The Meaning of Worship
The concept and purpose of worship in Islam is unparallel to any other religion in existence. It combines the mundane with the spiritual, the individual with the society, and the internal soul with the external body. Worship has a unique role in Islam, and through worship, a person is regarded as a true Muslim who accords his entire life to the Will of his Creator and the Master, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa).
The importance of worship may be seen in the fact that it has been prescribed by Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) in all religions prior to Islam. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) said in the Quraan:
وَلَقَدْ بَعَثْنَا فِي كُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَسُولًا أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ [النحل: 36]
“We did raise a messenger among every people, with the message: .Worship Allah…..” (An-Nahl 16:36)
Worship in Islam has so many facets that it is difficult to describe them all in words. The most general meaning of worship in Islam is inclusive of everything which is pleasing to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), whether they deal with issues of belief, or deeds of the body. It may include everything a person perceives, thinks, intends, feels, says and does. It also 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, as human being is a whole, such that every part affects every other.
Worship may be classified into two types:
1) Specific Beliefs, feelings and visible acts of devotion paid in homage to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) which He has commanded.
2) All other acts of goodness generally encouraged in the life of a Muslim.
Devotion to the Lord
This facet of worship entails that one fulfill certain deeds which Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has commanded in His religion, whether they deal with the inner self or the outer body, and whether they be obligatory or voluntary. This facet of worship is not only limited to following His commandments, however, but it is also inclusive of leaving those things which He has forbidden. Worship in this sense, maybe defined as anything believed, felt, or done as an act of obedience to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa).
In this respect, worship may also be called servitude, as it is in essence living one’s life in complete servitude to the Master, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), doing what He commands, and avoiding what he forbids, as a slave lives within the will of his master. In essence all creations are slaves of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), whether they like it or not, for they are all subject to the laws He has placed within His creation:
إِنْ كُلُّ مَنْ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ إِلَّا آتِي الرَّحْمَنِ عَبْدًا [مريم: 93]
“There is none in the heavens and the earth, but bound to come to the All-Merciful as a salve.” (Maryam 19:93)
وَلَهُ أَسْلَمَ مَنْ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ طَوْعًا وَكَرْهًا وَإِلَيْهِ يُرْجَعُونَ [آل عمران: 83]
“…..While to Him alone submit all those in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwilling.” (Aale ‘Imraan 3:83)
But worship differs from servitude in that it must be coupled with love, awe and reverence. No act of obedience is regarded as worship unless it is coupled these feelings; one must love the action and love, hold in awe and have reverence for the One the action is being performed.
For this reason, in discussing this topic, it must be emphasized that worship is a right with is solely for the one who is the Creator, the Master, the Sustainer, i.e. the Lord, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). Islam adheres to the strictest form of Tauheed (Monotheism) and does not tolerate that any act of worship be directed towards other than Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). It is Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) alone who demands our obedience, and it is Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) alone who deserves our love. Any veneration of other deities besides Him, whether they be demigods, prophets, angels, saints or martyrs, or their relics, statues or pictures, is considered as a breach in this Tauheed, and a person is rendered out of the fold of Islam if committed. Even though one may justify that they venerate saints due to their service to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), or their relics as a remembrance of them, Islam does not differentiate between direct and indirect, or subordinate and superior worship. All worship and acts of veneration, homage and obedience must be offered for Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) alone.
The Inner Forms of Worship
As mentioned earlier, acts of worship prescribed by Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) either deal with the inner self or the outer body. Those which deal with the inner self do so with belief and feelings. Humans are commanded to believe in certain ultimate truths, and this is the most important aspect of worship. Belief is the basis for what a person feels and does – actions and feelings are a reflection of belief. If a person’s belief is incorrect or weak, it will never produce the desired results in regards to their feelings or actions. For example, if a person incorrectly believes that Alla (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has forgiven them their sins due to their mere faith, their belief will not produce the desired feeling of fear which should be present in their heart, nor will this belief cause a person to cease sinning and perform deeds of righteousness.
Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has also commanded us to maintain certain feelings in our hearts, both towards Him as well as others of His creation. The Believers must love Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), fear him, have awe in Him, place their trust in Him, and revere Him. Muslims have also been commanded to love their fellow Muslims, to have mercy and compassion towards them, to love righteousness and to hate sin. These are all considered acts of worship of the inner self because they are in essence a fulfillment of the commandments of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa); Believers will be rewarded for fulfilling them.
The Outer Forms of Worship
Throughout history, certain religions, due to their tampering, have placed more emphasis on the inner format of worship, wholly or partially dismissing the importance of the outer, while others have placed more emphasis on apparent and visible acts of rituals, diminishing the value of belief. As mentioned earlier, in Islam, there is no absolute separation between the inner and outer — the inner state produces and ought to produce outer manifestations, and outer conditions and actions have inner consequences. There is certainly a correspondence between the inner and outer state, and each tends to modify the other. All inner intentions lead to equivalent postures and actions. One can often judge a person’s inner state by his outer. A person in despair or fear, for instance, has a certain posture and expression on his face. Conversely, if certain activities or postures are adopted then the equivalent inner state will result.
Visible acts of worship offered to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) are fruits of the Muslim’s belief. For this reason, not only does Islam demand that a person believe in the ultimate truths laid out in its doctrine, but it also demands that belief in Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) produce visible action. It is not enough for one to maintain certain beliefs for salvation, but rather deeds are essential in order for one to be successful in this life and the next.
(To be csontinue)