Worship and its Broader Meaning in Islam

Humans are created with an innate desire to worship, making them naturally inclined to seek a higher authority whom they can worship. This built-in desire and natural urge to worship a higher authority require them to inquire into and know who that being could be or actually is.

Whichever higher authority people, individually or collectively, settle on to worship naturally brings some sort of mental and/or physical satisfaction, and it somewhat fulfills that inherent desire. However, we keep ourselves busy in fulfilling other personal needs and wants and often suppress that innate desire to worship. In our search, we often fail short of seeking and understanding who this higher being is or should be and how we can truly worship to fulfill this inner desire.

We not only seek to satisfy this need of worshiping, but through it seek the pleasure of that higher being and try to build a connection to acquire protection, assistance, favor, and security. Without being certain who this higher being is from whom we can draw these blessings, our worship will be misguided, fruitless, and unproductive, and will not bring any satisfaction to us. Therefore  we must first and foremost, know who that higher being is.

Through the passage of time and as the human intellect progressed people came to realize and believe that there is one single Being, Who is the Creator, the All Controlling, the Almighty, the All-Powerful. Our knowledge, understanding and common sense have brought us to the conclusion that there can only be, and in fact there is, one Supreme Being.

Whether we are religious or not, we believe that there is an Almighty Lord, Whom some call God and some call Allah (SWT). Religion strengthens our belief in Him and gives direction, a path to reach Him. Muslims believe in one Lord Allah (SWT), and others call Him by other names. Whatever the case may be, since we have come to believe in one Lord, then the questions that follow are -how are we to worship Him,fulfill our innate desire, and acquire His pleasure? Who decides what the process of worship should be? How can we strengthen our relationship with Him?

In all honesty, if we do not know what pleases them and what may upset them, it is difficult to strengthen relationships even with our own friends, families, and colleagues. Similarly, if we do not know what pleases Allah/God, then how can we go about pleasing Him and refraining from displeasing Him? Thus, to assure the pleasure of others, it is a prerequisite to find out, know, and be certain about their likes and dislikes before assuming anything on our own.

Every religion has some sort of religious practices and rituals for its followers, through which they can satisfy their inner desire and build connections to the one true Lord. It sets rules, times, and holy places for its followers who gradually become attuned to its way and purpose. Some find satisfaction through it and continue  their practices. Others do not and thus feel no reason to continue practicing.

Today, most religions have become limited to rituals and are confined to places of worship. Many see religion as just a part of life, like any other, that barely governs over any facet of their secular lives. Its followers simply live their lives according to the prevailing norms of society and believe religion has no say in them. This may either be because the religion does not provide guidelines for secular matters or because the followers are not fully aware of its teachings. Another reason may be that they simply do not want religion to interfere in their secular lives (Outside the place of worship). For them, their religion plays a minimal role in their lives and is usually set aside for special occasions or holy days. Thus, the line drawn between the religious and the secular becomes quite distinctive.

However, Islam is the complete way of life. It provides guidance for every facet of life and is not and cannot be limited to a place of worship. It does  let its followers wander outside its system or place of worship. Islam provides for and governs the entire life of its followers, from the cradle to the grave and, spiritually speaking, from the womb to the tomb, and even beyond. This is why Islam is not just a religion,but a deen ( complete way of life) prescribed by Allah. Worship in Islam is not limited to masjid (place of worship) or set aside for special times, days, or occasions. Rather, worship in Islam plays a greater role in the life of a Muslim and has a broader meaning.

Since Islamic acts and everything included in the entire process of worship are not man made, but revealed and prescribed by the Almighty Himself, they provide complete fulfillment and satisfaction to our natural desires. When Muslims abide by every commandment and fulfill every obligation, they acquire complete peace, harmony, and fulfillment. They successfully build a strong connection to Allah (SWT). By this, Muslims do not try to please the Lord through their own way. and understanding, but through divine rules set forth by the Almighty Himself.

Thus, they acquire Allah’s (SWT) pleasure, a contented life in this world, and finally ultimate success in the Hereafter.

