Definition of I’baadah


As worship (العبادة) is the purpose and reason for which mankind was created, then it is vital for us to clearly understand what this worship is, specifically what is its definition, what are its pillars and what are its conditions.

You should learn and memorize this definition, along with its concise explanation, such that if you are asked by anyone, a non-Muslim, or a Muslim, then you should be able to explain it finely, you should be able to explain precisely what is worship in Islaam, and how it differs from what is found in other religions and from what is found amongst the sects of Islam who have errors and mistakes in this field and who have followed the way of those nations before us, who departed from what their Prophets and Messengers brought them, and made tahreef (distortion) and tabdeel (alteration, replacement) of their religion, and thus began to worship with that for which Allaah sent down no authority.

The Definition of ibaadah

There have been many definitions provided by the Scholars for the meaning of ibaadah, before briefly mentioning them, we can mention the linguistic meaning of (العبادة). In the language it means (الذل والخضوع), which is “lowliness, submissiveness”, giving the meanings of humbleness, being lowered, being submissive, and thus there are expressions used in the Arabic language, from them, (بعير معبد), meaning a camel that has been humbled, made submissive. And likewise, (طريـق معبد), meaning a lowered path (due to it being frequently trodden upon). Also from the linguistic meanings of this word is “obedience” (taa’ah) and “compliance” (inqiyaad), “ta’alluh” (devotion).

As for the Sharee’ah definition, which is the precise reality of the worship which is requested in the Sharee’ah, then amongst the definitions provided are the following:

Ar-Raghib al-Asfahani: The wilfully chosen action devoid of bodily desires which arises out of an intention and by which nearness to Allaah and obedience to the Sharee’ah is intended. (Tafseel an-Nash’atayn wa Tahseel as-Sa’aadatayn p. 157).

Al-Baghawi: worship (ibaadah) [is]: Obedience (taa’ah) coupled with humbling of oneself (tadhallul), and submissiveness (khudoo’), and the slave (‘abd) is called as such due to his lowliness (dhillah) and his compliance (inqiyaad). (Sharh us-Sunnah 1/53).

Ibn al-Qayyim: worship (ibaadah) unites two principles: The extremity of love with the extremity of humbleness and submissiveness. So whoever you loved but were not submissive to, you are not a worshipper of him, and whomever were submissive to without (showing) love, you are not a worshipper (of him) until you are (both) loving and submissive. (Madaarij as-Saalikeen 1/74).

Ibn Kathir: In the legislation it is an expression for what combines the perfection of love (mahabbah) submissiveness (khudoo’) and fear (khawf). (Tafsir Ibn Kathir 1/25).

Ibn Taymiyyah: A term that combines the perfection of love for Allaah, in its greatest level, and the perfection of humbleness, in its greatest level. For love devoid of humbleness and humbleness devoid of love is not considered worship, rather worship is what combines between the perfection of both matters (Minhaaj us-Sunnah 3/290).

Ibn Uthaymîn: worship (ibaadah) is applied to two meanings. The [servant’s] act of worshipping (at-ta’abbud) and that with which one is worshipping (al-muta’abbad bihi). So upon the first meaning, the meaning of worship is that a person humbles himself to His Lord by fulfilling His commands and avoiding His prohibitions, out of love (hubb) for Him and veneration (ta’dheem). Upon this description, it (ta’abbud) returns back to the action of the servant. As for the second meaning, that worship (ibaadah) is applied with the meaning of that with which one is worshipping (al-muta’abbad bihi), then Shaykh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimahullaah) has defined it in a definition which is the best of the definitions… thus prayer then is worship, obligatory charity is worship, fasting is worship and the pilgrimage is worship. (Majmoo’ Fataawaa wa Rasaa’il 7/330)

The Comprehensive Definition

This now brings us to the definition we want to use for the purpose of this article, alluded to by Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen (rahimahullaah), which is that of Shaykh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah, for it is the most precise, accurate and comprehensive definition for worship (ibaadah):

هي اسم جامع لكل ما يحبه الله ويرضاه من الأقوال والأعمـال الظاهرة والباطنة
“It (ibaadah) is a [comprehensive] term that brings together everything that Allaah loves and is pleased with, from the sayings and actions, [both] inward and outward.”

