“Fasting is the cause of awakening man. The heart becomes tender and the spirituality of man increases. This is produced by the fact that man’s thoughts will be confined to the commemoration of God, and through this awakening and stimulation surely ideal advancements follow…”
This is how ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Head of the Baha’i Faith from 1892 to 1921, described the Baha’i Fast. For thousands of years, fasting has been part of religious life. It has taken different forms in different religious traditions, but the principle has remained the same: Every tradition sees great value in the spiritual discipline of fasting.
The Baha’i Fast lasts for 19 days, from March 2nd to 20th. In the Baha’i calendar this period corresponds to the month of Ala, (meaning Loftiness), the last month of the Baha’i year. During this period, adult Baha’is — with the exception of those who are elderly, sick, travelling, or engaging in heavy labour, and women who are nursing or pregnant — abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset.
While abstention from food is an important aspect, fasting is mainly a spiritual exercise.
“Fasting is of two kinds, material and spiritual,” wrote ‘Abdu’l-Baha. “The material fasting is abstaining from food or drink, that is, from the appetites of the body. But spiritual, ideal fasting is this, that man abstain from selfish passions, from negligence… Therefore, material fasting is a token of the spiritual fasting.”
Those observing the fast partake in a rich spiritual experience. Through prayer and meditation, they try to refine their inner lives, as they “refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in [their] souls.”
For Shahrokh Kiani of the Toronto Baha’i community, fasting is more than just not eating. “It is an opportunity to think deeply about and understand the purpose of my life,” he says. “I can step back from my daily routines and think how I can be of service to God through service to my fellow beings. The period of fasting reminds me of my spiritual reality, that first and foremost, I am a spiritual being. It creates in me a feeling of prayerfulness and contemplation. As I pray and meditate, I am able to find the balance between my physical and spiritual identity.”
The vernal equinox, March 21st, marks the end of the Baha’i Fast. On that day, Baha’is celebrate the New Year — Naw-Ruz. The period of fasting is therefore viewed as a time of spiritual regeneration and preparation for the new year.