WORSHIP IN ISLAM
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 true
definition includes almost everything in any individual's activities. It
goes something like this, "Worship is an all inclusive term for all external
and internal sayings and actions of a person that God loves." 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 one's fellow human-beings.
Islam looks at the individual as a whole. He is required to submit himself
completely to Allah as the Qur'an instructed the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be
Upon Him) to do:
"Say (O Muhammad) my prayer, my sacrifice, my life and my death belong to
Allah; He has no partner and I am ordered to be among those who submit,
(i.e. Muslims)." (Qur'an ,6:162-163 ).
The natural result of this submission is that all one's activities should
conform to the instructions of the One to whom the person is submitting.
Islam, being a way of life, requires that its followers model their lives
according to its teachings in every aspect, religious or otherwise. This
might sound strange to some people who think of religion as a personal
relationship between the individual and God, having no impact on one's
activities outside rituals.
As a matter of fact, Islam does not think much of mere rituals when they are
performed mechanically and have no influence on one's inner life. The Qur'an
addressed the believers and their neighbours from among the people of the
Book (Jews and Christians) who were arguing with them about the change of
the direction of the Qibla (the direction faced in prayers) in the following
"It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East or the
West, but righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the
Angels and the Book and the Prophets, and gives his money out of love for
Him to relatives and orphans, the needy, wayfarers, beggars and for the
ransoming of slaves, who observes prayer and pays the poor-due, and who
fulfils his promises when he has made them, and the patient in poverty and
affliction and the steadfast in time of war, it is those who have proved
truthful and it is those who are the God-fearing." (Qur'an, 2: 177 ).
The deeds in the above verse are deeds of righteousness and they are only a
part of worship. The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) told us that: "Faith (which
is the basis of worship) is made up of sixty or so branches: the highest of
which is belief in the Oneness of Allah (i.e., there is no god but Allah)
and the lowest on the scale of worship is removing obstacles and dirt from
Decent work is considered in Islam a type of worship. The Prophet (P.B.U.H.)
"No one has eaten better food than that obtained through the hard labour of
his hands. The Prophet David (P.B.U.H.) used to earn his living through his
own labour." Seeking knowledge is one of the highest types of worship. The
Prophet (P.B.U.H.) told his companions that "seeking Knowledge is a
(religious) duty on every Muslim." In another saying he said: "A person who
follows a path for acquiring knowledge, Allah will make easy the passage to
Paradise for Him." Social courtesy and cooperation are 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 neighbour's
bucket is a charity."
It is worth noting that even performing one's own duties is considered a
sort of worship. The Prophet (P.B.U.H.) told us that whatever one spends for
his family is a type of charity; he will be rewarded for it if he acquired
it through legal means. Kindness to the members of one's family is an act of
worship, as when one puts a piece of food in his spouse's mouth as the
Prophet (P.B.U.H.) informed us.
It is clear from the previous discussion that the concept of worship in
Islam is a comprehensive one that includes all the 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 human life on all levels: the
individual, the social, the economic, the political and the spiritual. That
is why Islam provides guidance in the smallest details. It is very
encouraging to realise that all one's activities are considered by God as an
act of worship. This should lead the individual to seek Allah's pleasure for
his actions and always try to do them in the best possible manner, whether
he is watched by his superiors or he is alone. There is always the permanent
supervisor, who knows everything, namely, Allah.
Discussing non-ritual worship in Islam first is not to underestimate the
importance of ritual worship. Actually, ritual worship, if performed in the
correct manner, elevates man morally and spiritually and enables him to
carry on his activities in all walks of life according to the Guidance of
God. Among ritual worship, Salah (ritual prayer) occupies the key position
for two reasons. Firstly, it is the distinctive mark of a believer.
Secondly, it prevents an individual from committing all sorts of
abominations and vices by providing him chances of direct contact with his
Creator five times a day, wherein he renews his covenant with God and seeks
His guidance again and again: "You alone we worship and to You alone we turn
for help. Guide us to the straight path." Faith is also the foremost of the
basic conditions for the success of the believers:
"Successful indeed are the believers who are humble in their prayers. (Qur'an,
23: 1-2 ).
The same fact has been emphasized by the Prophet ( P.B.U.H.) in a different
way. He said:
"Those who offer their Salah with great care and punctuality, will find in
it a light, a proof of their faith and a cause of their salvation on the Day
After Salah (praying), Zakah (the purification due) is an important pillar
of Islam. In the Qur'an, 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 hands to discharge as He has laid down:
"Believe in Allah and His messenger and spend of that over which He has made
you trustees." (Qur'an, 57: 7 ).
In this respect, Zakah is an act of devotion which, 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 stops 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 but stands on a firmly established
right which, if the rich denied it, could be exacted by force, if necessary.
Siyam (fasting from dawn to sunset in the month of Ramadan) is another
pillar of Islam. The main function of fasting is to make the Muslim pure
from "within" as other aspects of Shariah (Islamic Divine Law) make him pure
from "without." By such purity he responds to what we can perceive in the
"O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for
those before you; that you may gain piety." (Qur'an, 2: 183 ) .
In an authentic tradition, the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) reported Allah as saying
with regard to one who fasts, "He suspends eating, drinking, and
gratification of his sexual passion for My sake." Thus his reward will be
according to God's great bounty.
Fasting awakens the conscience of all society at the same time, thus adding
further strength to each individual. Moreover, fasting offers a compulsory
rest to the over-worked human digestive system for the duration. It also
reminds us of those who are deprived of life's basic necessities throughout
the year or throughout life. It makes us realise the suffering of other less
fortunate brothers in Islam, and thus promotes a sense of sympathy and
kindness for them.
Lastly, we come to Hajj (pilgrimage to the House of God in Makkah). This is
a very important pillar of Islam. It manifests unity and dispels all
differences. Muslims from all corners of the world, wearing the same dress,
respond to the call of Hajj in one voice: LABAIK ALLAHUMMA LABAIK (Here I am
at your service, O Lord!). In Hajj there is an exercise of strict self
discipline and control where not only sacred things are revered, but even
the life of plants and birds is made inviolable so that everything lives in
"And he that venerates the sacred rites of God, it shall be better for him
with his Lord" (Qur'an, 22: 30 ).
"And he that venerates the symbols of Allah, it surely is from piety of the
hearts." (Qur'an, 22: 32 ) .
Pilgrimage gives an opportunity to all Muslims from all groups, classes,
organisations 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 'Allah'. 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, worship in Islam, whether ritualistic or non-ritualistic, trains the
individual to love his Creator more deeply and thereby gain an unyielding
will and spirit to wipe out all evil and oppression from human society and
make the Word of God dominant in the world.