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Baha’u’llah called upon his followers to undertake a period of fasting every year, and to read the sacred writings of the great Faiths every day.
As in many other Faiths, the Baha’i Fast focuses on the internal and the spiritual by detaching from the external and the material.
For nineteen days preceding the Baha’i New Year, which occurs on the first day of the vernal equinox, Baha’is between the ages of fifteen and seventy abstain from all food and drink from dawn until sunset. (Exemption from fasting is granted to travelers under certain conditions; to those who are ill; to women who are either pregnant, nursing or menstruating; and to those engaged in heavy labor.)
The purpose of the fast, during which special prayers are recited, is to promote attention to spiritual matters and to deepen the relationship of the believer with God. The physical deprivation from food and drink during the daylight hours symbolizes one’s detachment from the things of this world, and reminds one of the sufferings of others.
Baha’u’llah exhorts humanity to read and study his writings—and the writings of all the prophets of God—on a regular basis:
Immerse yourselves in the ocean of My words, that ye may unravel its secrets, and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depths. – The Most Holy Book, p. 85.
Baha’u’llah taught that the Word of God, as an expression of the Holy Spirit, has creative and transformative powers. As such, the Word of God is not to be taken merely at face value; rather, “… its meaning can never be exhausted.” – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 175.
The Word of God opens door after door of insight into divine mysteries. Every person has the duty to undertake thoughtful study of those words, and to strive to understand their many meanings.
Baha’u’llah also advises his followers to read and study the Word of God together:
Gather ye together with the utmost joy and fellowship and recite the verses revealed by the merciful Lord. By so doing the doors to true knowledge will be opened to your inner beings, and ye will then feel your souls endowed with steadfastness and your hearts filled with radiant joy. – from a tablet to an individual Baha’i.
Baha’is don’t just pray, fast and read, though. The Baha’i teachings say it is not enough just to believe in God, nor is it enough to pray, fast and read the scriptures daily. Real spiritual transformation cannot occur until a person takes action in a sincere desire to live up to God’s teachings. In that spirit, Baha’u’llah reaffirms the essential virtues that have been emphasized in every divine revelation. He calls upon us all to lead pure and upright lives, to observe justice, and to do good for others.
In countless passages the Baha’i writings describe the qualities and attributes that God desires everyone to attain, and the actions those qualities impel. Here, a few examples:
Let truthfulness and courtesy be your adorning. Suffer not yourselves to be deprived of the robe of forbearance and justice, that the sweet savors of holiness may be wafted from your hearts upon all created things. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 305.
If ye meet the abased or the down-trodden, turn not away disdainfully from them, for the King of Glory ever watcheth over them and surroundeth them with such tenderness as none can fathom except them that have suffered their wishes and desires to be merged in the Will of your Lord, the Gracious, the All-Wise. O ye rich ones of the earth! Flee not from the face of the poor that lieth in the dust, nay rather befriend him and suffer him to recount the tale of the woes with which God’s inscrutable Decree hath caused him to be afflicted. By the righteousness of God! Whilst ye consort with him, the Concourse on high will be looking upon you, will be interceding for you, will be extolling your names and glorifying your action. Blessed are the learned that pride not themselves on their attainments; and well is it with the righteous that mock not the sinful, but rather conceal their misdeeds, so that their own shortcomings may remain veiled to men’s eyes. – Ibid., pp. 314-315.
It is Our wish and desire that every one of you may become a source of all goodness unto men, and an example of uprightness to mankind. Beware lest ye prefer yourselves above your neighbors. Fix your gaze upon Him Who is the Temple of God amongst men. He, in truth, hath offered up His life as a ransom for the redemption of the world. He, verily, is the All-Bountiful, the Gracious, the Most High. If any differences arise amongst you, behold Me standing before your face, and overlook the faults of one another for My name’s sake and as a token of your love for My manifest and resplendent Cause. We love to see you at all times consorting in amity and concord within the paradise of My good-pleasure, and to inhale from your acts the fragrance of friendliness and unity, of loving-kindness and fellowship. Thus counselleth you the All-Knowing, the Faithful. We shall always be with you; if We inhale the perfume of your fellowship, Our heart will assuredly rejoice, for naught else can satisfy Us. To this beareth witness every man of true understanding. – Ibid., pp. 315-316.
These exhortations to action provide evidence of the essential unity of the divinely revealed religions, for the messengers of God have always called the people to love, kindness, generosity and righteousness. Such passages reassert the values that have always formed the core of true religion.