Fasting II

on Fasting II

with Sagacious Afternoons

Those unwarranted practices, in connection with the sacrament of baptism, of communion, of confession of sins, of asceticism, of priestly domination, of elaborate ceremonials, of holy war and of polygamy, have one and all been rigidly suppressed by the Pen of Bahá’u’lláh; whilst the rigidity and rigor of certain observances, such as fasting, which are necessary to the devotional life of the individual, have been considerably abated (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh )

…he feels it is his duty to explain that the Laws revealed by Bahá’u’lláh in the Aqdas are, whenever practicable and not in direct conflict with the Civil Law of the land, absolutely binding on every believer or Bahá’í institution whether in the East or in the West. Certain laws, such as fasting, obligatory prayers, the consent of parents before marriage, avoidance of alcoholic drinks, monogamy, should be regarded by all believers as universally and vitally applicable at the present time. Others have been formulated in anticipation of a state of society destined to emerge from the chaotic conditions that prevail to-day. When the Aqdas is published this matter will be further explained and elucidated. What has not been formulated in the Aqdas, in addition to matters of detail and of secondary importance arising out of the applications of the Laws already formulated by Bahá’u’lláh, will have to be enacted by the Universal House of Justice. This body can supplement but never invalidate or modify in the least degree what has already been formulated by Bahá’u’lláh. Nor has the Guardian any right whatsoever to lessen the binding effect much less to abrogate the provisions of so fundamental and sacred a Book. (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, August 11, 1935 - Lights of Guidance)

As regards fasting, it constitutes, together with the obligatory prayers, the two pillars that sustain the revealed Law of God. They act as stimulants to the soul, strengthen, revive and purify it, and thus insure its steady development.

The ordinance of fasting is, as is the case with these three prayers (obligatory) a spiritual and vital obligation enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh upon every believer who has attained the age of fifteen. In the Aqdas He thus writes: ‘We have commanded you to pray and fast from the beginning of maturity; this is ordained by God, your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers. He has exempted from this those who are weak from illness or age, as a bounty from His Presence, and He is the Forgiving, the Generous.’

And in another passage He says: ‘We have enjoined upon you fasting during a brief period, and at its close have designated for you Naw-Rúz as a Feast… The traveller, the ailing, those who are with child or giving suck, are not bound by the Fast… Abstain from food and drink, from sunrise to sundown, and beware lest desire deprive you of this grace that is appointed in the Book.’

Also in the ‘Questions and Answers’ that form an appendix to the Aqdas, Bahá’u’lláh reveals the following: ‘Verily, I say that God has appointed a Great station for fasting and prayer. But during good health its benefit is evident, and when one is ill, it is not permissible to fulfill them.’ Concerning the age of maturity, He reveals in the appendix of that same Book: ‘The age of maturity is in the fifteenth year; women and men are alike in this respect.’ Regarding the vital character and importance of the Divine ordinances and laws, and the necessity of complete obedience to them by the believers, we thus read in the Gleanings, p. 175:

‘Know verily that the essence of justice and the source thereof are both embodied in the ordinance prescribed by Him Who is the Manifestation of the Self of God amongst men, if ye be of them that recognize this truth. He doth verily incarnate the highest, the infallible standard of justice unto all creation. Were His law to be such as to strike terror in the hearts of all that are in heaven and on earth, that law is naught but manifest justice. The fears and agitation which the revelation of this law provoke in men’s hearts should indeed be likened to the cries of the suckling babe weaned from his mother’s milk, if ye be of them that perceive…’

The fasting period, which lasts nineteen days starting as a rule from the second of March every year and ending on the twentieth of the same month, involves complete abstention from food and drink from sunrise till sunset. It is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character. Fasting is symbolic, and a reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires.” (Directives from the Guardian)

Regarding the nineteen-day fast: Its observance has been enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh upon all the believers, once they attain the age of fifteen and until they reach seventy. Children of all countries, nationalities and classes who are fifteen years old are under this obligation. It matters not whether they mature later in one country than in another. The command of Bahá’u’lláh is universal, irrespective of any variance in the age of maturity in different countries and among different peoples.

