Thursday 9th of December 2021
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The meanings, philosophy and dimensions of worship (ibadah)

By: Muhsin Qara’ati

Before embarking on the discussion of prayer, I shall deal with the meanings, philosophy and dimensions of worship {‘ibadah} and servitude as they are the spirit of prayer.

Why worship {‘ibadah}?

Worship {‘ibadah} means the expression of abasement {dhillah}, the highest form of humility and homage, before God. As to its importance, it is enough to state that worship is the purpose behind the creation of all beings and the mission {bi‘thah} of the prophets (‘a) (the creational world {‘alam at-takwin} and the legislative world {‘alam at-tashri‘}, respectively). God says:

وَ ما خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَ الإِْنْسَ إِلاَّ لِيَعْبُدُونِ

“I did not create the jinn and humans except that they may worship Me.”[ii][7]

The mission of all the prophets (‘a) has been to invite the people to worship God:

وَلَقَدْ بَعَثْنَا فِي كُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَّسُولاً أَنِ اعْبُدُواْ اللّهَ وَاجْتَنِبُواْ الطَّاغُوتَ

“Certainly We raised an apostle in every nation {to preach:} ‘Worship Allah, and keep away from the Rebel’.”[ii][8]

So, the objective behind the creation of the universe and the mission of the prophets (‘a) has been the worship of God. However, it is clear that God, the Exalted, is in no need of our worship:

فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَنِيٌّ عَنكُمْ

“Yet Allah is Independent of you.”[ii][9]

The benefit of worship returns to the worshippers themselves, as simply as the pupils’ decision to study their lessons is to their own advantage and has no gain for the teacher.

Reasons for worship

The following reasons persuade man to worship and serve God:

1. Greatness of God

When man sees the greatness and magnificence of God, he unconsciously feels humble and weak before Him, just as a person who regards himself insignificant before a distinguished person and scholar, also honors and respects him.

2. Feelings of dependence

Man’s nature is such that he feels humble before some one upon whom he is dependent. Our very existence depends upon the will of God and we need Him all the time. This feeling of need and deficiency urges man to worship God—for only He is the Ultimately Perfect and Independent. It is stated in some hadiths that if there were no death, poverty and sickness, some people would never humble themselves before God.

3. Awareness of blessings

Man loves to possess and enjoy blessings. Remembering the abundant blessings of God can be the strongest motive for worshipping Him. In the litanies {munajat} of the infallible Imams (‘a), the blessings of God, including those that are related to those prior to the birth of man, are initially mentioned, and in this way man shows his love to God and than he humbly presents his requests. God also says:

فَلْيَعْبُدُوا رَبَّ هَذَا الْبَيْتِ ? الَّذِي أَطْعَمَهُم مِّن جُوعٍ وَآمَنَهُم مِّنْ خَوْفٍ

“Let them worship the Lord of this House, who has fed them {and saved them} from hunger, and secured them from fear.”[ii][10]

In another verse, man is asked to worship God who created him.

4. Human nature {fitrah}

Worship is an instinctive and integral part of human nature. Being innate, man sometimes treads the correct path and worships God. When misled, he is drawn to the worship of the sun, stones, wood, the cow, money, spouses, and taghuts.[ii][11]

The prophets (‘a) have not come to instill the sense of worship in man. Rather, their mission is to guide this natural disposition in the right direction. ‘Ali (‘a) said:

فَبَعَثَ اللهُ مُحَمَّداً بِالْحَقّ لِيُخرِجَ عِبادَهُ مِنْ عِبادَةِ الأَوْثانِ إِلى عِبادَتِهِ


“God thus sent down Muhammad in truth to stop His servants from idol-worship, and invite them to His worship.”[ii][12]

Most of the Qur’anic verses related to worship invite people to the divine unity in worship {tawhid fi’l-‘ibadah} and not to the spirit of worship, because that spirit of worship already exists in man. It is like the desire for food which exists in every infant, but if it is not guided, he will eat mud instead of food and enjoy eating it!

Were it not for the leadership of the prophets (‘a), the direction of this instinct would be elsewhere, and instead of God, false and futile deities would be worshipped. Just as during the forty days of the absence of Hadhrat[ii][13] Musa (Moses) (‘a), the people through the temptation of Samiri started worshipping the golden calf.

Role of worship

Worship means devoting all the dimensions of life to the divine will and pleasure. Giving divine meaning to all activities has significant effects on the life of man, some of which are the following:

1. Making the perishable perpetual

Man and all his efforts will perish, but whatever is done for His pleasure will remain as an asset. The Holy Qur’an says:

ما عِنْدَ كُمْ يَنْفَدُ وَ ما عِنْدَ اللهِ باقٍ

“That which is with you will be spent but what is with Allah shall last.”[ii][14]

It also says elsewhere:

كُلُّ شَيْءٍ هَالِكٌ إِلَّا وَجْهَهُ

“Everything is to perish except His Face.”[ii][15]

2. Changing the material into the spiritual

If the purpouse behind {man’s} deeds be a Godly one if man could set the intention, motive and direction of his activities along the path of the divine will, and conduct himself as a true servant of God, even his mundane acts such as eating, dressing, traveling, visiting, housekeeping, studying, and all his daily chores would become spiritual. On the contrary, sometimes even the most sacred of works, if done with materialistic and worldly motives, could lose their worth.

