The Concept of Worship in Islam

WAMY Series on Islam No. 8

The concept of worship in Islam differs from that found in other

religions, and is therefore subject to misunderstanding. In general,

worship is understood to mean the observance of certain rituals:

praying, fasting, giving charity, and other "good" works. In Islam,

however, worship is much more-it is one's entire life. As many

Muslim scholars have said: "Worship is an all-inclusive term for

those internal and external sayings and actions of a person that are

pleasing to Allah." In other words, worship is that which is done in

obedience to Allah's will, which obviously includes rituals but goes

far beyond to the realms of ones beliefs, social activities, and

personal contributions to one's society and fellow human beings.

Islam looks at the individual as a whole. He is required to submit

completely to Allah, as the Qur'an instructed the prophet Muhammad

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. The natural result of this

submission is that one's activities should conform to the instructions

of the one to whom the person is submitting-Allah. Islam requires

that its followers conduct every aspect of their lives according to its

teachings. This might sound strange to those who view religion as a

personal relation between the individual and God and as having no

impact on those activities that are not connected specifically with

any religious rituals.

The Prophet taught his followers that Islam is far more than a

private personal matter. Islam attaches no value to rituals that are

performed mechanically and have no influence on one's inner life.

The Qur'an dealt with this issue when it addressed Muslims, as well

as local Jews and Christians, during the dispute that arose when the

prayer direction was changed from Jerusalem to the Ka'bah in


It is not righteousness that you turn your faces toward 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 beloved money to the relatives and the orphans and

the needy Andover the ransoming of the captives, and who.observes prayer and pays the poor-due, and those who fulfill

their promises when they have made one, 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. (2:177)

The deeds mentioned in the above verse are indications that a

person is righteous. But they are only a part of worship. Faith,

according to the Prophet, is the basis of worship and "is made up of

sixty and some branches: the highest of which is the belief in the

Oneness of Allah, i.e., there is no God but Allah and the lowest in the

scale of worship is removing obstacles and dirt from people's way"

Honest work is considered a type of worship. The Prophet said:

"Whoever finds himself at the nightfall tired of his work, God will

forgive his sins." Seeking knowledge is one of the highest types of

worship. The Prophet told his Companions that "seeking knowledge is

a (religious) duty on every Muslim." He also said: "Seeking knowledge

for one hour is better than praying for seventy years. " Social

courtesy and cooperation, when done for the sake of Allah, are also a

part of worship: "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 in your neighbor's bucket is a charity"

In Islam, the performing one's duties is also considered an act of

worship. The Prophet told us that whatever one spends for his family

will be counted as an acts of worship for which he will be rewarded,

provided that he has acquired it through Islamically acceptable

means. Kindness to family members, no matter how small, are also

viewed as acts of worship. Even activities that we enjoy very much,

such as sexual relations with one's spouse, are considered acts of

worship as long as they are performed in accordance with the

relevant Qur'anic and prophetic guidelines. For example, the Prophet

once told his Companions that they would be rewarded even for

engaging in sex with their wives. They were astonished and asked:

"Are we to be rewarded for doing something that we enjoy very

much?" The Prophet replied: "If you satisfy your desires illegally,

will you be punished?" They replied, "Yes. " "So," he said, "by

satisfying it legally with your wives you will be rewarded."

It is clear from the previous discussion that the concept of worship in

Islam is a comprehensive concept that includes all of the positive

activities engaged in by an individual. This is in agreement with the.all-inclusive nature of Islam, which regulates life on the individual,

social, economic, political, spiritual, and all other levels of one's life.

This minute attention to one's activities is the reason why the Qur'an

and the example and sayings of the Prophet deal with all aspects of

an individual's and a society's life. As following these guidelines is an

act of obedience to Allah, He considers them as acts of worship. This

very positive attitude encourages individuals to follow the relevant

guidelines and thus to bring about personal and social

transformation. It also causes an individual to internalize the

guidelines, for even if no one is watching him, he knows that Allah is

watching him.

Discussing non-ritualistic types of worship first does not mean that

the ritualistic ones have less importance. In fact, if the latter are

performed correctly and sincerely, the elevate the individual both

spiritually and morally and actually help him to live a righteous life

according to the guidance of Allah.

