‘Ibaadah: A total commitment to Allah

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

We thank and praise Allah SWT the Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. We bear witness that there is no god worthy of worship except Allah — the One to Whom we direct our ‘Ibaadah and on Whom we depend for its acceptance.

We bear witness that the Holy Prophet Muhammad SAWS is the true Messenger of Allah, who lived a life in total submission to Allah SWT and taught mankind the true meaning of ‘Ibaadah. O Allah, shower Thy choicest blessings on him, his friends and relatives — all those who served Allah selflessly and in every moment of their lives. Truly they understood the meaning of ‘Ibaadah, and, indeed the purpose of their lives on earth, as Allah explains in the Holy Qur’an:.

“I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve ME.” (Q. 51, 56)

My dear Sisters and Brothers

It is clear from this verse that the purpose of our birth and our life is no other than to worship Allah. We use the word, ‘ibaadah, so glibly and with so much confusion that it is necessary to consider the true meaning of the concept and how it affects our lives individually and collectively.

How often do we not hear such statements as: “First do your ‘ibaadah, then your worldly things.” or “Ibaadah and pleasure don’t mix.” or “He’s a man of ‘ibaadah, he salaahs regularly.” or “‘Ibaadah is one thing, business is another!” These statements imply that a Muslim lives two lives: a religious and a worldly life — a kind of apartheid rooted in our very personalities. Often we are torn between two loyalties. We succumb to the demands of the decadent materialist West with its philosophic base: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s or “Do not let noble religious values deter you from making money or oppressing others.” Sayyid Qutb maintains that “It is not natural for religion to be segregated from life in this world, nor is it natural for the Divine System to be confined to conscientious feelings, ethical rules, and ritualistic worship.”

What, then, is ‘Ibaadah ? Is it passive worship in the form of prayers or the reciting of litanies (dhikrs)? The word worship is defined in certain English dictionaries as meaning: courtesy or reverence paid to worth, honour, respect, dignity, worthiness, repute, an act of paying divine honours to a deity, religious reverence, etc. Are these meanings contained in the verse from Surah Faatigha: “Thee do we worship, and Thee Alone do we beseech for help”? Superficially, yes. Scholars of the Qur’an point out that the word ‘ibaadah appears in the Qur’an no fewer than 264 times and in 51 different forms. In the Arabic language, the word ‘ibaadah, is derived from the root ‘Abd, meaning a servant or a slave. ‘Ibaadah consists of those actions associated with a slave — particularly expressed in honour of his Master. A slave’s first form of behaviour is fidelity or faithfulness to his Master; secondly, obedience to his Owner and His Law and thirdly, respect and reverence. Let us consider the ayat, “I have only created Jinns and men, that they may serve ME” in terms of this definition of ‘Ibaadah: Allah created us so that we will be faithful only to Him, and to no other being, that we should follow the commandments of Allah only (obedience), that we will not listen to the order of anybody else against Allah, and will bow our heads in respect and reverence only to Him and to no one else. This ayat calls upon us to strive ACTIVELY within the framework of Allah’s Law.

A’la Maududi describes ‘Ibaadah in these words: “You obey the Law of Allah in your life at every step and in every condition and free yourself and your fellowmen of the shackles of every such man-made law as is opposed to the Law of Allah. Every move of yours should be within the limits prescribed for you by Allah.” ‘Ibaadah is the dynamic, positive action that the individual takes to live a life according to the method laid down by Allah. It stands to reason that the life that you and I lead is an embodiment of our ‘Ibaadah. Our ‘Ibaadah, therefore, embraces our sleeping and our being awake, taking food and drinking water, learning and even kissing our little babies. The way we conduct our business is an extension of our ‘Ibaadah and even our pleasures.

Brothers and Sisters,

Can you and I, in all sincerity and truthfulness to ourselves, say that our daily lives are an embodiment of our ‘ibaadah, our service to Allah SWT ? Can we honestly say that by living two distinct lives, with two sets of values, we are living effectively ? We need not live two lives and struggle to do justice to each! one would be easier and more manageable. We do not know where religion ends and so-called worldly life begins….there is no worldly life. Remember, we cannot say: “At this moment, while I am sitting in the masjid I am a servant of Allah, but later at work I am not a servant of Allah !” Nor can we decide to give only a certain time to Allah… we and everything we do, belong to Allah. Allah is the Master of time.

You may well ask: What then is salaah, fasting, zakaah and Ghajj ? These ‘ibaadaat Allah has made obligatory on us at fixed periods of time with the aim of preparing us for that big ‘ibaadah that we have to perform throughout life and in all conditions — our daily actions in life. Allah, in His Infinite Wisdom, knows that we are weak and our personalities need to be strengthened with such values that will enable us to make the right decisions and the conviction to fight evil. Salaah, which is described in the Qur’an as Remembrance, helps us develop that consciousness of being Allah’s slave and maintaining subservience to Allah Alone; it is a practice in obedience and discipline; it creates in us a reverence and a love for Allah which is so dynamic that it overflows and affect our relationships with our fellowmen; it inculcates in us an awareness of the Divine Law through our daily contact with the Qur’an; it makes us conscious of our fellowmen and inspires us to live and fight for social justice. The regular practice of zakaah, fasting and the performance of ghajj too, helps to develop these and other values and the personality to live a life of ‘ibaadah.

Allah SWT has given us clear guidance on our approach to a life of ‘ibaadah as well as the possible pitfalls we can encounter in our ‘ibaadah. Allah enjoins mankind to approach his worship with purity of intention. Hence the Prophets of Allah called their followers worship Allah SWT and not them. Concerning Nabi Noogh A.S. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:

“We sent Noah (of old) unto his people, and he said: “O my people, serve Allah. Ye have no other God save Him. Lo! I fear for you the retribution of an awful day.” (Q.7, 59)

Nabi Ebrahim AS prayed for protection against idolatry:

“And when Ebrahim said: My Lord! make safe this territory, and preserve me and my sons from serving idols.” (Q. 14, 35)

Nabi Hud’s call was to the worship of the ONE Allah and the active struggle of his people to fight the forces of evil:

“And unto the tribe of “Aad (We sent) their brother, Hud. He said: O my people! serve Allah. Ye have no other¬† God save Him. Will ye not ward off (evil) ?” (Q. 7, 65)

Nabi Muhammad SAWS, too, pleaded for worship and practical involvement as an expression of ‘ibaadah:

“O mankind! Worship your Lord, Who hath created you and those before you, so that ye may ward off evil.” (Q. 2, 21)

O Muslims,

Let us not mar our ‘ibaadah with hidden, greedy motives. Let us not set conditions to our ‘ibaadah such as “if Allah does not give us immediate benefits then we will not worship Him.” This type of sanctimonious worship and hypocrisy nullify whatever good we have done, and Allah warns us in the Holy Qur’an:

“And among mankind is he who worshippeth Allah upon a narrow marge so that if good befalleth him, he is content therewith,but if a trial befalleth him, he falleth away utterly. He loseth both the world and the Hereafter. That is the sheer loss.” (Q. 22, 11)

Allah warns us against the worship of Taghoot — symbolising the oppressive leader. Even if he promises to bring the Muslims to power, we cannot compromise with one who deliberately and unashamedly violates the rights of man embodied in the Law of Allah. On the contrary, we are required to oppose him and his system with impunity. Thus Allah enjoins us in the Holy Qur’an:

“……whoever rejects Evil and believes in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.” (Q. 2, 256)

And in another ayah we are warned against the treachery of these people:

“Hast thou not turned they vision to those who declare that they believe in the revelations — that have come to thee and to those before thee ? Their (real) wish is to resort together for judgement (in their disputes) to the Evil One, though they were ordered to reject him. But Satan’s wish is to lead them astray.” (Q. 4, 60)

Another kind of worship which weakens the effectiveness of our ‘Ibaadah, is the worship of idols in their various forms. Not only does it undermine mankind’s relationship with Allah SWT, but it reduces their dignity and self-respect. Qur’an relates how Nabi Ebrahim removed the idols from the temple and how Nabi Muhammad SAWS demolished all the idols around the Ka’aba. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:

“When he said to his father and folk: What are these images unto which ye pay devotion ?” They said: “We found our fathers worshippers of them. He said: “Verily ye and your fathers were in plain error.” (Q. 21, 52-54)

Let us look at the idols we are creating around us and how they prevent us from becoming effective and successful in our lives. Consider the time we spend with a past-time, listening to our favourite pop singer, caring for and maintaining our car or our homes, amassing wealth for the sake of personal achievement and self aggrandizement when we could have become involved in something more uplifting.

Qur’an also condemns the worshipping of Jinn and Shaytan as media for accomplishing success or harming competitors. If we work with evil we will be destroyed with evil. Let those among us who think that there is an alternative to effort and hard work as a means of achieving success, or defeating the ends of divine justice, know that these media cannot do good or harm to people unless it is dictated by Almighty Allah. In the story of Nabi Ebrahim in the Holy Qur’an, we are enjoined:

“O my father! serve not the devil. Lo! the devil is a rebel unto the Beneficent.” (Q 34, 41)

Often our admiration for a person borders on worshipping him. In this regard we must be careful that we don’t deify a leader because of his achievements or generosity. Islam has no place for a Hitler or a Mussolini, people who abuse the power of the State. To this list may be included such people as priests, political despots, religious zealots, etc. It needs to be noted that there is no priesthood in Islam. No living person can arrogate to himself the right to act as intercedent between his follower and Allah. Hence Allah SWT reminds us in the Qur’an:

“They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of Allah, and (they take as their Lord) Christ, the son of Mary; yet, they were commanded to worship but One Allah: there is no god but He. Praise and glory to Him: far is he from having the partners they associate with Him.” (Q 9, 31)

In conclusion, brothers and sisters,

The ultimate approach to ‘ibaadah is that of Ihsaan: worshipping Allah as if you are seeing Him. Our Nabi Muhammad SAWS defines Ihsaan as follows:

“Ihsaan is to worship Allah as if you see Him. If you cannot comprehend or perceive His presence, be sure He sees you.”

We have, within our grasp, the means to a life of ‘ibaadah, the only kind of life accepted in Islam. We have the channels of ‘ibaadah (salaah, zakaah, fasting and hajj), we have the comprehensive guidance in the Qur’an and manifested in the life and teachings of Nabi Muhammad SAWS, we have the collective experiences and writings of men of learning, and we have our own unique personalities which Allah describes as the best of creation. We have the means to transform not only ourselves but the world outside. The choice is ours: acquiesce and become the slaves of men, living in a perpetual state of insecurity and oppression or assert a life of ‘ibaadah and live creatively and with dignity.

Allah SWT enjoins us in the Holy Qur’an:

O ye who believe! Be not forward in the Presence of Allah. Lo! Allah is Hearer, Knower.”

May Allah SWT in His Infinite mercy strengthen our faithfulness, obedience, respect and reverence for Him, accept our ‘ibaadah; let its values run deep into our personalities and transform us individually and collectively into a dynamic, respected ummah, free of the shackles of oppression and humiliation, steeped in love and respect for each other.

Ameen! Aqeemus salaah!