Islam at a Glance


 by S.D. Islahi

We gratefully acknowledge and thank Islamic Publications Ltd. 13E Shah Alam Market, Lahore, Pakistan for permission to reproduce this excerpt which is from which is from Islam at a Glance  by S.D. Islahi © 1992
Please also see:

Concept and Meaning
Religion and Politics
Admission of the Unity of Prophethood
Fundamental Beliefs

Status of Worship

Religion is in fact but another name of worship of Allah. Its need and significance lies in the fact that it instructs people in Divine worship and in nothing else. It is the submission and worship which purifies and exalts the spirit of man and makes him worthy of His pleasure and blessings. This is the usual conception of religion and it is not an easy matter to refute It. The Qur'an regards it as an open truth. In plain terms it says that the mission of every Prophet was none other than this:

(1) "Serve Allah and shun false gods" (16 : 30).
This is exactly what the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also preached when he said:
(2) "O mankind! Worship your Lord" (2: 21).
He (peace be upon him) made it explicitly clear by saying that this is the one and only purpose for which man was actually created. Allah has declared in clear cut terms:
(3) "I created the jinn and mankind only that they worship Me." (51: 56)
Worship is the objective for which mankind was created and the Prophets were sent to remind [us] that this alone was the reason of its creation. This is how the two things became linked. The objective of the creation of mankind having been determined, the mission of the Prophets became obvious It was simply this and nothing else that they keep on reminding mankind of the purpose of its creation.

Meaning of worship

This status and importance of worship brings to our mind the question of how this worship is related to the exposition Islam presented in the preceding chapters? In its real sense  Islam is a complete system covering every aspect of man's life. It is so comprehensive that it includes everything whether it is belief, worship or any other aspect of man's temporal life. It governs man's whole life. Would it be just to regard the observance of this complete code and every part of it as 'worship'? The limited conception of religion in vogue gives rise to this question.

So far as the practical importance of this is concerned every sensible person would feel that it is but extraordinary. It has a direct and close contact with Islamic law. The answer to this question will have a great bearing on Islamic law. If Islam also has the ordinary conception of worship, then those of its elements which relate to the beliefs, worship and attributes of faith, deserve greater devotion and fervour than the others. Otherwise, such discrimination would be uncalled for and it will be imperative to consider the observance of entire Islamic law as worship.

Every part of it shall have to be observed with equal attention, zeal and fervour. This is what makes the knowledge of the real meanings of worship so important for the right observance of Islam. Its ignorance leads one astray. In the absence of this knowledge one would concentrate on what he will consider worship and neglect what he will not consider so.

What are the meanings and scope of the word 'worship' when it is mentioned in the Qur'an and the Traditions? In order to grasp its true significance, we shall have to examine everything which is of any importance and can be referred to by way of authority for determining the true meanings of this word. This would enable us to do full justice to the understanding of this vital issue and provide us with a reliable answer [to] our question.

Literal Meanings

First of all let us turn to the dictionary for the ordinary meanings of this word. Lexicographers say:

(1) "Worship means to lie flat and absolutely low"
"Worship means degradation of the last degree; lying flat" (Mufradat Imam Raghib).

(2) "Worship means submission" (Lisan al-'Arab).

(3) "He prayed to Allah means he worshipped Allah".

On this analogy 'Abd' is a slave. 'Tariq-i-Mu'bad' is a passage which becomes smooth and plain through excess of  traffic (Lisan ai-' Arab).

These meanings of worship may appear different from one another, but in fact they are not. There is a close resemblance among them. The real meanings of the word are ... to incline, to submit completely, to degrade oneself before someone, to be downtrodden, to lie low. Obviously inclination of the extreme degree acquires the form of complete obedience and as such worship also means submission. If such a being before whom one lays himself and unto whom one degrades himself to the last degree, is possessed of the Divine attributes of mercy and bounty, then his inclination would not be lacking in gratitude. Such inclination, in which this spirit pervades, acquires the form of worship. It is, therefore, but natural that prayer also means worship.

