True Meaning of Ibadah
There is an important word which we Muslims use a lot but understand little. The word is ‘Ibadah. It is very important that we understand its true meaning and significance. The sole purpose of our creation, the end of our lives, Allah says. Is to worship and serve Him alone.
And I have not created jinn and mankind except to worship and serve Me (al- Dhariyat 51:56).
This establish beyond doubt that you must be fully aware of the meaning of Ibadah. Otherwise you will not be able to fulfill the purpose for which you have been created. And anything which does not fulfill its purpose is a failure. If a doctor cannot cure his patient, he may be considered t have failed in his work. If a farmer cannot raise a good crop, he may be held to have failed in his job. Similarly, if you have not been able to fulfill the purpose of your lives, Ibadah, you must be judged failures. Listen, therefore, carefully and understand the meaning of Ibadah the success or failure or your lives.
Meaning of Ibadah
The Arabic word ‘Ibadah is derived form the same root as the word ‘abd, which means servant and slave’. Thus, ‘Ibadah means to perform the duties of a servant as does a slave or bondsman. A person is a slave of somebody only if he lives his whole life rendering service and obedience to him and behaves as one should behave to his master. But a person who is supposedly a servant and is being paid for his work but who does not render his master service and obedience as a slave ought, is guilty of disloyalty and rebellion.
How should a slave behave towards his master?
The first duty of a slave is to take only his master as his lord. He should betotally faithful to him alone who sustains, nourishes and protect him and give his loyalty to no one else.
The second duty of a slave is to be always obedient to his master, to carry out all his orders meticulously and to refrain from following his own desires or opinions or following anybody else contrary to his master’s wishes. A slave is a slave, every moment and in all circumstances. He has no right to choose to obey a particular order and disobey another, or to say he will be a slave when it suits and ignore his duties for the rest of the time.
The third duty if a slave is to revere and adore his master. To express his reverence, he should follow the ways laid down by him. If he is constant and firm in his faithfulness and obedience, he must present himself at whatever time his master calls him for audience.
These are the qualities which together constitute ‘Ibadah: first, loyalty to one’s master; second, obedience to him; and third, reverence and adoration for him. What Allah requires-when He says ‘I have not created jinn and mankind except to serve and worship me’- is that we should be loyal, above all, to Him alone and to no one else; we should follow, against everything else, His commandments only; and we should honour and revere Him alone by kneeling and prostrating ourselves. Everywhere in the Qur’an the word ‘Ibadah is used in this sense. This is also the substance of the teaching of our Prophet, and of all the prophets sent by god before him, peace be upon them. Each come with the same message, ‘Worship and serve none except him, (Yusuf 12:40): there is only one Sovereign to who you must be faithful, and that Sovereign is Allah; there is one law which you must obey, and that is the law of Allah; there is only one Being you should worship, and that being is Allah.
Now look at the following situations. What would you say about a servant who, instead of performing the duties required of him by his master, just stands in front of him with folded hands and keeps on chanting his name? his master orders him to go and discharge his obligations to his fellow human beings, but he stays where he is Again and again he bows to his master, salutes him and remains standing up with folded hands. His master instruct him to go and fight against evil to eliminate it, but he does not budge an inch; instead he keeps on prostrating himself before him. His master commands him to cut off the hand of a thief, but the servant, still standing there, recites scores of times in an extremely melodious voice: ‘cut off the hand of the thief, cut off the hand of the thief’ , without ever trying to establish that orders which the hand of a thief may be cut off.
Would you say that this man was really serving his master? And what would be your verdict of you had servants and one behaved in this fashion? Yet how often you regard as devout worshippers so-called servants of God who behave exactly like this! What, for example about the man who reads from dawn to dusk the Divine injunctions in the Qur’an, but never stirs himself to carry them out, chanting instead the name of God on a thousand-bead rosary, praying uninterruptedly and reciting the Qur’an in a beautiful voice? When you see Him doing all this you exclaim: ‘What a devout and pious person he is! You are misled because you do not understand the true meaning of ‘Ibadah.
Here is another servant. This one is busy day and night carrying out duties given to him by people other than his master, while he constantly flouts the
commands of his real master and tries to hides this by always being present at the appointed hours of audience and losing no chance to sign his praises. If any you had such a servant, what would you do with him? Would you not throw back his greeting in his face? If he called you ‘Master‘ and ‘Lord’, would you not retort: ‘You are an impertinent liar and a cheat, you take wages from me but work for others’. You pretend to call me master but actually serve everybody except me’. This is a matter of simple common sense which we can all easily understand.
But how astonishing that you think the Prayers, Fasting, chanting on rosary- beads, recital of the Qur’an, the Pilgrimage and Almsgiving of those people are in fact of worship, which day and night violate or ignore the laws of God and follow the orders of the unbelievers. Here, again, you are misled because you are unaware of the true meaning of ‘Ibadah.
Now look at yet another servant. His uniform is perfectly tailored and always smart, just as desired by his master. He presents himself before his master showing the utmost honour and reverence. whenever he is given an order, he bows his head and says, ‘With all my heart I will obey’, as if no one could be more faithful. He is always to the forefront in parsing his master. Yet, at the same time, this man is serving the rebels and enemies of his master, participating in the conspiracies they hatch against him and co-operating with them in their efforts to belittle his name. In the darkness of night he commits burglary in his master’s house, but in morning presents himself with folded hands before him like the most faithful servants.
What would you say about such a servant? Clearly, your verdict would be: he is hypocrite, a rebel, and disloyal. But what do you call this so called servant of God who behave just like this? You call them Sheikhs, Mawlanas, Pirs, and so on. You consider them pious and godly men. This is because you have been misled by external trappings such as full breads, dresses above their ankles, prostration marks on their foreheads, their long sessions of the Prayers and their big rosaries of beads. Again, your error has arisen because you have not grasped the meaning of ‘Ibadah and religiosity.
Too often you think that just facing the Qiblah with folded hands, bowing with your hands resting on your knees, prostrating yourselves with your face on the ground and uttering a few ritual words is in itself ‘Ibadah. You think that just to be hungry and thirsty from mornings till evening every day from the first of Ramadan till the appearance of the Shawwal moon is ‘Ibadah. You think that a mere verbal recital of some parts or Surahs of the Qur’an is ‘Ibadah. You think that a visit to Makka and circumambulation of the Ka’ah is ‘Ibadah. In short, you think ‘Ibadah consists of merely performing certain outward worship rituals and ceremonies, and whenever you notice anybody doing these actions, and no more, you think that they have done their duty, they are true worshipers performing ‘Ibadah of God, they have thus fulfilled the purport of the verse, ‘I have not created Jin and Mankind except to serve and worship Me’.
Source: [Book: Fundamentals of Islam (By: Abul Ala Maududi)]