The Concept of Worship (ibādah) in Islam
What is the formal Prayer (Salah)? It is a special form of supplication to the Divine, but people consider it to be a tax that is due to kings. These foolish people do not even know that God Almighty has no need for such things.
What need does His Independent Being have for man to pray to Him, extol His glory and praise Him, besought of all as He is? In fact, it is man who derives benefit and reaches his objective through these means. It gives me great pain to observe that in this day and age there is no love for worship, virtue and piety. The reason for this is the poisonous, widespread effect of evil custom. It is for this reason that the love of Allah Almighty is falling cold and people do not experience the pleasure they ought to in worship.
There is nothing (in the world) which according to the design of Allah Almighty does not give pleasure or satisfaction in some form. A person who is ill cannot derive pleasure from even the most exquisite and delicious food, and considers it to be bitter or completely tasteless. So too is the case with those people who derive no pleasure and delight from the worship of God. Such people should worry about their ill state. For as I have just said, there is nothing on earth, which Allah the Exalted has not instilled with the characteristic of granting pleasure in some form or other. Allah the Exalted has created man so that he may worship Him. Why then would there be no pleasure and delight in this worship? There is definitely pleasure and delight in worship. If only there were those who would take it. Allah the Exalted states:
وَ مَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَ الْاِنْسَ اِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوْنِ 51:57
And I have not created the Jinn and the men but that they may worship Me.
Now when the very purpose of man’s creation is worship, it is necessary for there to be immense pleasure and satisfaction in worship. We can appreciate this very well from our daily observation and experience. For example, grain along with all the things that we eat and drink have been created for humans. Do they not then derive a pleasure and satisfaction from these things? Does man not possess a tongue so that he can experience the taste, flavour and sensation that is associated with these things? Does man not derive pleasure from looking at beautiful things, whether plants or minerals, animals or other human beings? Do the ears not derive pleasure from attractive and beautiful voices? Then is any further argument required to establish the fact that there is pleasure to be derived in worship?
Allah the Exalted states: We have created man and woman as mates and we have inclined man towards his mate. God has not made it so by way of coercion, but rather, He has encouraged by way of pleasure. If procreation and reproduction was the only intended purpose, this would not fulfil the actual objective. In a state of nakedness, shame would prevent a man and woman from having intimate relations with one another. However, God has made this process a source of pleasure and satisfaction for both man and woman. This pleasure and satisfaction is so great that there are some ignorant people who do not even care for children, and the only thing that they are interested in is pleasure. The actual purpose of God Almighty was the continuation of human beings, and for this objective he fostered a relationship between man and woman, and as a secondary element invested this relation with pleasure, which for many unwise people has become the only intended purpose. In the same manner, bear well in mind that worship is no burden or tax. This too possesses a pleasure and satisfaction; and this pleasure and satisfaction is far greater than all the delights of this world and all carnal pleasures. Although there is pleasure in the mutual relation between man and woman, only such men can derive satisfaction from this who are in the full possession of their faculties. An impotent man or a eunuch cannot find pleasure in such relations. Moreover, just as an ill person remains deprived of the pleasure of even the finest and most exquisite foods, so too is precisely the case with the unfortunate person who does not find pleasure in worshipping Allah.
The Reality of the Relationship between Man’s Servitude and Divine Providence
The bond between man and woman is a superficial and temporary one. I say that the everlasting epitome of pleasure in its truest sense exists in the bond between man and God Almighty. I feel an immense agony, which at times consumes my soul, that if even one day a person is unable to enjoy the taste of their food, they will visit the doctor and beg and beseech them, even flatter them, and spend money and bear pains so that the pleasure they once felt may return. The impotent man who is unable to feel pleasure with his wife will at times feel so disturbed that he begins to contemplate suicide, and there are many cases of such deaths. But alas! Why does the ineffectual person with an ailing heart not make an effort to experience pleasure in worship? Why does such a one not feel miserable with grief? They will go to great lengths in pursuit of the world and its pleasures, but feel no thirst or agony for true and everlasting pleasure. How unfortunate is such a person? How deprived are they? They will search for a cure in order to experience temporary and transient pleasures and they are successful. Is it possible then that there be no cures which enable one to experience that pleasure which is enduring and everlasting? There are indeed. But perseverance and persistence are needed in the search for truth.
In the Holy Quran, Allah the Exalted has described the believers in similitude to women. There is a deep and hidden secret in this point. Those who believe have been likened to Mary and Asiyah; that is to say, God Almighty brings forth believers from among the idolaters. In any case, by likening believers to women there is in actuality a subtle mystery that has been revealed. To elaborate, just as a mutual relation exists between man and woman, so too is the relationship of man’s servitude and divine providence. If a man and woman have a mutual understanding with one another and both are attracted to one another, then such couples are blessed and fruitful; otherwise domestic life is ruined and the actual purpose of this relationship goes unrealised. Men ruin themselves through other relations and are struck by hundreds of illnesses. Some contract infectious diseases like syphilis and are left deprived in this very world. And if such people do happen to have children, many future generations are left affected by this illness. On the other hand, the woman will begin to lead a life of immodesty and even after her honour and dignity has drowned completely, she is unable to attain true comfort. Therefore, when the pure relationship of husband and wife is abandoned, this gives rise to countless forms of evil and disorder. In the same way, when a person abandons their spiritual relationship, they are left plagued and forsaken. Such a one falls prey to even greater grief and afflictions than in the case of their worldly relationship. Just as the bond of man and woman is in one way preserved by the pleasure that is derived from it, there is pleasure in the bond of man’s servitude and divine providence, in order to forever maintain this relationship.
