Reflections on the Fast

Provides a striking contrast to our everyday life which allows us to observe our accustomed behaviors and discover in what ways we can improve ourselves.

Symbolizes becoming detached spiritually from the things of this world.

Fasting is a symbol. Fasting signifies abstinence from lust. Physical fasting is a symbol of that abstinence, and is a reminder; that is, just as a person abstains from physical appetites, he is to abstain from self-appetites and self-desires. But mere abstention from food has no effect on the spirit. It is only a symbol, a reminder. Otherwise it is of no importance.1

Happy is your condition for you have executed the divine command, and have arisen to fast in these blessed days. For this physical fasting is a symbol of the spiritual fasting, that is, abstaining from all carnal desires, becoming characterized with the attributes of the spiritual ones, attracted to the heavenly fragrances and enkindled with the fire of the love of God.2

Weakens the chains that bind us to the Earth.

… Whate’er thou doest, Prince! Eating or sacrificing, giving gifts, Praying or fasting, let it all be done For Me, as Mine. So shalt thou free thyself From Karmabandh, the chain which holdeth men To good and evil issue, so shalt come Safe unto Me – when thou art quit of flesh – By faith and abdication joined to Me!3

We have found, [the true philosophers] will say, a path of speculation which seems to bring us and the argument to the conclusion that while we are in the body, and while the soul is mingled with this mass of evil, our desire will not be satisfied, and our desire is of the truth. For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and also is liable to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after truth: and by filling us so full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and every sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as people say, so much as a thought. For whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? Whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? For wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and in consequence of all these things the time which ought to be given to philosophy is lost. Moreover, if there is time and an inclination toward philosophy, yet the body introduces a turmoil and confusion and fear into the course of speculation, and hinders us from seeing the truth: and all experience shows that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body, and the soul in herself must behold all things in themselves: then I suppose that we shall attain that which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers, and that is wisdom, not while we live, but after death, as the argument shows; for if while in company with the body the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things seems to follow – either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be in herself alone and without the body. In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible concern or interest in the body, and are not saturated with the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will be cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with other pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere; and this is surely the light of truth. For no impure thing is allowed to approach the pure. These are the sort of words, Simmias, which the true lovers of wisdom cannot help saying to one another, and thinking….

And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the body, as I was saying before; the habit of the soul gathering and collecting herself into herself, out of all the courses of the body; the dwelling in her own place alone, as in another life, so also in this, as far as she can: the release of the soul from the chains of the body….4

Can be a form of healing.

There is but one power which heals – that is God. The state or condition through which the healing takes place is the confidence of the heart. By some this state is reached through pills, powders, and physicians. By others through hygiene, fasting, and prayer. By others through direct perception.5

Is a kind of personal communion with God.

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.6

Teaches self-restraint.

O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint…7

Conduces to mindfulness, and the awakening of consciousness.

Besides all this, prayer and fasting is the cause of awakening and mindfulness and conducive to protection and preservation from tests…8

Demonstrates our eagerness to progress along the Straight Path.

Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning…9

My last request is that you permit no one henceforth to enter my chamber. From now until the time when I shall be summoned to leave this house, let no one be allowed to disturb my devotions. This day I intend to fast – a fast which I shall not break until I am brought face to face with my Beloved.10

Táhirih’s last words to the wife of Kalantar, who was looking after her:

Mullá Alí hastened to his companions and acquainted them with the nature of his conversation with Mullá Husayn. Ablaze with the fire which the account of that conversation had kindled in their hearts, they immediately dispersed, and, seeking the seclusion of their cells, besought, through fasting and prayer, the early removal of the veil that intervened between them and the recognition of their Beloved. They prayed while keeping their vigils:O God, our God! Thee only do we worship, and to Thee do we cry for help. Guide us, we beseech Thee, on the straight Path, O Lord our God! Fulfill what Thou hast promised unto us by Thine Apostles, and put us not to shame on the Day of Resurrection. Verily, Thou wilt not break Thy promise.’11

Is a form of humbling our will before the Will of God.

