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Trials of Humankind (4)

Worship (Ibadat)

In previous posts, we discussed human trials, «fitnah», «imtehan», and other terms used to describe testing humanity. We elaborated on these words by likening them to the school system:

  • «فتنه» Fitna (Trial by Fire): Similar to the challenges faced in education, where students must burn the midnight oil to acquire knowledge despite discomfort.

  • «امتحان» Imtehan Imtehan (Distress and Hardship): Reflecting the trials students encounter during exams, pushing them into distress and hardship to prove their abilities.

  • «اختبار» Ekhtibar Imtehan (Distress and Hardship): Reflecting the trials students encounter during exams, pushing them into distress and hardship to prove their abilities.

  • «ابتلاء» Ibtila' (Actualizing Abilities): Comparable to the hardships of education refining one's character, human testing helps individuals actualize their potential in the face of difficulties.

  • «تمحيص» Tamhees (Purification and Refinement): Similar to the personal refinement experienced in schooling, human testing purifies individuals and fosters growth.

  • «تمخيض» Tamkhiz (Testing and Birth): Symbolizing the new birth after overcoming challenges, akin to the final exam where individuals deliver what they've nurtured within themselves.

  • «تعبد» Ta'bbud (Smooth Existence): Resembling the growth and perfection achieved through the challenges of education, human testing smoothes and levels one's existence in struggles.

Each word, when viewed through the lens of a school system, illustrates how human testing serves to educate, refine, and guide individuals towards growth and perfection, despite the initial difficulties they may encounter.

The last link in the chain of words related to «human trials,» which may be the result and outcome of all of them, is «worship,» which is examined in this section. The word «worship or Ibadat,» along with its derivatives (such as: عبد عابد، تعبد،), is repeated 275 times in the Quran, which, statistically and in terms of importance in the text, is considered one of the key words of the Quran and understanding it deeply is very important for comprehending divine teachings.

Every Muslim who is devoted to prayer repeats the phrase «إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَ إِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ» at least 17 times in their daily supplications, which is essential to know exactly what we request from God. Most people understand worship as just prayer, fasting, and other religious duties. Mystics and wise men like Saadi, may God's mercy be upon him, have said:

«Worship is nothing but serving creation ; It is not just using prayer beads, prayer rug, and torn garment.»

It is also attributed to the noble Prophet of Islam that he said:

«An hour of contemplation is better than a year of worship.»

In English translations of the Quran, words like (to serve), (worship), and (obedience) are used instead of the word «Ibadat» (عبادت). Of course, these equivalents are correct in some aspects, but they do not convey the spirit of the concept and the comprehensive meaning of the word «Ibadat.» In English translations of the Quran, in addition to verse 56 of Surah Adh-Dhariyat (Chapter 51), which mentions the purpose of human creation as «worship-Ibadat,» they have also used the limited concept of worship and serving God, as exemplified in:

«I have only created sprites (unknown) and men (known) so they may worship Me.» (T.B. Irving)
«I have only created jinns and men so that they may serve Me.» (Abdullah Yusuf Ali)
«I created jinns and mankind only to worship Me.» (Abdel Haleem)
«I have not created but jinn and humankind so that they should worship Me.» (Laleh Bakhtiar)
«I have not created the jinn and the men except that they should serve Me.» (Maulana Muhammad Ali)

Considering the historical mindset where people, especially in the West, have associations with slavery and servitude, what do you think they perceive from this Quranic message regarding the philosophy of human creation? And does such an interpretation align with this Quranic phrase: «We have certainly honored the children of Adam»? (لقد كرمنا بنى آدم)

Past that, serving God and providing service to Him!! This might imply the need for servants to God, which in the continuation of the same verse, God explicitly rejects. Look:

[51:56 - 58] «And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me. I do not want from them any provision, nor do I want them to feed Me. Indeed, it is God who is the continual Provider, the firm possessor of strength.»

This question is seriously raised: what is the reality of worship? Is it the worship of God, service to creation, contemplation and acquisition of knowledge, serving God... or something else!?

We have no choice but to refer to dictionaries, the text of the Quran, and writings close to the time of revelation, to explore the origin and essence of this word.

For the first time, I became acquainted with the root meaning of the word «worship» through the illuminations of the Quran by Dr. Shariati. That sharp-eyed teacher and linguist used to say that in Arabic, smoothing the path for the traveler to pave the way is called «عبّدالطّريق» (abdal-tariq), and a path that has been smoothed and made easy for travelers due to frequent coming and going is called «طريقٌ مُعَبّد» (tariq moa'bad). And from this, it was concluded that worship refers to a series of behaviors that smooth the path of human existence to accept divine obligations and attributes, such as sacrifice, charity, forgiveness, testimony, knowledge, wisdom, etc., and restrain the desires and worldly inclinations. I also personally observed the title «عابد» (worshipper) on the road construction machines during a trip to Mecca and realized that this concept is still prevalent in Arab literature today.