The Sufis say that a person who is able to experience this pleasure finds it to be more satisfying than all the pleasures of the world. In a person’s entire life, if even once they are able to experience it, they would lose themselves in it. However, the difficulty is that there are a large number of people in the world today who do not understand this secret and their Prayer is but meaningless movements, and nothing more than a process of sitting and rising in a laborious and burdensome state with an unmoved heart. It hurts me even more to observe that some people only offer their Prayers so that they may be deemed worthy and honourable in the world. As a result of their Prayers, they succeed in garnering for themselves a reputation for being holy and pious. Why are such people not consumed by grief that if such false, superficial and insincere Prayers can grant them such a status, why would they not be conferred with dignity if they become true servants of God? In fact, much greater honour would be bestowed upon them in such a case.
The Cause for Not Deriving Pleasure in Prayer and Its Cure
……..All I wish to say is that one ought to fervently and passionately pray to God Almighty that just as He has granted us diverse forms of pleasure in fruits and other things, may He enable us to experience, even once, the sweet taste of Prayer and worship. One never forgets the taste of a thing. If an individual looks at someone beautiful with pleasure, they remember it well. Further, if a person sees an ugly and hideous figure, the entire state of such a figure comes forth as an embodiment in the mind of the observer, whenever they are reminded of it. Of course, if a person is indifferent and saw the figure in passing, then one remembers nothing. Similarly, in the estimation of those who do not pray, the Prayer is like a penalty, whereby one is unjustly forced to wake up in the morning when it is cold and leave their precious sleep to perform ablution, and compelled to forsake many comforts in order to offer it. The actual fact is that such a one is averse and therefore, is unable to understand; they are oblivious of the pleasure and satisfaction that is present in Prayer. How then can they experience pleasure in Prayer? I observe that when a drunkard or one who suffers from addiction is unable to find satisfaction, they continue to drink glass after glass, until they are finally inebriated. A wise and prudent individual can benefit from this example. In other words, one must remain persistent in Prayer and continue observing it until they begin to experience pleasure. Just as a drunkard conceives of a pleasure in his mind, which is the actual objective he pursues, in the same way, the mind and all of one’s faculties must feel a propensity towards the acquisition of that very pleasure that exists in Prayer. Then, with sincerity and passion, at least to the extent that an addict suffers from anxiety, restlessness and pain, an individual ought to pray that they are able to experience the pleasure they seek. I say truthfully that surely and most definitely they will experience the pleasure of Prayer.
……….Until a person throws themselves before Allah Almighty, considering their own being to be nothing more than a complete non-entity or the like thereof — this being an inherent demand of divine providence — they cannot receive God’s grace and light. However, when they do receive this blessing, they experience an intense pleasure, which cannot be matched by any other.
At this point, when a person’s soul is humbled to the state of complete self-effacement, it begins to flow towards God in the form of a running spring and it becomes completely detached from all other relations beside Allah. At that time, the love of God Almighty descends upon such a person. At the time of this union, a unique condition is born through two surges of fervour: the fervour of providence surges forth from above and the fervour of man’s servitude surges forth from below. This phenomenon is known as salat or Prayer. It is this very Prayer which incinerates evil, and leaves behind a divine light and brilliance in its stead, so that this may serve as a shining lamp for the seeker on their path in the face of dangers and perils; and so that it may show a seeker all the rubbish, debris, thorns and stones that may obstruct their way, thus safeguarding them. It is in this state that the verse
اِنَّ الصَّلٰوةَ تَنْهٰى عَنِ الْفَحْشَآءِ وَ الْمُنْكَرِ 29:46
(Surely, Prayer restrains one from indecency and manifest evil)
becomes applicable, because not in their hand, rather, in the niche of their heart is a shining lamp. This rank is attained through utmost humility, through complete self-effacement, through lowliness and absolute obedience. How then can such an individual even think of sin? Such a one can never disbelieve, nor turn their gaze towards indecency. Therefore, such an individual experiences such pleasure and such satisfaction that I am at a loss for words to explain it fully.
It ought to be remembered that an individual can only observe and fully experience Prayer, in the true sense, with the help of supplication. To implore of anyone or anything besides Allah is diametrically opposed to a believer’s indignation, because only Allah is worthy of being implored in supplication. Know for certain that until a person abases themselves completely and does not beseech Allah the Exalted alone, and does not implore Him alone, they cannot be deemed a true Muslim and a true believer in the actual sense.
The very essence of Islam is that all of one’s faculties — whether inner or external — must always lay prostrate at the threshold of Allah Almighty, just as a large engine fuels many other parts. In the same way, until a person’s every action and movement is not made to follow the overall power and control of the engine, how can they believe in the divinity of Allah Almighty? Until this is so, can such an individual call themselves ‘one who is ever inclined to God,’ in the true sense when reciting the words:
انِيّْ وَجهَّتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلذَّيْ فَطَرَ السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ الْاَرْضَ
(I have turned my face towards Him Who created the heavens and the earth).
If a person reinforces their words through action and turns towards God, then undoubtedly such a one is a Muslim; they are a believer and one who is ever inclined to God.
Note: This excerpt is taken from the book “MALFUZAT” (Sayings and Discourses of the Promised Messiah and Mahdi (as) Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community) Volume I
The original book can be free download here: