Thursday, September 29, 2011

Islam and the Idea of Worship

Islam teaches that man has been created as Allah's vicegerent on earth. With his honorable vicegerency (khilafah) mission, man signifies both the climax and the epicenter of Allah's act of creation and its divine purpose. As such, when completely submitting to the Will and Word of his Creator and Master Ð as man's ultimate fate ought to be - man elevates himself to the highest level in the hierarchy of life's multifaceted constituents and beings, including angels. Man's life, then, in its totality becomes one sweet song of worshipping, glorifying and praising Allah, the Lord of the universe. It becomes a form of worship ('ibadah) where Allah in all the life interests and pursuits of man becomes the ultimate object of all his spiritual cravings and desires.

In Islam, life is a perfectly meaningful, consequential, purposeful, beautiful, pure and wholesome affair. Thus, it is regarded as sacred, and living it in accordance with Allah's guidance, which is meant for that very purpose, is synonymous with worship and submission to Allah. Allah says that He had created both men and Jinns only that they may worship and serve Him (al-Dhariyat, 56). It follows that for a person to thus live his life is to keep things in a natural order, to remain on the right path and to remain faithful and loyal to Allah. It means, furthermore, that he is bound to remain faithful to his inner self and to what he really is and was always meant to be.

Conversely, for a person to alienate an aspect of his life from the inspiration and guidance of Allah is to start moving towards an aberrant order of things, unfaithfulness, and disloyalty to Allah. The more estranged his life aspects from divine guidance and inspiration, the more alienated from Allah a man becomes, and the more deviant and anomalous the life tendencies become, and the more alienated from, and deceitful towards, his intrinsic self and its disposition, a man becomes. As Muhammad Iqbal remarked:

"When faith is lost then so is peace,
And there is no life for the one who is not enlivened by religion (Islam),
Whoever is pleased with a life bereft of faith
Has made total ruin to be life's substance."1

Hence, Islamic pure religious rituals, which have been prescribed to be performed at appointed times, are to be viewed as neither separated from nor imposed superfluous actions on the smooth flow of everyday activities. Rather, such religious rituals are to be viewed as life's integral dimension which inspires, guides, facilitates, and gives a perfect sense to the rest of life's dimensions. The two systems of expression (spiritual and physical), construct a perfect whole which transcends them and aims for a higher metaphysical order of ideas and things where its full potential can only be fully realized. However, if the two systems are separated, always being at odds and on a collision course with each other, the religious rituals will then be reduced to mere mechanical and spiritless movements and acts, spawning in turn a lifestyle deeply rooted in a deadening formalism which is incapable of bringing much good to anyone.

As per the same proposition, the physical aspects of human existence, once separated from divinity, will become ephemeral, imprudent, hollow, and, more often than not, perilous. The spiritual and physical aspects of life need each other for their individual as well as collective realizations. Man's fulfillment of his vicegerency mission completely depends on such a coalition. Without it, man would not really be a man, his life a life, and his life mission a mission. Islamic worship combines the mundane with the spiritual, the individual with the society, and the internal soul with the external body.

Islam is a religion of actions and deeds. Islam is a religion of life accomplishments. Islam is life, and life, the way Allah created and predetermined it, echoes the quintessence and ethos of Islam. The word "islam" which implies a total submission to Allah through one's acts, words and thoughts, clearly attests to it. Islam is not a religion of mere words, slogans, or symbols. Islam is not a religion of an abstract philosophy, or a set of sheer religious rituals. Islam knows no distinction between the spiritual and material realms of existence along the ideological and ontological lines. To assert something like that is to distort the Islamic message and to live in the wrong. Due to the unity and oneness of Allah, Islam likewise propagates the unity and oneness of the truth and of the meaning, purpose and providence of life and man.

Moreover, Islam is a religion of culture and civilization. It is as much a matter of a personal spiritual transformation and enrichment, as it is a matter of an all-embracing societal upbringing, reform, and advancement. Islam is a religion of wisdom and erudition where revelation and reason are not at loggerheads with each other. Rather, they cooperate with and support each other, each one knowing its respective intent and scope, while honoring the intent and scope of the other pole. Islam is a rational religion.

Practicing Islam inevitably means the creation of a comprehensive culture and civilization that carry the imprints of Islamic values, teachings and principles, in some aspects more and in other aspects less. Islam is so much concerned about quenching man's thirst for socializing and interacting with others that some people could not help observing that Islam, as a matter of fact, have a preference for the sedentary over the nomad, and for the city dweller over the villager.2 While contending that Islam is a "profoundly urban faith"3 , those people were implicitly suggesting the universalism, comprehensiveness, pragmatism and dynamism of Islam's teachings and value and belief systems, which in no way can be restricted to a geographical region, a point of time, a group of people, or a single aspect - or a few aspects - of human existence.

It was because of this underlining character of Islam, surely, that after Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had received in the cave of Khira' his first revelation, and with it his appointment as a messenger of Allah to people, where heretofore he used to spend long periods contemplating and reflecting on the spiritual depression and failure of the world around him, he subsequently never returned to the cave. He did so because Islam is not a religion of isolation to be practiced by certain ascetic individuals away from the masses and the pressing realities of life. It must be pointed out that the whole process of the Islamic transformation project started right in the cave of Khira', but not with the words of, for example, "pray" or "fast" or "perform pilgrimage", etc., but rather with the words "Read (iqra') in the name of your Lord Who created. He created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is most Honorable, Who taught (to write) with the pen." (al-'Alaq, 1-4)

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was asked Ð as is anyone who subscribes to Islam and Muhammad's mission Ð to read, study, try to solve and make known the problems and maladies of his people, as well as of the world and life in general. This is strongly suggested by the notions of Allah the Creator and Guardian, and man the guided and taught mortal completely dependent on Allah, which are enfolded in the above mentioned verses. If Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was asked to read in the narrowest meaning of the word iqra', such would have been a paradox because Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was, and remained, an illiterate man. However, since he was asked to read in the widest and most comprehensive meaning of the word iqra', without which even the purest religious rites and ceremonies cannot be carried out, such not only was not a paradox, but also made the most perfect sense, as Muhammad (pbuh) in terms of wisdom, intelligence, perspicacity, spirituality and morals was the most complete man. His sublime conduct embodied all the qualities which were expected to rise from the Islamic "iqra'" scheme. Though outwardly illiterate, Muhammad (pbuh) was a perfectly "literate" man. He perfectly exemplified the Islamic message. The words "Read (iqra') in the name of your Lord Who created" perfectly exemplifies the Islamic message too. Because of him being an excellent exemplar, Allah's chosen one, every single Muslim believer extraordinarily admires and endeavors to follow Muhammad's most beautiful pattern of conduct in his daily life. A prominent place in that task occupies the application of the universal model of iqra' with all of its dimensions and implications. Due to this, the relevance of Muhammad (pbuh), iqra' and Islam never fizzles out. "It was Allah Who educated me and Who perfected my good manners", were once the words of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Due to this, furthermore, the relevance of Islamic worship, which spawns all-encompassing Islamic lifestyles, never fizzles out either.


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