3. Individual and collective development

Worship of God demands a total disregard of personal whims and caprice; non-glorification of any race, garment, language, land, and city; association with God, the Ultimate Power and Perfection. And gratitude to the Bestower of blessings. Taken together, they play an important role in the intellectual development of the individual and society collectively. Worship means moving along the straight path of God:

وَأَنْ اعْبُدُونِي هَذَا صِرَاطٌ مُّسْتَقِيمٌ

“Worship Me. This is a straight path.”[ii][16]

وَاسْتَعِينُواْ بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلاَةِ

“And take recourse in patience and prayer.”[ii][17]

Also, worship individually protects human beings from caprice, sin and temptation, and a devoted society that worships God consciously rejects the worship of taghuts, tyrants and superpowers. ‘Allamah Iqbal Lahuri said:

آدم از بى بصرى بندگى آدم کرد

گوهرى داشت ولى نذر قباد و جم كرد

يعنى از خوى غلامى ز سگان پستتر است

من نديدم كه سگى پيش سگى سرخم كرد

Due to a lack of insight, man serves another man,

He possessed a gem but gave it to others,

He is worse than dogs in his slavish demeanor,

I have yet to see a dog bow down before another.

Worship improves individuals as well as societies. In most cases, the corruption in society emanates from, and is caused by the inclination to worship any other, besides God.

Dimensions of worship

In the culture of Islam, worship {‘ibadah} is higher than its manifestations such as prayer and fasting. Acts which are beneficial to the people are all acts of worship. We shall point to some activities which are reckoned as acts of worship in Islam:

1. Reflection on the handiwork of God

Imam as-Sadiq[ii][18] (‘a) said:

لَيْسَت الْعِبادَةُ كَثرَةُ الصَّلو?ةِ وَ الصَّوْمِ، إِنَّما العِبادَة التَّفَكُّرُ في أَمر اللهِ


“Worship {‘ibadah} is not excessive praying and fasting. Verily, worship is reflection on the handiwork of Allah.”[ii][19]

Reflection that makes human beings better acquainted with God has been regarded as an act of worship.

2. Earning a living

The Messenger of Allah (S) said:

أَلْعِبادَةُ سَبْعُونَ جُزْءً أَفْضَلُها طَلَبُ الْحَلال


“Worship has seventy parts, the best of which is to earn a lawful {halal} (income).”[ii][20]

3. Seeking knowledge

The Prophet of Islam (S) said:

مَنْ خَرَجَ يَطْلُبُ باباً مِنَ الْعِلْمِ لِيَرُدَّ باطِلاً إِلى? الْحَقِّ وَضَالاًّ إِلى? الْهُدى? كانَ عَمَلهُ كعبادةِ أربعين عاماً


“The act of seeking knowledge in order to refute falsehood and turn deviation into guidance is equivalent to forty years of worship.”[ii][21]

4. Rendering service to the people

Many Prophetic traditions assert that service to the people and attending to their problems is far superior to many acts of worship and optional Hajj pilgrimage {‘umrah}. In the words of Sa‘di,[ii][22]

عبادت بجز خدمت خلق نيست به تسبيح و سجّاده و دلق نيست

Worship is nothing but service to the people.

It is not rosary, prayer mat and cassock.

5. Waiting for the global government of justice

The Holy Prophet (S) said:

أَفْضَلُ العِبادةِ إِنْتِظارُ الْفَرَجِ


“The best act of worship is to wait for the relief {faraj} (with the advent of Imam al-Mahdi[ii][23] (‘a)).”[ii][24]

It is clear that it must also be accompanied by positive and constructive waiting, which paves the ground for the establishment of the just government of al-Mahdi (‘a).

Thus, giving divine color {sibghah} to works increases their value and transforms them into acts of worship, at times, even the best acts of worship. Proper intention is like an alchemy that makes every invalid meral into gold. Acts performed with the intention of seeking nearness to God shall become acts of worship. As such, it can be said that the dimensions and manifestations of worship cannot be counted. A benevolent glance at one’s father and mother, or the countenance of the ‘ulama’; looking at the Qur’an, the Ka‘bah, a just leader, or a brother in faith, are also acts of worship.[ii][25]

How we should worship

The manner of performing worship must be learned from the Qur’an and the progeny {‘itrah} of the Prophet (S) (after him) just as the address of every house must be sought from its owner. Therefore, we need to see what the verses of the Qur’an and the hadiths of the Infallibles {ma‘sumin}[ii][26] (‘a) consider as the best acts of worship and how they (‘itrah (‘a)) describe them. Let us look at the statements of the pious saints {awliya’}:

1. Conscious worship

It is stated in a hadith, thus:

رَكْعَتانِ مِنْ عالِمٍ خَيْرٌ مِنْ سَبْعِينَ رَكْعَةً مِنْ جاهِلٍ


“Two rak‘ahs {cycles or units} of prayer of a scholar {‘alim} are better than seventy rak‘ahs of prayer of an ignorant person {jahil}.”[ii][27]

The Messenger of Allah (S) said: “What is accepted in prayer is that which is performed or recited on the basis of reflection and consciousness.”[ii][28]

It is thus stated in another hadith:

أَلْمُتِعَبِّدُ عَلى? غَيْرِ فِقْهٍ كَحِمار الطّاحونةِ


“He who worships without understanding and discernment is like the donkey of a mill but does not advance.”[ii][29]

It is essential for the person to know what he is doing and reciting, and who he is addressing, with total presence of mind and heart.