But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.12

Might be considered as a period of spiritual “gestation” before re-entering the affairs of the world; such as it was common for the Manifestations and others (e.g., Shoghi Effendi) to withdraw from the world for a time before embarking on their missions.

Is a time of mourning the absence of our Beloved.

Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.13

Is a way of relating to the experiences of our Beloved. (I apologize, but I don’t have this reference with me; it is from the book “Fasting: A Bahá’í Handbook”, where `Abdu’l-Bahá talks about the wisdom of fasting).

Establishes a kind of silence in our lives, which betters our inward hearing.

Is the Sun of religion…

And as the sun and moon constitute the brightest and most prominent luminaries in the heavens, similarly in the heaven of the religion of God two shining orbs have been ordained – fasting and prayer. `Islam is heaven; fasting is its sun, prayer, its moon.14

Impresses upon the believer, in a more moderate way, what asceticism would hope to achieve.

Introduces us to a way of life which is different from the ways of this world.

Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours. Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? When thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.15

Sharpens the distinction between that part of us which is carnal, and that which is divine.

Likewise, reflect upon the perfection of man’s creation, and that all these planes and states are folded up and hidden away within him.

Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form When within thee the universe is folded?

Then we must labor to destroy the animal condition, till the meaning of humanity shall come to light.16

By removing the most immediate forms of self-gratification, it gives us pause to consider exactly what this world has to offer. For example, perhaps we are like a drowsy bird asleep in his cage. Each time we come close to wakening, and hence to realizing the horror of our imprisonment, we are lulled to sleep by the complacency of material satisfaction. By removing the narcotic effect of material balsams, in a sense, we permit the mist to clear, and waken to the realization of our own selves.

Empowers us, by demonstrating quite palpably that our will is capable of overcoming our physical concupiscence.

Offers a view of the world, and a state of mind, which, like prayer, is unique among the experiences of life. In what other avenue of life do we experience the same feelings as we do when we’re fasting? It introduces us to a way of living that is not common, and thus implies that the ordinary mode of survival is not the only kind of life there is.

Makes very real to us the influence our physical lust has over our wills, and how much of our daily plans are devoted to material considerations.

Like prayer, it is a very real, concrete sensation, and so can become a powerful focal point of meditation. Mere ideas have a chance to become forgotten, but physical experiences obtrude on our consciousness.

Causes us to be grateful that it lasts for only a fixed time! And thus we realize God’s mercy, and the Hidden Word:

O Son of Being! If poverty overtake thee, be not sad; for in time the Lord of wealth shall visit thee. Fear not abasement, for glory shall one day rest on thee.17

That is, the fact that we are permitted to break the fast is perhaps symbolic that times of deprivation will always be followed by reunion.

Increases our awareness of the sufferings of others; not only their material privations, but their lack of familiarity with the Beloved. After all, a condition of thirst and hunger describes the situation of someone who has not yet been introduced to the Table of Bounty. In this way, it may underscore the primary role of teaching in our service to the world.

Reminds us that the spiritual life requires attention and effort, and that if instead we relax ourselves entirely, we shall sink inescapably into oblivion.

Ye are even as the bird which soareth, with the full force of its mighty wings and with complete and joyous confidence, through the immensity of the heavens, until, impelled to satisfy its hunger, it turneth longingly to the water and clay of the earth below it, and, having been entrapped in the mesh of its desire, findeth itself impotent to resume its flight to the realms whence it came. Powerless to shake off the burden weighing on its sullied wings, that bird, hitherto an inmate of the heavens, is now forced to seek a dwelling-place upon the dust. Wherefore, O My servants, defile not your wings with the clay of waywardness and vain desires, and suffer them not to be stained with the dust of envy and hate, that ye may not be hindered from soaring in the heavens of My divine knowledge.18

Underscores the fact that true growth requires a certain degree of pain, while the rewards far outweigh the cost! We should pursue our spiritual course with alacrity, even if at times the flesh may be unwilling.

The steed of this Valley is pain; and if there be no pain this journey will never end. In this station the lover hath no thought save the Beloved, and seeketh no refuge save the Friend. At every moment he offereth a hundred lives in the path of the Loved One, at every step he throweth a thousand heads at the feet of the Beloved.

