Baha'i News -- Baha'is see fasting as sustaining law of God
Baha'is see fasting as sustaining law of God
As a boy in a Baha'i family, Frank Alai was anxious to be able to
begin fasting like his parents did.
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
"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.
©Copyright 2002, Peoria Journal Star
Page last updated/revised 031302
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