Can't we say that the purpose of creating human beings (in verse 56 of Surah Adh-Dhariyat) and the meaning of worship is to smooth and make submissive the rebellious, tyrannical, and self-indulgent nature of humans so that they can actualize the potential abilities that God has infused within them from His own Spirit? These abilities are nothing but the divine attributes entrusted to them since the beginning of creation and the prostration of the angels in the essence of Adam.

All creatures in the world are submissive and obedient to Him. It is only humans who choose worship voluntarily and with love:

«Man denies worship from inanimate things ; While that inanimate thing is in God's worship.» - Masnavi, Book Three, Verse 1498

«It became obligatory to mention worship as love, say it finally ; Obligatory, recommended, duty, teaching, and obligation, where are they?

The soul's love affairs, then compulsion and force ; Where is bound love, alas, where is the honor of love?» - Divan of Shams

Now that the discourse has turned to voluntary love affairs and diligent efforts in worship, let's look at the wise words attributed to Imam Ali in this regard:

«Be God-fearing.... and make your souls worship(and in love with) Him and obey His commandments.» - Khotbeh 198

«But God tests His servants with various hardships and encourages them to strive in devotion(self-improvement) through various endeavors.» - Khotbeh 192

In this way, it becomes clear that smoothing the path of one's existence to welcome the Beloved at the threshold of the heart, like the physical road construction, requires hard struggles to smooth the rocks of the soul.

Another point that indicates the heart and inner essence of worship, contrary to the common belief that emphasizes outward appearances, is the contrast and contradiction between «worship» and «arrogance,» which is repeatedly mentioned in the Quran (including An-Nisa 172, Al-A'raf 206, and Al-Mu'min 60). This clearly shows that worship is an inner struggle against one's sense of grandiosity through the practice of humility and submission to the truth and obedient acceptance of divine commands.

With such justification, another ambiguity regarding «worshipping Satan,» mentioned in some verses of the Quran, is resolved. According to existing translations of the Quran, God strongly forbids all humans from worshiping and serving Satan, and He has taken a serious covenant from the children of Adam regarding this matter. Despite the fact that today «Satan worship» has become a sect of its own! In the time of the Quran's revelation, such a ritual did not exist, where the Quran juxtaposes worshiping God with worshiping Satan, and we, as the audience of this verse, wonder how and when we have worshipped Satan!?

[Chapter Ya-Sin 60] «O Children of Adam, did I not command you not to worship Satan, for indeed, he is to you a clear enemy. And that you worship [only] Me, this is the straight path.»

Abraham also advises his father not to worship Satan, while worshiping Satan was not common at that time.

[Chapter Maryam 44] «O my father, do not worship Satan. Indeed Satan has ever been, to the Most Merciful, disobedient.»

The meaning of such Satan can be an idol, or the tyrants of the era, and the ideological political systems that stand behind such idols. Such as the Pharaohs who enslaved the children of Israel, which Moses objected to:

[Chapter Shu'ara 22] «Is this a favor you bestowed upon me that you have enslaved the children of Israel?»

The Quran strongly condemns «tyrant worship,» which is equivalent to idol worship or absolute submission to the «absolute guardianship of the Islamic jurist (fuqaha)» or the orientalism of our time, in the behavior of the children of Israel towards their rulers:

[Chapter Ma'idah 60] «...He turned some of them [in their manner and character] into apes [blind followers] and swine [consumers of illicit gains] who worshipped tyrants...»

In the words of Rumi in Masnavi Ma'navi, we also see the concept of worship in such a broad and comprehensive scope:

«When worship was the purpose of man, The worshiper became the master of the noose.

Man has a hand in every task, But the purpose of all is this service.

I did not create the jinn and humans, read this, Nothing is intended from the world except worship.

Although the purpose of that book was that skill, But everything becomes a pillow in it if you sleep,

The purpose was not this pillow, it was knowledge and good guidance,
Yet, every individual has a temple; a noble man honors it, while a vile man disgraces it.»

Muslims near the time of the Quran's revelation understood the meaning of worship not only as exclusive worship of God but also as submission and absolute obedience to anything and anyone other than God; Satan, tyrants, and anyone Whether prophet, Saint, mullah, scholar, our desires - ego whom we show a state of submission, self-sacrifice, and absolute obedience to. Consider the following examples:

«Whoever fulfills someone's right that they do not fulfill his right, he has worshipped him.» (Attributed to Imam Ali)

Whoever listens to a speaker (accepts whatever they say), he has worshipped him. If the speaker speaks from God Almighty, he has worshipped God, and if he speaks from Satan (falsehood), he has worshipped Satan. (Attributed to Imam Sadeq)

Imam Ali condemns worldliness in those who ultimately abandon the world, saying:

«They worshipped the world, what worship, they choose it, what choice!»

Here, you see that becoming attached and submissive to the world is considered «worshipping the world,» a kind of nurturing the ego and building the path of worldliness and self-indulgence.

Worship and Freedom!

Since worship is a matter of heart and internal action, it is never done through coercion or compulsion. Neither do parents derive any result from imposing prayers and the implementation of religious decrees on their children, nor do authoritarian governments, which, contrary to the religion of God, take on the role of guarding people's faith and intervening in their actions, succeed except in driving people away from religion. The greatest emphasis and focus of the Quran on the word «worship» is in Surah Al-Kafirun, where in three short verses, the word is repeated eight times, emphasizing the freedom of disbelievers to worship whatever they wish:

«Say, 'O disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship. For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.'»
(Quran, Surah Al-Kafirun).

