For Baha’is, the period between March 2nd and March 20th is a time of restraint and fasting. The preceding period between February 26th and March 1st is called Ayyam-i-ha or the Days Between. Literally, the days that fall between the last two months of the Bahá’í calendar. They are a time for hospitality, charity, gift giving and celebration prior to the Fast.
Regarding fasting Bahá’u’lláh (the Prophet Founder of the Baha’i Faith) stated:
“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 woes and sufferings of the destitute.”
Given this, I thought it might be appropriate to talk about the plight of the poor. Here are some statistics :
- Almost half the world — over 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 day.
- The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the 41 heavily indebted poor countries (567 million people) is less than the wealth of the world’s 7 richest individuals combined.
- Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
- Less than 1% of what the world spends every year on weapons was all that was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen.
- 1 billion children live in poverty (that’s half the children in the world). 640 million live without adequate shelter, 400 million have no access to safe water, 270 million have no access to health services. 10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (or roughly 29,000 children per day).
Abdu’l-Bahá and the poor
About 100 years ago, April 19th 1912, Abdu’l-Bahá (son of Bahá’u’lláh) visited the Bowery Mission for the poor in New York. In a talk the previous day Abdu’l-Bahá said: “I am in love with the poor”. He was looking forward to this visit. Some four hundred Americans, all poor and destitute, were present in the Bowery when he arrived.
He addressed them, with praise and gave them the glad-tidings of the message of Bahá’u'lláh:
“Tonight I am very happy, for I have come here to meet my friends. I consider you my relatives, my companions; and I am your comrade… You must be thankful to God that you are poor, for Jesus Christ has said, ‘Blessed are the poor.” He never said, “Blessed are the rich.’… therefore, you must be thankful to God that although in this world you are indigent, yet the treasures of God are within your reach; and although in the material realm you are poor, yet in the Kingdom of God you are precious…
“He (Jesus) passed His time in the desert, traveling among the poor, and lived upon the herbs of the field. He had no place to lay His head, no home… yet He chose this rather than riches. …. Therefore, you are the disciples of Jesus Christ; you are His comrades, for He outwardly was poor, not rich… You will find many of the wealthy exposed to dangers and troubled by difficulties, and in their last moments upon the bed of death there remains the regret that they must be separated from that to which their hearts are so attached. .. All they possess they must leave behind and pass away solitary, alone…
“Praise be to God! Our hope is in the mercy of God, and there is no doubt that the divine compassion is bestowed upon the poor. Jesus Christ said so; Bahá’u'lláh said so. While Bahá’u'lláh was in Baghdad, still in possession of great wealth, He left all He had and went alone from the city, living two years among the poor. They were His comrades. He ate with them, slept with them and gloried in being one of them. He chose for one of His names the title of The Poor One … He admonished all that we must be the servants of the poor, helpers of the poor, remember the sorrows of the poor, associate with them; for thereby we may inherit the Kingdom of heaven… Therefore, the poor are nearer the threshold of God and His throne. . .
“So, my comrades, you are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Your lives are similar to His life; your attitude is like unto His; you resemble Him more than the rich do. Therefore, we will thank God that we have been so blessed with real riches. And in conclusion, I ask you to accept ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as your servant” .
At the end of this meeting, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stood at the Bowery entrance to the Mission hall, shaking hands with four or five hundred men and placing within each palm a piece of silver.
Ayyam-i-Ha: Time for charity
Nine years ago, during this wonderful festival before the Bahá’í fast, my friend Ian and I were visiting Baltimore. We got to talk to a homeless person who was in the streets next to the aquarium asking for money, not a hand-out but money so that he could shower and get clean. He said that he had an interview at the aquarium the next day for a job. He said he did not drink or take drugs and wanted to get a job and be a productive member of society; while this attitude may be rare, we believed his story. We gave him the money that he needed and wished him well. I wish I could travel back in time to see if he got that job. Here is a picture the two of us.
The Baha’i World Congress in New York
In 1992, the Bahá’ís of the world observed the hundredth anniversary of the passing of Baha’u’llah by holding a World Congress in New York city that drew Bahá’ís from countries around the globe.
During one night of the Congress, my cousin and I were walking in the streets of New York City when we were abruptly stopped by a homeless gentleman who startled us by grabbing my hand. He had seen our registration badges for the congress and recognized us as being from the Bahá’í gathering. He told us that he had passed by the Javits Center (where the congress was held) a few days earlier, and felt a spirit of love that moved him. He had asked for a pamphlet from a bystander, liked what he had read, and wanted to become a Bahá’í.
He could hardly wait to become Bahá’í, he said, and added that he had never before felt such an overwhelming spirit of fellowship. He was beaming with joy and was very excited about the Bahá’í Faith. My cousin and I took him to a restaurant where the man told us the story of how he had become homeless.
His house burned down, he said, and told us that a dog would be treated better than the way he was treated when going to the homeless shelters. We gave him the address of the Bahá’í Center in New York City and some money so he could contact the Bahá’ís there. During the whole evening, I could not help but be reminded of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk at the Bowery in lower Manhattan. My wish since then has been to meet this man again one day and let him know that the energy released from his embrace of the Bahá’í teachings on the oneness of humanity—especially during the World Congress—will no doubt have positive ripple effects for the blessed city of New York and beyond.
He is, as Abdu’l-Bahá said roughly one-hundred years ago, precious.
I’d like to close with a passage from Baha’u’llah:
“Be not troubled in poverty nor confident in riches, for poverty is followed by riches, and riches are followed by poverty. Yet to be poor in all save God is a wondrous gift, belittle not the value thereof, for in the end it will make thee rich in God, and thus thou shalt know the meaning of the utterance, “In truth ye are the poor,” and the holy words, “God is the all-possessing,” shall even as the true morn break forth gloriously resplendent upon the horizon of the lover’s heart, and abide secure on the throne of wealth.”
Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 32)
Baha’u'llah, The Persian Hidden Words
Compilations, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting