Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Concept of Worship In Islam
The concept of worship in Islam is misunderstood by many people includingsome Muslims. Worship is commonly taken to mean performing ritualisticacts such as prayers, fasting, charity, etc. This limited understanding ofworship is only one part of the meaning of worship in Islam. That is whythe traditional definition of worship in Islam is a comprehensivedefinition that includes almost everything in any individual's activities.The definition goes something like this: "Worship is an all inclusive termfor 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 thepleasure of Allah. This, of course, includes rituals as well as beliefs,social activities, and personal contributions to the welfare of one'sfellow human-beings.
Islam looks at the individual as a whole. He is required to submit himselfcompletely to Allah, as the Quran instructed the Prophet Muhammad to do:"Say (O Muhammad) my prayer, my sacrifice, my life and my death belong toAllah; He has no partner and I am ordered to be among those who submit,i.e.; Muslims." (6:162, 163) The natural result of this submission isthat all one's activities should conform to the instructions of the one towhom the person is submitting. Islam, being a way of life, requires thatits followers model their life according to its teachings in every aspect,religious or other wise. This might sound strange to some people who thinkof religion as a personal relation between the individual and God, havingno impact on one's activities outside rituals.
As a matter of fact Islam does not think much of mere rituals when they areperformed mechanically and have no influence on one's inner life. TheQuran addresses the believers and their neighbors from among the People ofthe Book who were arguing with them about the change of the direction ofQibla in the following verse:"It is not righteousness that you turn your faces toward the East or theWest, but righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and theAngels and the Book and the Prophets, and gives his beloved money to hisrelatives and the orphans and the needy and for the ransoming of captivesand who observes prayer and pays the poor-due; and those who fulfill theirpromises when they have made one, and the patient in poverty and afflictionand the steadfast in time of war; it is those who have proved truthful andit is those who are the God-fearing." (2:177)
The deeds in the above verse are the deeds of righteousness and they areonly a part of worship. The Prophet told us about faith, which is thebasis of worship, that it "is made up of sixty and some branches; thehighest of which is the belief in the Oneness of Allah, i.e., there is noGod but Allah and the lowest in the scale of worship is removing obstaclesand dirt from people's way."
Decent work is considered in Islam a type of worship. The Prophet said:"Whoever finds himself at the nightfall tired of his work, God will forgivehis sins." Seeking knowledge is one of the highest types of worship. TheProphet told his companions that "seeking knowledge is a (religious) dutyon every Muslim." In another saying he said: "Seeking knowledge for onehour is better than praying for seventy years." Social courtesy andcooperation are part of worship when done for the sake of Allah as theProphet told us: "Receiving your friend with a smile is a type of charity,helping a person to load his animal is a charity and putting some water inyour neighbor's bucket is a charity."
It is worth noting that even performing one's duties is considered a sortof worship. The Prophet told us that whatever one spends for his family isa type of charity; he will be rewarded for it if he acquires it throughlegal means. Kindness to members of one's family is an act of worship aswhen one puts a piece of food in his spouse's mouth. Not only this buteven the acts we enjoy doing very much, when they are performed accordingto the instructions of the Prophet, are considered as acts of worship. TheProphet told his companions that they will be rewarded even for havingsexual intercourse with their wives. The companions were astonished andasked: "How are we going to be rewarded for doing something we enjoy verymuch?" The Prophet asked them: "Suppose you satisfy your desiresillegally; don't you think that you will be punished for that?" Theyreplied, "Yes." "So," he said, "by satisfying it legally with your wivesyou are rewarded for it." This means they are acts of worship.
Thus Islam does not consider sex a dirty thing that one should avoid. Itis dirty and sinful only when it is satisfied outside marital life.It is clear, from the previous discussion that the concept of worship inIslam is a comprehensive concept that includes all the positive activitiesof the individual. This of course is in agreement with the all inclusivenature of Islam as a way of life. It regulates human life on all levels:individual, social, economic, political and spiritual. That is why Islamprovides guidance to the smallest details of one's life on all theselevels. Thus following these details is following Islamic instructions inthat specific area. It is a very encouraging element when one realizesthat all his activities are considered by God as acts of worship. Thisshould lead the individual to seek Allah's pleasure in his actions andalways try to do them in the best possible manner whether he is watched byhis superiors or he is alone. There is always the permanent supervisor,who knows everything, namely, Allah.
