SUNSET FRIDAY, MARCH 1: As many Christians continue their traditions of Lenten fasting, Baha’is begin their own spiritual cleansing period during the final month of their calendar year—known as the Nineteen-Day Fast. Through March 20, Baha’is worldwide fast from all food and drink between sunrise and sunset in efforts to grow closer with God. (Wikipedia has details.)
Baha’is have a distinctive spiritual focus in their fasting: Setting aside a time for the believer’s own reflection. Baha’u’llah even stated that he preferred that fasting vows be “directed to such objectives as will profit mankind.” (Learn more at Bahai.us.) During the Nineteen-Day Fast, adherents meditate and pray, spiritually refreshing themselves for the coming Naw-Ruz (New Year).
The Bab—a central figure in the founding of the Baha’i faith—instituted the Baha’i calendar that is still in use today, dedicating the final month to fasting. He preached that the true significance of the fast was to focus not against food, but rather on nothing except for the love of the Messengers of God. (Baha’is hold that several leaders across a spectrum of religions are Messengers of God, from Buddha to Jesus to Muhammad.)
Non-exempt devotees between age 15 and 70 fast for 19 days; the fast is often broken in the company of other Baha’is, at sunset. (Read reflections at Bahai.us.)