On Fasting: some answered questions

Tomorrow is the last day of the Baha’i fast.

For nineteen days, Baha’is all over the world have been abstaining from food and drink between dawn and sunset.  And, for nineteen days, random people all over the world who have never encountered someone who fasted before have asked lots of questions, frequently starting with “why the heck would you do that!?!”

These are the questions I often get, and my answers to them.

I have no idea what kind of photos to use, so pretty ones of NZ would have to do

1. Why the heck would you do that?

First, because participating in the fast is part of my faith.  As part of being a Baha’i, we are asked to act in a certain way, and uphold certain principals.  I firmly believe that everything that God requires of us has a specific purpose, and is absolutely necessary.  Sometimes we, as people, can understand the purpose, but sometimes the laws of God don’t immediately makes sense, and we just have to trust that they are right.  That’s faith.

The fast is something I can completely understand and accept without any leaps of faith.  Fasting may seem odd, archaic even, in a society that is centred around abundance and instant gratification, but I think it reveals so much that needs adjusting in our societies dominant mindset.

For me, fasting is an escape from our society: a reminder that the fetters of conspicuous consumption, of luxury induced apathy, can, and should, be broken.   It reminds me not to be dependent on material happiness.

Fasting allows me to break all the habits and routines I get into.  Eating can be such a habit, and when you remove it you also start to assess all of your other habits: the time you waste on the internet and watching TV, how easy it is to fall into being discourteous to the people you interact with on a daily basis, the things you do that aren’t actually important to you.  I find myself re-focusing on the important things, cleaning my house, and cleaning my life.  My whole life become physically and spiritually refreshed.  No amount of money can buy that.

Hawkes Bay NZ, 2003

2. Is it hard?

Yes, and no.  After the first day, it really isn’t hard not to eat and drink for 12+ hours.  I do get a bit fuzzy and peckish around the 4pm mark.  For me, the hard part is the lack of sleep: getting up before dawn is early .  Sometimes I would rather skip breakfast than wake up at that time!

The other hard part is habit.  If I garden while fasting I find myself picking berries and lettuce leaves to pop in my mouth without thinking.  When I cook, I dip spoons to taste, and have to stop with the spoon halfway to my mouth.  I realise how much I really eat without intending to.

Cows eat grass, Waipoua, Northland, NZ, 2003

3. Isn’t it bad for you?

No.  There are also health checks on the fast: you shouldn’t do it if you are under 15, or over 70, or pregnant, menstruating, doing heavy labour, traveling, or ill.  It’s very sensible.

I have a check up with my doctor and a discussion about the fast every year before I do it.  Some years, due to health reasons, I have to do a modified fast where I drink during the day, and sometimes have a bit of fruit.

There are no specific instructions of what you should do if your health prevents you from fasting, but I still feel you should follow the spirit of the fast as much as your health permits.

Pretty ponds, Hawke's Bay, NZ, 2003

4. Are you glad it is over?

Yes, and no.  It will be nice not to have to wake up early, and it will be nice to eat, but I’ll also miss the specialness, and I’ll miss the comradeship: the dinners with other Baha’is to break the fast in the evening, and the jokes about food and weight loss.  It’s a wonderful time of year, but it wouldn’t be so special if it didn’t come for just this 19 days.

Swans on the pretty pond, Hawke's Bay, NZ, 2003


  1. Wow! You do a hard fast. Being Catholic, we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. During Lent, we fast on Fridays quite often. The kind of fast we usually do is only eating one meal (The meal can be spread throughout the day). But there are several other ways we are allowed to fast.

    I have poor health, though, so I usually only eat things I dislike on fast days. And I don’t gorge myself, lol.

    I didn’t know Baha’i people (I don’t know exactly how to word it…. Baha’is? LOL) fasted.
    So do you fast every day for 19 days? Or do you have breaks in between?

    • Baha’is is indeed the collective noun for followers of the Baha’i Faith. 🙂

      Unless something happens to make fast inadvisable (my parents, for example, are farmers, and don’t fast on Wednesdays, because they do so much heavy labour on that day) most Baha’is fast for the full 19 days. Of course you get to eat before dawn and after sunset on each day, so it’s only 13ish hours a day. I’d actually find it much harder to do just a few days of fasting, because after the first few your body gets used to it and it is really easy.

      A lot of people ask if I stay up all night eating, but you really can’t. Your stomach shrinks, so only a small amount of food satisfies you, and you are too tired to stay awake. Last night I had to struggle not to go to bed at 9pm on a Friday!

  2. I think it speaks to the power of fasting as a religious discipline that it cuts across so many faiths–as a Christian, though we don’t have proscribed days of fasting, I find a lot of satisfaction from Lenten deprivation (though most denominations don’t require a specific fast, I’m planning a Holy Week fast this year). Putting aside our own bodily concerns lets us look beyond ourselves–and put our faith in something bigger than chocolate 🙂 Thanks for sharing your reflections and perspective!

  3. Great post! I was also thinking of posting something on the fast. I’m glad you did, it was much more informative than I would have done and, of course it’s always good to be reminded 😉

  4. David says

    This is a very well done post on the 19 day Fast Baha’is follow each year. I also have to do a modified fast because I have a slight problem with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Thus, I need to take in fluids during the day and have to drink water to keep my digestive tract lubricated. But in compensation for this modification, I endeavor to spend more time reading and meditating on the Baha’i Writings and in time of prayer. The Fast, after all, is only a symbol, and it is the spiritual attributes that we are to develop.

  5. Lynne says

    Thank you for the insight. A time to focus, and to join with others in that experience – that must be a good feeling.

  6. Lovely thoughts, thanks for sharing!

    Mormons fast the first Sunday of every month, though as I’ve been pregnant or breastfeeding for most of the last four years I haven’t fasted fully more than once or twice in that time. I try to keep the spirit of the fast though, avoiding everything that’s not necessary – like chocolate 😉

  7. Please excuse my ignorance. I have never heard of Baha’i. Is it Hawaiian or New Zealand? Were you born into the faith or converted? I’d love to hear more about it since I literally know nothing!

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