Sincerity in Worship!

The most important point in the matter of «worship» is sincerity. God only accepts pure worship from His servants and considers interference of motives and other factors in a matter that is exclusive to Him as polytheism, which will never be forgiven (cleansed). In our daily efforts, even when we do positive deeds and serve others, we may have ulterior and diverse motives and may not be criticized by anyone.
For example, we may do a charitable act, but we behave in a way to make others notice and gain respect and praise from them! Such examples, where we involve our own or our relatives' selfish desires or intentions with God's satisfaction, are abundant!

A deeper understanding of the meaning of worship helps us grasp the condition of «sincerity - Ikhlas» better. If the fundamental meaning of worship is to simplify existence for accepting divine commands and decrees, which lead to the actualization of the potential names and attributes of lordship within us, then how can we believe that «two loves cannot reside in one heart,» and yet introduce two different systems and conflicting intentions («me» and «Him») into our hearts!? The main problem here is that in our culture, instead of the spirit and essence of worship, its outward appearance and form receive attention.

As mentioned, every Muslim recites the phrase «You alone we worship...» at least 17 times throughout the day and night, reminding themselves that they should worship «only Him.» If one adheres to the Quran, they repeatedly read in this book that the message of all prophets was nothing but «Do not worship anyone but God» to their communities, and they find that the wonder of all polytheists lies in this «exclusive worship of God» and abandoning polytheistic motives. For example, in Surah Al-A'raf, it's mentioned:

«They said, 'Have you come to us to divert us from what we found our fathers doing...'»

And the response of the prophets was nothing but to remove these titles and names (such as manifestations, favors, the notion of intercessors and intermediaries) from themselves, and there is no logic for it before God;

«You worship not besides Him except [mere] names you have named them, you and your fathers, for which God has sent down no authority the ruling solely belongs to Him; He has commanded not to prostrate to anyone except Him. This is the religion that uplifts humans, but most people do not know.»
Chapter Joseph verse 40

The justification that is always given for calling upon others besides God in a polytheistic manner, and continues to be given, is that we only call upon them for the purpose of approaching God, and we do not assert any authenticity for them! This deviation from the principle of monotheism is considered by God the ultimate ingratitude and practical denial of truth:

«Be aware that pure religion is solely for God [=monotheistic devotion should be free from polytheism, idolatry, and intercession], and those who [seek intermediaries and masters besides God for their needs] falsely claim that we do not worship them, except to approach God through them [to fulfill our needs]. [However, such intermediaries lead to deviation from monotheism and division in unity, ] Surely, God will judge in matters where there is disagreement [with the monotheists]. Certainly, God does not guide one who is a frequent liar and ungrateful. [=Claiming the existence of intermediaries in connection with God is not only false but also the height of ingratitude, as one turns to creations instead of their Creator for their needs, be they idols, angels, prophets, or righteous individuals.].»
Chapter Zumar verses 2 and 3

In the Quran, it has been repeatedly warned that the allies whom people call upon besides God for relieving their distress or fulfilling their needs will not only be powerless to do anything for them, but on the Day of Judgment, they will be opponents to them due to their worship being disbelievers.

«And [mention] the Day He will gather them all and then say to the angels, 'Did these [people] used to worship you?' They will say, 'Exalted are You! You, [O God], are our benefactor not them. Rather, they used to worship the jinn; most of them were believers in them.'»
Surah Saba 40 and 41

«And they have taken besides God [false] deities that they would be for them [a source of] honor and power. No! They are going to deny their worship of them and will be against them opponents [on the Day of ent].»
Chapter Mary 81 and 82

«And who is more astray than he who invokes besides God those who will not respond to him until the Day of Resurrection, and they, of their invocation, are unaware? And when the people are gathered [that Day], they [who were invoked] will be enemies to them, and they will be deniers of their worship.»
Surah Ahqaf 5 and 6

The one eagerly awaiting meeting his Lord on the Day of Resurrection should do positive works and not associate anyone in the worship of his Lord:

«Say, 'I am only a man like you, to whom has been revealed that your god is one God. So whoever would hope for the meeting with his Lord - let him do righteous work and not associate in the worship of his Lord anyone.'»
Surah Kahf, verse 110

Final Words

Therefore, worship, being the essence of a believer's life, (and after passing trials and tests and struggled to get to this stage where now his heart is open to receive and reveal beautiful attributes of God and actualize these attributes in his being and nourish his potentials), should be done with utmost sincerity and purity of intention, solely directed towards God. Anything that detracts from this sincerity, such as seeking praise or recognition from others, thinking anyone other than God is responsible for giving him these potentials and talents and life and blessings and going after false people for manifestation and thinking those people will play as intermediaries for him in day of Judgement and will save him diminishes the value of worship in the eyes of God. It is essential for believers to constantly strive to purify their intentions and actions, seeking only the pleasure and acceptance of God in all their endeavors.