Fasting among Zoroastrians, Manicheans, and Bahá'ís
by Jamsheed K. Choksypublished in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 9
New York: Columbia University, 1999
Both individually and communally, fasting is typically a religious exercise—employed by devotees as means of supplication to the will of God, preparation for rites of devotion, worship of divinity, purification of the body so that spiritual issues can be better comprehended, penitence for transgressions against religious codes, and mourning for deceased persons. Underlying all these functions of fasting is a desire to create appropriate psycho-physical conditions, often ascetic ones, that facilitate a nexus between the practitioner and his or her deity, thereby enhancing spiritual needs while curtailing corporeal desires. Many fasts among Persians and other peoples occur during daylight hours, to test participants’ commitment to the endeavor at an active time. Success in surmounting the physical hardships imposed by a fast, and the spiritual benefits believed to have been accrued through this rite, frequently are celebrated through a festival at the culmination of the fasting period.
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In Babism/Bahaism, fasting developed from Muslim observances. The Bāb’s stipulations required fasting during the month of ʿAlā (sunset 1 March to sunset 20 March). Devotees between the ages of eleven and forty-two years were expected to abstain from all food, liquid, and sex between dawn and dusk, focusing instead on the divine. Children were supposed to fast from dawn until noon for the first eleven days only, an acknowledgment of the arduousness of the task (Walbridge, pp. 69-70). Bahāʾ-Allāh modified these stipulations, extending the fast to everyone between fifteen and seventy years old, while providing exemptions for pregnant, breast feeding, and menstruating women, and for men and women who are ill or required to engage in manual labor or need to travel for at least two hours on foot or at least nine hours via transportation during the period of the fast (al-Ketāb al-aqdas, paragraph 10). Smoking is also banned during the fast, as it is deemed to be an act of consumption. The Baha’i fast concludes just before the vernal equinox that marks the Persian new year festival or Nowrūz on 21March. This fast is regarded as a spiritual obligation necessary for expunging sin. Its efficacy is considered valid only if the rite has been dedicated to God, and then performed with true devotion and recitation of prescribed prayers (Walbridge, pp. 46, 58, 70-71).
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