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.
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.
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.
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.
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.