At some point in life, all human beings ask the big questions like “what is the purpose of life?”, “why are we here on earth?”, “what is life all about?” or something similar. This question has greatly intrigued people of all races, nationalities and times regardless of their position in society. Some people might say that their purpose in life is ‘being happy’ by doing things that make them happy. For some it is acquiring wealth, getting a dream job, house, good family life, serving the community etc. We see people are still not truly happy even after achieving these personal objectives. They still have a sense of emptiness within themselves. Material gains have rarely bought lasting happiness to people. Suicide rates and depression are high even in countries that have a high standard of life. This emptiness has afflicted even the wealthy, famous and powerful people alike. So, a better question should be “what is our higher purpose in life that can bring us lasting happiness?”

The Quran addresses this in two verses of the Quran. Allah (subhaanahu wa ta’ala, hereafter abbreviated as SWT) says in the Quran:

“And I (Allah) created not the jinns and humans except they should worship Me (Alone).” Quran 51:56.

 Allah SWT is telling the believers that there is no other purpose in life except ‘worship’ of Allah, so it is very important for us to get a detailed understanding of what this word means in Islam. The arabic word for ‘worship’ in this verse is ‘Ibaadah’. It is defined generally as submission to Allah, by doing what He commands and avoiding that which He has forbidden, and in the manner that Allah has prescribed. Shaykh-ul-Islaam ibn Taymeeyah defined ‘Ibaadah as follows – “It is a comprehensive name covering whatever Allaah loves and is pleased with, both sayings and actions, the apparent and the hidden, such as fearing (Khawf), having awe (Khashyah), having true trust and reliance (Tawakkul), Prayers (Salaat), Zakaat (obligatory charity), Fasting (Siyaam) and the like, from the ordinances of Islaam”[1]. Some people have a limited understanding of ‘Ibaadah. They think that worship is restricted to just performing the ritualistic acts such as prayer, fasting etc. This definition of worship is only a part of what ‘Ibaadah actually means.

‘Ibaadah in Islam regulates the life of believers on all levels: the individual, the social, the economic, the political and the spiritual. All activities that are done in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah (way of the Prophet), with the intention of seeking the pleasure of Allah are all considered as worship in Islam. The word Islam means submission to Allah and this submission must be done in a complete manner. Allah says in the Quran:

“’Say (O Muhammad SAW): “Verily, my Salat (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the ‘Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists). He has no partner. And of this I have been commanded, and I am the first of the Muslims.”‘ Quran 6:162-163.

 This understanding of ‘Ibaadah must reflect in our actions which must be done in accordance with the laws of Allah SWT, for the sake of Him alone, and seeking only His pleasure. In Islam, the ritualistic acts of worship are also very important just like all the other actions done outside of it. Every person must strive to ensure that the rituals are not performed mechanically, without any understanding and focus. All actions must bring us closer to Allah and must have an affect on our inner self.

Allah SWT says in the Quran:

“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” Quran 2:177

All the actions listed in the verse above are part of worship in Islam. We will now discuss briefly some actions that can be classified as individual, social, economic, political and spiritual. We will use verses from the Quran and narrations of the Prophet ﷺ to highlight some of these acts of worship.

Individual acts of worship

Tawheed, Removing harm and modesty

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Faith has sixty to seventy branches, the best of which is to declare there is no God but Allah, the least of which is to remove something harmful from the road, and modesty is a branch of faith.” Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 9, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 35

From the hadith above, we are informed tawheed (belief in the Oneness of Allah) is the best branch of worship. We also learn that removing harm from other’s lives is also branch of worship. Being modest is also an act of worship in Islam. Hijab is one manifestation of modesty in Islam.

Knowledge

Whoever travels a path in search of knowledge, Allah makes easy for him a path to Paradise. Sahih Muslim 2699, Grade: Sahih

In another hadith, we are informed of the importance of knowledge through which our journey to paradise is made easier. Knowledge is the basis of correct actions which when done sincerely for the pleasure of Allah bring us closer to Allah.

