Baha’is believe in the power of prayer and you’ll find Baha’is and their friends, throughout the world, getting together to pray. This is often referred to as a ‘devotional gathering’ or ‘devotional meeting’, and they happen in diverse settings, whether in cities or villages.
The Baha’i Fast falls during the month of Ala–the last month of the Baha’i calendar. During these 19 days, Baha’is abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset. While this abstention from food and drink is a test of one’s will and discipline, the Fast is not just about abstaining from food. The Fast is, primarily, a spiritual practice.
I am intrigued with the world of food pairings. The more unusual the better– such as crisps and cheese, or cookies and cheese. My friend Ariana writes about loose-leaf tea and which books best suit them, and so I thought it might be fun to list 19 Baha’i-inspired books and 19 meals for the Fast. It’s a bit of a silly idea but I hope you’ll indulge me!
This Baha’i-inspired novella blends fact and fiction. It tells the story of Althea Edison Benedict, a young American student in the Paris of 1910, who awakens to the first stirrings of Divine and of human love. A story about Paris makes me think of a freshly baked baguette stuffed with salty butter and thinly-sliced ham.
This memoir of one of the early believers in my corner of the world, Prince Edward Island, details the struggles and joys of pioneer life. My island is famous for its seafood and potatoes so I’d pair this book with a steaming pot of mussels, corn on the cob, and creamy mashed potatoes.
We’ve read and reread this series of children’s chapter books that explore the everyday (and not so everyday!) adventures of an Australian Baha’i family. The chapter about moderation and strawberries dipped in chocolate is very memorable so there’s no need to conjure up something else to eat alongside these books!
Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum’s biography of Shoghi Effendi is a powerful and moving read. Its title, however, turns my attention to the sea and the times I have gone digging for clams in order to make a hearty chowder with carrots and potatoes.
These are the memoirs of Dr. Youness Afroukhteh who served Abdu’l-Baha as His trusted secretary and interpreter from 1900-1909. When I think of Akka, I think of creamy humus and freshly-baked pita bread.
6. My Pilgrimage to Haifa November 1919 by Bahiyyih Randall Winckler
This is the delightful story of a twelve-year-old girl who went with her parents in November 1919 to Haifa to visit Abdu’l-Baha. Naturally, one of the things she finds very different is the food served and she has a funny encounter with dates — an equally sweet treat to enjoy while reading this delectable book for young readers.
This incredible book provides a unique and intriguing insight into the lives and circumstances of the women who played important yet unseen roles in shaping the early history of the Babi and Baha’i religions. This book is a treasure! Perhaps it is too literal of a meal but when I think of this title, my mouth waters for grape leaves stuffed with spiced rice and beef.
This book for children takes Tim to a stable where he meets three old horses who each tell him their tales: the red roan who carried Baha’u’llah from Baghdad to the shores of the Black Sea, the wild stallion ridden by the Bab and the steed of Mulla Husayn. Horses love oats and this book brings me back to when a lovely Baha’i lady in my community would make me oatmeal with apples, raisins, cinnamon and brown sugar.
One of my favourite stories about Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum takes place when Abdu’l-Baha was staying in her family home in Montreal. While he was resting, she pried open His eyes, telling Him to wake up! Abdu’l-Baha hugged her and the two of them had a wonderful nap. Naturally, when I think of Montreal I think of warm chewy bagels sprinkled with sesame seeds and filled with cream cheese and lox.
This book, among other gems, contains the spoken chronicles of the ladies in the house of Abdu’l-Baha. What I remember is that often pilau was served in His household–large, steaming platters of it. My favourite pilau is a sweet rice that my mother-in-law makes. It includes dried fruits, nuts and sumptuous butter.
The prose of this novel that retells the story of Tahirih is so exquisite I wish I could eat the words themselves, but failing that I would pair this book with my favourite Persian dishes: khoresh bademjan, ghormeh sabzi and tachin joojeh. A feast of food for a feast of words!
A friend once told me that answers to most questions related to the history of the Faith can be found in God Passes By, Shoghi Effendi’s seminal history. Its sentences are positively laden with meaning–no word is superfluous–and the construction of its sentences are a marvel. To me, the ingredient that similarly has everything I’m looking for in terms of flavour? Garlic. So I’d pair this book with spaghettini coasted in garlic butter.
Earl Redman’s collection of encounters with Abdu’l-Baha during His travels is a treasure trove of anecdotes and vignettes — small, sweet morsels of stories. My favourite meal made of many components that are all mixed together at the end? Bibimbap!
William Sears’ retelling of stories from The Dawn-Breakers for junior youth and youth is a revetting read. I know the Babis in these stories displayed great heroism and suffered greatly, including starvation. In thinking of the sun, I’d pair this book with what my kids call “sunshine rice” which is rice with saffron and butter. (There’s a lot of butter on this list.)
This book chronicles the first pilgrimage of western Baha’is to the Holy Land. In thinking about the east and west coming together during this historic pilgrimage, I can’t help but imagine another dish whose opposites combine to make something marvellous: Baked Alaska.
If you’ve made it thus far on the list, here’s a small reward for you in the form of embarrassing information about myself: this book contains pioneer accounts compiled by my grandmother, including letters from my parents who pioneered in Haiti. They describe elements of my babyhood that are perhaps better left forgotten! I don’t know if I remember the tastes of my time spent in Haiti but eating kidney beans and rice with thyme and coconut milk always brings Haiti close to my heart.
This compilation contains selections from Baha’i and other scriptures, poets and thinkers about motherhood. After the arrival of my first born, I had a very unusual craving that would strike in those dark hours of the night when I was awake with my babe: an ice-cream sandwich with a side of apple sauce.
Mighty is a delightful children’s book of stories about Abdu’l-Baha, including a story of a fancy luncheon in the United States. When I conjure up fancy luncheons in the early 1900s, whether historically accurate or not, I think of light soups, like cream of leek with a raspberry coulis drizzled on top.
And that concludes my list of 19 books and meals! What will you eat and read during this fasting period?
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.