Worship in Islam

The definition of worship

Worship, which is explained as "humility, obedience, deification and submission" in dictionaries, connotes a person's love, adoration and submission to Allah and encompasses as actions he or she exhibits in order to win the pleasure of Allah.

In Islamic resources, the term "ubudiyya" meaning obedience and servitude to Allah is used alongside worship. This term implies the kind of consciousness involved in servitude whereby a person spends every moment of their life in a state of respect and obedience to Allah. Accordingly, while in worship certain behaviors are at the forefront, in "ubudiyya" moral and spiritual essences are forerunning components. Thus, along with the religious duties incumbent upon man as set out by religion, every act person partakes in in order to please Allah is identified as worship and rewarded. While the science of Fikh (Islamic jurisprudence) stresses the rules of application, Sufis stress the inner qualities, spirit and essence of worship. They see every good state and act, which helps cleanse the heart, mature the soul and brings man closer to Allah, as a form of worship.

Individually speaking, acts or worship are acts which represent the obligated person's respect for his or her creator and their submission before the Almighty - acts which are desired by Allah and his messenger. What is important here is to remember that it only Allah and his Messenger who have the authority to indicate which acts will be considered worship, how they should be performed -- their form and requirements. Servants cannot choose forms of worship according to their own preferences and likes, nor can they implement physical and requiremental changes in the existent forms of worship. Because as we have stated above, Allah the Almighty has determined the only way in which a servant can present their respect and servitude to Allah and the means by which they can do this.

The belief-worship relationship

The real purpose of Islam is to cleanse the inner and outer being of a person. Islam does not concern it's self solely with the heart or the appearance. On the contrary, it reconstructs man as whole, inclusive of his inner and outer being, under the guidance of the divine. Surely faith begins in the heart: however, after completely illuminating the heart, it does not remain hidden there and begins to envelop our world of thought, pour forth from our mouths and spread to all of our faculties. A mind and soul that has formed a consistency between its internal and external world and for what is existent in his inner world to reflect onto its outer world are the most important principles in mental and spiritual wellness. Accordingly, the manifestation of faith in the heart is approval and in the mind is knowledge. When this knowledge passes on to the tongue, it is called acknowledgement, when manifest in the faculties, becomes a deed. So a believer must place faith in his heart, announce it with his tongue, that light of faith will embrace his world of thought and become apparent in all of his actions. This manifestation should be so pervasive that it will seize his entire social life and morality, beginning with his worship. This is mature and complete faith.

In a well known hadith of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) the three elements of Islam being realized in a person are listed as faith, Islam and benevolence. The principals of faith determine how a believer will think, what they will believe in and how this belief will enlighten their lives (these we had explained in detail in previous sections). Basic forms of worship, the methodology of how a believer will perform servitude towards his creator, how he will express his submission is explained through the word "Islam" in this hadith. It is here that Prophet Muhammad listed prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and alms-giving following the Kalima-i Tawheed or shahada (bearing witness to the oneness of Allah) will describing Islam. Our Prophet expressed that the best way to realize the principals of faith through the use of the term "Ihsan" (benevolence). And this is a complete submission and respect that embraces a Muslim's entire life (this matter is more of a matter covered by the science of morality and tasawwuf.)

The wisdom behind worship

Islam a comprehensive system which embraces the whole of life. It does not remain indifferent to to any human interests or domain. Its biggest goal is to attain a balance based on mutual interaction between all of these different fields. Worship holds a very important and irreplaceable role in attaining this balance. When we examine the variety and modes of realization of these forms of worship, we see that they play a role in protecting the well being of the individual and the soul as well as playing a role in attaining social peace. In this respect, worldly actions that are aligned with divine orders carry sacred and moral qualities while religious worship provides material gains.

It is essential is that during worship, we fulfill our servitude to Allah in a complete state of submission and whole heartedly. This is referred to as ‘Ta'abbub.' No matter how much we ponder, we will never fully understand why prayer times are not more frequent or less, the reason for number of rakahs (standings) in prayers, why fasting is prescribed in the month of Ramadan and similar topics. A true and pure servitude requires that one becomes a pure servant to Allah and thus the complete understanding to the wisdom and reasons of worship are closed to mankind. When we understand that worship are symbolic acts which regulate our relations with the transcendent world, we see more clearly that role of the mind is to follow the principles that have been narrated to us (verses from the Qur'an and hadith.) When taking the worship and ubudiyya, or worshipping and servitude to Allah, as something more than a matter of the heart and evaluating it a matter of the mind, will damage the sub-mind magnificence and sacredness of religion. Door that closed to mind and logic in the matters of worship and assurance, open up completely on matter dealing with maintaining relations with people, so as to find a path in its application according to reason and wisdom for its reasoning.

