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Worship in Islam

Worship in Islam

In Islam, worship is understood as any utterance or activity, whether manifest or hidden, that Allah loves and is pleased with. It also implies the greatest degree of love and submission on the part of the worshipper.

Every Prophet throughout history called his people to worship Allah alone.

Allah says: And We sent no Messenger except that We revealed to him: There is no God besides Me, so worship Me.

The purpose of worship is to attain nearness to Allah with what He loves and is pleased with. It is necessary for this worship to be based on clear guidance and to be free from deviance. Therefore, an act of worship must fulfill two conditions:

1. It must conform to the dictates of Allah’s Law as found in the Quran and Sunnah. Allah commands His Messenger (peace be upon him) with the following:

Say (O Muhammad): If you love Allah, then obey me. Then Allah will love you.

2. It must be performed purely for Allah’s sake. There should be no other object of worship involved whatsoever.

Allah commands his Messenger (peace be upon him) with the following:

Say (O Muhammad): I worship Allah alone, sincerely, and with full devotion.

Say (O Muhammad): Verily, my prayers, my sacrifice, my life, and my death are for Allah, the Lord of All the Worlds. No partner has He. With this I am commanded and I am the first to submit to His Will.

Comprehensiveness of Worship

The Islamic understanding of worship allows the whole of one’s life to be an act of worship, as long as the objective of that life is the pleasure of Allah, which is achieved by doing good and refraining from evil. A person can turn everyday activities into acts of worship by purifying his or her intention and sincerely seeking Allah’s pleasure through these activities. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said:

Greeting a person is charity. Acting justly is charity. Helping a man with his steed is charity. A good word is charity. Every step taken on the way to performing prayers is charity. Removing an obstacle from the road is charity.

Earning a living can be a form of worship The Companions saw a man and were astonished by his hard work and industry. They lamented: “If he were only doing this much work for the sake of Allah…”

Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “If he is working to support his small children, then it is for the sake of Allah. If he is working to support his elderly parents, then it is for the sake of Allah. If he is working to occupy himself and keep his desires in check, then it is for the sake of Allah. If, on the other hand, he is doing so to show off and earn fame, then he is working for the sake of Satan.”

Even the most natural acts can become acts of worship if they are accompanied by the proper intention: Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “When one of you approaches his wife, it is an act of charity.”

The same can be said for eating and drinking, as long as it is done out of fear of Allah and seeking to obey him.

In order for these otherwise mundane actions to be counted as acts of worship deserving of divine reward, the following conditions must be met:

A. The action must be accompanied by the proper intention. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Actions are but by intentions, and a person gets only what he intended.”

B. The action must be lawful in and of itself. If the action is something prohibited, its perpetrator deserves punishment. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Allah is good, and He accepts only what is good.”

C. The activity must be performed in the best possible manner. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Allah has prescribed excellence for all things.” He also said: “Allah loves that if one of you does something, he does it well.”

D. The dictates of Islamic Law must be completely observed. Deception, oppression, and iniquity must be avoided. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “He who deceives us is not one of us.”

E. The activity should not keep the person from performing his or her religious obligations. Allah says:

O you who believe, do not let your wealth and children distract you from the remembrance of Allah.

The Purpose of Worship

Worship provides the believers with many benefits that contribute to both their spiritual and worldly well-being. Some of the most significant of these benefits are as follows:

1. Enrichment and development of the soul: The human body needs material resources for its existence, like food, drink, and a means of reproduction. As for the soul, its needs cannot be fulfilled except through nearness to Allah by means of faith and obedience, which can only be achieved through worship.

Allah must be worshipped in times of hardship and times of prosperity. Allah says:

We truly know how your heart is distressed by what they say. So celebrate the praises of your Lord and be of those who prostrate themselves and worship your Lord until the sure hour (of death).

Allah says:

When the help of Allah and the victory comes and you see the people entering into the religion of Allah in crowds, then glorify the praises of your Lord and seek His forgiveness. Verily He is Most Forgiving.

2. Realization of human freedom: Worship liberates the human being from subjugation to anything besides Allah and prevents a person from surrendering his or her will to false gods. This is true freedom that brings about security and contentment. Submission to Allah is a great source of strength. Allah says:

If anyone seeks might, then all might is with Allah.