This statement is explained by the Scholars of Ahl us-Sunnah with what can be summarized as follows:

A Term That Gathers …

That (العبادة) is an (اسم جامع) a term (noun) that gathers together, it brings together, and what are those things? It is everything that Allaah loves and is pleased with.

What Allaah Loves and Is Pleased With…

So then how do we know that Allaah loves something or is pleased with it, we know it by way of what is in the revealed texts and this is generally known in one of a number of ways:

a) Allaah praises the action
b) Allaah praises the doer of the action
c) Allaah orders the action.

And the same can be said for those things which are prohibited:

d) Allaah dispraises the action (which means He loves and is pleased with its avoidance)
e) Allaah dispraises the doers of a particular action (which means He loves those who avoid doing such an action)
f) Allaah prohibits the action (which means Allaah loves and is pleased with its avoidance).

So when we find revealed texts in which we see the above, then we know what comes under worship – and this is the criterion, it is whatever Allaah loves and is pleased with.

Innovations are Not Considered worship

So this excludes all innovated forms of worship which are not sanctioned or for which no evidence exists in its basis (this is an absolute innovation, completely, from all aspects), or if it exists in its basis, then (no evidence exists) for the particular manner or detail in which it is performed (this is relative innovation, from some aspects), it agrees with the Sharee’ah in its basis but disagrees with the Sharee’ah in its details. So al-bid’ah al-haqeeqiyyah (an innovation in its essence, from all angles) and al-bid’ah al-idaafiyah (relative innovation, an innovation from some angles as opposed to others), then they do not come under the definition of worship, since there is no proof that Allaah loves them or is pleased with them. And it is established that Allaah perfected the religion and left nothing and that the Messenger (alayhis salaam) fulfilled the trust and conveyed the complete truth. So worship is only what Allaah loves and is pleased with, and this excludes the innovations. And each act of worship which has a basis in the Sharee’ah, it must agree with the Sharee’ah in at least one or more of the following parameters (depending on what it is):

1) in its number (‘adad)
2) in its place (makaan)
3) in its time (zamaan)
4) in its species (jins)
5) in its form or manner (kaifiyyah)
6) in its reason or cause (sabab).

So with this, the act of worship is in accordance with the Sunnah and Sharee’ah.

Inward and Outward Speech and Action

Then the sum whole of what Allaah loves and is pleased with is made up of speech (qawl) and action (‘amal), and this covers both what is inward and outward, and this then provides us with four categories into which everything that is worship enters into:

The inward speech, which is the speech of the heart, which is its belief, meaning the beliefs held in the heart, these are the sayings of the heart.

Then the outward speech, which is the speech of the tongue, what is expressed with the tongue, which includes testifying with the kalimah, and remembering Allaah, and asking forgiveness, and enjoining good and forbidding evil and so on.

Then the inward actions which are the actions of the heart, its emotions and feelings, such as love, fear, hope, reliance and so on.

Then the outward actions, which are the actions of the limbs, the prayer, fasting, giving charity and so on.

So (العبادة) is a term that brings together what?
Whatever Allaah loves and is pleased with, and this is summarized as the inward and outward sayings and actions, and this includes what takes place in the heart (of speech and action) and what takes place upon the tongue (of speech) and what takes place on the limbs (of action). And all of this is bound by the Sharee’ah, only what Allaah loves and is pleased with, which means worship is only that which Allaah has legislated and we know that He has legislated it, meaning He loves it and is pleased with it, and we know that something is worship through the manner in which it has been mentioned in the Book and the Sunnah.

May Allah allow us to Praise Him, Thank Him and Worship Him in the best of Manners Ameen 

And Allah knows best

Intentions First

The Prophet Muhammad – Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him – said:

Actions are but by intentions, and everyone will have what he intended. So whoever migrated to Allah and His Messenger, he migrated to Allah and His Messenger. But whoever migrated for some worldly benefit, or to take a woman in marriage, then his migration was only to what he migrated to.