If we keep the above mentioned explanation in view, it will make the Islamic conception of worship a great deal clear. It will also make the essence of worship more intelligible. Who is the worshipper of Allah? If the inclination of the last degree is the basic and real meaning of worship then it logically follows that this is the essence of the worship. As Allah is Sovereign and the real Benefactor of man, it does not stand to reason that his inclination of the last degree to Him would bc superficial and not attaining the degree of true submission and worship. It is as unlikely as the idea of burning fire without heat. In short the submission of man unto Allah impels us to believe that it includes all the three things i.e., absolute inclination, submission and worship.

Religious Connotation

The discussion just concluded had a literary aspect. Let us now also examine its religious connotation. It is an established fact that the Prophets came to mankind for its guidance. They enjoined worship of Allah in unambiguous terms. Obviously, this is how it should have been. If mankind is created for the worship of Allah how could the mission of the Prophets be any different?

When it is a plain fact that the sole mission of the Prophets was to enjoin upon mankind the worship of Allah and to make them His true slaves, it clearly means that whatever they told and taught as Prophets was nothing but His worship. The Prophets were sent to mankind with the singular mission of enjoining upon them the worship of Allah and to make them His true slaves. Hence whatever they told and taught as Prophets was nothing but His worship. No Prophet ever overstepped the Divine mission entrusted to him. In fact even ordinary persons do not usually back out from tasks assigned to them and Prophets are less likely to commit such an indiscretion.

A Prophet is an embodiment of submission. His eyes are fixed all the time on his mission. He imparts to mankind nothing except the Divine message. He does not say a word of his own. Such being his position, how can it be possible that in the performance of his duties he would digress and say things not relevant to his mission? It will be, therefore admitted that whatever a Prophet says is worship without any exception. No matter whether it is fundamental beliefs or the minute social and cultural details.

The observance of laws of prayers of Allah is as much a worship as is the compliance of injunctions pertaining to individual and social life. In other words it is the worship enjoining observance of full religion and compliance of the entire Islamic law for which man is created and Prophets have been sent by Allah. The greater the number of Divine injunctions he faithfully follows, the more perfect is his worship. Conversely, the less complete this observance, the more imperfect is his worship.

The basic truths and the universally accepted principles of religion also determine the same meanings of worship in another way. According to the Qur'an the sole purpose of man's creation is the worship of Allah. It was, therefore, natural for the Qur'an to hold that the first and last position of man was but that of a slave. This is why this fact has been related in the Qur'an so often. Let us now see what the true position of a slave is? When a slave is purchased he is a slave of his master for all the twenty-four hours of the day. Whatever he does at his bidding is regarded as service. Now the fact is that the owner of the slave is not his real master. What he has actually purchased, is his working capacity and his body and soul. But man is so much a slave and bondsman of Allah that every fibre of his is owned by Him. Everything that the slave has is His and His alone. It is His without any partnership. So far as a true Muslim is concerned, he is not only His born slave, but His avowed bondsman also. The Qur'an has explained this fact in the following verse:

"Lo ! Allah hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth because the Gardens will be theirs" (9 : 3)
As such, a Muslim is a slave of Allah not merely in his working capacity. He is His complete slave in all respects. He is His creature as well as His purchased slave. This bargain he has made with his own free-will. A Muslim is a born slave who has completely sold himself to Allah. Whatever he does in obedience to his Master, cannot be isolated from his servile position. When he is nothing but a slave, each of his acts is bound to be an act of submission. So much so that if the ordinary daily chores are performed by him in accordance with the Divine injunctions, as he must, all such things would be but acts of worship.

The argument put forth in the above paragraph is of deductive nature and has been evolved from certain fundamental religious truths. But the fact is that in spite of its deductive character, it comes next to Divine arguments and cannot be challenged for discussion's sake even.

