Ibadah in Islam
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Allah (S.W.T.) says in surat At-Thariat, (Verse 56), what can be translated as, “I did not create the Jinn and the humans but to ya’bodoon (submit to me).”
When we hear this great verse, we realize that Allah (S.W.T.) did not create us but for one purpose and one goal; that is to submit to Him alone exclusively. With this, we realize the purpose of our presence in this life, and realize whether our reality conforms to this purpose or not, i.e. do we really submit to Allah alone exclusively?
When we hear the phrase “ya’bodoon” we ask what is the meaning of “ibadah” What does Allah (S.W.T.) meant in this verse? Is it the five daily prayers, or is it the fasting of the month of Ramadan, or is it the prescribed Zakah, or the Hajj to the House of Allah?
If Allah (S.W.T.) meant “ibadah” to have this meaning; i.e., the pillars of Islam only, we will realize that establishing these pillars do not require the whole life of a human being. On the contrary, it only requires a relatively short time compared with the life of a human being. Then, what about the rest of human lifetime?!!
Many Muslims nowadays erroneously think that the meaning of ibadah (worship) is establishing the prescribed forms of worship acts only; they think if they establish them, then they have accomplished the goal that Allah (S.W.T.) created them for. Then they think that no harm will get to them in what they do.
This, in reality, is wrong and a dangerous misunderstanding, because it is not the complete meaning that Allah (S.W.T.) meant, and because a reality was established upon this erroneous understanding that does not completely conform with the goal that Allah (S.W.T.) created us for, and put us on this earth to accomplish it.
What is the cause that led to this erroneous understanding for the meaning of the concept of “ibadah”?
We can pinpoint two main reasons:
- First: Our weakness in the Arabic language that Allah (S.W.T.) revealed the Qur’an with. The Arabs who heard this verse during the days of the prophet (S.A.W.) realized what is meant with the phrase “ya’bodoon”. For this reason, some of them refused it or accepted it knowing exactly what it is meant.
If what was meant by “ya’bodoon” is just what we understand today as the forms of worship acts, no one from the Arabs would have refused it, because they used to perform many forms of worship during their life, but they used to direct their worship to other than Allah and in a different way from what Allah had prescribed. It would have taken them the same amount of time that they used to consecrate for their worship of their idols.
Indeed, they refused it because they realized that what is meant by the phrase “ya’bodoon” that they have to submit their life totally for the authority of Allah (S.W.T.) alone exclusively. Covering the belief to the prescribed forms of worship acts to all life activities, the individualistic and the societal with no exception.
- Second: What led to this erroneous understanding for “ibadah” is the absence of the complete Islamic society, the society that is an important part of submission to Allah (S.W.T.) on earth. The prophet (S.A.W.) established it and his companions and the Muslims after them kept it. This way, they translated practically the meaning of “ibadah” completely and comprehensively that Allah (S.W.T.) meant, and accomplished the goal of their creation and their presence on earth.
This erroneous understanding for “ibadah” also came from the fact that when the scholars of Islam categorized the books of Fiqh, they made them into parts: the part of ibadat (worships), the part of mu’amalat (transactions), and so on.
That was dictated by the nature of publishing and classifying which helped people to go back and look up the rules of interest without difficulty.
This was not because the scholars did not understand the meaning of “ibadah” and restricts it to the prescribed forms of worship acts and they then isolated it from the life of people. They did not do that because they knew the Arabic language and also they were close to the Islamic society witnessing in it that the total enactment of “ibadah” which is submission of people’s life to Allah (S.W.T.) alone exclusively.
After this prelude, we realize why the first call to people in every divine message was: Submit to Allah alone. Allah (S.W.T.) says in surat Al-Araaf, (verse 59), what can be translated as, “Submit to Allah That you have no God except Him”. Also, Allah says in surat Al-Anbiya’, (verse 25), what can be translated as, “We have not sent a messenger before you but we reveal to him that there is no god except me, so submit to me.” Also, in surat Al-Nahal, (verse 36), Allah says what can be translated as, “We have elected from every nation a messenger (to tell them): Submit to Allah and keep away from Taghut (evil).” Also, Allah say in surat Yassin, (verse 60 & 61), what can be translated as, “Have I not had a covenant with you, O’ children of Adam, not to submit to Satan for he is a clear enemy, and to submit to me. This is the straight path.”
The meaning of “ibadah” in the Arabic language is obedience, submission, and humility.
The “ibadah” in Islam means: The ultimate obedience, the ultimate submission and the ultimate humility to Allah (S.W.T.) along with the ultimate love for Him.
From this definition of “ibadah”, we realize that the “ibadah” in Islam must meet two conditions:
- First: Following what Allah (S.W.T.) has legislated and what His messenger has called for, in commands, in prohibitions, in halal and in haram. This is what represents the obedience and submission to Allah (S.W.T.).
- Second: Following what Allah (S.W.T.) has legislated must be coming from a heart full of love to Allah, The Most High.
The concept of “ibadah” that Allah (S.W.T.) has created man for, and made it his purpose in life, and his mission on earth; is a comprehensive and complete concept that encompasses all aspects of man’s life.
