Quaker Universalist Conversations

Fasting from a Christian, Muslim and Bahai Perspective

By Anthony Manousos

Rachel’s blog on fasting and Lent has prompted some responses from readers that I would like to address. First, a Muslim reader noted that Lent and Ramadan seem very similar. While both involve fasting, there are also profound differences between these two religious holidays. Ramadan is celebratory and joyous since it is the month when God revealed the Holy Quran to the Prophet Mohammad—an event comparable to the birth of Christ.  Lent, on the other hand, is a time of “repentance,” recalling Christ’s period of temptation in the wilderness. During the 40 days of Lent, Christians are supposed to look inward and confront their demons—whether it be an addiction to chocolate or ice cream, or something far more sinister, like judgmentalism, sloth, anger or a lack of compassion. For Christians, the joy doesn’t come until Easter, when Lent ends and Christ is resurrected.

Another friend who is progressive Christian noted that the best way to “fast” is not to abstain from food, but to do good works, particularly to work for peace and justice.  His words recall the prophet Isaiah 58-6:

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?

Christians are not the only religious group fasting at this time. The Bahá’ís began their yearly fast on March 2.  Bahá’í is a monotheistic religion, like Islam, founded in 19th century Persia by Bahá’u‘lláh. During thier holy month, Bahá’ís abstain from food and water from sunrise to sunset each day  in order to focus their minds on spiritual matters.  

Like Quakers, Bahá’ís  believe in world peace, gender and racial equality, and progressive revelation. And like early Quakers, they have faced (and continue to face) severe persecution. 

It is worth reflecting on what two of the great spiritual leaders of the Bahá’í faith have written about fasting:

“The fasting period, which lasts nineteen days starting as a rule from the second of March every year and ending on the twentieth of the same month, involves complete abstention from food and drink from sunrise till sunset. It is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character. Fasting is symbolic, and a reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires.”1

Fasting 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… Fasting is of two kinds, material and spiritual. The material fasting is abstaining from food or drink, that is, from the appetites of the body. But spiritual, ideal fasting is this, that man abstain from selfish passions, from negligence and from satanic animal traits. Therefore, material fasting is a token of the spiritual fasting. That is: `O God! As I am fasting from the appetites of the body and not occupied with eating and drinking, even so purify and make holy my heart and my life from aught else save Thy Love, and protect and preserve my soul from self-passions… Thus may the spirit associate with the Fragrances of Holiness and fast from everything else save Thy mention.’2

  1. Shoghi Effendi, Directives of the Guardian (New Delhi: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1973), pp. 27-28. `
  2. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, vol. 3, p. 305.

For more, see http://info.bahai.org/article-1-4-7-2.html




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