Islam has several ritualistic activities that all Muslims are expected

to perform. The most important one is the prayer (salah), which must

be performed according to a specific style. Its importance derives

from the fact that it serves as the distinctive trait of a Muslim and

because it prevents a Muslim from engaging in sinful activities by

putting him into direct contact with Allah five times a day. Thus, the

ritual prayer is a chance for him to renew his covenant with Allah

and to seek His guidance anew. As it says in the Qur'an: You alone do

we worship and to You alone do we turn for help. Guide us to the

straight path (1:4-.5). Actually, the ritual prayer is the first practical

manifestation of the Islamic faith and is the main condition for a

Muslim's success: Successful indeed are the believers who are

humble in their prayers. (23:1-2)

This has also been emphasized by the Prophet, who said: "Those who

offer their prayer with great care and punctuality will find it a light,

a proof of their faith and a cause of their salvation on the Day of


The second most important pillar of Islam is zakat, a term that

signifies giving to the less fortunate a certain percentage of one's

earnings and holdings. Giving the poor-due and performing the

prayer are usually mentioned together in the Qur'an, for they are

both visible manifestations of one's Islamic faith and belief that

Allah is the sole owner of everything in the universe, which he.allows man to enjoy as His trustee for a specific period of time:

Believe in Allah and His Messenger and spend of that over which He

made you trustees (57:7). In this respect, giving one's poor-due is an

act of devotion that, like prayer, brings the believer nearer to his


In addition, this act provides a means to redistribute a society's

wealth in a way that reduces differences between classes and groups.

It makes an important contribution to social stability, for by purging

the soul of the rich person from selfishness and the soul of the poor

from envy and resentment against society, it blocks 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: it stands on a firmly

established right that, if denied by the rich, would be exacted by

force, if necessary.

The month-long fast of Ramadan (siyam) is the third pillar of Islam.

Its main function is to make the Muslim pure from "within," just as

the external legal code (the Shari'ah) makes his external actions pure.

This process of purification makes it possible for him to respond to

what is true and good and to shun what is false and evil. As stated in

the Qur'an: O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was

prescribed for those before you, that you may gain piety (2:183). In

an authentic tradition, the Prophet reported Allah as saying: "He

suspends eating, drinking, and gratification of his sexual passion for

My sake. " Thus his reward is going to be according to God's great


Fasting, then, awakens an individual's conscience and gives it scope

for exercise in a communal experience that is engaged in by the

entire Muslim world at the same time. Such a ritual strengthens the

individual's resolve to improve himself and to realize the purpose of

the whole undertaking. Fasting offers a compulsory rest to the over-worked

human body for the duration of one full month, and also

reminds Muslims of those who are deprived of life's necessities

throughout the year or throughout one's life. It makes him realize

the suffering of his less fortunate Muslim brothers, a feeling that

promotes in him a sense of sympathy and kindness towards Muslims

and other people in general.

Lastly, we come to the annual pilgrimage to the House of Allah (the

Ka'bah) in Makkah. This ritual, known as the hadj, is unique to Islam..Muslims from all comers of the world and all attired in the same

clothing respond in one voice and one language with the following

phrase upon entering the sacred precincts: "labbayk Allahuma

Labbayk" (Here I am at your service O Lord!). This is a time of strict

self-discipline and control where not only sacred things are revered,

but even the life of plants and birds is made inviolable: And he that

venerates the sacred things of God, it shall be better for him with his

Lord (22:30) as well as And he that venerates the way marks of God,

it surely is from devotion of the heart (22:32).

Pilgrimage gives an opportunity for all Muslims, regardless of their

affiliations with certain groups, classes, organizations, and

governments, to meet annually in a great congress. The time and

venue of this congress has been set by God. All Muslims are invited

to attend, for no individual or government can deny any Muslim the

right to do so. Every Muslim who attends is guaranteed full safety

and freedom as long as he does not violate its sanctity.

Thus, worship in Islam, whether ritual or non-ritual, trains the

individual in such a way that he loves his Creator even more, which

causes him to gain an unyielding will and spins to wipe out all evil

and oppression from his society and to make the word of God


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