3. Preparation for the life to come: Allah says, quoting Moses (peace be upon him):

O my people, this worldly life is but a provision, while the Hereafter is the eternal abode.

The worldly life is a time of trial. The substance of this trial is the worship of Allah in fulfillment of His commandments. Allah says: (It is Allah) who created death and life to try you as to who is best in deeds.

4. Social reform: We find that worship, in its most comprehensive meaning, embodies every possible means of individual and social reform. This is because every individual and collective endeavor can enter into the domain of worship. Islam has prescribed certain obligations on the societal – as opposed to the individual – level. This takes societal needs into consideration. Allah says: Allah has promised those among you who believe and do righteous deeds that he will give them authority in the Earth as He has done for those who came before and that He will establish their religion that He wants to replace their fear with security. They may worship Me and not associate partners with Me.

The advent of Islam brought about great reforms in the domain of worship. Islam came at a time when there were many forms of worship in the world. Some of these were remnants of the previous divinely revealed scriptures. Others were completely man-made. Even those acts of worship that were of divine origin had been corrupted, altered, and removed from their proper contexts.

Some religions exaggerated the importance of formalism and mindless ritual. Others went to extremes to free themselves of all notions of form and order. Some religions went to extremes that made worship a harmful and painful thing. Some of them also demanded monasticism from their adherents. Other religions went to extremes in indulgence, often completely abandoning religious obligations altogether.

Islam came to correct and reform these excessive tendencies, while establishing principles of its own. It provided principles to bring about reform and to safeguard worship. The most important of these principles is that no one deserves to be worshipped except for Allah. The first thing that Islam came with was the concept of monotheism. Bearing witness to monotheism is how a person enters into the fold of Islam and is considered to be a believer. The testimony is as follows:
There is no God but Allah. Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”

These words are a testimony that there is no one worthy of worship except for Allah. In this way, Islam negates every possible manifestation of polytheism. Allah addresses His Messenger (peace be upon him) with the following words: It has been revealed to you and to those who came before you: If you commit polytheism, your deeds will be naught and you will be among the losers.

We can see how the Prophet (peace be upon him) prohibited anything that could lead the people to polytheism or to their falling into excessiveness in their belief. He made it clear that he was merely a slave of Allah and His Messenger. He said: “Do not praise me excessively the way that the Christians praised Jesus the son of Mary. I am only Allah’s slave and Messenger, so say that I am His slave and Messenger.”

He also said: “None should seek help through me. Help should be sought from Allah alone.” Near the time of his death, he would repeatedly say: “Allah’s wrath became severe towards those people who turned the graves of their Prophets into places of worship.” He also said: “Whoever takes an oath in other than Allah’s name has fallen into polytheism.” He said: “Allah has cursed those who offer sacrifices to other than Allah.”

The Rites of Worship in Islam

We shall now turn our attentions to he four principal acts of worship prescribed by Islam, which are prayer, Zakah, fasting, and the Hajj pilgrimage. These four acts of worship – along with the testimony that there is no god besides Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah – are the five pillars that Islam rests upon. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Islam is built upon five things: testifying that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establishing prayer, paying Zakah, fasting during the month of Ramadân, and making pilgrimage to the House if one is able to do so.” These four pillars are the minimum required acts of worship. Negligence in performing these acts of worship is considered a major sin and can lead to apostasy. Muslims are encouraged to perform more than this in order to draw even nearer to Allah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) relates to us that Allah said: “My servant does not seek nearness to me with anything more beloved than what I have commanded him to do. My servant then continues to seek nearness to me with voluntary acts until I love him.”

These acts of worship are as old as they are new

Acts of worship similar to these were prescribed in the religions that came before Islam. They were an integral part of those faiths. Allah says, referring to some of the Messengers (peace be upon them):
And We made them leaders that guided people by Our command. We inspired them to perform good deeds, establish prayer, and pay the Zakah, and they were to us devout worshippers.

Allah says, after speaking about Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (peace be upon them all): O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those who came before you that perhaps you might be God fearing.