Worship related jurisdiction can certainly contain some benefits and matters that the mind can attain. However, it should not be forgotten that this is not the real benefit derived from worship. Acts or worship and purposes in and of themselves. For example, it is established that fasting possesses a series of personal, social, health and moral benefits, however, the reason why it has been ordained upon is not due to these benefits. The first and leading reason is that it is an expression of the acceptance of Allah's decree and servitude towards him. The benefits listed are the positive side effects of fasting. It is for this reason that fasting can't be discarded if its benefits are gained through alternate means.  Even though acts of worship may appear to be simple in form, they the greatest among the orders of the Almighty creator and their wisdom extends beyond the material world, each one allowing for a connection with the creator in a different form and dimension. In order for this to happen, as evident in the case of daily prayers, one may be required to memorize and recite certain verses, certain modes of behavior, a series of symbolic acts, as required by pilgrimage will be utilized in order the from the physical dimension of the acts. It may not always be mentally discernable why these type of acts are considered worship. Because worship, to a certain extent, represents they psychical and symbolic components of religion.

The essence of all forms of worship is to remember Allah while their purpose is to take us to the presence of Allah. Worship is a vessel which allows for you to remember Allah. All of the conditions, methods and rules of worship is directed at placing the remembrance of Allah into the consciences. When this is attained, the awareness that his present everywhere, in areas outside of prayer, becomes imbedded in us. Even though forms of worship may initially appear to be actions which remain between Allah and His servant, which symbolize the servant's respect, obedience and homage to his Creator, it has a function which works to better personal education, human relations and social structures. When we examine acts of worship individually, we see that they all possess effects which different sides of one's existence, healing the weaknesses we carry in different domains of our lives and develops our character holistically. Foremost, each one of them works to strengthen human will-power and increase one's control over themselves and their possessions. And this is a mandatory requirement for the human being developed during its period of existence on earth.

The authority to determine forms of worship

Even though the human intellect can grasp the importance and requirement for worshipping the Almighty creator, he cannot discern how and in what form to do this. (The best example to this is the Hanif, who were monotheists that lived in the Arab prior to Islam. The accepted the existence of an transcendent creator, but didn't know how to fulfill their servitude to Him.)

Even though the kinds of acts which are requested to be performed during worship may fall into second plan as compared to the essence of worship, and whose wisdom may be partially apparent to us, they are of a nature that cannot fully be grasped by the intellect. It is for this reason that the scholars of Islam are in agreement that the conditions and forms of prayer must take place according to what has been informed by Allah and his Messenger. Thus it is essential that worship must be completed only the fashion  indicated by Allah and his Messenger. Accordingly, worship that falls outside of what is ordained in the Qur'an or explained through the Messenger of Allah are considered "bid'ah" (innovation) and are denounced. In the respect, innovations are "The conception of any act that is not found in the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad as worship or an addition or reduction to existing forms of worship."

Beginning with prayer, the Qur'an frequently reminds and order the basic forms of worship such as alms-giving, pilgrimage and fasting. The conditions and rulings on the acts of worship, which form the basis of Islam, have been made clear through Prophet Muhammad's application and explanations. Prophet Muhammad has shown his followers the methods of prayer and pilgrimage in detail when saying, "Pray as I do," and "Learn the rules of pilgrimage from me," passing on an religious life based on application and learning to the generations to follow.

The form and meaning relationship in worship

Every form of worship which is fulfilled as a religious obligation has a form and frame that has been determined by Allah. A believer must express his loyalty to his Creator within this frame. This form is generally symbolic and inseparable part of worship. The form of worship is generally directly effective in living and experiencing its meaning. Fulfilling an act of worship means more than a symbolic act, it connotes taking part in method of creation - a super-human and universal method in a virtual fashion.  The form of worship creates a whole together with its meaning and essence and when performed bearing this in mind, provides the effects and results that are desired.

