Worship (‘Ibādah) Should Only be for Allah

The word ‘ibādah in the linguistic sense means submission and humility. Thus, it is commonly said, “Baīr muabbad” for a docile camel, as a mark of its humiliation, and, “Ṭarīq muabbad,” for a smooth and passable road, to indicate a well-trodden path.

In the legalistic sense, the word ‘ibādah (worship) encompasses all manifest or hidden acts and statements that Allah lovers or assents to. This will be further explained later when the different forms of worship are discussed.

Worship in Islam comprises of three basic elements: The first is complete love for Allah. The Qur’an states,

“But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah.” (Q, 2:165)

The second is absolute hope, which is mentioned in the following verse,

“They hope for His mercy.” (Q, 17:57)

The third is total fear of His punishment, which is mentioned in the following,

   “They fear His punishment.” (Q, 17:57)

An indication to these three elements of worship, combined together, appears in the opening sūrah of the Qur’an where Allah says,

“All praise be to Allah, the Lord of all that exists. The Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate. Owner of the Day of Reckoning.” (Q, 1:2-4)

The first verse expresses love, since Allah is a Benefactor, and a benefactor is usually admired in accordance with the extent of his benefit. The second verse speaks of hope, as we know that people usually hope for the mercy of anyone described as being merciful. While the third implies fear, for there is a tendency for a person to fear the punishment of He who own reckoning and recompense.

Thus, the clause following the above quoted verses immediately reads, “You alone we worship,” meaning: My Lord, I worship You alone with all these elements; with my love for you as implied in, “All praise be to Allah, the Lord of all that exists,” in anticipation of Your mercy, as indicated in the words, “The Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate,” and out of fear of Your punishment, as is evident in the words, “Owner of the Day of Reckoning.”

For an act of worship to be approved by Allah, it must fulfill two conditions: First is sincerity toward Allah, the object of worship. Allah approves of no act of worship except when done exclusively for His sake. He says,

“They were not commanded except to worship Allah, [being] sincere to Him in religion.” (Q, 98:5)

“Unquestionably, for Allah is the pure religion.” (Q, 39:3)

“Say, ‘Allah alone do I worship, sincere to Him in my religion.” (Q, 39:14)

The second is following in the footsteps of the Prophet. No act is acceptable to Allah unless it conforms to the teachings of His Messenger. Allah says,

“Whatever the Messenger has given you, then take it, and what he has forbidden you, then refrain from it.” (Q, 59:7)

“But no, by your Lord, they will not believe until they make you judge concerning that over which they dispute among themselves and then find within themselves no discomfort from what you have judged and submit in full submission.” (Q, 4:65)

In the words of the Prophet himself,

“Whoever introduces into this religion of our something that is not from it, then his innovation will be rejected.”[1]

Based on this, any act of worship that is devoid of either sincerity to Allah or in compliance with the sunnah of the Prophet is meaningless. Concerning the verse,

“That He might test you as to which of you is best in deed.” (Q, 11:7)

Fuḍayl b. ‘Iyāḍ said, “That is the sincerest and most correct deed.” It was said to him, “Abū ‘Alī, which act is the sincerest and most correct?” He replied, “A sincere but incorrect act is unacceptable to Allah, just as no correct act would be approved by Him unless its goodness is proven. A sincere act is that which has been done for the sake of Allah, and the correct act is the one performed in accordance with the sunnah of His Prophet.”[2]

Qur’anic verse containing evidences on the above-mentioned conditions include the words of Allah found at the end of Sūrah al-Kahf, which states,

“Say, ‘I am only a man like you, to whom has been revealed that your god is one God. So, whoever would hope for the meeting with his Lord, let him do righteous work and not associate in the worship of his Lord anyone.’” (Q, 18:110)

Ibādah is of numerous types. Any righteous deed or utterance, whether manifest or concealed, is regarded as a branch of worship, provided that such is loved and accepted by Allah. The following are some examples.

One form of worship is supplication (duā’), concerning which Allah says,

“So supplicate to Allah, being sincere to Him in religion.” (Q, 40:14)

The mosques are for Allah, so do not invoke anyone along with Allah.” (Q, 72:18)

“Who is more astray than he who invokes besides Allah those who will not respond to him up to the Day of Resurrection; they, of their invocation, are unaware. When the people are gathered [that Day], they will be enemies to them, and they will be deniers of their worship.” (Q, 46:5-6)

Whoever invokes a living or non-living thing, other than Allah, asking to be provided something that only Allah alone can provide has become a disbelieving polytheist. Asking a living person to render a service that he is able to render is, however, a blameless act. Examples can be saying to him, “Provide me with something to eat or drink,” etc. It must be added that even such a permissible request cannot be directed to a deceased or absent person, who are not in the position to provide anything for anyone; therefore, invoking them causes a person to become a polytheist.

