The traditional definition of worship in Islam is a comprehensive definition that includes almost everything in any individual’s activities. It is everything one says or does for the pleasure of Allah. These includes rituals as well as beliefs, social activities, and personal contributions to the welfare of one’s fellow human-beings. Islam looks at the individual as a whole. He or she is required to submit himself completely to Allah, as the Quran instructed the Prophet Muhammad to do:
“Say (O Muhammad) my prayer, my sacrifice, my life and my death belong to Allah; He has no partner and I am ordered to be among those who submit, i.e.; Muslims.” (6:162, 163)
The natural result of this submission is that all one’s activities should conform to the instructions of the one to whom the person is submitting. Islam, being a way of life, requires that its followers model their life according to its teachings in every aspect, religious or otherwise. This might sound strange to some people who think of religion as a personal relation between the individual and God, having no impact on one’s activities outside rituals. As a matter of fact Islam does not think much of mere rituals when they are performed mechanically and have no influence on one’s inner life. The Quran addresses the believers and their neighbors from among the People of the Book who were arguing with them about the change of the direction of Qibla in the following verse:
“It is not righteousness that you turn your faces toward the East or the West, but righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the Angels and the Book and the Prophets, and gives his beloved money to his relatives and the orphans and the needy and for the ransoming of captives and who observes prayer and pays the poor-due; and those who fulfill their promises when they have made one, and the patient in poverty and affliction and the steadfast in time of war; it is those who have proved truthful and it is those who are the God-fearing.” (2:177)
The deeds in the above verse are the deeds of righteousness and they are only a part of worship. The Prophet told us about faith, which is the basis of worship, that it “is made up of sixty and some branches; the highest of which is the belief in the Oneness of Allah, i.e., there is no God but Allah and the lowest in the scale of worship is removing obstacles and dirt from people’s way.” Decent work is considered in Islam a type of worship. The Prophet said:
“Whoever finds himself at the nightfall tired of his work, God will forgive his sins.”
Seeking knowledge is one of the highest types of worship. The Prophet told his companions that “seeking knowledge is a (religious) duty on every Muslim.” In another saying he said:
“Seeking knowledge for one hour is better than praying for seventy years.”
Social courtesy and cooperation are part of worship when done for the sake of Allah as the Prophet told us:
“Receiving your friend with a smile is a type of charity, helping a person to load his animal is a charity and putting some water in your neighbor’s bucket is a charity.”
It is worth noting that even performing one’s duties is considered a sort of worship. The Prophet told us that whatever one spends for his family is a type of charity; he will be rewarded for it if he acquires it through legal means. Kindness to members of one’s family is an act of worship as when one puts a piece of food in his spouse’s mouth. Not only this but even the acts we enjoy doing very much, when they are performed according to the instructions of the Prophet, are considered as acts of worship. The Prophet told his companions that they will be rewarded even for having sexual intercourse with their wives. The companions were astonished and asked: “How are we going to be rewarded for doing something we enjoy very much?” The Prophet asked them: “Suppose you satisfy your desires illegally; don’t you think that you will be punished for that?” They replied, “Yes.” “So,” he said, “by satisfying it legally with your wives you are rewarded for it.” This means they are acts of worship. Thus Islam does not consider sex a dirty thing that one should avoid. It is dirty and sinful only when it is satisfied outside marital life.
It is clear, from the previous discussion that the concept of worship in Islam is a comprehensive concept that includes all the positive activities of the individual. This of course is in agreement with the all-inclusive nature of Islam as a way of life. It regulates human life on all levels: individual, social, economic, political and spiritual. That is why Islam provides guidance to the smallest details of one’s life on all these levels. Thus following these details is following Islamic instructions in that specific area. It is a very encouraging element when one realizes that all his activities are considered by God as acts of worship. This should lead the individual to seek Allah’s pleasure in his actions and always try to do them in the best possible manner whether he is watched by his superiors or he is alone. There is always the permanent supervisor, who knows everything, namely, Allah.