Islamic Perspectives

Quranic Concept of ‘Ibadah (worship)

The most important quality of the Holy Quran, as defined by itself, is that it is basic source of guidance for mankind in every walk of life. The Quran shows man the path that leads to the ultimate success and reminds him again and again the main objective of his creation in this world, which is Ibadah, as clearly given in Surah al-Zariyat/55: “I have not created jjnn and man but that they worship me”. What is meant by the term Ibadah and to what kinds of works it is applied, what the Quran says about its application and how can we take up this word in our practical life? These are important matters to be pondered over. Ibadah is generally defined as worship of Allah, performing prayers or observing formal obligations of Islam. But in wider sense, it is interpreted as obedience of Allah or adhering to His Commands in daily life.

It is a well-known fact that Islam gives a comprehensive code of life and demands from its followers to adopt this code in each and every aspect of their life and this (Itaat-i-Ilahi) is actually the meaning of Ibadah in its true sense. The point is quite simple: Itaat-i-Ilahi or obedience to Allah can not be confined to one particular aspect of life. As performance of salat, keeping fast, payment of Zakat and going for Hajj are obligatory for a believer, in the same way fulfilling the rights of others, kind and just treatment with fellow-beings and dealing honestly and truthfully in financial matters are also part of obligations of a Muslim, as Allah Taala has given clear directive to the Muslims for seriously taking care of all these matters.It is important to note here  that the word Ibadah originated from “abd” which means servant or slave. So being “Abdullah” (servant of Allah) or putting oneself in His servitude demands following His commands in all matters without any questioning and by sacrificing his wishes for the sake of His Will. This is a matter which demands serious thinking that if any one performs prayers, keeps fast, but doesn’t bother about the rights of parent, neighbours, relatives and poor and adopts dishonest means in earning money or does injustice in deciding cases, how can he be considered sincere and faithful in his Ibadah, as he performs only one part of Ibadah and gives up the other one-Huquq al-Ibad. The study of the Qur’an shows that it does not differentiate between both parts of Ibadah and enjoins upon the believers to surrender to the Commands of Allah Taala in every sphere of life (be religious, social or political). As a matter of fact, according to the Qur’an there is no scope of “pick and choose” in obeying the Divine commands. Addressing the Muminin, Allah Almighty commands them: “Oh believers enter into the fold of Islam in toto” (Al-Baqarah/208). It means a believer is required to obey Allah and His Prophet in all matters till the last moment of his life. This is actually the gist of Ibadah which may also be interpreted in term of amal-i-salih. This Qur’anic term, as well-known, has a very wide application. It includes performance of obligatory prayers as well as fulfilling the demands of Din and Shariah in social. moral, economic and political life. In fact, it is in this sense in which the term amal-i-salih is repeatedly referred to in the Holy Qur’an as source of great and grand success in the Next World.

Moreover, this is also stressed in the Holy Qur’an that the performance of prayer or rendering amal-i-salih would be fruitful and source of Divine blessing when it is done with the only intention of seeking the pleasure of Allah Taala and no other purpose dilutes with it. The significance of the point may be realised  in view of the fact that at various places in the Qur’an people are commanded to worship Allah or do Ibadah only for the sake of Allah Almighty, because the khalis Ibadah is the  right of Allah only, no other is worthy of it (Al- Zumar/2-3).

With this wider concept of Ibadah, it is painful to note that we have confined the term Ibadah to obligatory prayers and have narrowed down the concept of religiosity to the performance of Salah and Saum (fasting). We often forget that adherence to the Divine Commands in our behaviour with fellow-beings, following His directives in agricultural, commercial and professional works and showing honesty and truthfulness in financial transactions is also Ibadah and no less obligatory than the daily prayers. In fact, the Qur’anic concept of Ibadah demands change in this attitude and invites the people to build up their mind that as performance of five-times namaz is obligatory for a mumin, in the same way keeping one’s words, adopting lawful means of livelihood, showing honesty in financial matters, doing justice to all and taking care of rights of have-nots, workers, servants and other weaker sections are also essentially required from them.


Prof. Zafarul Islam teaches in the Deptt. of Islamic Studies, AMU

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 January 2011 on page no. 28

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