Every rule and activity in Islam are interconnected to the actual purpose of human life,’ which is to seek Allah’s pleasure and to prepare for the life in the Hereafter. In Islam, worship and what it entails encompass the entire idea of human life. Whether an act is religious or secular, obligatory or voluntary, directly related to the Lord or to His creatures, a physical act or just a mental thought, a moral act or a matter of business – whatever Muslims do with the pure intent to seek Allah’s (SWT) pleasure becomes worship. The actions of Muslims who mean well and intend to do good turn into constant worship, and they receive reward from Allah (SWT) for everything they do.

As mentioned earlier, Allah (SWT) reveals in the holy Qur’an

And i did not create jinn and man, but to worship Me [51:56]

This holy verse reveals that the purpose of our lives is to worship Allah (SWT). If worship, as commonly understood, were limited to the confines of a place of worship, would we all just be able to sit there our entire lives and worship because it is the purpose of life? Who would do all the other necessary chores of our lives? Clearly, Allah (SWT) must have meant worship of Him to have a broader meaning so that we could simultaneously carry on other necessary activities and acquire Allah’s (SWT) pleasure through them. This is precisely the broader meaning of worship in Islam, for which Allah (SWT) created us. Islam turns man’s every action into an act of worship when it is performed in accordance with Islam.

Humans are called abd in the Qur’an, and Allah (SWT) is our Ma’bood. ‘Abd means slave, and Ma’bood means that Which this ‘abd worships. Thus, the relationship of man to Allah (SWT) is like the relationship between a slave and master. Upon recognizing Allah as our Master, We must keep this relationship in good standing and never cross over it boundaries or break it in any way. It is imperative to establish this relationship of ‘abd and Ma’bood and to embrace the fact that Allah is our Master and we are His slaves. By fulfilling every duty set forth by Him, we keep this relationship in good standing. Through love, loyalty, and performing other good deeds in addition to the required obligations, we strengthen our relationship to Him.

We must prove our relationship to Him by defeating every force of evil within ( nafs, i.e., one’s base self, and Satan) and outside (the material world) us, especially when our faith is put to the test. We must never cross the limits of this relationship by violating His commandments, breaching the contract of ‘abd and Ma’bood,overlooking the duties set forth by Him, abrogating the rights of or inflicting pain on others, stepping out of the boundaries clearly defined by Him, neglecting the rules of conduct set forth by the holy Prophet (Peace be upon them), or through any other way.

In short, every mental and /or physical effort we make to remain within the limits of this relationship of ‘abd and Ma’bood, Islam considers and rewards as part of worshiping Allah(SWT). Fulfilling the rights of Allah (SWT) and the rights of our fellow human beings are all part of the broader concept and meaning of worship in Islam. Allah (SWT) considers every human action as worshiping Him if it is executed with the intend of pleasing Him, whether it is an act of direct worship or executed for His creatures. Where else do we find such a generous and gracious Lord? Allah (SWT) accepts our positive interactions and the good we do to others are being worship of Him and rewards us fro them. Even those acts of direct worship that we do for Him that fulfill His rights do not bring any benefit to Him; rather, they benefit our own self, body, mind, and soul. He rewards us for those acts just because we followed, His commandments with the intent to please Him and for maintaining the relationship between ‘abd and Ma’bood.

Islam places two types of duties on its followers so they may fulfill the greater purpose for which they were created. Muslims are to fulfill Huquq-ul-Allah (the rights of Allah SWT) and Huquq-ul-Ibad (the rights of people). They must perform every duty before they can hope to acquire the pleasure of Allah (SWT) and ultimate success. Fulfilling these rights and performing all related duties becomes, therefore, the ‘broader meaning of worship’ in Islam.


Rights and Duties 

Islam does not emphasize demanding rights any more than it demands and prepares its adherents to fulfill their duties. There is much difference in the outcomes for demanding rights and the demand for performing duties.  The demand to perform duties creates a different kind of society, where its social and moral outlook and the mentality of citizens are uniquely different.