Discussing the non-ritual worship in Islam first does not mean undervaluingthe importance of the ritual ones. Actually ritual worship, if performedin true spirit, elevates man morally and spiritually and enables him tocarry on his activities in all walks of life according to the Guidance ofGod. Among ritual worships, Salah (ritual prayer) occupies the keyposition for two reasons. Firstly, it is the distinctive mark of abeliever. Secondly, it prevents an individual from all sorts ofabominations and vices by providing him chances of direct communion withhis Creator five times a day, wherein he renews his covenant with God andseeks His guidance again and again: "You alone we worship and to You alonewe turn for help. Guide us to the straight path." (1:5,6) Actually Salahis the first practical manifestation of Faith and also the foremost of thebasis conditions for the success of the believers:"Successful indeed are the believers who are humble in their prayers."(23:1-2)The same fact has been emphasized by the Prophet (PBUH) in a different way. He says:"Those who offer their Salah with great care and punctuality, will find ita light, a proof of their Faith and cause of their salvation on the Day of Judgment."
After Salah, Zakah (poor-due) is an important pillar of Islam. In theQuran, Salah and Zakah mostly have been mentioned together many times.Like Salah, Zakah is a manifestation of faith that affirms that God is thesole owner of everything in the universe, and what men hold is a trust intheir hand over which God made them trustees to discharge it as He has laid down:"Believe in Allah and His messenger and spend of that over which He made you trustees." (57:7)In this respect Zakah is an act of devotion which, like prayer, brings thebeliever nearer to his Lord. Apart from this, Zakah is a means of redistribution of wealth in a way that reduces differences between classesand groups. It makes a fair contribution to social stability. By purging the soul of the rich from selfishness and the soul of the poorfrom envy and resentment against society, it stops up the channels leadingto class hatred and makes it possible for the springs of brotherhood and solidarity to gush forth. Such stability is not merely based on the personalfeelings of the rich; it stands on a firmly established right which, if the rich denied it, would be exacted by force, if necessary.
Siyam (fasting during the day time of the month of Ramadan) is anotherpillar of Islam. The main function of fasting is to make the Muslim purefrom "within" as other aspects of Shariah make him pure from "without." Bysuch purity he responds to what is true and good and shuns what is falseand evil. This is what we can perceive in the Quranic verse: "O you whobelieve, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for thosebefore you, that you may gain piety." (2:183) In an authentic tradition,the Prophet reported Allah as saying: "He suspends eating, drinking, andgratification of his sexual passion for My sake." Thus his reward is goingto be according to God's great bounty.
Fasting, then, awakens the conscience of the individual and gives it scopefor exercise in a joint experience for all society at the same time, thusadding further strength to each individual. Moreover, fasting offers acompulsory rest to the over-worked human machine for the duration of onefull month. Similarly fasting reminds an individual of those who aredeprived of life's necessities throughout the year or throughout life. Itmakes him realize the suffering of others, the less fortunate brothers inIslam, and thus promotes in him a sense of sympathy and kindness to them.
Lastly, we come to Al-Hajj (pilgrimage to the House of God in Makkah).This very important pillar of Islam manifests a unique unity, dispellingall kinds of differences. Muslims from all corners of the world wearingthe same dress, respond to the call of Hajj in one voice and language;LABBAIK ALLAHUMMA LABBAIK (Here I am at your service O Lord!). In Hajjthere is an exercise of strict self-discipline and control where not onlysacred things are revered, but even the life of plants and birds is madeinviolable so that everything lives in safety: "And he that venerates thesacred things of God, it shall be better for him with his Lord." (22:30)"And he that venerates the waymarks of God, it surely is from devotion of the heart." (22:32)
Pilgrimage gives an opportunity to all Muslims from all groups, classes,organizations, and governments from all over the Muslim world to meetannually in a great congress. The time and venue of this congress has beenset by their One God. Invitation to attend is open to every Muslim. Noone has the power to bar anyone. Every Muslim who attends is guaranteedfull safety and freedom as long as he himself does not violate its safety.
Thus, worship in Islam, whether ritual or non-ritual, trains the individualin such a way that he loves his Creator most and thereby gains anunyielding will and spirit to wipe out all evil and oppression from thehuman society and make the word of God dominant in the world.
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