C. ‘Ibadah: lifelong service

In reality the ‘Ibadah for which Allah (swt) has created you and which, He has enjoined upon you is something quite different. It is this: you must follow at every step in your lives the law of Allah (swt) and refuse to obey all laws which conflict with His law. Everything you do must accord with the guidance given by Allah (swt). Only then will your entire lives turn into lives of worship.

In such a life, everything is ‘Ibadah: whether you sleep or are awake, whether you eat or drink, whether you work or rest, whether you are silent or talk, are all acts of worship. So much so that in going to your wives and kissing your children, too, you serve Allah (swt).

All these actions which are usually considered secular and worldly become religious, provided that during their performance you observe the limits laid down by Allah (swt) and remain conscious every moment and at every step of what are approved by Allah (swt) and what is forbidden by Him (haram), what is a duty and what must be avoided, which actions please Allah (swt) and which displease Him.

For instance, easy opportunities to earn money in a forbidden way may occur during your life. If you resist this temptation, and in obedient to Allah (swt), confine yourselves to earning money in approved ways only, then your work is itself worship, and you deserve rewards.

And the earnings you bring home for yourselves, your wives, your children and other have-nots will be blessed by Allah (swt). Indeed, whatever you do and whatever time you spend in doing His will and in pleasing Him, you worship Him: when you remove from the road a stone or other obstacle which might hurt people; when you nurse an ill person or guide a blind man or help a person in distress; when you avoid lying, gossiping about people behind their backs, making sarcastic remarks and slandering; when you refrain from hurting people; when you talk truthfully and justly.

Real worship of Allah (swt), therefore, is to follow the way laid down by Allah (swt) and lead lives according to His commandments from childhood to death. There can be no fixed time for this worship; it must be performed all the time. Nor does it have one particular form; in everything you say and do, you must serve Allah (swt). Since you cannot say: ‘I am a servant of Allah (swt) at such a time and I am not a servant of Allah (swt) at such a time’, you cannot say that such a such and such a time are ear-marked for Allah’s service and the remaining time is not. If you truly honor and adore, love and fear Allah (swt), all your actions will be motivated by these feelings and they will all constitute worship.

You may now ask: ‘What then is the position of prescribed worship rituals like the prayer (salah), alms-giving (zakah), fasting (sawm), pilgrimage (hajj) and so on?’

These acts of worship, which Allah (swt), has enjoined upon us in reality prepare us for that greater overall ‘Ibadah that we have to perform throughout our lives. They are the means which turn our lives into lives of worship. Prayer reminds you five times a day that you are slaves of Allah (swt) and that Him alone you must serve. Fasting prepares you, for an entire month once every year, for this very service. Alms-giving repeatedly brings home to you the truth that the money you have earned is a gift of Allah (swt).

Do not just spend it on physical pleasures or even solely on material needs; you must render what is due to your Master. Pilgrimage engraves on your hearts such a love and awareness of the majesty of Allah (swt) that once they took root, they remain with you all your lives.

If, by performing all these acts of worship, you grasp their true inner significance and your entire lives are transformed into an unceasing act of worship, then undoubtedly your prayer is real prayer, your fast is real fast, your alms-giving is real charity and your pilgrimage is real pilgrimage.

But if you do not, no purpose is possibly served by merely bowing, kneeling and prostrating yourselves, spending days in hunger and thirst, by going through the formalities of the pilgrimage and by setting aside money for the alms-giving.

These worship rituals are like a human body: it is a living human being so long as it has soul and moves about and does work; but if it soulless, it is no more than a corpse. A corpse has hands and feet, eyes and nose, but you burry it under the earth because it is devoid of soul. So are worship rites if they are devoid of meaning, if they do not generate love and fear of Allah (swt), loyalty and obedience to Him.

We should try to find out how each act of ritual worship prepares us for a life spent totally in worship; what a great and wonderful difference each can make to our lives, if we perform them in full understanding of their meaning and purpose.


by Abul A’la Mauwdudi