Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has commanded that Muslims fulfill certain commandments throughout the course of their lives, exemplified in the five pillars of Islam. These have been prescribed daily, such as the Salaah (Prayers), and annually, such as the Zakaah (Compulsory Charity) and the Sawm (Fast) of Ramadan, or as little as once in a person’s life, such as the Hajj (Pilgrimage to Makkah-al-Mukarramah). There are many other acts of worship prescribed in Islam other than these five pillars, some of which are obligatory and others of which are voluntary, their performance left to a Muslim’s discretion.
Though there is a ritual connected with these acts of worship, they should not be mistaken for ritualism or regimentation. Acts of worship must be done with full awareness of what one is doing and awareness of the presence of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). Actions performed mechanically or as habits produce only automatons and do not facilitate spiritual growth.
لَيْسَ الْبِرَّ أَنْ تُوَلُّوا وُجُوهَكُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَالْمَغْرِبِ وَلَكِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَالْمَلَائِكَةِ وَالْكِتَابِ وَالنَّبِيِّينَ وَآتَى الْمَالَ عَلَى حُبِّهِ ذَوِي الْقُرْبَى وَالْيَتَامَى وَالْمَسَاكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَالسَّائِلِينَ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَأَقَامَ الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَى الزَّكَاةَ وَالْمُوفُونَ بِعَهْدِهِمْ إِذَا عَاهَدُوا وَالصَّابِرِينَ فِي الْبَأْسَاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ وَحِينَ الْبَأْسِ أُولَئِكَ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْمُتَّقُونَ [البقرة: 177]
“Righteousness is not (merely) that you turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteousness is that one believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book and the Prophets, and gives wealth, despite (his) love for it, to relatives, and to orphans, the helpless, the wayfarer, and to those who ask, and (spends) in (freeing) slaves and observes the Salaah (Prayers) and pays Zakaah and (the act of) those who fulfill their covenant when they enter into a covenant, and, of course, those who are patient in hardship and suffering and when in battle! Those are the ones who are truthful, and those are the pious (Allah-fearing).” (Al-Baqarah 2:177)
The Purpose and Benefit of Worship
Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) is not in need of our worship. Worship has been legislated in Islam and all other previous religions for the benefit of humanity, both in the individual and societal sense. Worship is essential for the maintenance of spirituality in the life of Muslims and its growth. Formal worship trains the individual to love his Creator and to develop constant awareness of Him. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) says:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اعْبُدُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ [البقرة: 21]
“O people! Worship your Lord who created you and those before you, so that you may become pious (Allah-fearing).” (Al-Baqarah 2:21)
Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) also said to Prophet Hadhrat Moosaa (Moses):
وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ لِذِكْرِي [طه: 14]
“….Establish Salaah for My remembrance.” (TaaHaa 20:14)
Acts of worship serve as a means through which one remembers Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) and maintains a relationship with Him. Muslims offer Salaah a minimum of five times daily in order to maintain this relationship. When a Believer supplicates, implores, praises Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), recites Aayaat (Verses) from His revelation, the Quraan, along with other forms of worship throughout the day, they will gain the sense that the Power and Knowledge of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) is present with them at all times, leading them to this sense of Allah-consciousness.
Worship also creates a strong sense within a Believer to remove the evil within himself and in the community and environment and to establish the word of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) throughout the world. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) says:
إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ تَنْهَى عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنْكَرِ [العنكبوت: 45]
“Surely, Salaah restrains one from shameful and evil acts.” (Al-‘Ankaboot 29:45)
Again, when a person spends his day performing specific acts of worship, they are constantly reminded of the purpose of life and their final end, and this in turn helps them to accord their lives to the Will of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), doing what He is pleased with and avoiding what He dislikes.
One can clearly see the impact worship has on a collective level. Society is merely a conglomeration of individuals, and when individuals are spiritually and morally upright, the society itself will also be upright. Ideally, the society will be one which feels that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) is ever-watching over them; one to which beneficent acts of kindness will be an inseparable adjective, and sin and vice will be confined and limited.
Although it may seem to some that worship and obedience to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) is similar to imprisonment and slavery, the worship of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) and servitude to Him actually liberates humans from all types of subjugation. A person breaks / frees from the chains of society, peers, and family, and liberates him to please His One True Lord. This is true freedom that brings about security and contentment. Servitude to Allh (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) is ultimate source of freedom.
The Comprehensiveness of Worship
As mentioned earlier, the definition of worship in Islam is one which is comprehensive, including everything a person perceives, thinks, intends, feels, says and does. It refers to everything that Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) requires, external, internal or interactive. This includes rituals as well as beliefs, work, social activities, and personal behavior.
There is a distinction between that which is good, that which is evil and that which is neutral. A good thing is that which is according to the purposes and nature made by Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). It leads to harmony and is, therefore, a reward in itself because it removes conflict and suffering. It follows that anything that accords with this must be a form of worship.