In the 'Aqdas' Bahá’u’lláh permits certain exceptions to this general obligation of fasting, among them are included those who do hard work, such as workers in heavy industries.

But while a universal obligation, the observance of the nineteen day fast has been made by Bahá’u’lláh the sole responsibility of the individual believer. No Assembly has the right to enforce it on the friends, or to hold anybody responsible for not observing it. The believer is free, however, to ask the advice of his Assembly as to the circumstances that would justify him to conscientiously break such a fast. But he is by no means required to do so. (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, March 9, 1937, Lights of Guidance)

With reference to your son’s request for advice regarding the observance of the Bahá’í fast: Much as the Guardian realizes the difficulty which a believer of his position, attending a military school, will have to encounter if he wishes to strictly conform to the regulations of the fast, he nevertheless would advise him to make every effort to obtain from the school authorities the necessary permission. In case his request is refused the only alternative for him would be to obey his superiors. (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, October 27, 1938 - Lights of Guidance)

If, however, you find your health affected by keeping the Fast the Guardian would advise you to consult a physician, and if he tells you you are unable to fast then of course, you should abstain from doing so. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny) Regarding your question concerning the Fast: Travellers are exempt from fasting, but if they want to fast while they are travelling, they are free to do so. You are exempt the whole period of your travel, not just the hours you are in a train or car, etc. If one eats unconsciously during the fasting hours, this is not breaking the Fast as it is an accident. The age limit is 70 years, but if one desires to fast after the age limit is passed, and is strong enough to, one is free to do so. If during the Fast period a person falls ill and is unable to fast, but recovers before the Fast period is over, he can start to fast again and continue until the end. Of course the Fast, as you know, can only be kept during the month set aside for that purpose. (Directives from the Guardian)

Keeping the Fast is enjoined upon all Bahá’ís, regardless of nationality; it has a very salutary effect both physically and spiritually, and the friends should realise Bahá’u’lláh never would have instituted it if it were detrimental to the health. The Master referred to the Fast in talks to pilgrims, and some Tablets, but most material on this subject is not yet translated. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny)

He is indeed pleased to know that the Book of Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh has been out in time to enable the friends to read it during the Fast, and he has every hope that the perusal of such a precious volume will help to deepen more than any other publication, the spirit of devotion and faith in the friends, and thus charge them with all the spiritual power they require for the accomplishment of their tremendous duties towards the Cause… (Directives from the Guardian)

It is difficult for us to do things because they are so very different from what we are used to, not because the thing itself is particularly difficult. With you, and indeed most Bahá’ís, who are now, as adults, accepting this glorious Faith, no doubt some of the ordinances, like fasting and daily prayer, are hard to understand and obey at first. But we must always think that these things are given to all men for a thousand years to come. For Bahá’í children who see these things practised in the home, they will be as natural and necessary a thing as going to church on Sunday was to the more pious generation of Christians.

Bahá’u’lláh would not have given us these things if they would not greatly benefit us, and, like children who are sensible enough to realize their father is wise and does what is good for them, we must obey these ordinances even though at first we may not see any need for them. As we obey them, we will gradually come to see in ourselves the benefits they confer.” (Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in Living the Life, 29)

He (the Guardian) feels that if you consider it too much of a strain to keep the Fast you should not do so. Bahá’u’lláh has exempted people who are travellers at the time; if you could keep it the days you are not travelling, and thus partake of its bounty, it would be advisable, but it is not essential. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny)

Also in a letter written on behalf of the beloved Guardian to an individual believer it is said: '. . . of course the Fast must either be kept entirely or not at all. If a physician advises, for reasons of health, against keeping it, then the person can give it up.’ Thus if a physician advises that fasting in extreme heat will produce a condition detrimental to one’s health, one would be excused from keeping the Fast. (The Universal House of Justice, in Fasting: A Bahá’í Handbook, pp. 34-35)

From: Synopsis and Codification, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book), section IV.B.