By instilling the sense of fulfilling duties, Islam intends to make its followers sincere and responsible. In contrast, the sense of covering rights may make people demanding and perhaps even dissatisfied. Islam promotes the ideas of fulfilling duties first and to be content and patient. Only secondarily does Islam allow individuals to press for rights, especially if and when they are purposely denied. This does not mean that people should become cowards and never ask for their rights. In fact, this only means that Islam emphasizes the fulfillment of duties more than it does the demand for rights. Certainly, as people fulfill their duties to others, everyone receives what is theirs rightfully.Nevertheless, Islam provides all means to claim one’s right and to struggle against oppressors and their oppression.

When every member of a Muslim society voluntarily and willingly fulfills his or her duty to Allah (SWT) and to others, the government will play only a limited role in that society. However, if rights are fulfilled only through continuous demand, then the government must become a comprehensive overseer and make sure people’s rights are being respected. In Islam, voluntarily fulfilling the rights of others with the intent to please Allah (SWT) turns every act into a good deed, whereas fulfilling other peoples’ rights unwillingly does not bear the quality of fruit designated for the successful ones. Therefore, Islam emphasizes fulfilling duties more than demanding rights.

Islam wants its followers to be ever mindful of Judgment Day, when Allah will deliver His justice according to individual’s performance. The more willingly and humbly we perform our duties, the more love and harmony develop in society, and the more peace and happiness prevail. In contrast, constantly and selfishly demanding rights, even lawfully, gradually makes people arrogant, unhappy, and self-centered, thereby distancing themselves from others and increasing the likelihood of being lonely and depressed. Thus, one may feel and become lonely even among a crowd of millions. Law is cold, and love is warm. Relationships base on love are everlasting and abundantly fruitful.

Everyone is supposed to fulfill prescribed duties on the basis of their individual circumstances, capacity, and capability. On Judgment Day, Allah (SWT) will hold an individual accountable according to his or her capabilities. No one will answer for others or be responsible for them, unless their responsibilities overlapped. The Qur’an reveals;

Allah does not burden any soul with more that it can bear….[ 2:286]

Rights of Allah (SWT)

The rights of Allah (SWT) include, but are not limited to, the following. We must:

  • Have unshakeable faith, recognize tawhid ( the Oneness of Allah -SWT), and never commit shirk (polytheism).
  • Recognise Allah (SWT) as the Lord and recognize all of His attributes.
  • Worship no one but Allah (SWT).
  • Submit our will to the will of Allah (SWT).
  • Engage in constant remembrance of Allah (SWT).
  • Fear Allah’s (SWT) wrath.
  • Glorify  Allah’s (SWT) majesty and sublimity.
  • Invoke Allah (SWT) in our supplications
  • Never call upon anyone besides Allah (SWT) to seek repentance.

Worshiping Allah (SWT) means paying utmost homage to Him, expressing the deepest humility and gratitude to Him, completely submitting to Him, bowing down to Him in recognition of His greatness and glory, continuously remembering Him, and following His commandments. We must take every step towards acquiring his pleasure, especially through spending our wealth, time, and energy. In this process of worship, some practices are made obligatory/ compulsory – such as, for example, the five pillars of Islam- and others are categorized as desirable and voluntary. These duties must be performed on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis or once in a lifetime, as prescribed.

Some of these duties  require physical acts, some require spending of money, and some require both. A follower can perform these duties individually and/or collectively, privately and/or publicly, in a masjid (mosque) or outside of it. Islam clearly outlines rewards for performing these duties and punishments for not fulfilling them. Let me remind you that these actions and fulfillment of duties do not bring any benefit to Allah (SWT),but to the worshiper. Punctually following His rules brings success both here and in the Hereafter.

Rights of People

The second duty is to fulfill the rights of people. In the Qur’an and sunnah, Muslims are warned repeatedly that they will earn the wrath of Allah for violating the rights of others. [Bukhari] On the Day of Judgment, Allah (SWT) will not forgive these violations; instead, the violators will first have to seek forgiveness from their victims in order to receive  Allah’s pardon [Bukhari].In many cases violators will have to forfeit their good deeds to their victims, resulting in depletion of good deeds from their roster [Bukhari].  They may have many good deeds, but because of not fulfilling or abrogating the rights of others, they may end up in Hell, until their punishment is complete.