This Islamic understanding of worship allows the whole of one’s life to be an act of worship, as long as the objective of that life is the pleasure of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), which is achieved by doing good and refraining from evil. A person can turn everyday activities into acts of worship by purifying his or her intention and sincerely seeking Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s pleasure through these activities. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s Messenger (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe Wasallam), Hadhrat Muhammah, said:
وَتُعِينُ الرَّجُلَ فِي دَابَّتِهِ فَتَحْمِلُهُ عَلَيْهَا أَوْ تَرْفَعُ لَهُ عَلَيْهَا مَتَاعَهُ صَدَقَةٌ، وَالْكَلِمَةُ الطَّيِّبَةُ صَدَقَةٌ، وَبِكُلِّ خُطْوَةٍ تَمْشِيهَا إلَى الصَّلَاةِ صَدَقَةٌ، وَتُمِيطُ الْأَذَى عَنْ الطَّرِيقِ صَدَقَةٌ
“To help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it, is a charity. And the good word is a charity. And every step that you take towards the Salaah (Prayer) is a charity, and removing a harmful object from the road is a charity.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Even the most natural and minor acts can become acts of worship if they are accompanied by the proper intention. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s Messenger (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe Wasallam) said:
وَإِنَّكَ لَنْ تُنْفِقَ نَفَقَةً إِلاَّ أُجِرْتَ فِيهَا حَتَّى اللُّقْمَةَ تَرْفَعُهَا إِلَى فِي امْرَأَتِكَ
“Indeed you do not do any spending (on your family) except that you are rewarded for it, even the morsel of food you raise to your wife’s mouth.” (Bukhari)
The same can be said for of eating, sleeping, working and traits of good character, such as truthfulness, honesty, generosity, courage, and humbleness, can become worship through sincere intention and deliberate obedience to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa).
In order for these otherwise mundane actions to be counted as acts of worship deserving of divine reward, the following conditions must be met:
A. The action must be accompanied by the proper intention i.e. to please Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) alone. The Prophet (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam) said:
إنَّمَا الْأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ، وَإِنَّمَا لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى
“Actions are according to intentions, and everyone will get what was intended.” (Bukhari)
B. The action must be lawful in and of itself. If the action is something prohibited, its perpetrator deserves punishment. The Messenger (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam) said:
أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ طَيِّبٌ لَا يَقْبَلُ إِلَّا طَيِّبًا
“O people! Allah is pure and He only accepts what is pure.” (Muslim)
C. The dictates of Islamic Law must be completely observed. Deception, oppression, and iniquity must be avoided. The Messenger (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam) said:
مَنْ غَشَّنَا فَلَيْسَ مِنَّا
“Whoever deceives us is not one of us.” (Muslim)
D. The activity should not keep the person away from performing his or her religious obligations. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) says:
ٱلَّذِینَ ءَامَنُوا۟ لَا تُلۡهِكُمۡ أَمۡوَ ٰلُكُمۡ وَلَاۤ أَوۡلَـٰدُكُمۡ عَن ذِكۡرِ ٱللَّهِۚ
“O you who believe! Your riches and your children must not divert you from the remembrance of Allah.” (Al-Munaafiqoon 63:9)
E. Most important is that the activity should be in conformity of the Sunnah (Tadition/method/way) of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)’s beloved Prophet Muhammad (SallAllaho ‘Alaihe WaSallam).
Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) says:
وَمَا آتَاكُمُ الرَّسُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَهَاكُمْ عَنْهُ فَانْتَهُوا [الحشر: 7]
“….And whatever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatever he forbids you from, abstain (from it).” (Al-Hashr 59:7)
As we see here, the concept of worship in Islam is not restricted to mere monasticism, meditation, or acknowledging the reality in which Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has created us, nor is it one based upon mere ritualism and performance of certain actions with no apparent meanings. Rather Islam has combined the inner and the outer and has defined righteousness and placed for it a reward. It is this comprehensiveness of the concept of worship through which humans may fulfill the purpose for which they have been created. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) says:
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنْسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ [الذاريات: 56]
“I did not create the Jinns and the human beings except for the purpose that they should worship Me.” (Az-Zaariyaat 51:56)
Humans are required to live not according to their subjective desires, automatisms, mental conditioning or according to the dictates of social, political or academic authorities, but in accordance with their cosmic purpose inherent in us: the worship of their Real Master, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa).
فَأَقِمْ وَجْهَكَ لِلدِّينِ حَنِيفًا فِطْرَتَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّهِ ذَلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَلَكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ [الروم: 30]
“So, set your face to the Faith uprightly, this (faith) being the nature designed by Allah on which He has created the mankind. There is no change in Allah‘s creation. That is the straight faith, but most of the people do not know” (Ar-Room 30:30)
When one lives their life fulfilling those aspects which Allah has commanded, leaving those things which Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has forbidden, and according each of their actions to the Will of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), their life, from morning until evening, from the time of birth until death, is turned into worship for which they will be rewarded. This was the state of the Prophets, as Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) says:
قُلْ إِنَّ صَلَاتِي وَنُسُكِي وَمَحْيَايَ وَمَمَاتِي لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ [الأنعام: 162]
“Say: ‘My Salaah, my offering (sacrifice), my life and my death are for Allah, the Lord of all the worlds” (Al-An’aam 6:162)
When one achieves this state, they come into harmony with the rest of creation and return to their natural state of being, as all others of the creations of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) are unconsciously in constant worship of Him, as He has said:
“Do you not see that unto God bow down in worship (or submit in service and adoration) whosoever is in the heavens and whosoever is in the earth, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the mountains, and the trees, and the beasts, and many among mankind…” (Al-Hajj 22:18)