Salah (prayer)

Allah SWT says: “Recite, [O Muhammad], what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do.” Quran 29:45

From this verse we learn that salah is a big part of worship that keeps us away from immorality and sinful actions that might take us away from Allah.

Charity

Allah SWT says: “And spend [in the way of Allah ] from what We have provided you before death approaches one of you and he says, “My Lord, if only You would delay me for a brief term so I would give charity and be among the righteous.” Quran 63:10

This verse highlights another important aspect of worship in Islam which is charity.

“Charity is due upon every joint of the people for every day upon which the sun rises. Being just between two people is charity and helping a man with his animal and lifting his luggage upon it is charity. A kind word is charity, and every step that you take towards the mosque is charity and removing harmful things from the road is charity.” Source: Sahih Muslim 1009, Grade: Sahih

Here is a hadith on charity which also specifies other acts such as being just, helping others with their animal, or with their luggage.

There are so many other actions that can be listed here. Worship also includes actions such as performing one’s duties towards family like spending on them. It also includes actions that we enjoy, for example fulfilling one’s sexual desire can also become an act of worship in Islam when done in accordance with the laws of Allah.

“It was narrated from Abu Dharr that some people from among the companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him): “O Messenger of Allah, the rich people will get more reward. They pray as we pray, and they fast as we fast, but they give in charity from their excess wealth.” He said, “Has not Allah given you things with which you can give charity? Every tasbeehah (saying ‘Subhaan Allah (Glory be to Allah)’) is a charity. Every Takbeerah (saying ‘Allahu akbar (Allah is Most Great)’) is a charity. Every Tahmeedah (saying ‘al-hamdu-Lillaah (praise be to Allah)’ is a charity. Every Tahleelah (saying ‘Laa ilaaha ill-Allah (there is no god but Allah)’) is a charity. Enjoining what is good is a charity. Forbidding what is evil is a charity. Having intercourse (with one’s wife) is a charity.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, if one of us fulfils his desire, is there reward in that?” He said, “Do you not see that if he does it in a haraam way he will have the burden of sin? So, if he does it in a halaal way, he will have a reward for that.” Muslim, 1674

Social acts of worship

Smiling

“Every good deed is charity. Verily, it is a good deed to meet your brother with a smiling face, and to pour what is left from your bucket into the vessel of your brother.”  Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 1970, Grade: Sahih

“Ever since I embraced Islam the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, would never avoid me and I would not see him except with a smile on his face.” Source: Sahih Muslim 2475, Grade: Sahih

Being dutiful to parents

“And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him.  And that you be dutiful to your parents.  If one of them or both attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honor.” (Quran 17:23)

“And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy and say: ‘My Lord!  Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up when I was small.’” (Quran 17:24)

“And We have enjoined on man (to be dutiful and good) to his parents.  His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning is in two years give thanks to Me and to your parents, unto Me is the final destination.”  (Quran 31:14)

We are commanded in the above verses of the Quran to be good and dutiful to our parents, serve them, show mercy to them and always address them with honor.

Being good to neighbors

“Al-Bukhaari (6015) and Muslim (2625) narrated that Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Jibreel kept urging me that neighbors should be treated well until I thought he would make them heirs.”

“Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side, the traveler, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful.” Quran 4:36

In the above Quranic verse and hadith, we are commanded to be good to our neighbors and give them their due rights.

Justice

“O you who believe, be persistently standing firm in justice as witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. Follow not your desires, lest you not be just. If you distort your testimony or refuse to give it, then Allah is aware of what you do.” Quran 4:135

“Verily, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and He forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded.” Quran 16:90

Allah’s Messenger () said, “There is a Sadaqa to be given for every joint of the human body; and for every day on which the sun rises there is a reward of a Sadaqa (i.e. charitable gift) for the one who establishes justice among people.” Sahih al-Bukhari 2707

Justice is a very important theme in the Quran. Allah has commanded the believers to enjoin justice even if it goes against ourselves or our close ones. Injustice is at the root of many problems at witnessed in today’ world.  We need to work towards establishing Prophetic justice with the means we have to make this world a better place.

