Fruits for the Week

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There is an important word which we Muslims use a lot but understand little. This word in ‘Ibadah. It is very important that we understand its true meaning and significance. The sole purpose of our creation, the end of our lives, Allah (swt) says, “And I have not created jinn and mankind except to worship and serve Me.” (Al-Dhariyat: 56)

This establishes beyond doubt that you must be fully aware of the meaning of ‘Ibadah. Otherwise you will not be able to fulfill the purpose for which you have been created. And anything which does not fulfill its purpose is a failure. If a doctor cannot cure his patient, he may be considered to have failed in his work. If a farmer cannot raise a good crop, he may be held to have failed in his job. Similarly, if you have not been able to fulfill the purpose of your lives, ‘Ibadah, you must be judged failures. Listen, therefore, carefully and understand the meaning of ‘Ibadah, and constantly remember it, too. On this depends the success or failure of your lives.

A. Meaning of ‘Ibadah

What, then, is worship or ‘Ibadah? The Arabic word ‘Ibadah is derived from the same root as the word ‘Abd, which means servant and slave. Thus, ‘Ibadah means to perform the duties of a servant as does a slave or bondsman. A person is a slave of somebody only if he lives his whole life rendering service and obedience to him and behaves as one should behave to his master. But a person who is supposedly a servant and is being paid for his work but who does not render his master service and obedience as a slave ought, is guilty of disloyalty and rebellion.

How should a slave behave towards his master? The first duty of a slave is to take only his master as his lord. He should be totally faithful to him alone sustains, nourishes and protects him and give his loyalty to no one else.

The second duty of a slave is to be always obedient to his master, to carry out all his orders meticulously and to refrain from following his own desires or opinions or following anybody else contrary to his master’s wishes. A slave is a slave, every moment and in all circumstances. He has no right to choose to obey a particular order and disobey another, or to say he will be a slave when it suits him and ignore his duties for the rest of the time.

The third duty of a slave is to revere and adore his master. To express his reverence, he should follow the ways laid down by him. If he is constant and firm in his faithfulness and obedience, he must present himself at whatever time his master calls him for audience.

These are the qualities which together constitute ‘Ibadah: first – loyalty to one’s master; second – obedient to him; and, third – reverence and adoration for him.

What Allah (swt) requires – when He says ‘I have not created jinn and mankind except to serve and worship Me’ – is that we should be loyal, above all, to Him alone and to no one else; we should follow, against everything else – His commandments only; and we should honor and revere Him alone by kneeling and prostrating ourselves. Everywhere in the Qur’an the word ‘Ibadah is used in this sense. This is also the substance of the teachings of our Prophet (saw), and all the Prophets sent by Allah (swt) before him (saw). Each came with the same message, ‘Worship and serve none except Him’.

B. Misunderstanding ‘Ibadah

Now look at the following situations. What would you say about a servant who, instead of performing the duties required of him by his master, just stands in front of him with folded hands and keeps on chanting his name? His master orders him to go and discharge his obligations to his fellow human beings, but stays where he is. Again and again he bows to his master, salutes him and remains standing up with folded hands. His master instructs him to go and fight against evil to eliminate it, but he does not budge an inch; instead he keeps on prostrating himself before him. His master commands him to cut off the hand of a thief, but the servant, still standing there, recites scores of times in an extreme melodious voice: ‘Cut off the hand of the thief, cut off the hand of the thief’, without ever trying to establish that order under which the hand of a thief may be cut off.

Would you say that this man was really serving his master? And what be your verdict if you had servants and one behaved in this fashion? Yet how often you regard as devout worshippers so-called servants of Allah (swt) who behave exactly like this! What, for example, about the man who reads from dawn to dusk the Divine injunctions in the Qur’an, but never stirs himself to carry them out, chanting instead the name of Allah (swt) on a thousand-bead rosary, praying uninterrupted and reciting the Qur’an in a beautiful voice? When you see him doing all this you exclaim: ‘What a devout and pious person he is!’ You are misled because you do not understand the true meaning of ‘Ibadah.

Here is another servant. This one is busy day and night carrying out duties given to him by people other than his master, while he constantly flouts the commands of his real master and tries to hide this by always being present at the appointed hours of audience and losing no chance to sing his praises. If any of you had such a servant, what would you do with him? Would you not throw back his greeting in his face? If he called you ‘Master’ and ‘Lord’, would you not retort:’ You are an impertinent liar and cheat, you take wages from me but work for others’. This is a matter of simple common sense which we can all easily understand.

How astonishing that you think the prayers, fasting, chanting on rosary-beads, recital of the Qur’an, the pilgrimage and alms-giving of those people are in fact acts of worship, who day and night violate or ignore the laws of Allah (swt) and follow the orders of the unbelievers. Here, again, you are misled because you are unaware of the true meaning of ‘Ibadah.

(To be continued)

by Abul A’la Mauwdudi