Intercalary Days and the Nineteen-Day Fast: Baha’is celebrate unity, fast

White walkway, open-air, with poles and blue shutters overlooking gardens below

A walkway and gardens at the Mansion of Bahji, now a shrine in the Baha’i faith and located in Israel. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

  • SUNSET MONDAY, FEBRUARY 25: Baha’is begin a period of special, “outside of time” days to correct their annual calendar.
  • SUNSET FRIDAY, MARCH 1: Baha’is begin the 19-day month of Ala, which is a fasting month in preparation for the Baha’i New year.

AYYAM-I-HA (DAYS OF HA)

Sacred days “outside of time” begin for members of the Baha’i faith as the festival of Ayyam-i-Ha, or Intercalary Days, commences. Until sunset on March 1, Baha’is mark a break in their 19-month calendar: the “extra days” are used to bring awareness to God’s oneness, along with a focus on charity and unity.

Ayyam-i-Ha—literally, the Days of Ha—plays on a double meaning of “Ha”: Ha, the first letter of an Arabic pronoun commonly used to refer to God, is used as a symbol of the essence of God in Baha’i writings; the Arabic abjad system designates the letter Ha as having a numerical value of five, which has always been the maximum number of days allowed for the period of Ayyam-i-Ha.

Baha’u’llah designated that Ayyam-i-Ha should be filled with “good cheer” and “joy and exultation”—for Baha’is, their kindred and for recipients of the Baha’is’ charity.

Important update! As of March 20, 2015, the Baha’i calendar has reflected changes made by the Universal House of Justice: Naw-Ruz (New Year) now falls on the Vernal Equinox, as opposed to being fixed on the Gregorian March 21.

When the Bab began creating a calendar for the new Babi religion in the 1840s, intercalation (which is not practiced in Islam) was implemented to differentiate it from the existing Islamic calendar. When the Bab did not specify where the Intercalary Days should be inserted, Baha’u’llah—the one foretold of by the Bab—designated that they should be placed before the fasting month of Ala. Today, Baha’is still observe the Nineteen-Day Fast throughout the entire month of Ala. A New Year begins the day after Ala ends.

THE NINETEEN-DAY FAST

 With the festive days of Ayyim-i-Ha behind, Baha’is enter the final month of the calendar year with the Nineteen-Day Fast. For the entire final month of the Baha’i calendar year—Ala, which lasts 19 days—Baha’is observe a sunrise-to-sunset fast. Many Baha’is regard the Nineteen-Day Fast as one of the greatest obligations of their faith.

Instituted by the Bab and revised by Baha’u’llah, the Nineteen-Day Fast is intended to bring a person closer to God. According to the Bab, the true purpose of the fast is to abstain from everything except divine love. Fasting guidelines, exemptions and more are in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’u’llah’s book of laws.

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