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Abstract:
The Fast helps us remember the goals of eradicating poverty and achieving gender equality.
Notes:

Fasting period ends Sunday

by Ted Slavin

published in St. Catharines Standard
St. Catharines, Ontario: 2011-03-19
This weekend (specifically, sunset on Sunday) marks the end of the Bahá'í fasting period and the start of the new year, or Naw-Ruz. For 19 days, from March 2 to 20, Bahá'ís 15 to 69 years old abstain from food or drink between sunrise to sunset. Those who are ill, travelling, pregnant or nursing do not participate in the fast for obvious health reasons.

Fasting has been a component of all world religions and the Bahá'í Writings state the benefits of the fast to be innumerable, including "healing for the disease of self and passion". So now one might ask me, "Is it working for you?"

It's a precarious position to be in judging one's own sense of self or ego but, considering how a writer needs to call upon a voice of self to write a newspaper column and knowing how much difficulty I've had writing this month, I'm going to go out on a limb and say.... "Maybe?"

Among the benefits of the fast, there is one very important purpose that I'd like to focus on. According to Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, Bahá'ís are to fast "that those possessed of means may become apprised of the woes and sufferings of the destitute." Though I would never suggest that my sense of hunger during the day comes anywhere close to the suffering experienced by the world's poor, I cannot help but remember them each day of the fast. Poverty, in a world where extremes of wealth exist, is unacceptable. Fortunately, there are countless organizations that have taken up the cause of easing the suffering of the poor and others that aim to eradicate poverty altogether. Unfortunately, poverty continues to exist, and though I've met some who claim that poverty is part of some natural law akin to feudalism, or that poverty only comes to those who deserve it, I would invite them to consider how poverty is the direct result of humanity ignoring the fundamental principles of human rights.

These principles include the equality of women and men, access to moral and scientific education, and opportunities to participate in decisions that affect one's own life. The issue of poverty is complex and, while sensible government legislation will make an impact, applying key principles in various branches of social life such as the workplace, families, and communities is needed, too. On March 7 and 8, representatives of the Bahá'í Community of Canada joined those of other Canadian religious organizations for discussions in Ottawa with members of Parliament from different political parties. National poverty organizations were with them, all consulting together on promoting a more effective national conversation on poverty. A report on the meeting can be found on the Canadian Bahá'í News Service website, www.bahainews.ca.

I recall a lecture (many years ago) from one of my favourite communication professors at Brock University stating that humanity could collectively end world poverty in a day, if we wanted to. While I agree with that point of view, I would take it one step further to say that poverty would return the next day. Why? The prejudicial habits of the human race are to blame.

As pointed out in the aforementioned report, we are stuck on dividing people up. We tend to categorize each other in groups that have insignificant or no basis in reality. The poor are often labelled disparagingly as 'lazy' or 'a burden on society', somehow separate and isolated from humanity as a whole. On the contrary, the truth is that humanity is only as wealthy as its poorest members.

Bahá'ís are beginning to learn how communities can come together and see beyond our deep-seated prejudices associated with have and have-not, educated and uneducated, and removing the discouragement that disempowers us. We must drop the prejudices and acknowledge that the well-being and advancement of the entire human race will bring about a prosperity we've not yet realized. In light of our present state, we have nothing to lose.
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