The concept of worship in Islam is misunderstood by many people including
some Muslims. Worship is commonly taken to mean performing ritualistic acts
such as prayers, fasting, charity, etc. This limited understanding of worship
is only one part of the meaning of worship in Islam.
The traditional definition of worship in
Islam is a comprehensive definition that includes almost everything in any individuals activities.
The definition goes something like this: Worship is an all inclusive term
for all that God loves of external and internal sayings and actions of a
person. In other words, worship is everything one says or does for the pleasure
of Allah. This of course, includes rituals as well as beliefs, social
activities, and personal contributions to the welfare of society.
Islam looks at the individual as a whole. One is required to submit oneself
completely to Allah, as the Quran instructed the Prophet Muhammad (p)1 to do: Say: Truly, my
prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all)
for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds. No partner hath He: this am
I commanded, and I am the first of those who bow to His will.
The natural result of this submission is that all ones activities should
conform to the instructions of the One God to whom the person is submitting.
Islam being a complete way of life requires that its followers model every
aspect of their life according to its teaching, religious or otherwise. This
might sound strange to some people who think of religion as a personal relation
between the individual and God, having no impact on ones daily activities.
As a matter of fact, Islam does not think much of mere rituals when they are
performed mechanically and have no influence on ones inner self.
It is not righteousness that ye turn
your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe
in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the
Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for
your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those
who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer,
and give Zakat, (obligatory annual charity), to fulfill the
contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain
and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the
people of truth, the God-fearing. [Al-Quran (2:177]
The deeds in the above verse are the deeds of righteousness and they are only
a part of worship. The Prophet told us about faith, which is the basis of
worship, that it is made up of sixty and some branches: the highest of which is
the belief in the Oneness of Allah. (i.e., there is no God but Allah) and the
lowest in the scale of worship is removing obstacles and dirt from peoples
The Prophet said: Whoever finds himself at the nightfall tired of his work,
God will forgive his sins. Seeking knowledge is one of the highest forms of
worship. The Prophet said, seeking knowledge is a (religious) duty on every
Muslim. In another saying he said: Seeking knowledge for one hour is better
than praying for seventy years. Social courtesy and cooperation are a part of
worship when done for the sake of Allah as the Prophet told us:
Receiving your friend with a smile is a type of charity and putting some
water in your neighbors bucket is a charity.
It is worth noting that even performing ones duties is considered an act of
worship. The Prophet told us that whatever one spends for his family is a type
of charity. Kindness to the members of ones family is an act of worship as is
putting a piece of food lovingly in the mouth of ones spouse, as the Prophet
informed us. Not only this, but even the acts that we enjoy, when performed
according to Divine instructions are considered acts of worship.
Thus Islam does not consider the sexual urge as inherently dirty or sinful.
It is dirty and sinful only when it is satisfied outside the marital union of
man and wife. The Prophet told his companions that they would be rewarded even
for having sexual intercourse with their wives. The companions were astonished
and asked: How are we going to be rewarded for doing something we enjoy very
much? The Prophet asked them: suppose you satisfy your desires illegally,
dont you think that you would be punished for that? They replied, Yes. So,
he said: by satisfying it legally with your wives you are rewarded for it.
It is clear that the concept of worship in Islam is comprehensive. It
includes all positive activities of the individual. This of course is in
agreement with the all-inclusive nature of Islam as a way of life. It regulates
the human life on all levels: the individual, the social, the economic, the
political and the spiritual. All activities are considered by Allah as acts of
worship, if done in conformance to His guidance. This should lead us to seek
Allahs pleasure in our actions and always try to do them in the best possible
manner, whether we are being watched or we are alone. There is always the
permanent supervisor, Who knows, hears and sees everything and that is Allah.
Discussing the non-ritual worship in Islam first does not mean
under-evaluating the importance of the ritual ones. Actually ritual worships, if
performed in true spirit, elevate the individual morally and spiritually and
enable one to perform ones activities in all walks of life according to the
Guidance of God . Among ritual worships, Salah (prayer) occupies the key
position for two reasons. Firstly, it is the distinctive mark of a believer.
Secondly, it prevents an individual from all sorts of abominations and vices by
providing him chances of direct communication with his Creator five times a day,
wherein he renews his covenant with God and seeks His guidance again and again.
Salah is the first practical manifestation
of Faith and also the foremost of the basic conditions for the
success of the believers: Successful indeed are the
Believers, those who humble themselves in their prayers. [Al-Quran
The Prophet (p) further emphasized: Those who offer their salah with
great care and punctuality, will find it a light, a proof of their faith and
cause for their salvation on the Day of Judgment.
After Salah, Zakah (obligatory annual charity) is an important pillar of
Islam. In the Quran, Salah and Zakah have mostly been mentioned together. Like
Salah, Zakah is a manifestation of faith that affirms that God is the sole owner
of everything in the universe and what men hold is a trust in their hand that
God expects them to discharge.
In this respect Zakah is an act of devotion that, like prayer, brings the
believer nearer to his Lord. Apart from this, Zakah is a means of redistribution
of wealth in a way that reduces differences between classes and groups. It makes
a fair contribution to social stability. By purging the soul of the rich from
selfishness, and the soul of the poor from envy and resentment against society.
It closes down the channels leading to class hatred and makes it possible for
the springs of brotherhood and solidarity to gush forth. Such stability is not
merely based on the personal feelings of the rich: it stands on a firmly
Siyam (fasting during the day time of the
month of Ramadan) is another pillar of Islam. The main function of
fasting is to make a Muslim pure from within. By such purity, one
promotes what is good, and shuns what is evil. The glorious Quran
confirms, O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it
was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn)
self-restraint. [Al-Quran 2:183]
In an authentic tradition, the Prophet reported Allah as saying, about the
one who fasts: He suspends eating, drinking, and gratification of his sexual
passion for My sake. Thus his reward is going to be according to Gods great
bounty. Fasting awakens ones conscience, and reminds an individual of the
suffering of the less fortunate, and thus promotes a sense of sympathy and
kindness to them.
Lastly, we come to Al-Hajj (pilgrimage to
the House of God in Makka). This very important pillar of Islam
manifests a unique unity, dispelling all kinds of differences.
Muslims from all corners of the world, wearing the same dress,
respond to the call of Hajj in one voice and language: Labbaik Alla
humma Labbaik (Here I am at your service O Lord!). During Hajj there
is a strict exercise of self-discipline, where not only sacred
things are revered, but even the lives of plants and birds are made
inviolable so that everything lives in safety: Whoever
honors the sacred Rites of Allah, for him it is good in the sight of
his Lord... [Al-Quran 22:30]
Pilgrimage gives an opportunity to all Muslims from all groups, classes,
organizations, and governments from all over the Muslim world to meet annually
in a great congress. The time and venue of this congress has been set by their
one God. Invitation to attend is open to every Muslim. No one has the power to
bar anyone. Every Muslim who attends is guaranteed full safety and freedom as
long as he himself does not violate its safety.
Thus the concept of worship in Islam, encompasses every aspect of human life,
and is central to the goal of freeing the individual as well as society, from
the worship of created things to the worship of the Creator of all things. It is
this concept of worship that humanity needs so desperately, and wherein lies the
key to our collective salvation.
[Source : WAMY2 Series
1 (p) here stands for
peace be upon him
2 World Assembly of Muslim