Allah says regarding the Hajj: And when We gave to Abraham the site of the house (saying): Do not associate with Me anything in worship, and sanctify My house for those who circle it, or stand up, bow, and prostrate in prayer. And proclaim the pilgrimage to the people; they will come to you on foot, on every lean camel, and from every steep mountain pass.

Necessarily, the exact forms taken by these acts of worship were different for the previous manifestations of the Sacred Law. The manner of prayer in Islam is different than it was for the Jews and Christians. The same can be said about alms, fasting, and pilgrimage.

These acts of worship, though they are pure acts of devotion that must be carried out no matter how restricted the worshipper’s understanding of them might be, have wisdom behind them. Knowing the wisdom behind them and the positive effects that they bring about can increase the worshipper’s resolve and zeal in performing them. This knowledge can increase the benefit realized by the worshipper as well.

Prayer

Prayer is the second pillar upon which Islam rests, the first pillar being the testimony of faith. Islam stresses this act of worship and sternly warns against neglecting it. Prayer is the central pillar of faith. It is the key to Paradise and the first thing to be accounted for on the Day of Judgment. It is also the first of the religious obligations brought by the Prophets after faith in Allah. Allah says, addressing Moses (peace be upon him): Verily I am Allah. There is no god but Me, so worship Me and establish prayer to celebrate My praises. Allah relates to us the supplication of Abraham (peace be upon him) as follows:
My Lord, have me and my descendants establish prayer. My Lord, accept my supplication.
Likewise, Ishmael (peace be upon him) used to order his family to pray. Allah says: He used to order his family to pray and pay Zakah, and he was pleasing to his Lord.
The Messiah (peace be upon him) mentioned prayer when he was in the cradle. Allah relates to us his words:
And He enjoined prayer and Zakah (alms) upon me as long as I live.

Some benefits of prayer:

1. It enriches the soul and fulfills its yearning to connect with its Lord. This gives the soul peace and contentment.
2. It purifies the heart from the effects of indolence and sin by providing a continuous opportunity for communication with Allah and for repentance. The Messenger (peace be upon him) indicated this when he said to his Companions: “Consider if one of you had a river by his door in which he bathed five times a day. Would any filth remain on him?” They responded in the negative. He said: “Likewise, Allah wipes away sins with the five daily prayers.”
This stresses the meaning of Allah’s words:
Verily prayer forbids licentiousness and wrongdoing. And the remembrance of Allah is the greatest thing.

3. It emphasizes the proximity between religion and daily life. Life, from an Islamic standpoint, is to be directed to Allah. Life is an opportunity for worship and the remembrance of Allah. Praying repeatedly throughout the day, interrupting the daily activities, brings about the realization of this concept. The believer, through prayer, acquires a spiritual awareness that he takes with him throughout all of life’s endeavors.

4. It teaches a Muslim punctuality. Prayer shows how important time actually is. Allah says: Prayer is enjoined upon the believers at prescribed times.

5. It teaches the Muslim the virtues of constancy and perseverance. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “The best of deeds with Allah are the ones performed most regularly, even if it is small.”

6. It cultivates brotherhood, equality, and humility between the Muslims.

Zakah (Charity)

Zakah is the third pillar of Islam. It consists of the payment of a specific portion of wealth whenever a person’s total savings reaches a specific level and is held for a specified period of time. This wealth is then distributed to a predetermined set of beneficiaries.

The previous scriptures recognized the essential meaning of the Zakah tax, this being consideration for the poor by giving them a portion of wealth. Allah says: And when We took the covenant of the Children of Israel: do not worship anyone except Allah and show respect to parents, near relatives, the orphans, and the poor, and speak righteousness to the people, and establish prayer, and pay the Zakah.

The Messiah (peace be upon him) mentioned Zakah when he was in the cradle. Allah relates his words: And He enjoined prayer and Zakah upon me as long as I live.

Islam encouraged spending in charity even before the institution of Zakah was established. Allah says: In their wealth is a clear right for the beggar and the destitute.

