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Why Bahá'ís Do Not Cremate Their Dead


The Bahá'í Faith teaches that human beings are basically immortal spirit associated for a short time with a mortal physical form. Thus, when that material body dies, the spirit is released from this physical plane and continues a separate existence, as a bird freed from a confining cage. Something fitting must be done with that cage.

Briefly Bahá'í law for burial of the dead states that:
* the body is to be buried within an hour's journey from the place of death
* the body should be wrapped in a shroud of silk or cotton,
* 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 it should be placed in a coffin of crystal, stone or hard fine wood.

There are no set burial rites except for a specific prayer for the dead that is said before interment. Meeting these requirements prohibits cremation.

The spirit of Bahá'u'lláh's law is for the deceased to be buried with respect, near where he or she dies, and without embalming to preserve it unnaturally, or cremation as though it were trash. - The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, The Book of Laws, p. 230

"The Báb [forerunner of Bahá'u'lláh] has told us to bury the dead in silk in coffins of crystal. Why? Because the body, though now dust, was once exalted by the immortal soul of man!" - Lights of Guidance, p. 97 Why such an impossible ideal? Perhaps the injunction is less literal than allegorical, meant to teach reverence for what could otherwise be treated as unhealthy garbage.

There are both practical and mystical reasons for the burial laws provided by religion over the ages as civilization grew and human understanding improved. Bahá'ís believe that their laws are just the latest guidance, meant for this age, possibly to change with the next installment of God's plan. Some laws may be difficult to implement yet, but Bahá'ís believe them to be applicable over about 1000 years.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of Bahá'u'lláh and His appointed Interpreter, explained, "The body of man, which has been formed gradually, must similarly be decomposed gradually. This is according to the real and natural order and divine law. If it had been better for it to be burned after death, in its very creation it would have been so planned that the body would automatically become ignited after death, be consumed and turned into ashes. But the divine order formulated by the heavenly ordinance is that after death, this body shall be transferred from one stage to another different from the preceding one, so that according to the relations which exist in the world, it may gradually combine and mix other elements, thus going through stages until it arrives in the vegetable kingdom, there turning into plants and flowers, developing into trees of the highest paradise, becoming perfumed and attaining the beauty of colour. Cremation suppresses...attainment to these transformations, the elements becoming so quickly decomposed that transformation to these various stages is checked.

"When we realize that our physical bodies actually are composed of elements placed in the earth by their creator, and which though the orderly processes of His Law are continually being used in the formation of beings, we can better understand the necessity for our physical bodies to be subjected to the gradual process of decomposition. As at the time of death, the real and eternal self of man, his soul, abandons its physical garment to soar in the realms of God, we may compare the body to a vehicle which has been used for the journey through earthly life and no longer needed once the destination has been reached." - Lights of Guidance, p. 201

Here in the United States, where bodies can only be interred in areas specified for it, and at times allowed commercially and with processes determined by civil laws, burial requires more planning than cremation. Funerals are expensive and can be unnecessarily elaborate, especially if planned at the last minute by grieving relatives. So, Bahá'ís are required by their religion to have made provisions for their burial according to Bahá'í Law, as well as the disbursement of their estates. [See links below for more details.]
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The Bahá'í Concept of the Soul
Bahá'í Burial Rites
Bahá'í Wills and Testaments
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Content copyright © 2014 by Cheryll Schuette. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Cheryll Schuette. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Cheryll Schuette for details.

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