There are two types of supplications: du‘ā’ al-mas’alah (supplication for worldly need) and du‘ā’ al-‘ibādah (supplication for worship). The former is a supplication made to request for a worldly benefit from Allah, while the latter refers to supplication with the mere intent to worship Allah, and it involves an open or hidden righteous action. It is understandable that a worshipper usually asks Allah, either through spoken words or silent expression, for his act of worship to be accepted, and for him to be rewarded for that action.

Any Qur’anic statement that commands us to make invocation [to Allah], forbidding us to invoke anything else, or praising those who invoke Allah, refers to both types of invocation mentioned above.

Other forms of worship are love, fear, and hope. As mentioned previously, these three represent the basic element of worship.

Another form of worship is reliance upon something. Pertaining to Allah, this means: entrusting Him faithfully with all matters, depending completely upon Him, and having trust in Him, without ignoring the pursuit of the lawful means He has provided for the attainment of the benefits or prevention of the harm. Allah say,

“In Allah place your trust if you are indeed believers.” (Q, 5:23)

“Whoever places his trust in Allah, He is sufficient for him.” (Q, 65:3)

Another form of worship includes desire, fright, and reverence. Desire is a wish to have something you love. Fright denotes a fear that culminates in running away from a horrible thing. Reverence indicates a feeling of humility and submissiveness to Allah, and it causes one to submit voluntarily to both His general and specifics decrees. The following words from Allah demonstrate these three things,

“They used to hasten to good deeds and supplicate Us in hope and fear, and they were to Us humbly submissive.” (Q, 21:90)

Another form is anxiety, and this is a feeling of nervousness resulting from one’s knowledge of the majesty and absolute authority of the One who is feared. Allah says,

“So do not fear them, but fear Me.” (Q, 2:150)

Another form is turning to Allah in repentance, by being obedient to Him and avoiding acts of disobedience. Allah says,

“To your Lord you should turn while repentant and with submission.” (Q, 39:54)

Another is seeking Allah’s help in any attempt to achieve religious or worldly benefits. Allah says,

“You alone we worship, and You alone we ask for help.” (Q, 1:5)

The Prophet, while advising ibn ‘Abbās, said,

“When you ask for help, ask none but Allah.”[3]

Another form is to take refuge in something or to seek protection from a misfortune. Concerning this Allah says,

“Say, ‘I seek refuge in the Lord of the daybreak, from the evil of that which He has created.” (Q, 113:1-2)

“Say, ‘I seek refuge in the Lord of humanity, the King of humanity, the God of humanity, from the evil of the whisperer who withdraws.” (Q, 114:1-4)

Another is calling for help in order to be saved from hardship or destruction. Concerning this Allah says,

“When you sought help of your Lord and He answered you.” (Q, 8:9)

Another is slaughtering animals in a particular way with the intention of pleasing Allah. Concerning this Allah says,

“Say, ‘Indeed, my prayer, my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the worlds.” (Q, 6:162)

“Perform the ṣalāh for your Lord, and sacrifice.” (Q, 108L2)

Another is taking an oath. This means deliberately imposing an act or a non-obligatory religious observance upon oneself. Concerning this Allah says,

“They fulfill their oaths and fear a day whose evil will be widespread.” (Q, 76:7)

The foregoing are examples of the acts of worship which are all exclusive possessions of Allah alone, and should not be devoted to any other.

Acts of worship, in terms of the parts of the human body that are used, are divided into three:

  1. Acts relating to the heart, such as love, fear, hope, returning to Allah in repentance, anxiety, fright, placing one’s trust in Him, and so forth.
  2. Acts related to the tongue, such as saying, “All praise be to Allah,” or, “There is nothing worthy of worship except Allah,” or asking for forgiveness, or reciting the Qur’an, or making supplications, and so forth.
  3. Acts related to the physical body, which includes the ṣalāh, fasting, zakāh, ḥajj, charity, fighting in Allah’s cause, and so forth.

[1] Bukhārī no. 2697.

[2] See Ḥilyah al-Awliyā’ 8/pg. 95.

[3] Tirmidhī no. 2516 and Aḥmad 1/pg. 307

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