When the Islamic state was established in Madinah, Zakah became one of the formal Islamic rites with a distinct system of its own based on the following principles:

1. It is an obligatory duty on the wealthy. It is not voluntary charity. Allah describes Zakah as a duty from Him and commands His Messenger (peace be upon him), saying: Take from their wealth charity.

2. It is taken from specific types of wealth, each type having a unique minimum limit, whereby no Zakah is levied unless it is reached.

3. The amount of Zakah levied is inversely proportionate to the effort needed to acquire the wealth. In the Zakah on produce, for instance, rain-fed produce is taxed more heavily than produce that is cultivated with irrigation.

4. It is given to a specific set of beneficiaries that are mentioned in the Quran. Allah says: The charity is only for the poor, the destitute, the Zakah collectors, to reconcile hearts to Islam, to free the slaves, people in debt, those in the path of Allah, and the wayfarer; an obligation from Allah, and Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise.

Zakah is a manifestation of Islam’s concern for the human being. Allah says: Truly, We have honored the descendants of Adam.

One of the ways in which this honor can be seen is Allah has taken into consideration those who are unable to provide for themselves. He has made society responsible for their needs through a number of injunctions in the Divine Law, among the most important of which is Zakah. This concern is conditional. The needy person is expected to expend the maximum possible effort to provide for his or her self, so that any charity given will be of a supplementary nature. Thus, this charity might be to remedy a temporary misfortune, or it might be to provide for someone who is completely incapable of providing for his or her own needs.

Zakah is an institution managed by the state. It is the responsibility of the political authority to collect the Zakah, safeguard it, and distribute it to its rightful recipients who are mentioned in the Qur’anic verse. Allah commands His Messenger (peace be upon him) in the following way: Take from their wealth charity to cleanse them and purify them.

In an Islamic state, the government must appoint the officials who are responsible to collect, safeguard, record, and distribute the Zakah. The political authority must also set the salaries of these officials, which is also drawn from the Zakah.

Some benefits of Zakah:

Zakah is a means of purification. It purifies the character of the wealthy individual from the stain of selfishness that, if left unchecked, can bring ruin to the social fabric by making society constricted and egotistical. It also purifies the wealth by taking from it the right of the poor. If this right were not taken from it, the wealth would become bereft of all blessings. Zakah also purifies all the members of society, rich and poor, by removing the causes of social strife and discord.

Zakah causes an increase of wealth:

1. It elevates the social standing of the wealthy by cultivating within the wealthy person a sense of tranquility and a kind heart, because doing good is one of the greatest reasons for contentment of the heart. It also develops the personality of the poor person by providing for him a sense of solidarity with others in society.

2. It increases wealth and allows it to be blessed. The apparent decrease in the wealth of the affluent is more than offset by the social stability and security that circulating this wealth provides for society.

3. Zakah is an important means of providing social security.

Islam refuses to allow individual members of society to be denied the basic needs of life, like food, clothing, and shelter. It is necessary that these things are available to all members of society. Allah says: In their wealth is a clear right for the beggar and the destitute.

4. It narrows the gap between the rich and the poor. People have a natural desire to possess things. Islam recognizes human nature and also recognizes that people will not possess things equally due to their different circumstances and abilities. Islam, however, puts regulations on the acquisition of wealth to keep the wealthy people from going to excess and to prevent the poor people from becoming ruined by their poverty or forced into deviant, destructive behavior on account of jealousy and hatred.

Zakah is an important way of realizing this objective. Allah says: What Allah has bestowed upon His Messenger from the people of the towns is for Allah, His Messenger, the kindred, the orphans, the needy, and the wayfarer so that it may not merely circulate between the wealthy among you.

Zakah provides a minimum limit for charitable spending. It is by far not the maximum. It is the absolute minimum that is required as a religious duty from those who possess wealth. Islam encourages everyone to give in charity as much as they can. Allah says: You will never attain piety until you spend of what you love.

Fasting

Fasting is the fourth pillar of Islam. It entails abstaining from food, drink, and sexual intercourse from dawn until sunset with the intention of attaining nearness to Allah. It is obligatory every day throughout the lunar month of Ramadân.

Fasting was a religious obligation for the followers of the religions before Islam, though its form may have been different. Allah says: O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those who came before you that perhaps you might be God fearing.

