Baha'is see fasting as sustaining law of God
But according to Baha'i law, only those between 15 and 70 are required to participate in the annual 19-day, sunrise-to-sunset fast, so young Frank wasn't allowed to do the complete fast.
"I was so anxious to get up with my parents and fast, and my father and mother said, 'You can get up and have breakfast with us before sunrise, but when you are 15, you can fast,''' Alai said.
Now the Peorian, who grew up in Iran, is over 70 and is again exempt, but with 55 years of fasting behind him.
He said he has learned much about the physical and spiritual aspects of fasting in those years.
For instance, he said, "When you go through that period, you think about the poor. They don't have food to eat."
The annual Baha'i fast starts today and goes through the Baha'i month of 'Ala' until sunset March 20. This is an important time in the Baha'i year. Since the Baha'i calendar is composed of 19 months of 19 days, there are a few days called "intercalary" days which are part of no month but are used to catch up to the full solar year. Those days are used for gift-giving and festive gatherings.
Caroline Delaney, also a Peoria Baha'i, said children at the Baha'i Center at 5209 N. University St., Peoria, had a party last weekend and brought "gently used toys" to give to other children "who maybe are less fortunate." The toys will be given to places like Crisis Nursery and "different places where they would be of use to the children," she said.
The period of daily fasting from food and water immediately follows the intercalary days, and is similar to the Muslim fast during Ramadan in that it is from sunrise to sunset. The Baha'i fast is at a fixed time of the year, though, one in which the days and nights are roughly equal around most of the world. The Muslim fast of Ramadan moves around the solar calendar.
The period is then capped off by Naw Ruz, or the Baha'i New Year, typically celebrated with gatherings and performances. The local Baha'is will have a potluck dinner. Work is suspended on Naw Ruz.
Delaney and Alai said that it's hoped lessons will have been learned during the preceding month, though.
"Essentially, it's a very special time because it's a turning away from the things that you want and renewing your relationship with God," Delaney said.
"Every religion has laws to which people must be obedient. This is like a training period, like when the soldiers prepare for battle so when the testing time comes they're strong. The same thing is true in religion. When we're obedient to God's laws, it's testing to us. It strengthens us spiritually."
Alai said the fasting "reminds us of our selfish desires and our materialistic attitude."
"We become of better character, and we can do better service and contribution to our society," he said.
And, he added, hopefully these qualities will be taken into the rest of the year.
"Fasting and the (daily) obligatory prayer are twin pillars that sustain the law of God," Delaney said.
Alai said thirst was the most difficult part of fasting for him. Delaney said the first day of the fast "is the longest day" for her.
Besides age exemptions, there also are exemptions for people who are sick, women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating, travelers and for those doing heavy labor.
The fast is called for in the Baha'i writings, Alai and Delaney said, but it is up to the individual Baha'i to keep it. "It's up to the believer," Alai said. "This is an individual, sole responsibility, and nobody tells them they have to fast."
* Michael Miller covers religion for the Journal Star. Write to him in care of the Journal Star, 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call him at (309) 686-3106, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments may be published.
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