FRIDAY, MARCH 2: While many Christians around the world are fasting for Lent, Baha’is begin fasting today, too—for the last month of their calendar year, in a ritual known as the Fast of Ala.
Compared with Christian fasting, the Baha’i restrictions are more severe. For one 19-day month in the Baha’i calendar, observant Baha’is refrain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunse. Unlike the moveable Christian fast of Lent or Muslim fast of Ramadan, the Baha’i Fast of Ala has a fixed date—March 2-20—each year. Due to the nature of the Baha’i religious calendar, daylight during fasting days is almost precisely 12 hours. (Learn more at Bahai.org. And, for more on the nature of the Baha’i calendar, read our own story on the recent Baha’i Intercalary Days.)
The Fast of Ala was initiated by the Bab himself (whose ministry lasted from 1844 through 1853) and accepted by Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith. Baha’u’llah named the fast among the most vital of religious obligations. The focus of the fast is a renewal of love for and commitment to God, which Baha’is say is accomplished through devoting more of each fasting day to prayer and contemplation of the faith. Alternately known as the Nineteen-Day Fast, the Fast of Ala spans one of the Baha’i months—each of which contains 19 days. (Wikipedia has details.) As soon as the fast month ends, Baha’is celebrate Naw-Ruz, the Persian New Year.
Baha’is recently showcased their faith alongside representatives from eight other religions, for a reception marking the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Representatives of Baha’is in the UK displayed sacred objects of their faith: a robe worn by Abdu’l-Baha during his travels to Egypt and the West, along with the framed words of Abdu’l-Baha’s first public speech—which happened to be delivered in London, in 1911. (For more details, check out a story from the Baha’i News Service.)
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.