CONCEPT OF 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 verse:

"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 people's way."

Decent work is considered in Islam a type of worship. The Prophet (P.B.U.H.) said:
"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 of Judgment."

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 Qur'anic Verse:
"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 safety:
"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.