It is forbidden you to carry the body more than an hour’s distance from the town; bury it with tranquillity and cheer in a nearby place.
Bahá’u’lláh, from a Tablet — translated from the Arabic
Question: Regarding the carrying of the dead where it is bidden that they should be buried within one hour’s distance, does this law apply to transportation both by land and sea, or is it otherwise?
Answer: The law applieth to transportation by land as well as by sea, whether it be an hour’s distance by boat or train. The purpose is the time-limit of one hour, no matter what means of conveyance is employed. However, the sooner the burial taketh place, the more fitting and preferable.
Bahá’u’lláh, from a Tablet — translated from the Arabic
Briefly the law for the burial of the dead states that it is forbidden to carry the body for more than one hour’s journey from the place of death; that the body should be wrapped in a shroud of silk or cotton, and on its finger should be placed a ring 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”; and that the coffin should be of crystal, stone or hard fine wood. A specific Prayer for the Dead is ordained, to be said before interment. It has been explained by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Guardian that this law prohibits cremation of the dead. The formal prayer and the ring are meant to be used for those who have attained the age of maturity. (p. 46)
See Extract 31
Annotation of the Universal House of Justice, in “A Synopsis and Codification of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas”, p. 62
“The Prayer for the Dead” is published in “Prayers and Meditations of Bahá’u’lláh”, No. CLXVII. It is the only Bahá’í obligatory prayer which is to be recited in congregation; it is to be recited by one believer while all present stand. There is no requirement to face the Qiblih when reciting this prayer. (p. 7)
Note of the Universal House of Justice, “Synopsis and Codification of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas”, p. 58
Regarding the Bahá’í funeral service: it is extremely simple, as it consists only of a congregational prayer to be read before burial. This prayer will be made available to the friends when the “Aqdas” is translated and published. In the mean time your National Spiritual Assembly should take great care lest any uniform procedure or ritual in this matter be adopted or imposed upon the friends. The danger in this, as in some other cases regarding Bahá’í 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 Bahá’í Sacred Writings would serve the purpose at the present time, provided this selection is not rigidly and uniformly adopted on all such occasions.
From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 10 January 1936
to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada
Both the Bahá’í marriage service and the Bahá’í funeral service are extremely simple in character, and you must have certainly read in the “Bahá’í News” the explanation given by the Guardian on these two points. As already stated all forms of rigidity and uniformity in such matters should be avoided by the believers. What is of vital importance is to strictly observe the laws and directions specifically revealed by Bahá’u’lláh. These will be gradually brought to the attention of the friends and explained to them by the Guardian. In the mean time great care should be taken to prevent the introduction of unnecessary details and additions of a man-made nature to the body of the Teachings.
From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 19 May 1936 to an individual believer
There is no objection whatsoever to non-Bahá’ís being present when the long prayer for the dead is read, as long as they respect our manner of reading it by rising and standing as the Bahá’ís do on this occasion. Nor, indeed, is there any objection to non-Bahá’ís being present during the reading of any Bahá’í prayer for the departed.
In reporting Bahá’í marriages it is much better to mention that the ceremony was performed by the Assembly, as this is the proper thing to do, and an individual only acts for the Assembly on this occasion. As a funeral is not a legal ceremony more latitude can be allowed, especially as the family of the deceased may want some particular Bahá’í friend to officiate....
Mr. and Mrs. … are naturally quite free to be buried in their own plot in the Cemetery, if that is what they desire.
An official Bahá’í funeral service should only be given for a believer, but there is no objection to the reading of Bahá’í prayers, or indeed to a Bahá’í conducting the funeral service of a non-Bahá’í, if this has been requested.
From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 20 July 1946 to
the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada
The body may be conveyed by any means to a distance that can be covered in one hour’s journey.
From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 5 August 1949 to an individual believer
The Guardian thinks the ideal thing would be for the believers to have a Bahá’í Cemetery….
From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 5 September 1950 to an individual believer
Regarding the questions which you ask, concerning Bahá’í burials, etc. At the present time, the Guardian is not stressing these matters, as their establishment might divert attention from the supreme tasks we have before us. However, the answers are as follows: Under the Bahá’í teachings it seems clear that the body is not to be embalmed. The burial should take place within an hour’s travel time from the place of death. The preparation for the body for burial is a careful washing, and placing in a shroud of white cloth, silk preferably. There is nothing in the teachings with regard to turning the body over to Scientific Institutions for scientific research, and therefore the individual may do as he wishes, until such a time as the Universal House of Justice may legislate on this matter, if they ever do. The practice in the Orient is to bury the person within 24 hours of the time of death, sometimes even sooner, although there is no provision in the teachings as to the time limit.
From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 2 April 1955 to an individual believer
There is nothing in the Teachings against leaving our bodies to medical science. The only thing we should stipulate is that we do not wish to be cremated, as it is against our Bahá’í Laws.
As many people make arrangements to leave their bodies to medical science for investigation, he suggests that you inquire, either through some lawyer friend or through some hospital, how you could do this, and then make the necessary provision in your Will, stipulating that you wish your body to be of service to mankind in death, and that, being a Bahá’í, you request that your remains not be cremated and not be taken more than an hour’s journey from the place you die.
The spirit has no more connection with the body after it departs, but, as the body was once the temple of the spirit, we Bahá’ís are taught that it must be treated with respect.
From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 22 March 1957 to an individual believer
For the burial of the dead the only requirements now binding in the West are to bury the body (not to cremate it), not to carry it more than a distance of one hour’s journey from the place of death, and to say the Prayer for the Dead if the deceased is a believer over the age of 15.
From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, 9 June 1974 to the National Spiritual Assembly of Iceland
You have asked whether it is permissible for the friends to chant a prayer collectively. There is a difference between chanting a prayer collectively and congregational prayer. The latter is a formal prayer usually led by an individual using a prescribed ritual. Congregational prayer in this form is forbidden in the Faith except in the case of the Prayer for the Dead. While reciting prayers in unison and spontaneously joining in the recitation of the Words of God is not forbidden, the friends should bear in mind the advice of the beloved Guardian on this subject when he stated that:
although the friends are thus left free to follow their own inclination, … they should take the utmost care that any manner they practice should not acquire too rigid a character, and thus develop into an institution. This is a point which the friends should always bear in mind, lest they deviate from the clear path indicated in the Teachings.”
From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, 6 February 1975 to an individual believer
The Universal House of Justice advises that the place of death may be taken to be the city or town in which the believer passes away, and therefore the hour’s journey may be calculated from the city limits to the place of burial. However, it should be borne in mind that the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s law is to be buried near where one dies.
At the present time there are no definite regulations for preparing Bahá’í cemeteries. However, in a Tablet of the Master’s, He emphasizes the need for the cemetery to have a beautiful outward appearance and states that the graves should not be joined together but that each one should have a flower bed around its four sides. He also indicates that it would be pleasing if a pool were located in the center of the cemetery and beautiful trees were planted around it as well as around the cemetery itself.