Today the 19-day Baha’i Fast begins, so let’s examine what it entails, and see whether you might want to fast along with the world’s Baha’is.
The Baha’i Fast happens annually during the final 19-day Baha’i month of the year – the month that immediately precedes the Baha’i New Year, called Naw-Ruz. For Baha’is New Year’s Day happens on the vernal equinox, the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Baha’i Fast is really pretty simple: during that one Baha’i month each year, Baha’is all over the world abstain from food and drink during the daylight hours.
Called an “intermittent fast” by nutritionists, the Baha’i Fast definitely has physical benefits, but Baha’is take part in this practice of fasting for primarily spiritual reasons:
For this material fast is an outer token of the spiritual fast; it is a symbol of self-restraint, the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven and catching fire from the love of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha
Most religions prescribe a period of fasting and detachment from the physical and material world, and Baha’is have fasted this way since the Faith’s beginnings in the middle of the 19th Century. The Baha’i Fast symbolizes detachment from the physical world, develops empathy for the poor and hungry, and engenders the development and growth of the soul.
Why Baha’is Fast
Increasingly, science has shown that the health benefits of fasting help explain why groups of people who fast regularly – Buddhists, Mormons, Baha’is – tend to live longer and healthier lives. But the Baha’i teachings emphasize the spiritual benefits of fasting, so Baha’is don’t fast primarily for dietary or health-related reasons – they fast for the benefits it confers on the spirit.
For Baha’is, the annual period of fasting sets aside an entire 19-day Baha’i month for extra meditation and prayer, for reflection and rejuvenation. In this prayer, Baha’u’llah wrote that the Fast represents a period of spiritual recuperation, for refreshing and reinvigorating the soul, for illumination of the heart:
This is, O my God, the first of the days on which Thou hast bidden Thy loved ones to observe the Fast. I ask of Thee by Thy Self and by him who hath fasted out of love for Thee and for Thy good-pleasure – and not out of self and desire, nor out of fear of Thy wrath – and by Thy most excellent names and august attributes, to purify Thy servants from the love of aught except Thee and to draw them nigh unto the Dawning-Place of the lights of Thy countenance and the Seat of the throne of Thy oneness. Illumine their hearts, O my God, with the light of Thy knowledge and brighten their faces with the rays of the Daystar that shineth from the horizon of Thy Will. Potent art Thou to do what pleaseth Thee. No God is there but Thee, the All-Glorious, Whose help is implored by all men.
Many people around the world join the millions of Baha’is in their annual Fast for these spiritual reasons. If you’d like to try it, simply forego food and drink while the sun is up from March 1st to March 19th this year. You can take the extra time that you’d normally use for preparing and eating your mid-day meal to nourish and refresh your soul with inner reflection, meditation and prayer.
The Baha’i Fast allows those who take part in it to think back on the entire year and ask “How can I illumine my heart and soul? How can I purify my thoughts? What can I do in this coming year to make my life and the lives of others better? How can I be of service to humanity?”
Perhaps the answers to those questions will allow your spirit to “associate with the Fragrances of Holiness:”
O God! As I am fasting from the appetites of the body and not occupied with eating and drinking, even so purify and make holy my heart and my life from aught else save Thy Love, and protect and preserve my soul from self-passions and animal traits. Thus may the spirit associate with the Fragrances of Holiness and fast from everything else save Thy mention. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West