Baháʼí symbols are symbols that have been used, or are used, to express identification with the Baháʼí Faith. While the five-pointed star is the symbol of the religion, being used to represent the human body and Messengers of God, more common symbols include the nine-pointed star, the Greatest Name, and the Ringstone symbol, representing perfection, and the Messengers of God.
The five-pointed star, or haykal (Arabic: temple) is the symbol of the Baháʼí Faith as mentioned by Shoghi Effendi, head of the Baháʼí Faith in the first half of the 20th century: "Strictly speaking the 5-pointed star is the symbol of our Faith, as used by the Báb and explained by Him." The five-pointed star has been used as the outline of special letters or tablets by both the Báb and Baháʼu'lláh.
Haykal is a loan word from the Hebrew word hēyḵāl, which means temple and specifically Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. In Arabic, the word also means the body or form of something, particularly the human body. In the Baháʼí tradition, the haykal was established by the Báb — who told of Baháʼu'lláh's coming — who represented the haykal as a five-pointed star representing the human body as a head, two hands, and two feet. The Báb wrote many letters, tablets, prayers and more in the shape of a five-pointed star, including some that included many derivatives of the word Baháʼ (see below).
In Baháʼu'lláh's writings, specifically the Súriy-i-Haykal (Tablet of the Temple), while the meaning of temple remains present, the haykal is used mainly to mean the human body, but particularly the body of the Manifestation of God — a messenger from God — and the person of Baháʼu'lláh himself. In the Tablet, the haykal is also used to refer to the word of God, which is revealed by the Manifestations of God. He also says in the same Tablet:
The Greatest Name
In Islamic belief God has 99 names, and in some Islamic traditions it is believed that there is a special hidden 100th name, which is the greatest. In Baháʼí belief the Greatest Name is Baháʼ (بهاء), translated as "glory" or "splendour". Many symbols of the Baháʼí Faith derive their significance from the word Baháʼ, and it is the root word used in many other names and phrases including Baháʼí (a follower of Baháʼ), Baháʼu'lláh (Glory of God), ʻAbdu'l-Bahá (Servant of Glory), Yá Baháʼu'l-Abhá (O Thou Glory of the Most Glorious), and Alláh-u-Abhá (God is Most Glorious).
Baháʼu'lláh often referred to Baháʼís in his writings as "the people of Baháʼ", and in addition, the Báb sent a tablet to Baháʼu'lláh with 360 derivatives of the word Baháʼ. Along with daily prayers, Baháʼís are encouraged to recite the phrase "Alláh-u-Abhá" 95 times in a form of meditation.
The symbol known as Greatest Name is an Arabic calligraphic rendering of "Yá Baháʼu'l-Abhá" (يا بهاء الأبهى usually translated as "O Thou the Glory of the Most Glorious!"). This rendering was originally drawn by the early Baháʼí calligrapher Mishkín Qalam, and later adopted by Baháʼís everywhere.
Since the symbol refers more directly to the Name of God and of the Messenger of God, than any other symbol in the Baháʼí Faith, it is not generally used in a casual manner or to adorn the personal artifacts that are put to common use. The symbol can usually be seen in Baháʼí homes and rings that are produced on a limited scale.
According to the Abjad system of Isopsephy, the word Baháʼ has a numerical equivalence of 9, and thus there is frequent use of the number 9 in Baháʼí symbols. The most commonly used symbol connected to the number 9 is the nine-pointed star; there is no particular design of the nine-pointed star that is used more often than others. While the star is not a part of the teachings of the Baháʼí Faith, it is commonly used as an emblem representing "9", because of the association of number 9 with perfection, unity and Baháʼ.
The number 9 also comes up several times in Baháʼí history and teachings. On the significance of the number 9, Shoghi Effendi wrote:
"Concerning the number nine: the Baháʼís reverence this for two reasons, first because it is considered by those interested in numbers as the sign of perfection. The second consideration, which is the more important one, is that it is the numerical value of the word "Baháʼ"…
"Besides these two significances the number nine has no other meaning. It is, however, enough to make the Baháʼís use it when an arbitrary number is to be chosen."
The ringstone symbol was designed by ʻAbdu'l-Bahá, and, as its name implies, is the most common symbol found on rings worn by Baháʼís, but it is also used on necklaces, book covers, and paintings. It consists of two stars (haykal) interspersed with a stylized Baháʼ. The lower line is said to represent humanity and the world of creation, the upper line the world of God, and the middle line represents the special station of Manifestation of God and the world of revelation; the vertical line is the Primal Will or Holy Spirit proceeding from God through the Manifestations to humanity. The position of Manifestation of God in this symbol is said to be the linking point to God. The two stars or haykals represent Baháʼu'lláh and the Báb.
The writings of Baháʼu'lláh contain many allegories and symbolic language, often taken from nature (e.g., the sun, clouds, trees, rivers, oceans, valleys, mountains, gardens, birds, etc.), referring to spiritual principles. Christopher Buck analyses a selection of six key scenarios (the Promised One, the Covenant, illumination, lover and the beloved, the Maid of Heaven, the crimson ark and the Holy Mariner) and six root metaphors (physician, wine/water of life, mirror/gems, the journey, lote-tree/Sinai, paradise). Other analysis has been done by Baháʼí scholars John Hatcher, William Collins, and Ruhiyyih Khanum.
A true understanding of the multiple meanings in the sacred texts can only be reached by a purification of the heart, together with the guidance of the Manifestations of God and their appointed interpreters. Baháʼís are free to hold to their own understanding of the texts, as long as they do not force it on others, realize that their understanding is limited, and that they all follow the binding authority of the appointed interpreters.
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- Moojan Momen (2019). The Star Tablet of the Bab. British Library Blog.
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- Walbridge, John (1995), Sacred Acts, Sacred Space, Sacred Time, Oxford: George Ronald, ISBN 0-85398-406-9
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bahá'í symbols.|
- The Art of the Greatest Name
- The Nine-Pointed Star, History and Symbolism - by the Universal House of Justice, 1999
- Story of the Ringstone Symbol - www.spiritual-education.org
- Greatest Name Song and Poem Site used with permission, a public site