Worship (Ibadat) is derived from the verb ‘Abada (‘to serve’, and ‘abd’ meaning “slave” or “servitor”), ‘Ibadah is a technical term in theology meaning “acts of worship or ritual”. In a narrow sense, ‘Ibadah refers to the Five Pillars of Islam and other acts, such as supplications and remembrance (zikr), that have a specifically ritual and devotionalnature.
In a broader sense, worship refers to obey Allah and His Commands, to orient one‘s life and existence in terms of what one considers to be Real. The object of proper and right worship, obviously, is Allah and Allah alone. This is demanded by Tauhid. In fact, worship is simply the first practical implication and connotation of Tauhid. Since the necessity of worship follows directly upon Tauhid and Tauhid is the vision inherent in the nature of human beings. The holy Qur’an connects creation unswervingly with worship, when it says that Allah “created not created the jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me [Allah]” (Surah adh-Dhariyat, 51:56). In the same way, worship of the One Allah is the message given to all the Prophets, since worship is demanded by Tauhid, as holy Qur’an clearly proclaims, at many places, as: “And verily, We have sent among every Ummah (community, nation) a Messenger (proclaiming): ‘Worship Allah (Alone), and avoid (or keep away from) Taghut (all false deities)” (Surah An-Nahl, 16:36; cf. Surah Al-Anbiya, 21: 25; and Surah Az-Zukhruf, 43:45).
Sincerity (Ikhlas) refers to surrender to Allah, “with all one’s heart, all one’s mind and all one’s soul”. Ikhlas (sincerity of intention, action and then perseverance on it) is the highest station of love and servitude to God. With reference to Ikhlas, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said that Allah said: “Ikhlas is a secret from my secrets and I place it in the heart of my servant who is my beloved.” Moreover, according to T.P. Hughes’ Dictionary of Islam, Ikhlas is a “theological term, implying that a Muslim performs his religious acts in the sight of God alone, and not to be seen of men”.
In Islam, this is the affirmation of Divine Unity, as in Surah al-Ikhlas, also known as Surah al-Tauhid (Surah 112), that translates as: “‘Say (O Muhammad): He is Allah, (the) One. Allah, the Self-Sufficient Master, Whom all creatures need, (He neither eats nor drinks). He begets not, nor was He begotten. And there is none co-equal or comparable unto Him” (Q. 112: 1-4).
As Ihsan (perfection or excellence), a comprehensive and wide-ranging concept that denotes doing things completely, nicely and in a tasteful manner, (and according to Prophetic tradition means) to act as if one is seeing Allah, so, in such a situation, one is well-aware that nothing can be concealed and veiled from Allah. But the goal is not simply to act as Allah wants us to act; rather it is to do things for Allah’s sake alone. This is Tauhid put into practice.
Ikhlas, along with the completeness, tastefulness (doing things in a nice manner), and correctness (doing things in the right way) are the four components of which Ihsan comprises of. Ihsan demands that people be aware of Allah’s presence and act appropriately, but it also demands that we should think, feel and intend appropriately. There should be no contradiction, disagreement and inconsistency between what we think and what we do, or between our thinking and our practical. The human personality needs to be “harmonious, balanced, and whole, without tendencies and impulses pulling in different directions”. This harmony of the person is called Ikhlas (sincerity); and in short, it is the human embodiment of Tauhid.
— The author holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from Aligarh Muslim University (India) and is a regular Columnist.
Worship & Sincerity in Quranic Perspective | Dr Tauseef A Parray