Thursday, November 18, 2010


I just saw a wonderful post on Facebook, in which the individual asked why others thought Baha'u'llah may have imposed a 95-day limit on marriage engagements. The responses were varied, and very interesting, so I thought I would share my own take on it here.

First of all, we should, of course, see what Baha'u'llah actually says. This law, as you would imagine, is found in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book. But it is interesting, because it is not found in the original text itself, but in response to one of the questions that was asked by an individual who was given the bounty of being able to read the Book before it was released and ask any questions he had about it. These questions and the responses were considered by Baha'u'llah to be an additional part of the Text, and are regarded as such. The question, in question, and the answer are as follows:
43. QUESTION: Concerning the betrothal of a girl before maturity.
ANSWER: This practice hath been pronounced unlawful by the Source of Authority, and it is unlawful to announce a marriage earlier than ninety-five days before the wedding.
It is from this that we have the law requiring an engagement period of no more than 95 days. Oh, and it should also be noted that this law is only binding upon the Persian Baha'is.

Without going into the question of why it is only binding upon one group, what constitutes a person of that group, or how the laws within the Baha'i Faith are progressively applied, I'd like to look a bit at the "why" of the law. That's what I found interesting in this discussion.

One of the first suggestions, obviously, was that it was in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, and we should therefore obey it. Well, this was never in question, but it's always good to repeat. It's a nice reminder that we may not always understand everything within the Writings, but we should still be obedient to it. Of course, this is not just a blind obedience under some sort of threat or coercion, but rather an open obedience based upon trust. In other words, I'm a Baha'i because I have come to recognize that Baha'u'llah is a Messenger of God and has a far better perspective of reality than I do. This is a conscious recognition. And one of the implications of this recognition is that if He says something I either disagree with, or don't understand, I have already admitted that He is far wiser than I am, so I should be more willing to be obedient, and try to understand. If this is in question for someone, then the real question would be why are they a Baha'i.

But it seems reasonable to me, and to the one who posted that response, that we should still strive to come to a better understanding for the rationale of this law.

Another person posted the idea of mysticism being part of it. After all, 95 is 5 times 19. And 5 is the numerical equivalent of the Bab, while 19 is the numerical value of the word "vahid", or "unity", which is the pivot of Baha'u'llah's teachings. It is interesting to note that this number, 95, also appears in other places within the Writings, like being the number of times we say the Greatest Name every day. Fascinating as this may be, and as much as I love numbers, this doesn't really satisfy me.

The next point really spoke to the quote iteself, although it didn't actually look at the quote. It talked about how this law has overturned the ancient practice in some parts of the world of the engagement of children. And isn't that really what the original question was all about? Are girls allowed to be engaged before the age of maturity?

Well, let's look at what Baha'u'llah did with that question. First, He categorically said "No" without actually saying "No" to the question. Instead, He put it in a much larger context. He prohibited anybody from being engaged for more then, bascially, 3 months, or one full season.

Further to that, later in the Writings the original step in the marriage process was removed from the parents altogether. It is first up to the children to decide whom they wish to marry. They, and not the parents, make that first selection. Then, and only then, is it up to the parents to give approval. Once that approval has been given, then the 95 days begins.

Now this is not to say that the child can't consult with their parents ahead of time, for this is all about unity. But the initial step is, in the end, up to the child.

It does, interestingly enough, remind me of one other aspect of the Faith, namely that of the Guardianship. Shoghi Effendi was appointed by 'Abdu'l-Baha, Himself. In order to appoint a succcessor, Shoghi Effendi would have had to first name one. But then it wasn't over. After naming his successor, he had to seek the approval of the Hands of the Cause. They couldn't choose his successor, but they had to approve it by majority. This may be quite the side-step, but it does seem similar to me.

So there is one reason for the short period of engagement: to prevent unwanted engagements of minors.

But by expanding the boundaries of His answer, it seems that there is more to it than meets the eye.

In a letter to an individual, the Universal House of Justice wrote, "…Bahá’u’lláh ordained that Bahá’í engagement should not exceed 95 days, and, although this law has not yet been applied universally, it highlights the desirability of marrying quickly once the decision to marry has been firmly taken and parental consent obtained."

Personally, I can think of a few reasons for this, and the wisdom of it. First, it cuts down on any possible temptation to act inappropriately before the wedding. I mean let's face it, as a young couple (or even not so young), you really want to hold or kiss your partner, or perhaps even more. For many of us, or maybe I'm just speaking for myself, the temptation grows as that date gets closer. I'm very glad that my wife and I had a short engagement, for I don't think I could have handled much more of that.

The second reason is that more and more people are getting more and more extravagent in their weddings. It is not unreasonable for a family to drop $25,000 on a wedding in the United States, and they're not even at the top of the list. If I'm going to spend that kind of money on something, I either want to be able to drive it safely for years, or live in it. (No unkind comments on that sentence, please.)

How many families are still paying for the wedding long after it has ended? And how many marriages have broken up because of arguments that began about the wedding itself?

No. I think there is something to be said for simple and elegant wedding ceremonies.

My wife and I had literally a couple dozen people at our ceremony. That was all. It was small, simple and beautiful.

After the ceremony (at the Assiniboine Park Conservatory), we went to the Winnipeg Baha'i Centre and had a pot-luck dinner with stage presentations. Many of our friends performed music. Some told stories. And the variety of food was unbelievable. It was so diverse.

And our wedding cake? A very good friend of mine made a pyramis of cream puffs. They were filled with vanilla, chocolate, orange or rose flavoured cream. Then they were piled in a pyramid stack, and stuck together with choclate. Edible floewrs were added for decoration, and it was all wonderful. Oh, it cost far, far less than a traditional wedding cake.
Yeah, I am very glad for this law, even if it is not binding on all of us. It's still a good idea, and I encourage all my friends who are getting married to try and follow it.

I'm also glad that my friend Valerie posted the original inspiration for this. Thanks, Valerie.


  1. I recently had a conversation with a parent who had given consent to her child, understanding at the time that the couple planned to marry within 95 days (although not required). The time has extended far longer, and instead of growing closer in marriage, they are now doing many separate activities and not as close.

    Susanne Alexander

  2. I like this post, too. Ninety-five days may seem really soon, but I think it's just enough time for a couple to decide if they really want to go through with it, and it's short enough for the relationship to still be exciting - thus sort of "supercharging" the relationship into a force to be reckoned with by doing a Baha'i marriage.

    I also think there is a wisdom to not living together before getting married. I know some people think that is "old fashioned", and therefore "bad", but there have been unbiased sociological research into this concept, and one important study found that people who moved in together AFTER getting married tended to have more fulfilling relationships, than those who already lived together before getting married. I'm not making a judgment call on people who live together who aren't married, I just think this is interesting.

  3. What happens if a couple get engaged and the 95 days is over and they can't get married (not that they don't want to) but for reasons that they aren't in control of? for example passport/residency issues??

  4. "What happens if a couple get engaged and the 95 days is over and they can't get married (not that they don't want to) but for reasons that they aren't in control of?"

    Spiritual Assemblies are servants and guides to the members of their community, not hidebound dictators and bean counters. If something is out of your control, it's out of your control. Take the problem to the responsible Assembly in a spirit of loving consultation, and trust them to find your answer.

    For example, by time I was ready to contemplate marriage, it was impossible to find my natal parents, because mine was a closed adoption and my home state was very strict about that. I tried, but no go. (My nurturant parents were dead by then; and while it wasn't mandatory that I seek their approval, in a spirit of unity I surely would've if I could've.)

    I appealed to my Spiritual Assembly, explaining what I had tried and how fruitless it had all been; and their answer was that I had made every reasonable effort in good faith and they considered that being properly obedient to Baha'u'llah's law regarding parental approval.

    I'm sure they would've been equally loving if, as in your example, passport/residency issues had interfered. Granted, they might have gently asked why we didn't ensure such issues were resolved before getting formal approval and becoming engaged. But they would also, I feel, have understood bureaucratic hold-ups and given us the prayerful support we'd need to endure through to a resolution and be married as soon as legally possible (especially since the Writings also admonish us to be obedient to our rightful governments).

    Hope this answer helps.

  5. I think the 95 days has a particular purpose in making sure parents' consent is in-date when the wedding actually comes. If the parents gave consent, say, a year before the marriage, it would be much more likely that they might revise their views over that year, and it would then create complicated and unfair problems for the children for parents to try to revise matters having given the all-go; so the 95 days ensures it is "in date" and really is all-go.
    The other thing i feel strongly, is that engagement should be seen the same as marrying, not some lesser maybe-maybe-not-we'll-see-sometime-we-might-marry, and recognition of the logistics that marriage doesn't happen in a single day, the engagement is the starting of marriage and the "marriage" the completion of it, like the laying of the foundations of a house is its beginning, and the placing of the roof its completion. One process, all of equal significance as concerns their identical purpose, not two separate things.