The term Worship as used in the Qur'an

Let us now see how the word 'worship' has been used in the Qur'an. It will be admitted that the true meanings of this word would only be those which have been given to it by the Qur'an. If a survey of the Quranic usages can lead us to some conclusion, it will be certainly the most authentic and reliable one.

This word has been used in the Qur'an in different forms at numerous places. Some of its usages are examined here in their proper sequence:

(1) "Those whom ye worship beside Him are, but names which ye have named, ye and your fathers" (12 : 140).
(2) "They said: we worship idols, and are ever devoted to them" (26: 71).
These verses indicate that adopting an attitude of worship unto someone amounts to his worship. What the infidels did to their idols has been referred here as worship. Obviously the relation of infidels with their idols was but of worship.
(3) "And those who put away false gods lest they should worship them, and turn to Allah in repentance, for them there are glad tidings" (39: 17).
(4) "Worse (is the case of him) whom Allah hath cursed, him on whom His wrath hath fallen! Worse is he of whose sort Allah hath turned some to apes and swine, and who serveth idols" (5: 60).
These verses reveal that to consider someone as an absolute sovereign, and to obey his injunctions with free will and pleasure, is synonymous with his worship. The conduct of those who turn to false gods has been regarded as worship. The Arabic word used here is "Taghut" which literally means "One who exceeds limits or one who becomes a rebel". Technically it means a community which turns its back on the worship of Allah or leads others astray.

On this analogy the Satan and the idols are the Taghuts. Similar is the case of those rulers, chiefs and national and religious leaders who are devoid of the fear of Allah and indifferent to the Divine injunctions, who elevate their opinion and pleasure to the status of the law of their times. The people who follow these ungodly creatures see no harm in respecting them and consider them worthy of issuing orders and passing judgements. They obey their orders with devotion. If the Qur'an regards such conduct of theirs as 'worship of false gods', it goes to prove that in its opinion an obedience backed by unconditional submission, free will and unqualified consent also amounts to worship.

(1) "And they said: Shall we put faith in two mortals like ourselves, and whose folk are servile unto us" (23 : 47).
(2) "And this is the past favour wherewith thou reproachest me: that thou hast enslaved the children of /
Israil" (26: 22).
These verses are proof of the fact that not only is such obedience and submission as good as prayer which is backed up by three conditions, namely free will, unqualified consent and unconditional submission to the one who is being worshipped, but beyond this such submission is also worship which one may be doing unwillingly, but which is nevertheless done intentionally consciously and unhesitatingly and wherein he who is being worshipped does not consider himself subordinate to any superior power. This is why in the verses cited above the servility of the children of Israil has been called the worship of.the Copt (Qibtis). It is but evident that although the children of Israil, being slaves, were utterly helpless and could do nothing to emancipate themselves. They were not putting up with it willingly. It was the terror of the ruling class and their own helplessness which forced them to submit silently to the orders of the oppressors. It shows that unhesitant submission of one who claims to be an absolute monarch is also worship.
(1) "Did I not charge you, O ye sons of Adam, that ye worship not the devil---Lo ! he is your open foe" (36 : 60).
(2) "O my father! Serve not the devil" (19: 44).
These verses reveal yet another form of worship. They indicate that complete submission of someone is also worship, even though it is done unconsciously. This is so because these verses speak of the worship of the devil whereas the true position then obtaining was that the beliefs and practices of the people referred to happened to suit the devil. Otherwise, in point of fact, none of them actually bowed or prayed unto the devil. Nor did anyone accept the devil as his lord or guide.

Nor did anyone have any regard for him. In fact they considered him as much an embodiment of evil as did the others, and therefore had nothing but hatred and curses for him. But, in spite of all this, they have been called "the worshippers of devil" in these verses. It clearly means that even if there is no intention of submission, or there is not even a remote idea of imitating someone's precepts and notions, still if through sheer coincidence, there occurs a similarity between the ideal and the follower, even this unconscious submission is held as worship by the Qur'an.