The Holy Prophet (S) said: “Two rak‘ahs of conscious prayer is better than an unconscious night vigil.”[ii][30]

The Glorious Qur’an states:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ لاَ تَقْرَبُواْ الصَّلاَةَ وَأَنتُمْ سُكَارَى حَتَّىَ تَعْلَمُواْ مَا تَقُولُونَ

“O you who have faith! Do not approach prayer when you are intoxicated, {not} until you know what you are saying.”[ii][31]

Imam as-Sadiq (‘a) said: “The sins of the one who performs two rak‘ahs of prayer while aware of whom he is addressing and what he is reciting shall be forgiven.”[ii][32]

2. Fervent worship

Just as the sick do not enjoy eating food, the unenthusiastic worshippers will not also acquire pleasure in worship. Worship must be performed with love, enthusiasm, fervor and pleasure and not indisposition, languidness and despondency.

Cheerfulness in worship is a privilege possessed by the people whose hearts are enamored by Him. Its ground must also be obtained through gnosis {ma‘rifah} and attention {tawajjuh}. Worship under compulsion and imposition leads nowhere. Imam as-Sadiq (‘a) said:

لا تُكْرِهوا إِلى? أَنْفُسِكُم العِبادَة


“Do not enforce worship on yourself.”[ii][33]

Just as we ardently wish to meet a beloved person or a great personality, we must also ardently desire meeting God and worshipping Him. The holy saints {awliya’} and the Infallibles (‘a) were astonishingly enamored by the moment of meeting God and worshipping Him. (We shall cite some instances of it in future discussions.)

3. Sincere worship

Sincerity bestows value and credit to acts of worship. Any act of worship not purely for the sake of God but out of ostentation, hypocrisy, demagogy and advertisement is devoid of value, and not accepted by God.

The Glorious Qur’an states:

وَلا يُشْرِكْ بِعِبادَةِ رَبِّهِ أَحَداً

“And make none sharer of the worship due unto his Lord.”[ii][34]

Imam ar-Rida[ii][35] (‘a) said:

مَنْ شَهّرَ نَفْسَهُ بِالْعِبادَةِ فَاتَّهَمُوهُ عَلى? دِينِه


“You should be skeptical about the piety of one who seeks popularity (in society) through worship.”[ii][36]

Such people make use of religion to deceive others. Insincere worship is like a lifeless body and soulless corpse. And the Glorious Qur’an beautifully states:

وَما أُمِرُوا إِلاّ لِيَعْبُدُوا اللهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّين

“And they are ordered naught else than to serve Allah, keeping religion pure for Him.”[ii][37]

4. Worshipping submissively

Humility {khushu‘} means total attention of the heart to the Lord and Cherisher and a physical and mental state which is worthy of the majesty of God. Worshipping God must be accompanied by a heart filled with the sense of God’s grandeur, and its own insignificance before Him. In describing the upright believers, the Holy Qur’an notices the presence of “humility during prayer”:

وَالَّذِيْنَ هُمْ فِي صَلو?تِهِم خاشِعُونَ

“And those who are humble in their prayers.”[ii][38]

This humility of heart should encompass the entire being of the worshipper as if he can see God and feel his own worthlessness in front of His power and glory. This is stated in a hadith:

أَعْبُدُ اللهَ كَأَنَّكَ تَراه


“Worship God as if you can see Him.”[ii][39]

Another hadith further informs thus:

فَصَلِّها لِوَقْتِها صَلاةَ مُوَدِّعٍ


“Perform the prayer within its appointed time in such a manner as if it is your last prayer (and you are bidding farewell to prayer and the world).”[ii][40]

5. Worshipping in private

Man is not immune from the snares of Satan, and so many acts of worship are tainted with self-conceit, ostentation and publicity. The way to overcome this defect is to worship in private. The Messenger of Allah (S) said:

أَعْظَمُ الْعِبادَةِ أَجْراً أَخْفاها


“The reward for an act of worship done in private is greater.”[ii][41]

However, this does not apply to congregational acts of worship (such as Friday and other congregational prayers, and Hajj pilgrimage); for, congregational prayer in the mosque is superior to individual prayer at home. Worshipping in private, in most cases, prevents ostentation and adulteration of acts of worship.

Dangers threatening worship

Satan, the avowed and perennial enemy of man is always trying to adulterate his acts of worship and render them worthless. He makes use of the following ways:

1. Ostentation {riya’}

He who worships not for the sake of God but to win the attention of people or to earn popularity and a certain status is ensnared by Satan, and his acts of worship become futile. This havoc in worship sometimes occurs in the intention even before the act itself, thus distancing it from the intention of “seeking nearness to Allah” {qurbatan ilallah}.

