Fasting in the Baha'i Faith


02-March-2013

The Bahá’í Calendar
Among different peoples and at different times many different methods have been adopted for the measurement of time and fixing of dates, and several different calendars are still in daily use, e.g., the Gregorian in Western Europe, the Julian in many countries of Eastern Europe, the Hebrew among the Jews, and the Muḥammadan in Muslim communities.

The Báb or “the Gate” and Forerunner to Bahá'u'lláh, signalised the importance of the dispensation which He came to herald by inaugurating a new calendar.

It seems, therefore, fitting that the new age of unity should have a new calendar free from the objections and associations which make each of the older calendar unacceptable to large sections of the world’s population, and it is difficult to see how any other arrangement could exceed in simplicity and convenience that proposed by the Báb.

The Bahá’í year consists of 19 months of 19 days each (i.e. 361 days), with the addition of certain “Intercalary Days” (four in ordinary and five in leap years) between the eighteenth and nineteenth months in order to adjust the calendar to the solar year. The Báb named the months after the attributes of God, e.g., Splendor, Glory, Beauty, Grandeur. The Bahá’í New Year is astronomically fixed, commencing at the March equinox (March 21), and the Bahá’í era commences with the year of the Báb’s declaration (i.e. 1844 A.D., 1260 A.H.).
 
Intercalary Days
The intercalary days between the eighteenth and nineteenth months (that is, February 26 to March 1 inclusive) are especially devoted to hospitality to friends, the giving of presents, ministering to the poor and sick, etc. They are also a time of preparation for the Fast.

Bahá’í Fast
The fasting period, which lasts nineteen days starting as a rule from the second of March every year and ending on the twentieth of the same month, involves complete abstention from food and drink from sunrise till sunset. It is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, fundamentally spiritual in character.

There is much evidence to show that a periodical fast such as is enjoined by the Bahá’í teachings is beneficial as a measure of physical hygiene, but just as the reality of the Bahá’í fast does not lie in the consumption of physical food, but in the commemoration of God, which is our spiritual food, so the reality of the Bahá’í fast does not consist in abstention from physical food, although that may help in the purification of the body, but in the abstention from the desires and lusts of the flesh, and in severance from all save God.

Fasting is a symbol. Fasting signifies abstinence from lust. Physical fasting is a symbol of that abstinence, and is a reminder; that is, just as a person abstains from physical appetites, he is to abstain from self-appetites and self-desires.

But mere abstention from food has no effect on the spirit. It is only a symbol, a reminder. Otherwise it is of no importance.

Fasting for this purpose does not mean entire abstinence from food. The golden rule as to food is, do not take too much or too little. Moderation is necessary.

Physical fasting is a symbol of the spiritual fasting; it is a symbol of self-restraint, the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, becoming characterised with the attributes of the spiritual ones, attracted to the heavenly fragrances and enkindled with the fire of the love of God.
Fasting - Spiritual in character.

Divine wisdom in fasting
The Divine wisdom in fasting is manifold. Among them is this: As during those days (the period of fasting which the followers afterward observe) the Manifestation of the God, through Divine inspiration, is engaged in the descent (revealing) of Verses, the instituting of Divine Law and the arrangement of teachings, through excessive occupation and intensive attraction, there remains no condition or time for eating and drinking.

For example, when His Holiness Moses went to Mount Tur (Sinai) and there engaged in instituting the Law of God, He fasted forty days. For the purpose of awakening and admonishing the people of Israel, fasting was enjoined upon them. Likewise, His Holiness Christ, in the beginning of instituting the Spiritual Law, the systemising of the teachings and the arrangement of counsels, for forty days abstained from eating and drinking. Likewise the Holy Coran having descended in the month of Ramadan, fasting during that month became a duty. In like manner His Holiness The Báb, in the beginning of the Manifestation through the excessive effect of descending verses, passed days in which His nourishment was reduced to tea only. Likewise, the Blessed Beauty (Bahá'u'lláh), when busy with instituting the Divine Teachings and during the days when the Verses (The Word of God) descended continuously, through the great effect of the Verses and the throbbing of the heart, took no food except the least amount.

The purpose is this: In order to follow the Divine Manifestation and for the purpose of admonition and the commemoration of their state, it became incumbent upon the people to fast during those days. For every sincere soul who has a beloved longs to experience that state in which his beloved is. If his beloved is in a state of sorrow, he desires sorrow; if in a state of joy, he desires joy; if in a state of rest, he desires rest; if in a state of trouble, he desires trouble.

Two pillars of Law of God
Fasting and obligatory prayer constitute the two pillars that sustain the revealed Law of God. Bahá'u'lláh in one of His Tablets affirms that He has revealed the laws of obligatory prayer and fasting so that through them the believers may draw nigh unto God.

They act as stimulants to the soul, strengthen, revive and purify it, and thus insure its steady development. Beside all this, prayer and fasting is the cause of awakening and mindfulness and conducive to protection and preservation from tests.

Prayer, meditation, and fasting
The core of religious faith is that mystic feeling that unites man with God. This state of spiritual communion can be brought about and maintained by means of meditation, prayer and fasting. And this is the reason why Bahá'u'lláh has so much stressed the importance of worship. It is not sufficient for a believer to merely accept and observe the teachings. He should, in addition, cultivate the sense of spirituality, which he can acquire chiefly by the means of prayer.

The Bahá'í Faith, like all other Divine religions, is thus fundamentally mystic in character. Its chief goal is the development of the individual and society, through the acquisition of spiritual virtues and powers. It is the soul of man that has first to be fed. And this spiritual nourishment prayer can best provide. Laws and institutions, as viewed by Bahá’u’lláh, can become really effective only when our inner spiritual life has been perfected and transformed. Otherwise religion will degenerate into a mere organisation, and become a dead thing.

Contributed by the Bahá’í Faith-Seychelles

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