It would not be correct to say that in any of the above mentioned four usages of the Qur'an, the word 'worship' has been used metaphorically. Such a statement will be utterly devoid of sense, as it would fail to find any support from the the Qur'an and the Tradition.

Such a claim could only be made if any of the numerous verses of the Qur'an, where this word occurs, had indicated that it alone meant worship and nothing else and any act other than that was not so. But there is no verse in the Qur'an which could verify this claim. On the contrary it has many such verses where this word has been used for 'worship' (some instances of which have also been cited above). But there is a world of difference in saying that it only means 'worship' [or] that it [includes other forms of] worship as well. If we keep in view the study of the literal meanings of worship, we will realize that the four types of worship, which we have come across in these Qur'anic verses, cannot be regarded as four established, but mutually unconnected, versions of worship. They are in fact four different aspects of the same comprehensive meaning.

Worship is submission and conscious or unconscious submission is worship also. Without submission, it is just nothing. But neither [is it] self-sufficient. If any of these had been so, there was no need or justification to regard the others so. But we see that if the Qur'an has regarded worship as submission, it has [also] called the other three forms of submission worship. It means that in the opinion of the Qur'an, submission attains its true meaning only if  worship and submission are both combined.

Now we have before us all the three aspects of this study and debate i.e., lexicographical assumptions, the dictates of religious verities and of Quranic context. All three agree that submission is a comprehensive term which covers both submission and worship. Its scope amply covers the religious requirements and Islamic injunctions.

Submission Required by the Qur'an

Worship of Allah, which is the sole object of man's creation, and which constituted the mission of the Prophets, could not have been something unsettled and raw. It could neither be limited to worship, nor restricted to submission alone. This is what appeals to reason, and this is what the Qur'an has also decided. It stands to reason because such a God Who is man's Creator, Master, Provider and Benefactor, Ruler and Object of worship, in short everything for him, deserves that all kinds of worship should be directed towards Him. It is a decision of the Qur'an in the sense that its verses demand from its followers worship as well submission in equal degree.

Its verses exhort the Muslims to bow unto Him only, glorify only His name, address their prayer to Him only, proclaim only His greatness, seek His help only, and acknowledge His blessings all the time. These verses at the same time repeatedly enjoin to unconditionally accept Allah as the Ruler and worthy of submission, to accept Him as the Law-Maker, to obey His orders, to adjudicate matters in accordance with His injunctions, to adopt the code prescribed by Him, to consider only that as lawful which He has declared so and treat only that unlawful which He has forbidden.

Therefore the meaning of that worship would only be complete which is the ideal and objective of man's creation and which was the essence of the Prophet's mission. This is what the Qur'an has ordained and in this worship and submission both are included. For further clarification let us consider it from another angle. On one occasion the Qur'an reveals the purpose of man's creation in the following words:

(1)"Who hath created life and death that He may try you in best conduct" (67: 2).
On another occasion it is said:
(2) "And when thy Lord said unto angels: Lo I am about to place a vicegerent on the earth" (2: 30).
In revealing the purpose and object of man's creation where the Creator has adopted the term 'worship,' He has used the words 'best conduct' and 'vicegerent' also. It means that although these are separate words, their meanings are not different and have been used only to make the literary expression compatible with different situations. In other words, in the opinion of the Qur'an, the worship of Allah, best conduct, and vicegerency are different interpretation[s] of one and the same objective. Therefore any such meanings of worship will not be correct which are not consonant with the concepts of best conduct and vicegerency. Only such meanings of it would be genuine which include the essence of other two as well.

Obviously, submission alone cannot be regarded as 'best conduct'. Similar is the case of the "vicegerency". Although its apparent meaning are comparatively closer to submission than worship, yet the latter is not outside its meanings. Thus these two interpretations make it evident that Islamic concept of worship covers both worship as well as submission" and no religious matter is outside its orbit.