2. Self-conceit {‘ujb}

Satan draws man, while in the state of worship, toward self-conceit by regarding his acts of devotion as worthy of acceptance, thus sending them down the drain, though they have been started with the name of God and for him. And, as such, man is involved in pride.

3. Sin

Undoubtedly, sins efface the good effects of devotional acts. After months of sweat and toil for his farm and orchard to yield fruits and products, as a result of a single instance of negligence a fire might burn all of the harvested products, thus rendering all the farmer's efforts futile. Sin is the fire in the crops of our devotions and deeds which consumes them.

In sum, Satan obstructs the pouring of the limpid water into the heart’s goblet, or pollutes and contaminates it after the container is full, or makes a hole in the container so as to waste the water.

In the Makarim al-Akhlaq Supplication, Imam as-Sajjad[ii][42] (‘a) thus beseeches God:

إِل?هي عَبِّدْني لَكَ وَلا تُفْسِدْ عِبادَتي بالعُجْبِ... أَعِزَّني وَلاَ تَبْتَلَيّني بِالْكِبْرِ


“O my Lord! Let me be Your servant but do not contaminate my devotion {‘ibadah} with self-conceit {‘ujb}… Make me honorable {‘aziz} but do not inflict me with pride {kibr}.”[ii][43]

In the words of the Glorious Qur’an, giving alms {sadaqah}, which is a material form of worship, is tainted and rendered void by twitting anyone for a favor done to him {minnh}:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ لاَ تُبْطِلُواْ صَدَقَاتِكُم بِالْمَنِّ وَالأذَى

“O you who have faith! Do not render your charities void by reproaches and affronts.”[ii][44]

Planting a shoot does not take much time, but making it bear fruit, keeping it safely growing, and purging it of pests are difficult. Sometimes, the sins or spiritual maladies wipe off all goodness.

We read in a hadith:

إِنَّ الْحَسَدَ يَأْكُلُ الْحَسَناتِ كَما تَأْكُلُ النَّارُ الْحَطَبَ


“Verily, jealousy consumes all goodness just as the fire consumes firewood.”[ii][45]

It is stated in another tradition: A proud worshipper and a repentant transgressor (sinner) both entered the mosque. Because of his repentant and regretful nature, the transgressor reformed himself and became a righteous believer. Owing to his pride, however, the worshipper turned into a transgressor.[ii][46]

Ways of avoiding pride and self-conceit {‘ujb}

Among the most potent dangers threatening worship are pride {kibr} and self-conceit {‘ujb}. How can one cure or not become involved in them? By paying attention to the following points, one may avoid or cure these maladies:

1. Have we really worshipped?

Sometimes, man is in a state of compound ignorance {jahl al-murakkab}, thinking that he is engaged in worshipping God while in fact he is going astray and giving extreme importance to his works. At times, unpleasant acts seem “good deeds” to him and Iblis (Satan) is active in this context. The Holy Qur’an points to this “embellishment of evil deeds” {tazyin ‘amal su’} in some of its verses, some of which are the following:

أَفَمَنْ زُيِّنَ لَهُ سُوءُ عَمَلِه فَرآهُ حَسَناً

“Is someone the evil of whose conduct is presented as decorous to him, so he regards it as good...”[ii][47]

?لَّذِيْنَ ضَلَّ سَعْيُهُمْ فِى ?لْحَيَو?ةِ ?لدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ يَحْسَبُونَ أَنَّهُمْ يُحْسِنُونَ صُنْعًا

“Those whose endeavor goes awry in the life of the world, while they suppose they are doing good.”[ii][48]

زُيِّنَ لَهُمْ سُوءُ أَعْمَالِهِمْ

“Their evil deeds appear to them as decorous.”[ii][49]

2. Have our acts of worship been accepted?

On the discussion about the conditions and signs of the acceptance of worship, you will read that the value of acts of worship and prayer lies in their being accepted. God accepts the worship of the meritorious, pious servants, recognizing their spending and alms-giving.[ii][50]

A person not sure of the acceptance of his acts of worship obviously cannot be proud of them.

3. Futile acts of worship

Some sins corrupt and render futile a whole lifetime of prayers and other acts of worship, and people will return empty-handed from the market of deeds. We need to ensure that our prayers and other acts of worship are not accompanied by those sins. [ii][51]

4. Will we achieve redemption?

A noble ending and favorable future are great blessings, which the divine saints {awliya’} have always prayed for. Hadhrat Yusuf (‘a) prayed to God that he die a Muslim (who submits to the divine will):

تَوَفَّنِي مُسْلِمًا

“Let my death be in submission {to You}.”[ii][52]

The Glorious Qur’an states that one of the requests of the men of wisdom to God is for them to die along with the good ones:

وَتَوَفَّنَا مَعَ ?لأَبْرَارِ

“And make us die with the pious.”[ii][53]

Requesting guidance along the straight path {sirat al-mustaqim} is the prayer for constancy along the path, and the Holy Qur’an describes the final ending as belonging to the pious:

وَ ?لْعَاقِبَةُ لِلْمُتَّقِيْن

“And the outcome will be in favor of the God-wary.”[ii][54]

Was not Satan with all those acts of worship expelled from the kingdom of God? Were there not those who, after a whole lifetime of prayers and other acts of worship, passed away in the worst state of misguidance? So, one must not be proud of the present state!