The comprehensiveness of “ibadah” for all deen:
Imam Ibn Taymiah was asked about the (verse 21), in surat Al-Baqarah, that can be translated as, “O People, “o’bodoo” your Lord.” He was asked, “what is “ibadah”? What are its branches? Is the whole deen included in it or not?” He responded with details in his book titled “Al-O’bodiyyah”:
“The “ibadah” is a collective noun that includes every thing that Allah (S.W.T.) loves and accepts from sayings and the physical acts; the hidden (acts by heart) and the openly (acts by limbs). The acts by limbs include the prayer, zakah, fasting, hajj, straight talk, loyalty (returning someone’s possessions to them), kindness with parents, having good accord with relatives, keeping promises and treaties, enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil, fighting against the kuffar and the hypocrites, kindness with the neighbor, with the orphan, with the poor, with the wayfarer, with the animals, supplication, remembering Allah, reciting Qur’an, and all things of this nature are from “ibadah.”
The acts by heart include the love for Allah and His messenger, fear of Allah, asking Him for forgiveness, Having sincerity to Him alone in deen, being patient, thanking for His blessings, accepting His judgment, depending on Him, hoping for His mercy, fear from His punishment, and all things of this nature are from of ibadah worship.” All this is supported by an abundant number of evidences from the book of Allah (S.W.T.) and the sunnah of His messenger (S.A.W.).
The comprehensiveness of “ibadah” for all aspects of this life:
From the etiquette of eating, drinking, going to the bathroom, to building the individual as well as the society, satisfying the people’s needs that are related to the issues of the state and the politics of ruling and governing, the system of economy, the affairs of dealings and the judicial system, and the foundations of international relations in peace and in war. All this is supported by many Qur’anic verses and sayings of the prophet (S.A.W.).
“Ibadah” is following exclusively the system of Islam and its legislation:
Allah (S.W.T.) says in surat Al-Ahzab, (verse 36), what can be translated as, “It was never for a believer; man or woman, when Allah and His messenger make a verdict about some issue, that they will have the choice in their situation.” In surat An-Noor, (verse 51), Allah (S.W.T.) says what can be translated as, “The saying of the believers, when they are called to Allah and His messenger to judge among them, is nothing but we heard and obeyed.” Also in surat An-Nisa’, (verse 65), what can be translated as, “No, by your Lord, they will not believe till they make you a judge in what went wrong between them, then they shall find no grudge within themselves from your judgment, and totally submit.”
In the light of this, there is no worshiper of Allah (S.W.T.) that says: I pray, I fast and I perform Hajj, but I am free that I can eat pork, or drink alcohol, or deal with interest, or refuse anything that does not please me from the rules of Islam, so that I can apply what Allah (S.W.T.) has not revealed.
Similarly, they are not worshipers of Allah (S.W.T.) if they think that the place of ibadah (worship) is only in the mosque; when they leave the mosque, they submit to other than Allah; be their desires or anything else.
He who follows other than the legislation of Allah (S.W.T.), he associated others with Allah in His “ibadah”.
So, if they perform the forms of worship acts like prayer, fasting, zakah and hajj and accept the rulings about their private aspects and general aspects of life, or about the affairs of the society and the government from other than the legislation of Allah (S.W.T.), they have worshipped other than Allah, and gave others what is exclusively the attribute of Allah (S.W.T.).
Those who claim that they have the right to legislate whatever they want, whether they are commands, prohibitions, without the permission of Allah (S.W.T.), they have transgressed against Allah (S.W.T.) and made themselves as god. And those who accept this legislation from those people who legislate and follow their legislation, their system and their laws and abide by their commands and their prohibitions, then they have taken them as god and worshipped them along with Allah or without Allah (S.W.T.), and with this they fall in the category of mushriks.
Qur’an has described the people of the book as polytheists, and stated that they have worshipped their priests and their monks by taking them as gods instead of Allah (S.W.T.), and that was when they obeyed them and followed them in their legislating what Allah (S.W.T.) has not permitted.
Allah (S.W.T.) says in surat At-Tawbah, verse (31), what can be translated as, “They took their priests and their monks as their gods instead of Allah and also the Christ, the son of Mariam. And they have not been ordered but to worship the one God. There is no god except Him. Glorious and high is He above what they associate with Him.”
Adi Bin Hatim came to the prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.), wondering about this verse. Adi said to the prophet that they (meaning the people of the book) did not worship their (priests and monks). The prophet (S.A.W.) replied: “Yes, they (meaning the priests and monks) forbade what was lawful, and allowed what was forbidden, then they (meaning the people of the book) followed them. That is their worship to them.”
The useful social activities are considered as “ibadah” to Allah if they were meant to be for the sake of Allah (S.W.T.). They are so many in the Qur’anic verses and in the sayings of the prophet (S.A.W.) among which: Solving problems between people, visiting the sick, helping the poor, removing obstacles (like rocks, fallen trees due to hurricanes, banana peels….) off the road, supporting the oppressed, having justice between two people, helping people in their needs, the good word, even treating the animals kindly, and all things of this nature.
Making a living is considered as “ibadah” to Allah if the following conditions are met:
- The work has to be allowed in Islam.
- The work has to be accompanied by a good intention.
- The work has to be performed with excellence.
- The work has to be within the limits of Allah. So, there must be no room for injustice, disobedience of Allah or mistrust.
- The work must not keep someone away from his deen obligations like prayer, Fasting,
Even the activities that man initiates out of his nature to satisfy his desires are considered as “ibadah” to Allah. If the intention was good and the satisfaction was in the limits of Islam. The prophet (S.A.W.) said what was reported by Imams Muslim and At-Tirmithi, “With the sexual intercourse that you have (with your wives) is a charity”, the companions asked the prophet: “We satisfy our desires and yet we get a reward from Allah?” The prophet (S.A.W.), then said: “What do you think if your desire was fulfilled in a forbidden way? Will there be a misdeed?” They replied: “Yes”, then the prophet (S.A.W.) said: “So, if he fulfilled it in an allowed way, he has a reward for it.”