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  • Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

What is worship

Worship, in terms of external expression, means bowing before the Sustainer, while in its inner sense it stands for that deep realization of and strong attachment to God in which man is so involved that he can experience the very presence of God. The Prophet is reported to have said, “Pray to God as if you are seeing Him.” (Mishkat, Chapter on Faith). According to this saying, the most sublime form of worship is that in which the worshipper is so lost in thoughts of God that he finds himself very close to Him. His apprehension of the divine presence should be as keen as if God were actually seeing him. This state of psychological proximity is the most sublime state of prayer.

All rites of worship are aimed at arriving at that state. The postures to be adopted in the performance of these rites are ordained by God Himself. Anyone who asserts that it is possible to pray to God independently of these God-ordained rites, is making a false claim. Without performing these rites, no one can become a worshipper, in the real sense of the word. Although man is another name for that particular soul which is not visible to us, it is also a fact that man’s existence cannot be conceived of in this world without a human body. Similarly, worship may be a psychological reality, but it cannot be conceived of without external, God-ordained religious rites.

Although the word ‘worship’ covers the entire Shari‘ah, in the sense that it embraces whatever man does to follow God’s commandments and to seek His pleasure, it is his adoration for God which provides the stimulus for all of his actions. Basically and primarily, worship (Ibadat) denotes this particular relationship between man and God. When a man is saying salat he is directly engaged in the worship of God. He bows before the Almighty Who has no equal. Whereas, when he obeys God’s commandments relating to moral and social dealings with his fellowmen, he fulfils his duties in relation to his fellowmen. From the point of view of performance, these requirements are as obligatory as particular acts of worship. But the difference in nature between the two must be kept in view, for otherwise the true concept of religion cannot be properly understood. While human duties are always contingent upon circumstances, religious duties are absolute.

Let us take an example to clarify the above statement. If, according to God’s law, it is the duty of a Muslim to distribute to certain entitled people whatever he receives in inheritance, this does not mean that everyone must strive to acquire property so that this religious obligation may be fulfilled. It means rather that if a Muslim should receive an inheritance—some property or wealth—his faith demands that he deals with it according to the commandment regarding inheritance. It is a duty which is obligatory only on having inherited something, far from it being incumbent on every individual in an absolute sense, as worship is.

This explanation of worship makes it clear that the relationship of love and fear of God is not just to serve as an “incentive” in practical life, but is rather the actual goal that we must strive to achieve in this world. All our acts have one aim—to become the means to the psychological discovery which is known as ‘entering into a relationship with God’ and ‘reaching God.’ That is to say that the relation between God and man is not just one of supposition (e.g. if we repeat certain words and actions, God in heaven will be pleased with us). Far and beyond this there is a direct link between God and man.

This attitude of adoring servitude, in its external form, is obedience to God’s commandments, but its inner reality means carrying man to the point where he can ‘meet’ God, where he may whisper to his Lord, where he may cry and break down in His presence, where he may feel that he is prostrate at the feet of his Creator. To find God thus in this life is the highest and most sublime reality of religion. The aim of all rites and commandments of religion is to raise man to this level. One who finds God thus in this world, will surely find Him in the next world; one who has failed to find Him on earth should not expect to find Him in the world hereafter

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