5. Comparing acts of worship and blessings

Whatever we have is from God. The blessings of health, active limbs, faculties, and sustenance are all divine graces. Success in worship also originates from Him. We are totally enveloped by His blessings. In order to attain felicity and bliss, He invites, guides, encourages, and provides us with opportunities.

He accepts us in His presence in every place, time, circumstance, age, and condition that we may be in. He also accepts the repentant. He is not tired of hearing repetitive petitions and pleadings, nor does He fall short of entertaining His servants.

He accepts unworthy acts of worship and compensates them worthily. He overlooks shortcomings because His favors and blessings are boundless. What is the value of our acts of worship compared to His Benevolence? “And what is the worth of our deeds in comparison to His favors?”

6. Comparing acts of worship and complacencies

Which are greater in number, our acts of worship or our complacencies and sins? The Holy Qur’an has stated many times:

فَأَيْنَ تَذْهَبُونَ؟

“So where are you going?”[ii][55]

Can our prayers and acts of devotion outweigh our moments of negligence, disobedience, shortcomings, carelessness, and heedlessness?

Imam as-Sajjad (‘a) says in a supplication, thus:

وَلَسْتُ أَتَوَسَّلُ إِلَيْكَ بِفَضْلِ نَافِلَةٍ مَعَ كَثِيرِ مَا أَغْفَلْتُ مِنْ وَظَائفِ فُرُوضِكَ وَتَعَدَّيْتُ عَنْ مَقَامَاتِ حُدُودِكَ؟

“O Lord! With all this negligence of obligations, violation of limits, and transgressions, how can I come near You through optional and supererogatory acts?”[ii][56]

7. Comparing acts of worship and needs

Acts of worship are our provision for the hereafter. A long and winding road is before us. Will these acts of worship suffice all this way and meet all our needs? Was the lamentation of ‘Ali (‘a) not loud enough when he said, “Oh… for lack of provision (for the long way)”?

After this worldly existence, we are in need of God and His favors in the next stages—in the grave, purgatory {barzakh}, Day of Reckoning {mahshar}, and the hereafter. Do all these acts of worship guarantee God’s favors?

Abu Darda’ says: At the Masjid an-Nabi there was talk about the deeds of those who participated in the Battle of Badr and those who gave their Pledge under the Tree {bay‘ah ar-ridhwan}. I said: “The devotion and piousness of ‘Ali is greater than all (excluding the Prophet (S)).” When they rejected this claim, I narrated this incident which I personally witnessed: “One night, I saw ‘Ali (‘a) hiding in a palm plantation. I followed him but I lost him. I thought he had gone home. A few moments later I heard his voice lamenting: “O God! …Alas for the sin that I have forgotten but You have recorded in my account of deeds… Alas for the burning flame and…” He wept so much to such an extent that he became unconscious and motionless. I thought he had passed away.

I went to the house of Zahra (‘a) to inform her of it. She said: “This situation happens to ‘Ali out of his fear of God.” So, we brought water and ‘Ali (‘a) became conscious. On regaining consciousness, he said: “O Abu Darda’! How do you see me on the Day of Resurrection when I will be called to account, and the wrath of God would be certain for the sinners?” I was dumbfounded and broke down.”[ii][57]

Yes, taking pride in our insignificant acts of worship without realizing the extent of our need for the mercy of the Lord is another sign of negligence.

8. Comparing our state of worship with that of the divine saints {awliya’}

Our acts of worship as compared to those of Allah’s saints are indeed insignificant. Notwithstanding their infallibility, their preeminence in worship, invocation and servitude during their lifetimes were incomparable for all time.

We who are absolutely defective, weak and dependent need to worship more. Learning about the quality of their worship prevents us from being proud of our prayers and other acts of devotion. Now, we shall cite some instances:[ii][58]

1. The Messenger of Allah (S) used to worship so excessively that this verse was revealed:

ط?ه? ? مَا أَنْزَلنَا عَلَيْكَ ?لْقُرْآنَ لِتَشْقى?

“Ta Ha. We did not send down to you the Qur’an that you should be miserable.”[ii][59]

2. Imam al-Mujtaba[ii][60] (‘a) said:

مَا كَانَ فِي ?لدُّنْيَا أَعْبَدُ مِنْ فَاطِمَة. كَانَتْ تَقُومُ حَتّى? تَتَوّرَم قَدَمَاهَا


“I have never seen anyone who surpassed Fatimah in worship. She used to stand in worship to such an extent that her feet would swell.”[ii][61]

3. Imam al-Baqir[ii][62] (‘a) said: “Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin (‘a) used to perform a thousand rak‘ahs {units or cycles} of prayer day and night as the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) used to do. He had five hundred palm trees beside each of which he used to pray two rak‘ahs of prayer.[ii][63]

4. Imam al-Baqir (‘a) narrated: I came in and I saw that my father’s feet were swelling; his complexion changing; his eyes turning red; his forehead bearing the mark of prostration. This made me cry. When he sensed my presence, he said, “Bring to me that written document!”