Economic and Political acts of worship

“And it is He who has made you successors upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.” Quran 6:165

Allah SWT says in the Quran that He has made some of us better than the others in order that he may try us. Everything in this life is a test from Allah. With wealth comes great responsibility to fulfill the

commands of Allah regarding its use and distribution. This aspect of worship can sometime get neglected but it is very important to take measures to fulfill it and not fall short. Islam has measures in place when it comes to distribution of wealth to avoid problems within families. When these commandments are fulfilled, the wealth gap between the rich and poor does not grow too wide. This ensures that the people who are poor are not left in abject poverty. Another part of economic justice in Islam is to protect the weak against the exploitation by the strong [2].

Distribution of wealth (will)

“Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females. But if there are [only] daughters, two or more, for them is two thirds of one’s estate. And if there is only one, for her is half. And for one’s parents, to each one of them is a sixth of his estate if he left children. But if he had no children and the parents [alone] inherit from him, then for his mother is one third. And if he had brothers [or sisters], for his mother is a sixth, after any bequest he [may have] made or debt. Your parents or your children – you know not which of them are nearest to you in benefit. [These shares are] an obligation [imposed] by Allah. Indeed, Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.” Quran 4:11

Zakat

This is one of the five pillars in Islam where individuals (who meet the criteria) are obligated to give part of their wealth for zakat eligible people or causes. This serves as a means to purify and grow one’s wealth.

“And perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat), and give Zakat, and whatever of good (deeds that Allah loves) you send forth for yourselves before you, you shall find it with Allah. Certainly, Allah is All-Seer of what you do.” Quran 2:110

Buying and selling

This must be done in a fair and honest manner and the transactions should only be in things that are not prohibited. Some aspect of being fair include a seller describing all the defects in a product before selling, giving full measure and weight.

Allah says in the Quran:

“And do not approach the orphan’s property except in a way that is best until he reaches maturity. And give full measure and weight in justice. We do not charge any soul except [with that within] its capacity. And when you testify, be just, even if [it concerns] a near relative. And the covenant of Allah fulfill. This has He instructed you that you may remember.” Quran 6:152

Obeying rulers

“O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you.” Surat al-Nisa 4:59

“Listening to and obeying the leader is an obligation upon a Muslim, whether he likes it or dislikes it, as long as he is not commanded to disobey Allah. If he is commanded to disobey, then there is no listening or obedience.” Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 2796, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

“It is unlawful for us to rebel violently against an unjust Muslim ruler, as long as we can practice the basics of Islam. Rather Muslims should be patient and encourage reform through non-violent action” [3]. Obeying the laws of the country is obligatory on Muslims as long as they are not commanded to do anything that goes against Islam. In this regard, obeying when permitted and working for reform through permitted means are acts of worship.

Islam is a comprehensive way of life that has guidelines for every area of our life. There is no event in life where rulings of Islam are non-existent or do not apply. Whether it is birth related matters or matters related to death; whether it is marriage or divorce matters; whether it is political or economic matter; whether it is related to inheritance or charity/zakah; whether it pertains to human rights or animal rights or any other matter, Islam has guidelines that Muslims should follow to seek the pleasure of Allah. All of that falls under ‘Ibaadah or worship. As Muslims, we should all try to be mindful of Allah and do what He commanded and abstain from what He prohibited. This is what a life of submission to the Creator entails.

“O you who believe! Enter perfectly in Islam (by obeying all the rules and regulations of the Islamic religion) and follow not the footsteps of Shaitan (Satan). Verily! He is to you a plain enemy.” Quran 2:208