Al-Bukhâri, Muslim and others.

Traditionally, Muslim scholars chose to begin their works by quoting this hadîth, or report, from the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad – Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him. Here is a brief commentary taken from Ibn Rajab’s Jâmi’ Al-‘Ulûm wa Al-Hikam, in which he explains the entire Forty Hadîth collection of Al-Nawawi:

Imâm Al-Bukhârî (as Al-Nawawi later did in his Forty Hadîth) begins his Sahîh collection with this hadîth, reminding us that any deed through which Allah’s pleasure is not sought is futile; it will bear no fruits in this life or the hereafter.

‘Abd Al-Rahmân b. Mahdî, the great scholar of hadîth, said, “If I were to compile a work in chapters, I would place this hadîth at the beginning of each one.” He also said, “Whoever wishes to author a book, he should begin with the hadîth about intentions.”

This hadîth forms a fundamental principle of Islâm and an axis around which this way of life revolves.

It is reported that Imâm Al-Shâfi’î said, “This hadîth constitutes a third of all knowledge, and it relates to seventy areas of fiqh (correct understanding of the religion).”

It is reported from Imâm Ahmad that he said, “The foundations of Islâm are upon three hadîth: the one reported by ‘Umar – ‘Actions are but by intentions’, the one reported by ‘Âishah – ‘Whoever does a deed that does not conform to our commands will have it rejected’ and the one reported by Al-Nu’mân b. Bashîr – ‘The halâl and harâm are clear…’”

This hadîth teaches us the principle that acceptance of our deeds and whether or not they are regarded as righteous depends primarily on what the intention behind them is. If the intention is good and pure – to receive Allah’s pleasure and reward, the deed is righteous. Otherwise the deed is futile and false. This is the first thing that needs to be dealt with.

The second condition which needs to be met for our deeds to be accepted by Allah is that they should be in conformity with Islâm’s true teachings as taught to us by the Prophet – peace and blessing be upon him – and as understood and applied by the Righteous Predecessors. Hence, the Prophet stated:

Whoever does a deed that does not conform to our commands will have it rejected.

Al-Bukhârî and Muslim

Importance of learning the correct `Aqeedah

Just because the word “`Aqeedah” is not mentioned in the Qur’aan per se, that doesn’t mean that it is less important or that it has low priority.

Every Prophet warned his nation against Dajjaal; and in every prayer we seek Allaah’s refuge from the Fitnah of Dajjaal. But since Dajjaal is not mentioned in the Qur’aan, does it make this topic less important?

There is Surah named “al-Talaaq”, but there is no Surah named “al-Nikaah”, so does that make Nikaah less important?

The Sajdah (prostration) has to be made on the 7 body parts, but since it is not mentioned in the Qur’aan, does it make it less important?

One of the most important reasons for learning Tawheed over and over again is because the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

“…The Last Hour will not come until some groups of my nation worship idols…”

[Sunan Abu Dawood (4252), and graded as “Saheeh” by Shaikh Al-Albaanee]

Here is another example from the Sunnah:

Abu Waaqid Al-Laithee رضي الله عنه said:

We went out with Allaah’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم on the battle to Hunayn [while we had just left disbelief (Kufr) for Islaam (i.e. we had recently converted to Islaam)]. The Mushrikeen had a Sidra (lote-tree) called Dhaat Anwaat; they would stay there and hang their arms on it (trying to seek its blessings).

When we passed by (another) Sidra, we asked: “O Messenger of Allaah, won’t you make for us another Dhaat Anwaat (so that we seek its blessings) just like their Dhaat Anwaat?”

Allaah’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

“Allaahu Akbar! By the One (Allaah) Who holds my soul in His Hand, verily these are the (evil) ways of earlier nations. You have said exactly as Banee Israel said to Moosaa عليه السلام: {Make for us a god just as their gods. He (Moosaa) said: “Verily you are a people behaving ignorantly.} [Surah al-A`raaf (7):138] Certainly you will follow the ways of those who went before you.”