In the said document, he read to me some of the acts of worship of ‘Ali (‘a). He put it aside and then said with a sigh, “Who can worship like ‘Ali (‘a)?”[ii][64]

5. While in prison Imam al-Kazim[ii][65] (‘a) sometimes was in the state of a single prostration from dawn till noon, so much so that it seemed as if a garment had been spread out on the ground.[ii][66]

If our infallible personages (‘a) were such, always highlighting their shortcomings in worship and uttering “We do not worship You the way You deserve it” {ma ‘abadnaka haqqa ‘ibadatik}, is there still any room for pride and self-conceit in relation to what we are performing as “worship” {‘ibadah}. Since our acts of worship and that of the divine saints are cheese and chalk apart, what should we be proud of?

Invalid acts of worship

We have stated that servitude {‘ubudiyyah}, obedience {ita‘ah} and worship {‘ibadah} deserve to be done to the Creator alone, and any worship of a phenomenon, human being, creature, or any other is invalid. These invalid acts of worship stem more out of ignorance than alienation from the guidance of the prophets (‘a).

In the Glorious Qur’an, God, the Exalted, reckons worship of any other than Him invalid, futile, as well as unreasonable, for, in seeking assistance from others, you ask from other than God, knowing that all powers belong to Him:

إِنَّ ?لْقُوَّةَ للهِ جَمِيْعًا

“That power, altogether, belongs to Allah.”[ii][67]

If you are seeking honor, be aware that honor also belongs to God and is at His disposal:

لِلَّهِ الْعِزَّةُ جَمِيعاً

“Honor entirely belongs to Allah.”[ii][68]

If you are looking for daily provision and sustenance, be it known that the false deities are not the owners of your sustenance:

لاَ يَمْلِكُوْنَ لَكُمْ رِزْقًا

“(Those whom you worship besides Allah) have no control over your provision.”[ii][69]

If you are hoping for gain or refuge from harm from other deities, you should know that they do not have the power to grant any profit nor parry any threat:

لاَيَمْلِكُ لَكُمْ ضَرًّا وَلاَ نَفْعًا

“(It) has no power to bring you any benefit or harm.”[ii][70]

If you regard the taghuts as superior to you, be reminded that they are also servants of God like you:

عِبَادٌ أَمْثالُكُم

“(They) are creatures like you.”[ii][71]

If to worship idols means to imitate the ancestors, be wary that they were misguided:

أَنْتُمْ وَ أَبَائُكُمُ فِي ضَلالٍ مُبِيْنٍ

“You and your forefathers have been in manifest error.”[ii][72]

If you think on the Day of Resurrection the deities you worshipped will help, be informed that they shall not take into account your acts of worship, and they shall become your enemies:

سَيَكْفُرُونَ بِعِبَادَتِهِم وَيَكُونُونَ عَلَيْهِم ضِدًّا

“No indeed! Soon they will disown their worship, and they will be their opponents.”[ii][73]

Without any reason and purpose, you resorted to other deities without any basis for their worship:

وَيَعْبُدُونَ مِنْ دُونِ اللهِ مَالَمْ يُنَزِّلْ بِهِ سُلْطَانًا

“They worship besides Allah that for which He has not sent down any authority.”[ii][74]

Nobody and nothing is worthy of worship except God. It is because either these false deities don’t exist and are mere figments of the mind, or they are impotent and worthless beings, or, if they ever do anything, it is just temporary, limited and always accompanied by a sense of indebtedness and humiliation. It is thus, not appropriate for a human being to obey them. Man should not serve, obey, adore and submit to any being if it amounts to disobedience to God. Imam al-Jawad[ii][75] (‘a) said:

مَنْ أَصْغى? إِلى? نَاطِقٍ فَقَد عَبَدَهُ


“Anyone who listens to (obeys) the words of another has worshipped him!”[ii][76]

So, if the one speaking is speaking the truth, we are then true servants, and if he is telling lies, we have then worshipped him futilely. And Imam as-Sadiq (‘a) has said in a hadith:

مَنْ أَطَاعَ مَخْلُوْقًا فِي مَعْصِيَةِ ?لْخَالِقِ فَقَدْ عَبَدهُ


“Anyone who disobeys the Creator by obeying a creature has indeed worshipped the latter.”[ii][77]

As such, invalid worship is not only confined to the worship of stone, wood, the sun and the moon. The attachment of the heart and soul to any ungodly idea, statement, power, and government is false worship. Even the acceptance of profane culture can also be considered as an example of invalid worship.

Servitude {‘ubudiyyah} and not worship {‘ibadah}

Outward worship and obedience are useless if they are devoid of total submission to, and acceptance of the will of God. A servant is supposed to unconditionally and totally submit to God. He should put aside his personal likes and dislikes while obeying the commands of God and His religion, and not care about the approval or disapproval of others. This absolute and unconditional submission is exactly what is called servitude {‘ubudiyyah} which is an essential qualification for worship {‘ibadah}.

