of Compilations (Baha’i Library Online). 1991. bahai-library.com/compilation_bahai_burial