It was unlikely that such a fact escaped the attention of the competent religious scholars. When Imam Ibn Taimiya was asked the meanings and significance of the verse:

"O mankind! worship your Lord" (2: 21). "
in which worship has been ordained, he spoke at length on this issue and observed:
"Worship is a comprehensive word. It includes all the open and secret acts and teachings which are liked by Allah and which are the means of winning His pleasure. For instance the prescribed prayer, fast, pilgrimage, truthfulness, integrity, kindness, honesty, obedience of parents, fulfillment of promise, preaching of virtue and fighting the evil, waging of war in the way of Allah, kindness to neighbours, orphans and dependents (whether they are mankind or animal kind), prayer, remembrance of Allah, recitation of the Qur'an, and similar other good deeds are but ingredients of worship. In the same way the love of Allah and His Prophet, hope of Divine blessings and fear of Divine wrath, fear of Allah, sincerity, patience, faith in Divine Decree, submission and pleasure in the will of Allah, all such good things are included in worship" (AI-'Abudiyyat : 2).
In the same speech, he [then] said:
"While these verses bring to light the reality that submission is the zenith of any creature, they also reveal that religion is included in worship with all its constituents. All the Prophets came to mankind to preach the Divine religion. This is a fact which is mentioned in the Qur'an at numerous places. Every Prophet exhorted his people in the words "worship Him". It shows that “religion" and "worship" are two interpretations of the same thing".
All these details do not leave any doubt about the fact that worship is the name of following complete religion. It cannot be said of any part of religion, whether it is of the nature of prayer or otherwise, that it is not worship. The fact is that we can acquit ourselves of true worship if we comply with the full code or religious injunctions. It is a unit which cannot be split any further. It is just like the human body which is a complete unit and cannot be split into more parts.

Special Importance of Pillars of Islam

Although consisting of various parts the human body is a complete unit, the importance of all [the] parts is not equal. Similarly, worship consists of a large number of constituents. All of them do not have an equal degree of importance and value. Some of them hold a special position, as do the major parts of human body i.e. heart, brain etc. The special constituents of Islam are those which are known as pillars of Islam i.e., Prescribed Prayer, Fast, Pilgrimage and Zakat (poor-due). The reasons why they hold a special position are given below:

1. They have a direct concern with the real Creator. In fact they are directed towards none but Allah. In their performance, man is on the one side and Allah is on the other. In performance of all other acts, the situation is quite different. Although other acts are also for the sake of Allah and are meant to win His pleasure, but in their performance, someone does intervene between man and Allah, and without that intermediary the act does not mature. When man is engaged in the performance of the prescribed prayer he has a direct link with Allah but when he is acting as a judge and passing judgments he is in a different situation. While praying he is directly in communion with Allah and there is no one to interfere. But while he is acting as a judge what actually happens is that although his mind is occupied in obeying Islamic injunctions and winning the pleasure of Allah, it is at the same time busy dealing with the people also. And as far as his tongue, ears and eyes are concerned, they are engrossed in the affairs of the people.

2. The pillars of Islam have a form of their own. They bear a stamp of worship, and at a glance, one is convinced that they are acts of worship and nothing else. Other acts are not of this type, because they do not bear any such impress and one's mind does not immediately perceive that they are acts of worship.

3. The pillars of Islam have a special quality of cultivating a passion for submission and obedience -- a quality which other acts do not possess in an equal degree. Although other acts, too, have this quality that their performance purifies one's self, renews in him the passion for prayer and invigorates his communion with Allah. But the ease, the profusion, and the directness with which the spiritual wealth is generated in the normal circumstances by these pillars of Islam does not result from other acts. It would be more true to say that without 'the pillars of Islam' that strength is not created, which is but essential for the observance of standard worship. This is why they have been made compulsory, and their decorum and rules have been expressly defined so that this source of strength is available to every Muslim, and he can avail himself of it in the performance of real and complete worship. [The] Pillars of Islam are no doubt constituents of worship but they are such that the life of other constituents depends on them.