Notwithstanding all those accounts of worship, since he lacked the spirit of servitude, Iblis (Satan) disobeyed the command of God to bow down before Adam (Adam) (‘a) and was thus expelled from the realm of divine mercy.

Arrogance and pride in people, not heeding the call of the prophets (‘a) became the reason for their lack of obedience and servitude {‘ubudiyyah}, as they wished to follow their own desires. The Holy Qur’an states:

أَفكُلّمَا جَائَكُم رَسُولٌ بِمَا لاَ تَهوى? أَنْفُسُكُمُ ?سْتَكْبَرتُم

“Is it not that whenever an apostle brought you that which was not to your liking, you would act arrogantly?”[ii][78]

It also states elsewhere:

فَلاَ وَرَبِّكَ لاَ يُؤْمِنُونَ حَتَّىَ يُحَكِّمُوكَ فِيمَا شَجَرَ بَيْنَهُمْ ثُمَّ لاَ يَجِدُواْ فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ حَرَجًا مِّمَّا قَضَيْتَ وَيُسَلِّمُواْ تَسْلِيمًا

“But no, by your Lord! They will not believe until they make you a judge in their disputes, then do not find within their hearts any dissent to your verdict and submit in full submission.”[ii][79]

So, valuable worship is that which stems from servitude {‘ubudiyyah}, submission {taslim} and willingness {Rida} of man. Worship means total submission to God with a complete negation of the self.

When the decree for jihad was ordained for the Muslims during the early period of Islam, some of them questioned it and said:

لَوْلا أَخَّرْتَنَا إِلَى أَجَلٍ قَرِيبٍ

“Why did You not respite us for a short time?!”[ii][80]

During the event of the changing of the qiblah {direction of prayer and other rituals} from Bayt al-Muqaddas to the Ka‘bah, some asked for the reason behind it. The Glorious Qur’an answers, thus:

لِنَعْلَمْ مَنْ يَتَّبِعُ ?لرَّسُوْلَ مِمَّنْ يَنْقَلِبُ عَلى? عَقِبَيه

“That We may ascertain those who follow the Apostle from those turn back on their heels.”[ii][81]

Another perfect example of submission or servitude to God is the story of Ibrahim (Abraham) and Isma‘il (Ishmael) (‘a). The father submits to the command of God as he brings his son to the appointed place for sacrifice and puts the knife on his son’s neck. The son also submits and says, “O father! Do whatever you are commanded to do.”[ii][82]

Ibrahim (‘a) is a perfect example of a submissive and obedient servant in his willingness to sacrifice Isma‘il (‘a), in leaving Hajar (Hagar) and Isma‘il (‘a) alone in the barren desert of Makkah as well as in his readiness to be thrown into the blazing fire prepared for him by the people of Nimrud (Nimrod).

Constancy in worship

رهروآن نيست كه گه تند و گهى خسته رود رهرو آنست كه آهسته و پيوسته رود

To walk does not mean to run and stop intermittently,

To walk means to move slowly but steadily.

Constancy and steadfastness in every activity are praiseworthy; the same is true in the case of worship.

Islam considers small but constant acts of worship as more valuable than great, yet inconsistent, good deeds.

The Glorious Qur’an states:

فَاْعْبُدْهُ وَاصْطَبِر لِعِبَادَتِهِ

“So worship Him and be steadfast in His worship.”[ii][83]

The Messenger of Allah (S) is reported to have said:

آفَةُ ?لْعِبَادَةِ ?لْفَتْرَةُ


“The greatest danger against worship is sluggishness (while performing it and at times neglecting it).”[ii][84]

And this subject matter has been recorded in many hadiths:

إِنَّ أَحَبَّ ?لأَعْمَالِ إِلى? اللهِ تَعَالى? أَدْوَمُهَا وَ إِنْ قَلَّ


“The most beloved of all deeds in the sight of God is that which is most constant, no matter how small it is!”[ii][85]

You have to continue for one whole year whatever activity you start to demonstrate constancy. So, constancy in worship and the spirit of servitude in man are essential. Being sometimes obsessed with worship, supplication and the mosque, and after sometime, abandoning those deeds and becoming totally alien to them is not at all desirable.

