Fasting: So it’s not just about food?

Image by Mamchenkov (Flickr)

The Baha’i Fasthas just ended. I’ve been fasting for 20 years now and I’m embarrassed to say that I still find that I have to constantly remind myself that the Fast is not just about the food! Okay, so for those of you who don’t know me, you should know that ohhhh I love food! My family and I are renowned for talking about how much we like food and the different types of food we like, even while sitting around a table and having a meal together. In fact, there’s even a Tablet written by Baha’u’llah to my family some generations back, which relates to – you guessed it – FOOD!

Most of us identify the Baha’i fast with the act of not eating or drinking between sunrise and sunset. But as Shoghi Effendi explains, there’s much, much more to it than that:

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.Shoghi Effendi, Directives of the Guardian

So then it’s really not just about the food and the physical act of refraining from something we naturally crave. Fasting helps us exercise our ‘spiritual muscles’ in order to become better at abstaining from the desires of our lower selves. There were a few days during the Fast this year, where I was prescribed medication and instructed by my doctor to eat and drink during those days. So, when asked, I found myself telling people that I wasn’t fasting on those particular days. That got me thinking about how much we associate the Fast with the physical act of food and drink, rather than the “fundamentally spiritual character” of what the Fast represents.

Attempting to maintain a “spiritual fast” while having to eat and drink as I normally would made me realise just how much I needed to deepen and reinforce my understanding of what the Fast is really about. It made me ask myself just how much time I was really putting aside for prayer and reflection and to determine the ways in which I am striving to make the necessary adjustments to my inner life.

So now that the Fast is over and the new Baha’i year has begun, I hope I’m able to continue to reflect and build on the inner adjustments made during those nineteen days. From now on, if I find myself having to eat or drink during the Fast for health reasons and somebody asks me whether I’m fasting, I’ll make sure I respond with “Yes, but not from food or drink today”.

Happy Naw-Ruz, everyone!

About the Author

Naysan is the editor of Baha'i Blog and he has worked in various avenues of media for two decades. He’s passionate about using the arts and media to support and explore the teachings of the Baha’i Faith and he has produced and collaborated on popular music projects like the "DawnBreaker Collective" and the successful Ruhi-inspired sequence of "MANA" albums. His experience as a producer for CNN was invaluable while working on a number of special projects for the Baha’i World Centre, including the "Building Momentum" and "Pilgrimage: A Sacred Experience" videos. If there’s a media-related Baha’i project out there, chances are that Naysan was involved with it somehow!

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Discussion 17 Comments

  1. First comment!
    The fast is over. Wow – what to do with all those extra calories? It all seems so…. excessive. 🙂

    1. Agreed! I’ve been brimming with energy all day. One of the side benefits of the Fast is you start the new year feeling amazing 🙂

      Great post Naysan, and very pertinent. I certainly focus a lot on the food and drink aspect of the Fast and far too little on the reflection, meditation and introspection!

  2. I fast most years, this year I couldn’t as I had to take meds throughout the day (and the doc told me not to fast).

    I think Naysan’s definitely hit it right on the nail, its not just about food. Even though I wasn’t able to fast the foundation thats instilled in you as a Baha’i and the acknowledgement of WHY you’re fasting often has attibutes similar to the spiritual clensing that you derive from fasting.

      1. When you type in Google bahai blog i get in search results “Baha’i Blog » Maintenance Mode” – it would be great to fix it, same situation is with Yahoo and Bing.

  3. Fasting is great, one of the Laws of God, but for the Westerens it’s quite uncommon thing. I’d like to read some funny stories about Fasting, how people are taking it. Just for the sake of sincirety 🙂

    Oh, and useful blog. Goes to my Pinboard.

  4. I really enjoyed this post, Naysan. It can be easy to feel when fasting that if you must eat for medical reasons, you can’t fast, or that you get those days “off” from fasting. I love that you point out here that really, it just means you need to focus even more on your fasting!

  5. Great post Nayse. You’re right. It’s got so little to do with food yet it’s all we think about for 19 days! Even if we abstain from food and drink, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are fasting in the sight of God. The following quote from one of the Fasting prayers really helps us to shift focus and understand that it’s got very little to do with kebabs and coca cola!

    “Shouldst Thou regard him who hath broken the fast as one who hath observed it, such a man would be reckoned among them who from eternity had been keeping the fast. And shouldst Thou decree that he who hath observed the fast hath broken it, that person would be numbered with such as have caused the Robe of Thy Revelation to be stained with dust, and been far removed from the crystal waters of this living Fountain.”

  6. Hi Naysan,

    Thank you for sharing information about the Baha’i Fast. I would like to add you as a Facebook friend. Please send me a message there.



  7. Fasting is good, else all religions would not promote it, we just need to understand it, both physical and spiritual fasting is often not understood and is done by rote or as a cultural habit. Than you N. you articles clears many things. LOL

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