As indicated by Islamic scholar Imam Ghazali, who has conducted important psychological analysis on worship, the purpose of worship is to take the conscience further than the daily and ordinary lives and elevate it to another level with the help of the organs, thus exchanging the attributes of the heart for better ones. Accordingly, the real purpose behind placing one's forehead on the ground during prostration is not the joining of the forehead with the ground, but increasing the attribute of humility in the heart through this act. Worship that is does not serve this purpose, and is not conducted with a unity between form and meaning will be fruitless, deficient and defective. It cannot be expected that worship will be accepted by Allah. Thus, the verse "So woe to the worshippers Who are neglectful of their prayers," from Surah Al-Maun: (4-5) addresses this very topic.

According to Ghazali again, the true meaning of Alms giving lies in its facilitation of decreasing the love of possessions in man, who is born with this inclination, and directing his love and loyalty to one who is worthy of it: Allah the Almighty. Also, casting anything which casts a shadow on the love of Allah from his heart in order to truly experience the oneness of Allah, freeing one's self of miserliness and fulfilling grattitude to Allah for the blessings he has bestowed upon one. The real meaning of fasting is taking a break from certain physical desires in addition to purging one's conscience from worldly affairs and everything which takes one away from Allah so that one can attain the highest point spiritual intensification. The act of pilgrimage is a temporary priesthood, because its essence and meaning require that one dedicate themselves solely to Allah and distance one's self from all contradicting acts and behaviors. It is a kind of preparation for death or journey to the hereafter through experiencing the stages one will undergo following death.

The language of worship

An important part of the requirements of acceptability for worship are the acts and formats determined by Allah and his Messenger. It is for this reason that religious rulings on worship do not change with time and conditions and are not open to interpretation. Rules on certain verses from the Holy Qur'an being read in certain stages of daily prayer and in in Arabic remaining true to the original text, the number of rakahs, kneelings and prostrations, the ban on eating, drinking and engaging in sexual relations during fasting, following the ihram during pilgrimage, waqfa and tawaf are all such rules.

Because understanding, consent and personal choice are essential in embracing religion and fulfilling its obligations, Arabic wording is not deemed mandatory in the declaration of the oneness of Allah, remembrance of Allah, supplication and declaring intention. And because the comprehension of the congregation is essential during Friday and eid prayers, it has been made permissible that with the exception of prayers and remembrances, which have been shaped by the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad, such as the reading of the Holy Qur'an and invoking blessings on the Messenger of Allah, advice, council and remembrance of Allah take place in a language other than Arabic. However, the call for prayer and the ikamah - which signals the imam's preparedness for the prayer - have been ruled to remain in the language of Arabic as they represent the presence of Muslims in that particular region and are perceived as the universal motto of Muslims.

Because the Qur'an was revealed in order to be understood and fulfilled, and because by nature it is mercy and cure for societies, there is a special importance in the deciphering the meaning of the Qur'an from its reading. For this reason, the reading of the meaning or translation of the Qur'an so as to understand its content is considered an act of worship and reading the Qur'an in Arabic outside of prayer has not been made mandatory. However, the reading of the Qur'an in Arabic, even if one does not understand its meaning, is deemed as an act of worship in and of it's self, as it is considered a vehicle for gaining the pleasure of Allah.

Just as the Qur'an states, "...So recite what is easy [for you] of the Qur'an." (Surah Al-Muzammil: 20), we know through hadith that prayers without the reading of the Qur'an and Surah Al-Fatiha, are not valid and deficient. Because the examples of the Sunnah and Islamic traditions are in agreement with this, all Islamic schools of thought are in agreement that reading a part of the Qur'an (Kira'a) during prayer is considered obligatory for its validity.

As a basic rule, prayer can only be performed through reading the Qur'an in Arabic. Because a translation or meaning may not replace the original text, they cannot be used during prayer. If a person does not know the Surah Al-Fatiha or a few verses from the Qur'an, than the requirement of reading the Qur'an is lifted for him or her temporarily as this is considered an excuse; however, he or she must learn what is lacking without any delay.

Forms of worship

The five main responsibilities of Muslims which are the main expressions of their servitude to Allah are called the five pillars of Islam. The first one of these is the "Kalima ‘ tawheed" (bearing witness to the oneness of Allah) is the pronunciation of belief and carries a central role among the  remaining four. The other four pillars are like the reflection of this declaration on to our daily lives. The declaration of belief is the witnessing and approving that "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his servant and messenger." This is an absolute requirement of being a Muslim.