Opportunity to engage in worship

The asset of a lifespan and its opportunities shall be taken away and fade just like the passing clouds. One must be wary, make the best use of a passing opportunity and render service to God. In a beautiful hadith, ‘Ali (‘a) has said:

إِنَّ ?للَّيْلَ وَ النَّهَارَ يَعْمَلاَنِ فِيكَ فَاعْمَلْ فِيِْهمَا وَ يَأْخُذَانِ مِنْكَ فَخُذْ مِنْهُمَا


“The day and night are working in you. You also work in them. They are taking (something) from you. You also take (something) from them.”[ii][86]

However, we are given life, but are unaware of how we are spending this asset day and night. Are we making the best use of it? The Messenger of Allah (S) has said:

أَلدُّنْيَا سَاعَةٌ فَاجعَلُوْهَا طَاعَةً


“The world is just an hour. Spend it in obedience (to God).”[ii][87]

If under certain circumstances the ground for worship and serving God is limited, one must strive hard to make it broader, go to freer environments and worship God; for, the limitation of time and place is not an excuse for one to keep aloof from the worship of God:

إِنَّ أَرْضِي وَاسِعَةٌ فَإِيّ?ىَ فَاعْبُدُونِ

“My earth is indeed vast. So worship {only} Me.”[ii][88]

Enduring difficulties of worship

Worshipping God has accompanying difficulties stemming from the taghuts who create hindrances to prevent people from focusing on God; from the irreligious ones who ridicule the religious ones; from Satan and the carnal soul that strive to obstruct the human being from the worship of God; and other factors that create obstacles.

Were they not annoying the Prophet of Islam (S) when he was praying in the Ka‘bah?

Were the combatant Muslims not giving their lives for the sake of the worship of God under the tortures of the taghuts?

Were the likes of Bilal al-Habashi not being whipped in the way of the One True God?

Under no condition or circumstance, whatsoever, did the men of God turn back from God, from His worship, from following His religion. Notwithstanding all those afflictions and sufferings she experienced, Hadhrat Zaynab[ii][89] (‘a) never missed the supererogatory night prayers along the way from Kufah (in Iraq) to Sham[ii][90] although, because of inability, she performed them sitting.

During his last night at the hospital, Imam Khomeini (may Allah be pleased with him) also did not abandon the optional prayers.

The path of truth has difficulties that must be overcome by giving one’s life and not being afraid of being hooted or incurring the enmity (of people). ‘Ali (‘a) said:

لاَ تَسْتَوْحِشُوا فِي طَرِيْقِ ?لْهُدى? لِقِلَّةِ أَهْلِهِ


“In the way of truth, you must not be afraid because of the scantiness of its followers.”[ii][91]

Sometimes, it is possible that because of buying something, taking a meal, or the falling of a load, we insist on stopping the bus, but for prayer, we are reluctant to raise our voice and ask the bus driver to stop!

Promotion of worship

The believer who is devoted to God should engage in promoting the culture of worship. He should not only restrict himself to his own prayer and worship but also acquaint others with God and worship. Exhorting one another to truth and the duty of conveying the message {tabligh} are incumbent upon every believer. God calls on man, after faith and righteous deeds, to exhort one another to truth, and exhort one another to patience and the truth:

وَ تَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَ تَوَاصَوْا بِالْصَّبْرِ

“And enjoin one another to {follow} the truth, and enjoin one another to patience.”[ii][92]

If ten smokers inhabit a community, many people will become familiar with smoking within a short period. The presence of only a few corrupt elements is enough to corrupt an entire city. Why cannot a number of faithful worshippers then acquaint the people with God and make the environment congenial for the worship of God?

With utmost effort, at home, school, office, city, and village, we must plan for the advancement of our own divine objectives, and put into action whatever we can along this path.

Duty and its conditions

After dealing with the importance of worship and the dangers threatening it, one must know the conditions necessary for worship.

Having duty {taklif} is considered as man’s great distinction. Man is the recipient of divine grace and, thereby, obliged {mukallaf} to perform certain duties as God’s vicegerent on earth. This honorable distinction must be celebrated by him.

One of the ‘ulama’ always used to celebrate the anniversary of his attainment of puberty {bulugh}, saying: “On this day, I assumed responsibility to perform divine duties!”

Just as people felicitate someone on his election to the presidency and the parliament, or appointment as minister, etc. because the public honor him with a responsibility, the day of attainment of puberty and acceptance of responsibility set by God is also a blessed and auspicious day.

Now, we shall briefly point out the conditions of the assumption of this responsibility or duty:

1. Puberty {bulugh}

On reaching their 15th and 9th lunar year respectively, boys and girls attain the age of responsibility. Of course, sons might attain maturity prior to the stated ages.[ii][93]

There are also other types of maturity {bulugh} apart from this one in terms of worship and responsibility, the performance of what is obligatory and refraining from what is forbidden. For example, there is “political maturity,” which includes intellectual growth, an awareness of the political concerns of society, correct political thought, and obedience shown to deserving leaders.

Qasim, son of Imam al-Mujtaba (‘a), who was martyred in Karbala’ said to his uncle, the infallible Imam of the time (Imam al-Husayn (‘a)): “If the government is in the hands of a taghut like Yazid,[ii][94] death in the way of fighting against him is sweeter than honey for me.” This implies his political maturity.

“Economic maturity” means the understanding of the proper utilization of wealth, be it his own or that of others. The Holy Qur’an states: “Turn over the wealth of the orphans (to them) when you feel that they have attained enough maturity to reasonably spend it in business, trade and the like.”[ii][95]

“Marital maturity” expects both the man and woman, apart from attaining maturity in terms of assumption of responsibility, to have acquired the capability of managing their lives and performing the corresponding duties, for, in this issue mere physical maturity and legal age are not enough

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