[Sunan al-Tirmidhee (2180) and graded as “Saheeh” by Shaikh al-Albaanee. The wordings in the brackets are from Mu`jam al-Kabeer of al-Tabaraanee (3291, 3293) and al-Sunnah of Ibn Abee `Aasim (76)]

General meaning of the Hadeeth:

 Abu Waaqid رضي الله عنه gives an account of an interesting incident that took place immediately before the Battle of Hunayn. Some Muslims had just embraced Islaam, and thus they were unaware of specific acts of polytheism. When they witnessed the polytheists seeking the blessings of a tree, they asked the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم to assign a tree for them to seek blessing thereof. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was greatly surprised and shocked by their suggestion. He صلى الله عليه وسلم disapproved of their mistaken proposal and likened it to the affair of the Children of Israa’eel who asked Moses عليه السلام to assign an idol for them to Worship. As mentioned in the Qur’aan: {Make for us a god just as they have gods.} The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم informed that the Muslim Nation would follow the steps of the Jews and Christians. He صلى الله عليه وسلم condemned such an imitation.

Some lessons Drawn from the Hadeeth:

1) If someone has recently abandoned falsehood, he may retain some erroneous beliefs until they are clarified for him.

2) These Companions intention was to become closer to Allaah by their act as they thought He would like it.


4) For the Companions رضي الله عنه is the reward of good deeds and the promise of forgiveness that is not for others (as mentioned in Surah al-Hadeeh, Aayah 10).

5) The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم did not excuse them but denied by saying: “Allaahu Akbar, these are ways and you would follow those who came before you”- thereby expressing the weightiness of the matter by these three things.

6) This is a major issue which is made clear by the fact that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم informed them that their request was like that of Banu Israel when they asked Moosaa عليه السلام: {Make for us a god.}

7) Their statement that: “we had just left disbelief”, tells us that other Companions رضي الله عنهم were not ignorant of the matter.

8) Importance to put an end to all possible ways leading to Shirk (polytheism).

9) Prohibition of any resemblance with the people of ignorance (disbelievers).

10) The general tendency of mankind has been expressed by the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم by saying: “These are the (evil) ways”.

11) It is one of the signs of the Prophethood that the events occurred accordingly as he informed.

12) The one who has moved from falsehood (i.e. became Muslim) and gotten accustomed to certain beliefs or habits is not totally safe from having remnants of these habits as is evidenced in their (the Companions) words “and we had just left disbelief (Kufr).”

[Adopted from Kitaab al-Tawheed]

Surah An-Noor: Two Examples of two kinds of Disbelievers

These are two examples which Allah sets forth of two kinds of disbelievers. Similarly He sets forth two parables of the hypocrites at the beginning of Surat Al-Baqarah: one involving fire and the other involving water. Similarly, in Surat Ar-Ra`d He gives two parables of the guidance and knowledge that are instilled in the heart, again involving fire and water; we have discussed each of them in the appropriate place and there is no need to repeat it here, praise be to Allah.

The first of these two examples is that of the disbelievers who call others to their disbelief, thinking that they have good actions and beliefs, when this is not in fact the case. Their likeness is that of a mirage which is seen in a desert plain, looking from a distance as if it is a deep sea. The word Qi`ah refers to a vast, flat, level area of land in which the mirage may appear. There are different kinds of mirage, one which appears after midday, and another which appears in the morning and looks like water between heaven and earth. If a person who is in need of water sees the mirage, he thinks that it is water so he heads towards it in order to drink from it, but when he reaches it,
﴿ لَمۡ يَجِدۡهُ شَيۡـًٔ۬ا ﴾
(he finds it to be nothing.); Similarly the disbeliever thinks that he is doing something good and that he has achieved something, but when Allah judges him on the Day of Resurrection, and brings him to account and examines his deeds, he will find that nothing has been accepted at all, either because of a lack of sincere belief or because he did not follow the proper ways of the Shari`ah. As Allah says:

﴿ وَقَدِمۡنَآ إِلَىٰ مَا عَمِلُواْ مِنۡ عَمَلٍ۬ فَجَعَلۡنَـٰهُ هَبَآءً۬ مَّنثُورًا ﴾
(And We shall turn to whatever deeds they did, and We shall make such deeds as scattered floating particles of dust.) (25:23).