In the court of Allah (SWT), victims will have the authority to forgive their oppressor and my choose not to take any good deeds as compensation from them. On Judgement Day, when everyone will be looking for salvation and be in need of good deeds, only some will be generous enough to forgive those who inflicted pain on them for nothing in return. These days, when no one lets anyone go free, how can one expect that anybody will let anyone go free at that crucial juncture?

In many cases, Allah may forgive the shortcomings and deficiencies in our duties to Him and may forgive our sins, except the sins of kufr (infidelity) and shirk (polytheism). The main purpose of Judgement Day is to bring justice to the oppressed who suffered at the hands of others and to punish the criminals, sinners, and violators. The obligation fulfilling the rights of people has priority over many matters and is central to the Islamic philosophy of the broader meaning of worship. People to whom duties must be fulfilled include parents, spouses, children, siblings, paternal/maternal relatives, neighbors, wayfarers, distant relatives, friends and co-workers, employers and employees, dependents, especially those whose needs you can fulfill, people entrusted to you, orphans, widows, the elderly and disabled, refugees, the poverty-stricken, the sick, and non-Muslims living under Islamic governments. Islam even obligates Muslims to fulfill the rights of animals.

It is said that, “Heaven is at a mother’s feet.” Thus, by serving her fully, Muslims can earn Heaven easily. A mother deserves her children’s love, respect, care, and assistance because she bore them, endured labor pains,sacrificed many nights of her sleep to keep them warm and well, and much more.

Allah’s pleasure is assured when Muslims serve their fathers well. Fathers work selflessly to raise their children, earn lawful wages, and toil hard to train their children in the best manner and to be fit for society. Thus, the success of children depends on their father’s hard work and sacrifice. According to the Prophet (PBUT), when a father gets two of his daughters married, he is rewarded with Paradise. [Mishkat]

Parents are promised an exalted status in Heaven if they raise their children to be true and sincere Muslims and properly equip them with necessary tools to be protected from Hellfire. Allah directly commands in the holy Qur’an:

O you who believe! Guard yourselves and your families against the fire, the fuel of which are men and stones….[66:6]

Moreover, loyal sincere wife who performs her duties to her husband is guaranteed Paradise. A husband is granted abundant rewards for being trustworthy and just to his wife and for caring for her and fulfilling her needs. A husband and a wife are made for each other, and they must fulfill each other’s rights.

The wrath of Allah (SWT) is removed from those who give to people in need for the sake of pleasing Allah (SWT), and these givers are blessed. Great are the rewards for those Muslims who fulfil their duties to others without discriminating and without selfish reasons. No single deed, however insignificant, will go unaccounted. [Qur’an 99:7-8].

From performing daily prayers to offering a glass of water to the thirsty, from erecting a masjid (mosque) to feeding the Hungary, from leading a country with honesty and justice to providing shelter to orphans, from giving millions in charity to the charity of just a smile,all are part of the broader concept of worship in Islam. Where else can we find such a Lord Who guides people’ interactions with each other and rewards them as being worship of Him? Nowhere! Allah (SWT) is the Lord of us all, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.

Spirituality in Islam

Human beings consist of body and soul. The soul alone cannot be referred to as human, and the body without the soul is a dead body that has a place not on earth, but rather beneath it. Islam provides for both, the body and soul. Its teachings fulfill the requirements of the body and teach us how to uplift spiritually. for example, food nourishes the body, and constant and unceasing remembrance of Allah (SWT) nourishes the soul.

As per the principles of Islamic spirituality, the soul, while living in the body, tries to acquire nearness to Allah (SWT). The aim of Islamic spirituality is to seek complete purification of the soul and of the inner self and to try to submerge with the Supreme Source [Kashful Mahjoob]. However, in no way is the seeker permitted to leave the bondage of this life and the duties attached to it, until death comes to the body. In other words the seekers of spirituality-sages saints, and mystics-live in this world but do not let the world live in them. Their famous sayings and teachings are true reflections of Islamic spirituality. For example, they say, “Let the boat be on the water, and let not water be in the boat,” and “Let the heart live in the world, and let not the world live in the heart.” During their lives, they keep their hearts empty of worldly desires and purify themselves to receive divine reflections of the Supreme Being and the light of ultimate truth. They acquire the higher state of nearness to the Almighty and enjoy the true taste of existence and of life.