In Islam, the shahada, does not take on a ceremonial form. Instead the shahada encompasses a Muslim's life as a principal that continuously reminds of the oneness of Allah and the almightiness. Because the shadada is the summary of the believer and an expression of their identity. The shahada is uttered into the ears of new-born babies and a person on their death bed should utter the shahada in as much as they can, and those surrounding the person should repeat the shahada to him or her until his or her last breath. The Shahada is repeated on the muaddhins - those who call for the five daily prayers - five times every day.  Being a Muslims requires that one remains loyal to the fundamentals of Islam, the pillars of faith (these pillars have been explained extensively in previous articles) that are born from the shahada.

Acts of worship are divided into three in terms of being physical and material:

a) Physical acts of worship: Prayer, fasting and reading the Qur'an are physical forms of worship. Unless the obliged performs these physically and in person, their purpose will not be fulfilled.

b) Material acts of worship: Alms-giving, sacrificing of an animal during eid, and charity are among material acts of worship. Using a proxy to fulfill them, whether there is an excuse or not, is permitted. The wisdom in their being mandatory can be fulfilled in full, even when a third party is used.

c) Both material and physical acts of worship: Pilgrimage is one of these. Unless there is a absolute need, a representative will not be permitted to complete this act. For the method of pilgrimage requires that the believer is obliged.

The degrees of worship

The most important principles where worship is concerned is that it is done solely for the purpose of Allah. The essence of tawheed - oneness of Allah - is formed by worshipping Allah without associating any partners with him and expecting a return from no one other than Allah for your worship. Acts of worship are generally formed by certain modes of behavior and these figures, some of which have symbolic meaning, form the establishing element of worship. Along with these the essence of worship is the intention of the person and their sincerity in conducting their worship in a fashion that is free from any kind of ostentatiousness. This method, referred to as "Ikhlas" - loosely translated as sincerity - is essential in the acceptance of worship. Prophet Muhammad has reminded that acts of worship that don't contain pure intention are meaningless activities.

For Sufis worship and servitude are irreplaceable vehicles to win the pleasure of Allah, become closer to Him and be in His presence. When a person is able to put everything aside and be in the presence of Allah, with an awareness that they are in fact with Him, then they will have performed their worship in an appropriate manner.

Consistency is essential in the execution of worship. Allah has asked the man be a servant to Allah until his death. (Surah Al-Hijr, 98-99). Prophet Muhammad has advised his followers a balanced religious life and reminded that the most beneficial of deeds are ones which are consistent in addition to warning some of his companions who attempted to go to extremes in their worship.

Because Islam encourages acts that are conducted with love, espousal and passion, ease has been considered centrifugal. Religious rulings are such that an average person is taken into consideration and are applicable by all. However, while rulings are softened for those who are weak or have excuses, they are encouraged to be increased and intensified for the strong and skilled. Thus, the religion of Islam is able to appeal to all segments in a given society and remain universal.

The results of performing acts of worship

Rulings on worship don't stop of maintaining relations between servant and Allah, they also directly affect the relationship between the individual and his or her immediate surroundings as well as society at large. Even prayer and fasting, which appear to have strong individual emphasis, have external positive results such as distancing one's self from bad deeds, social unification, peace and tranquility and helping the needy. These attributes become more evident in acts of worship such as alms-giving, pilgrimage, sacrifice and acts of atonement.

Because the responsibility of worship is a indebtedness of the servant, principally, there cannot be pressure in order for it to be performed. Education and resources in order to perform them should be provided. It is obvious that since intention and sincerity are essential in worship, applying pressure would lead a person to hypocrisy and such an act of worship will not accepted in the sight of Allah. For a believer, the biggest incentive in worship, is the value placed on worship in the discourse of Allah the Almighty. The Qur'an states that those who commit good deeds will be rewarded while those who don't abide by divine orders will be met with a grim punishment, with the positive results of worship such as prayer and alms-giving being highlighted, whose abandonment will result in worldly and post-life disaster. However there is no mention of a specific worldly punishment.

The most evident result of the fulfillment of worship towards one's spiritual and otherworldly life is the lifting of such a responsibility placed upon them. And the level of reward a person will gain from their worship is a matter between Allah and the servant, based on the qualifications of their duty as well as their sincerity.

As stated in the Qur'an, man has been equipped with the ability for both obedience and rebellion; he has been called upon simply to worship his Creator, abandoning all of his selfish desires and false gods. It is very meaningful for man to not follow the path of rebellion, which is a possible option, and instead follow Allah with his own will and partake in supplication. In actuality, such behavior is compatible with the order of the universe and man's own nature. In a way, the worship of Allah, along with being a religious obligation, is an effective vehicle in developing and maturing the strengths of humanity.



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