If the distinction of the Pillars of Islam is kept in view, it will be observed that they have a special relationship with the term 'worship.' This relationship gives them a special privilege, so that the term 'worship' primarily applies to them. When this term is mentioned, one's mind immediately turns to them. So much so, that if the distinction of these pillars of Islam is to be manifested, they may even be designated as 'absolute worship', and when the word worship is used it is meant to indicate them. This is what has been actually done, and it is by no means an improper and unscholarly way of interpretation. It is in line with the accepted principle of nomenclature.

On the basis of this very principle, the name 'Islam' is specified for the ultimate Divine religion although all other Divine religions also are in fact nothing but Islam. This principle also applies here. The compliance of every religious injunction is worship, but because of the distinctive qualities of the Prescribed Prayers, Fast, Pilgrimage and Zakat (poor-due) they too are acts of worship. The purpose of doing so is to highlight of their distinction and special importance in the whole system of worship. It would be absurd to think that the acts of worship are limited to the pillars of Islam only, and the rest of religion is outside the boundaries of worship.

Misunderstanding and the Reasons for it

The real and comprehensive meanings of 'worship' founded on the authority of sound reasoning, evidence of the Qur'an and the research of the religious scholars have been given in the foregoing paragraphs. This is just one point of view.

The other point of view is that worship is the name of prayer only. The Prescribed Prayer, Fast etc., fall in the category of prayer and the rest of the religion is outside the orbit of worship. Religion has a number of branches and worship is one of them. This misconception, which is not only embedded in the minds of the ordinary people but of the elite also, has had far-reaching effects. It cannot be overlooked as a trivial affair. There is actually an urgent need to look into it to discover how this idea emerged, and how the people who entertain it have committed such a blunder when everything should have been crystal-clear. This question will also reveal why a refutation is so necessary.

The reasons for this misconception are psychological rather than intellectual. They are as follows:

1.This limited idea of worship is in vogue in the entire domain of prevalent religions and Islam alone is an exception to it. Worship and prayer are synonymous in religions other than Islam. In many of them, it is considered unseemly, so far as worship and devotion is concerned, to perform any such act outside the sacred precincts. A concept which is so widespread acquires a quality of domination and it is not easy to save even those minds from its influence which should otherwise regard it as false. This is particularly true of those minds which have fallen a prey to intellectual decadence.

In such a situation, in their own thoughts, do not have the vitality to resist the onslaught of alien ideas. Islamic history presents several such instances. As long as Islam prevailed in the intellectual world as a dominant force, the un-Islamic ideas kept losing ground in their native lands and could not influence the Islamic intellectual world. When this situation was gradually changed, the Muslims lost their illustrious position and threw their doors wide open to alien ideas. So much so, that now they have reached a stage where innumerable un-Islamic ideas have assumed an Islamic colour.

The worst part of it is that even the purity of the meaning of the most important Islamic terms has not survived. The words are no doubt the same which were given by Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon him) but their co-original meanings have changed. In this situation, it is quite probable that the term 'worship' also passed through this process of intellectual decay and the limited meanings of the term 'worship', which were popular among other people, also became acceptable to the Muslims.

2. The Prescribed Prayer, Fasting and similar other religious acts of Islam, were so dazzling that they made people oblivious of other things. It will be admitted that the distinctive qualities of these acts (Pillars of Islam), enumerated above, are so fascinating that they can very easily derail one from the right course of thinking. If some constituents of worship are such that their aspects, both inward and outward, are decked with special qualities and show a special link between the worshipper and the worshipped, and have no parallel in creating a passion for submission and accentuating religious fervour, and if they have a perfect appearance of worship also, then it is quite possible that some people may take them alone for worship. If the comprehensive conception of Islamic worship is not well-established in the minds, it is quite likely that one may take these few things as worship and exclude all other religious acts from the realm of worship. It is not only likely to happen, but perhaps practically this alone is liable to happen.

Apparently these are the reasons which have subscribed to this misconception, otherwise, there is no rational or formal argument which can be advanced in support of this view.