The pillars that sustain the individual's spiritual life in the Bahá'í Faith
are similar to those in Islam and the other world religions. Prayer, fasting
and pilgrimage nourish believers throughout the planet.
These spiritual disciplines are deeply interconnected. They form one seamless
web to impel the believer along the path of growth and maturity. The fasting
period(1) is intimately connected to prayer and pilgrimage. In the temporary
denial of the body's demands, awareness of conversation with God is heightened.
The soul is urged along the roads of a spiritual pilgrimage that is the inward
mirror of the outward voyage each pilgrim undertakes toward the sacred heart of
his or her faith.
There is a Qiblih of the Bahá'í world, and there is a Qiblih of the heart. Each
points to the other. The conscious decision to forgo food and drink reminds the
penitent believer that God has commanded this step. The reminder urges the soul
to meditate on the Lord's purposes and to ask the Lord for guidance. God,
through His grace and mercy, furthers the faithful ones on their journey to the
ultimate goal, to "Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me
standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting."(2)
Bahá'u'lláh's purpose in ordaining the fast is not to mortify the flesh as
ascetics would do. Neither is it to compel the believer toward self-hatred and
morbidity. Fasting is a symbol, a sign, a reminder of the realities that
surround and transcend the workday existence of our usual petty concerns.
Bahá'ís often refer to fasting as a law. This description is deceptive; it
risks demeaning the spirit of the fast by confusing it with our current notion
of law as force and compulsion. Bahá'u'lláh, in His deep wisdom and mercy,
ordains the fasting period without making it a burden. This is not simply
because He has shortened it in comparison to the Christian and Islamic fasts.
He has made fasting a personal obligation, freed from the constraints and
dictatorial possibilities of institutional enforcement. Fasting is the
responsibility of each individual to undertake to the best of his or her
ability, within the requirements of that person's life, work and
Bahá'u'lláh has commanded exemptions to the fast for those whose health,
physical growth, or safety might be compromised by adherence to it. These
exemptions are as much obligations as is the abstention from food and drink.
The Lord of the Age does not compel us to harm ourselves by excessive zeal in
These thoughts come from 27 years of experience as a Bahá'í. I once believed
that my own well-being and salvation depended on a punctilious observance of
the most stringent and rigid requirements of Bahá'u'lláh's commandments. Such
an attitude led to my attempt to fast even when I became ill. I developed an
excessively critical eye toward the attempts of my fellow believers to observe
the obligation, including their use of the exemptions. The National Spiritual
Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States reminded us in a feast letter that
we live in a society in which people "pride themselves on being bitterly
critical in order to justify their conflicts with others."
I believe that Bahá'u'lláh's purpose in ordaining the fast goes well beyond our
puny conceptions. It was not to create a law by which to parade our good works
and piety to others, nor a yardstick to condone the judging of others'
sincerity in observance of their private spiritual obligations. Rather, it is
Bahá'u'lláh's map to the moderate path that He so unfailingly recommended. He
reveals the following in the Kitab-i-Aqdas:
"Lament not in your hours of trial, neither rejoice therein; seek ye the Middle
Way which is remembrance of Me in your afflictions and reflection over that
which may befall you in future. Thus informeth you He Who is the Omniscient, He
Who is aware."(3)
Whether an individual Bahá'í is fasting fully, partially or not at all, the
month of Loftiness is a reminder and remembrance. We remember who we are, with
Whom we must converse, to Whom we owe our allegiance, and toward Whom we must
journey. Thus reminded, we see Bahá'u'lláh standing before us, always beckoning
us forward into the light.
- The Bahá'í fasting period takes place between March 2-20 inclusive.
During this time, Bahá'ís do not drink or eat between sunrise and sunset.
- Bahá'u'lláh, Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh From the Arabic No. 13.
- Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, no. 43 p. 35.