O My Brother! Until thou enter the Egypt of love, thou shalt never come to the Joseph of the Beauty of the Friend; and until, like Jacob, thou forsake thine outward eyes, thou shalt never open the eye of thine inward being; and until thou burn with the fire of love, thou shalt never commune with the Lover of Longing.19

Causes those with means to understand the suffering of the destitute:

All praise be unto God, Who hath revealed the law of obligatory prayer as a reminder to His servants, and enjoined on them the Fast that those possessed of means may become apprised of the owes and sufferings of the destitute.20

It leaves us with nothing to suffice us but God.

Rid thou thyself of all attachments to aught except God, enrich thyself in God by dispensing with all else besides Him, and recite this prayer:

Say: God sufficeth all things above all things, and nothing in the heavens or in the earth or in whatever lieth between them but God, thy Lord, sufficeth. Verily, He is in Himself the Knower, the Sustainer, the Omnipotent.

Regard not the all-sufficing power of God as an idle fancy. It is that genuine faith which thou cherishest for the Manifestation of God in every Dispensation. It is such faith which sufficeth above all the things that exist on the earth, whereas no created thing on earth besides faith would suffice thee. If thou art not a believer, the Tree of divine Truth would condemn thee to extinction. If thou art a believer, thy faith shall be sufficient for thee above all things that exist on earth, even though thou possess nothing.21

During the time of fasting, the spiritual takes on the ascendant in our lives; in this way it may symbolize the “Divine Springtime”: the period of the Manifestation’s presence amongst us. The force of that Presence perpetuates throughout the rest of His Cycle, but the time of its Dawning is especially blessed. The fast perhaps is a symbolic remembrance of that time, and hence our joy and our desire to spend time with Him would outweigh all material considerations.

O My friend, listen with heart and soul to the songs of the spirit, and treasure them as thine own eyes. For the heavenly wisdoms, like the clouds of spring, will not rain down on the earth of men’s hearts forever; and though the grace of the All-Bounteous One is never stilled and never ceasing, yet to each time and era a portion is allotted and a bounty set apart, this in a given measure. ‘And no one thing is there, but with Us are its storehouses; and We send it not down but in settled measure.’ The cloud of the Loved One’s mercy raineth only on the garden of the spirit, and bestoweth this bounty only in the season of spring. The other seasons have no share in this greatest grace, and barren lands no portion of this favor.22

O Son of Justice! Whither can a lover go but to the land of his beloved? and what seeker findeth rest away from his heart’s desire? To the true lover reunion is life, and separation is death. His breast is void of patience and his heart hath no peace. A myriad lives he would forsake to hasten to the abode of his beloved.23

Consider these nightingales. So great is their love for these roses, that sleepless from dusk till dawn, they warble their melodies and commune with burning passion with the object of their adoration. How then can those who claim to be afire with the rose-like beauty of the Beloved choose to sleep?24

  1. Esselmont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 171↩︎

  2. Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets ofAbdu’l-Bahá, p. 40↩︎

  3. Bhagavad-Gita, chapter 9↩︎

  4. Plato, from the Phaedo↩︎

  5. Abdu'l-Bahá,Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 95↩︎

  6. New Testament, Matthew, 6:16-18↩︎

  7. Qur’án, 2:183↩︎

  8. Bahá’í World Faith, p. 368↩︎

  9. Bible, Joel 2:12↩︎

  10. Nabil, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 623↩︎

  11. Nabíl, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 68↩︎

  12. Bible, Psalms 35:13↩︎

  13. Bible, Matthew 9:14-15↩︎

  14. Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 40↩︎

  15. Bible, Isaiah 58:3-8↩︎

  16. Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys, p. 34↩︎

  17. Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words, Arabic 53↩︎

  18. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 327↩︎

  19. Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys, pp. 8-9↩︎

  20. Bahá’u’lláh, from the compilation on Obligatory Prayer and Fasting↩︎

  21. Báb, Selections from the Writings of, p. 123↩︎

  22. Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys, p. 38↩︎

  23. Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words, p. 23↩︎

  24. Bahá’u’lláh, quoted in God Passes By, p. 153↩︎