Some benefits of fasting:

1. It develops willpower. In this way, it trains the Muslim to rise up to the challenges of life. It gives the individual the ability to control his or her desires. It teaches patience; because the fasting person must give up pleasures that he or she is normally accustomed to enjoying.

2. Fasting is a way of recognizing the blessings of Allah that surround the individual. Allah says: If you try to count the blessings of Allah, you will never be able do so.

Most of the time, people forget these numerous blessings, never remembering them unless they are lost. Fasting provides a reminder of these blessings throughout the fasting person’s life.

3. Fasting reminds people of the suffering of those who are deprived, affording those who have means a glimpse of the hardships and hunger suffered by the poor. This makes the well off more likely to want to help the poor.

4. Fasting is healthy. It provides rest for the digestive system and cultivates the habit of eating less. It also provides the body relief from harmful habits the fasting person might have, like smoking, the use of stimulants, and possibly other forbidden things.

5. Fasting provides an opportunity for complete devotion to Allah. Fasting is a perfect example of total submission to Allah and fear of Allah alone. The reason for this is that a person’s fast is not witnessed by anyone except Allah himself. The person gives up all physical desires for the whole day exclusively to seek Allah’s pleasure. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) related to us that Allah said: “Every action of the descendants of Adam is for them except for fasting; it is for me and I will reward it.”

The Hajj (Pilgrimage)

The Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam. It was the last of them to be revealed. It entails making a journey of faith from the Muslim’s own land to Allah’s Sacred House in Mecca during specific days to perform specific rites with the purpose of attaining nearness to Allah.

The Hajj evokes the memory of Abraham (peace be upon him). Allah had ordered him to build the Sacred House as a sign of His unity and as a place of worship.

Allah says:Verily, the first house established for the people is in Mecca, blessed and a guidance for all the worlds. It contains clear signs and the place of Abraham. Whoever enters it finds sanctuary. And for Allah the people must make pilgrimage to the House, whoever among them is able to make the journey.

The pilgrims go into a reverent state known as ihrâm where they remove their normal clothing and don the pilgrim garb as a sign of the unity and equality that Abraham (peace be upon him) called to and represented. Allah says, relating the words of Abraham (peace be upon him): Whoever follows me is from me, and whoever disobeys me, then You (O Allah) are forgiving and merciful.

The pilgrims pace between Mount Safa and Mount Marwah in remembrance of the trial that Abraham’s wife Hajar had to undergo when he left her with their infant son in Mecca, trusting in Allah. Allah says, relating the supplication of Abraham (peace be upon him) at that difficult time:

Our Lord, verily I placed my progeny in a barren, uncultivated valley at Your Sacred House – O Lord – to establish prayer. So make the hearts of the people go out to them and provide them with fruits so perhaps they might be thankful.

The ritual of throwing stones at the jamarat (stone pillars) signifies when Abraham (peace be upon him) was tempted by Satan who tried to dissuade him from fulfilling Allah’s command to sacrifice his son. Abraham began to repel him with stones. For this reason, it has been prescribed for the pilgrims to throw stones at the jamarât.

Some benefits of the Hajj:

1. The Hajj emphasizes the Islamic characteristics of unity and equality of the Muslims while at the same time proclaiming the absolute unity of Allah.

2. The Hajj is a weighty spiritual and emotional event that remains a part of the believer for the rest of his or her life. The pilgrim will always remember that these experiences occurred in the places where the best of Creation had tread. Allah says:

It is the religion of our father Abraham. He has named you Muslims.

Allah says: Who disdains the religion of Abraham except the most feebleminded?

3. The Hajj is a cultural journey, rich with experiences. These qualities are well known to those who have performed the Hajj with others from all over the world. Allah says: And proclaim the pilgrimage to the people; they will come to you on foot, on every lean camel, and from every steep mountain pass.

This huge congregation of Muslims provides an excellent opportunity for them to exchange ideas and discuss their concerns. It can be both a religious and worldly exchange. Those who come for Hajj or follow its progress can benefit economically, socially, and politically. Allah says:

They shall witness benefits for themselves and they should remember the name of Allah in the well-known day.

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