    1) The sublime station occupied by fasting in the Bahá’í Revelation.
    2) The period of fasting commences with the termination of the Intercalary Days, and ends with the Naw-Rúz Festival.
    3) Abstinence from food and drink, from sunrise to sunset, is obligatory.
    4) Fasting is binding on men and women on attaining the age of maturity, which is fixed at 15.
    5) Exemption from fasting is granted to:
    a) Travelers
    i) Provided the journey exceeds 9 hours.
    ii) Those traveling on foot, provided the journey exceeds 2 hours.
    iii) Those who break their journey for less than 19 days.
    iv) Those who break their journey during the Fast at a place where they are to stay 19 days are exempt from fasting only for the first three days from their arrival.
    v) Those who reach home during the Fast must commence fasting from the day of their arrival.
    b) Those who are ill.
    c) Those who are over 70.
    d) Women who are with child.
    e) Women who are nursing.
    f) Women in their courses, provided they perform their ablutions and repeat a specifically revealed verse 95 times a day.
    g) Those who are engaged in
    h) Those who are engaged in heavy labor, who are advised to show respect for the law by using discretion and restraint when availing themselves of the exemption.
    6) Vowing to fast (in a month other than the one prescribed for fasting) is permissible. Vows which profit mankind are however preferable in the sight of God.

In one of His Tablets ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, after stating that fasting consists of abstinence from food and drink, categorically says that smoking is a form of ‘drink’. (In Arabic the verb ‘drink’ applies equally to smoking.)

In the East, therefore, the friends abstain from smoking during the hours of fasting, and friends from the East living in the West do likewise. But, as stated in our letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of New Zealand, this application of the Divine Law has not been extended to the friends in the West for the present, and therefore it should not be made an issue. (From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, March 15, 1972 – Lights of Guidance)

It is true that Bahá’u’lláh has ordained in the Kitab-i-Aqdas that in the high latitudes where the duration of days and nights varies considerably clocks should be relied upon rather than the rising and setting of the sun. However, we feel that Dublin is too far south for the application of this law. You should thus judge the end of each day by the actual sunset. (From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the British Isles, August 8, 1969 - Lights of Guidance)

The friends have long been familiar with the great importance which Bahá’u’lláh attaches to daily obligatory prayer and to the observance of the fast, but a number of aspects of the law, such as those concerning ablutions, traveling and the compensation for prayers missed, remained to be made universally applicable. This step is now taken. Thus all elements of the laws dealing with obligatory prayer and fasting are, without any exception, now applicable. (The Universal House of Justice / 28 December 1999 – To the Bahá’ís of the World)

As we enter the month of the Fast, every hour of which is, according to the Pen of the Most High, endowed with a special virtue, the lovers of the Blessed Beauty throughout the world draw upon the celestial potency latent in these days in order to obtain a fresh measure of spiritual vitality. To observe the Fast with purity of motive attracts divine confirmations and leads to the awakening and cleansing of the heart. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes, “Blessed are they who have observed the fast during its appointed month, who have gathered together in perfect unity and harmony, have freed themselves from the insinuations of doubt and stood firm in the Covenant.” He describes “this physical fast” as “a symbol of the spiritual fast”, meaning “the cleansing of the soul from all selfish desires, the acquisition of spiritual attributes, [and] attraction to the breezes of the All-Merciful.” Turn therefore in these blessed days to the Threshold of the Ancient Beauty in supplication and prayer. (The Universal House of Justice / 1 March 2012 – To the devoted believers of Bahá’u’lláh in the sacred land of Iran)

Having reached the age of fifteen, Bahá’í youth are personally responsible for certain spiritual activities such as observing the obligation of daily prayer, keeping the Fast, and they are invited to participate in Bahá’í youth activities. The significance of the age of maturity, however, goes far beyond the fulfillment of responsibilities. The following extract from a Tablet of ‘Abdu’l Bahá links the attainment of maturity with the deepening of one’s understanding and comprehension of the realities of life, and the enhancement of one’s very capacity for understanding:

“Know thou that before maturity man liveth from day to day and comprehendeth only such matters as are superficial and outwardly obvious. However, when he cometh of age he understandeth the realities of things and the inner truths. Indeed, in his comprehension, his feelings, his deductions and his discoveries, every day of his life after maturity is equal to a year before it.” (The Universal House of Justice / 11 April 1985 – [To an individual])

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