Baha'is, like Muslims, dedicate one month a year to fasting. This is a time to set aside material concerns and refocus on spirituality through meditation and prayer. For Baha'is, this month is known as Ala and is the last month of year, stretching from March 2 to March 20. March 21 is Naw-Ruz, the Persian New Year, and is a day of celebration after nineteen days of fasting.
The Baha'i calendar consists of nineteen months of nineteen days, with either four or five (depending on whether it is a leap year) Intercalary Days between the eighteenth and nineteenth months. The Intercalary Days are used for spiritual preparation before the fast, which commonly includes hospitality, charity and gift-giving, for:
It behoveth the people of Baha, throughout these days, to provide good cheer for themselves, their kindred and, beyond them, the poor and needy. (Baha'u'llah, Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 25)
Timing of the Fast:
During the month of Ala, Baha'is are to avoid all eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset. In Islam, this period of time can be as much as 18 hours, depending on when in the year the fast falls. The Baha'is, however, use a solar calendar. As such, the month of Ala falls on the same days every year, just before the spring equinox (i.e. Naw-Ruz), when daylight is almost exactly 12 hours long everywhere on the planet.
Exemptions from The Fast:
While the fast is a struggle against the desire of sustenance, it is not meant to threaten a believer's health. To that end, Baha'u'llah excuses the following from fasting:
- Youth – the fast is taken up at the "age of maturity," which is set at fifteen.
- The elderly, recognized as those over the age of seventy.
- Those who are ill (Indeed, the ill are specifically forbidden to fast because of the inherent health risks)
- Women who are nursing or pregnant
- Women who are menstruating, so long as they repeat a specific verse ninety-five times a day and perform the proper ablutions.
- Those engaged in hard labor, although "it is most commendable and fitting to eat with frugality and in private." (Baha'u'llah, Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 129)
- Travelers (As defined by moving more than two hours on foot or nine hours by other means.)