Why Baha’is fast

By Anita Cleven and Venustiano Olguín

On March 14, a group of Baha’is gathered at the Beaverton Baha’i Center, for a special community dinner to celebrate the fact that they were past the mid-point of the Baha’i 19-Day Fast. The Fast, which takes place from March 2 through March 20, consists of completely abstaining from food and drink (including water) from sunrise to sunset. The goal of the Fast is for participants to spiritually refresh and reinvigorate their spiritual lives. In doing so, they recommit themselves to doing their part to unite humanity and create a new world based on peace and justice, as was taught by Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Baha’i Faith.

During a delicious potluck dinner, we asked several of the guests, whose ages ranged from teens to fifties, to share with us how they were feeling about the Fast. According to Luz V., a former Catholic, “the Fast strengthens my soul.” She said that when she gets hungry and thirsty, she thinks of the homeless who experience hunger and the prophets who fasted for 40 days. What has really helped her is reading a lot of the Baha’i writings, which have strengthened her and enlightened her spiritually. Oscar E. agreed, saying that the fasting time allows him to “meditate more easily.”

Daniela A. enthusiastically described the Fast as the “season of detachment helping us to let go of the old year as we usher in Naw Ruz, the Baha’i New Year, that coincides with the coming of spring.” She explained that “this fasting season is a time of detachment from all yearnings of the material world as we also prepare for Ridván, the 12-day Festival in April commemorating the declaration of Baha’u’llah as the new Manifestation of God for this age. This discipline helps us to cleanse the body. Through prayer and meditation we learn to clear our minds, which in turn can bring about great healing as we strengthen ourselves both physically and spiritually.”

For Selena A., who is away at her first year of college, the Fast poses a lot of challenges, since there are fewer Baha’is around. “Observing the Fast,” she said, “is a sacrifice for what I believe in and brings me closer to other Baha’is.” She added, “The Fast makes you grateful and appreciate being able to have food available.”

Esme A., who is almost finished with high school, declared that the “Fast is a matter of mind over matter and no one can affect the outcome except oneself.” She keeps in mind that “other people do without enough food every single day.”

Shelly E. affirmed that she fasts out of a spirit of obedience to the bidding of Baha’u’llah, who initiated the Fast as part of establishing the Baha’i Faith. “The Fast advances my capacity for obedience.” She also stated, “Since Baha’is fast around the world, the Fast is a unifying force, a building block of the New World Order. For there will be no New World Order without obeying God’s Word.” And as a mother, Shelly wants to set a good example for her children, so that they will grow up really wanting to participate in the emerging Divine Institutions.

Listening to these dedicated Baha’is was heartening as they reflected a commitment infused with the spirit of those dedicated to the teachings of Baha’u’llah.

“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… Thus may the spirit associate with the Fragrances of Holiness and fast from everything else save Thy mention.”
—Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, vol. 3, p. 305.