Fasting has been a significant practice of religion throughout human history. Many of the Manifestations of God Themselves went through a period of meditation and fasting at some point in Their lives during which, in intense communion with God, They contemplated the mysteries of the universe and the nature of Their mission.
Fasting, said ‘Abdu’l-Bahá “is the cause of awakening man. The heart becomes tender and the spirituality of man increases. This is produced by the fact that man’s thoughts will be confined to the commemoration of God, and through this awakening and stimulation surely ideal advancements follow”.1
However, it is important to note that fasting should not be viewed as a practice of asceticism, nor is it to be used as a means of penance: “[T]his material fast is an outer token of the spiritual fast; it is a symbol of self-restraint, the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven and catching fire from the love of God.”2
Bahá’u’lláh designated a nineteen-day period each year during which adult Bahá’ís fast from sunrise to sunset each day. This period coincides with the Bahá’í month of Alá—meaning Loftiness—from 2 to 20 March, which immediately precedes the Bahá’í new year. It is a time of prayer, meditation, and spiritual rejuvenation.
A number of special prayers have been revealed specifically for the period of the fast. One, for example, begins with these words:
“This is, O my God, the first of the days on which Thou hast bidden Thy loved ones to observe the Fast. I ask of Thee by Thy Self and by him who hath fasted out of love for Thee and for Thy good-pleasure—and not out of self and desire, nor out of fear of Thy wrath—and by Thy most excellent names and august attributes, to purify Thy servants from the love of aught except Thee and to draw them nigh unto the Dawning-Place of the lights of Thy countenance and the Seat of the throne of Thy oneness. Illumine their hearts, O my God, with the light of Thy knowledge and brighten their faces with the rays of the Daystar that shineth from the horizon of Thy Will.”3