He who has fasted for Allah, the Glorious and Mighty, and is in the discomfort of heat and struck by thirst, will have his face wiped and be given the good news by a thousand angels whom Allah has entrusted to him until he breaks his fast; at that point Allah will say: “How sweet is your odor and your soul. Oh angels witness that I have forgiven him.”
(Imam Ja’far al Sadiq, as compiled in Leaves from a Sufi Journal)
There are a lot of articles written during Ramadan about what Ramadan means, about what we as Muslims should be “getting out” of Ramadan, what the benefits of Ramadan should be. But I think that these sorts of articles miss the point of ibadat. What does ibadat actually mean? The word connotes worship with submission – not just prayer, but acts of piety in which we submit ourselves to Allah. In a more technical sense, ibadat is the liturgical aspect of orthopraxy – physical actions that are prescribed by the faith. The purpose of ibadat first and foremost is to Do.
Fasting is the singular act of ibadat that truly defines Ramadan. And there are certainly no shortage of analyses as to its effect – medical literature, Qur’an verses, poets, bloggers – fasting is such a distinctive ibadat that it is natural to want to understand it. All of these things boil down to “why should I bother?” But in truth – fasting is in a way an end in and of itself. The reason we fast is because we are commanded to. We entrust to Allah that there is a reason and that there are benefits and we are eager to seek and learn what those are. But that is not the reason we fast. We fast because we submit to Allah, as Allah commands (2:185). That submission is ibadat.
The other great pillar of Ramadan is the Qur’an. In a very real sense, the Qur’an is the foundation of ibadat in Ramadan. Reading a translation of the Qur’an is useful for attaining insight into what the Qur’an teaches, and makes the message more accessible at a basic level to everyone. However, the Qur’an is not just a text containing information to be consumed or processed. It is also a divine revelation in a language chosen by Allah. There is simply no substitute for reading the Qur’an in Arabic, regardless of your comprehension. Sitting with the Qur’an and reading it aloud in the original Arabic is ibadat – you submit yourself fully to the rhythm and the music of the verses, as laid down by the Creator, exactly as given to the Prophet, during that first Ramadan. You needn’t be a master of the art of reciting Qur’an (Tajweed) like Husary – you can learn how to read Qur’an in Arabic quite quickly – there are even apps for Android and iOS
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to understand our faith or seeking meaning. But that is secondary. Ibadat is its own reward.
Know that the goal in fasting is for the veil of appetite and anger to be lifted from the heart’s eye so that the heart may see the mystery of the dominion of heaven and earth.
(The Easy Roads of Sayf al-Din, as translated by William Chittick in Faith and Practice in Islam)
Fasting leads to non-existence, for, after all, the joys are there. God is with those who patiently persevere (2:249)
(Jalaluddin Rumi, compilation The Essential Rumi)