Islamic spirituality does not permit seekers to renege on worldly obligations, even when they have attained the pleasure of and nearness to Allah (SWT). They just have to exclude this world from their heart and keep Allah’s ( SWT) remembrance in their hearts, while living among people and performing all the duties of this life. Islam gives new meaning to monasticism, one with which the world was not previously familiar.

If you decide  to live in a cave or on a mountain peak, separating yourself from the world, but are negligent of the Lord, then according to Islam you are not living a monastic life and will not acquire spirituality. On the other hand, if you live in society, take care of your worldly responsibilities, fulfill you duties to others, and are not inattentive to Allah (SWT), even through you are not physically separate from the world, you are living a monastic life and can acquire spirituality.

Furthermore, the meaning of the monastic life that Islam presents is the most applicable, practical, suitable, and fitting for human nature. By not separating its followers from the physical world, Islam reminds and reiterates that the world is created for humans and that humans are not created for this world, but for Allah (SWT). They should utilize the wold and its bounties as prescribed by Islam and work to attain spirituality. Islam does not allow its followers completely suppress natural desires and needs for any reason.

To summarize, a human being is the embodiment of both animalistic needs and spiritual qualities. Islam does not advocated for complete suppression of our needs and instincts in order to acquire spiritual uplifting. We must fulfill both needs to obtain the higher and illuminated state for our soul.

From where do true Muslims draw Energy?

It is difficult for a person to live a life of utmost piety, refrain from every harmful act, and attain spiritual advancement. In other words, it is hard to swim in water and not get wet, to play with fire and not be burned, and to pass through the filth of this world and come out clean on the other side. Repelling worldly desires requires lots of courage and energy, patience to persevere, endurance to remain steadfast, and lots of hard work to maintain piety. The reward for this challenge and spiritual advancement is so fruitful and deeply satisfying and the acquisition of divine energy is so immense that man must do what is necessary to achieve it.

Faithful Muslims remember Allah (SWT) with every beat of their hearts and try to imitate every action of the beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them). They mold their lives according to Allah’s (SWT) will and build their character through continuously replicating the model presented by the Prophet (Peace be upon them). Even though they live among people, deep down in their hearts and mental states, they are always present in the company of the Almighty and of His Prophet (Peace be upon them). They draw unique pleasure from this spiritual company and acquire the true state of everlasting peace and happiness, which is only felt by them and which cannot be described in words.

Faithful Muslims continuously receive spiritual pleasure and happiness by being in the company of the Lord spiritually and by living among people physically. They are not affected by the pain or oppression inflicted upon them. They are full of energy and are always willing to do whatever is necessary to maintain this spiritual state and strong connection with their Master. They sacrifice their wants and do not wish for any worldly material that may affect this state. They punctually fulfill every duty and do not do anything that may dis-please Allah (SWT), nor do they disobey Him in any way. They never deviate from the straight path and never become hypocrites. Most importantly, out of humility, they never disclose their elevated state of spirituality.

by truly following the Qur’an and sunnah, they prove that they have attained the purpose for which they were created, thus becoming the embodiment of the broader meaning of the worship. At such a purified state, they are the only people living the true life on Earth, while others just exist.

Please note that I just spoke of those mominin (the faithful ones)who truly comprehend the broader meaning of worship in Islam and have applied it to their lives. I am not taking about the saints of Islam, whose state of being is  so much more exalted, as are their achievements, pleasures, happiness, and rewards. Certainly, their duties and obligations are far greater as well.



This post is in a series of many to come on the topic of Islam from a Sufi Perspective. More articles are to follow. Please follow in the Category : Islam as a Sufi Perspective, or Alternatively subscribe to our blog!

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