Definition of I’baadah

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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

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