And He says here:
﴿ وَوَجَدَ ٱللَّهَ عِندَهُ ۥ فَوَفَّٮٰهُ حِسَابَهُ ۥ‌ۗ وَٱللَّهُ سَرِيعُ ٱلۡحِسَابِ ﴾
(but he finds Allah with him, who will pay him his due. And Allah is swift in taking account.)

A similar view was also narrated from Ubayy bin Ka`b, Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, Qatadah and others. In the Two Sahihs, it is reported that on the Day of Resurrection it will be said to the Jews, “What did you used to worship” They will say, “We used to worship `Uzayr the son of Allah.” It will be said to them, “You have lied. Allah has not begotten a son. What do you want” They will say, “O Lord, we are thirsty, give us something to drink.” It will be said to them, “Do you not see” Then Hell will be shown to them as if it is a mirage, parts of it consuming other parts, and they will go and fall into it. This is the parable of one whose ignorance is deep and advanced.

As for those whose ignorance is simple, those who are uneducated and foolish and blindly follow the leaders of disbelief, knowing and understanding nothing, their parable is as Allah says:
﴿ أَوۡ كَظُلُمَـٰتٍ۬ فِى بَحۡرٍ۬ لُّجِّىٍّ۬ يَغۡشَٮٰهُ مَوۡجٌ۬ مِّن فَوۡقِهِۦ مَوۡجٌ۬ مِّن فَوۡقِهِۦ سَحَابٌ۬‌ۚ ظُلُمَـٰتُۢ بَعۡضُہَا فَوۡقَ بَعۡضٍ إِذَآ أَخۡرَجَ يَدَهُ ۥ لَمۡ يَكَدۡ يَرَٮٰهَا‌ۗ ﴾
(Or like the darkness in a vast deep sea, overwhelmed with waves topped by waves, topped by dark clouds, darkness upon darkness: if a man stretches out his hand, he can hardly see it!) meaning, he can hardly see it because it is so intensely dark.

This is the parable of the heart of the disbeliever whose ignorance is simple, who merely follows and does not know the true nature of the one whom he follows or where he is going. He is like the ignorant man in the parable who was asked, “Where are you going” He said, “With them.” He was asked, “Where are they going” He said, “I do not know.”

﴿ ظُلُمَـٰتُۢ بَعۡضُہَا فَوۡقَ بَعۡضٍ ﴾
(darkness upon darkness) Ubayy bin Ka`b said: “He is enveloped in five types of darkness: his speech is darkness, his deeds are darkness, his coming in is darkness, his going out is darkness and his destiny on the Day of Resurrection will be darkness in the fire of Hell.”

As-Suddi and Ar-Rabi` bin Anas also said something similar.
﴿ وَمَن لَّمۡ يَجۡعَلِ ٱللَّهُ لَهُ ۥ نُورً۬ا فَمَا لَهُ ۥ مِن نُّورٍ ﴾
(And he for whom Allah has not appointed light, for him there is no light.) One whom Allah does not guide is ignorant and doomed, an utter loser and disbeliever. This is like the Ayah:
﴿ مَن يُضۡلِلِ ٱللَّهُ فَلَا هَادِىَ لَهُ ۥ‌ۚ ﴾
(Whomsoever Allah sends astray, none can guide him) (7:186) This is in contrast to what Allah says about the believers:
﴿ يَہۡدِى ٱللَّهُ لِنُورِهِۦ مَن يَشَآءُ‌ۚ ﴾
(Allah guides to His Light whom He wills.) (24:35)

We ask Allah the Almighty to put light in our hearts and give us light on our right and on our left, and to increase us in light. [Tafseer Ibn Kathir]