Ayyam-i-Ha is a Baha’i festival that is joyously celebrated in countries and territories all over the world. It is a time of hospitality, generosity, and caring for the needy. This year Ayyam-i-Ha runs from February 26-29.
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.
The Baha’i Fast has 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”.
Naysan is passionate about using the arts and media to explore the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. Back in 2011, Naysan started up the Baha’i Blog project, channeling his experiences in both media and technology companies to help create a hub for Baha’i-inspired content online.