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The Role of Public Worship in Islam

Question and answer details
Thomas
2013/08/24
Please explain the nature, role, and significance of rites of public worship in Islam.
Shahul Hameed
Answer
Salam Thomas,

Thank you very much for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

The very concept of worship in Islam should be understood in the particular context of Islam, before we can meaningfully talk about the role of public worship or private worship.

Dictionary.com gives these definitions for worship:
  • The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity, an idol, or a sacred object.

  • The ceremonies, prayers, or other religious forms by which this love is expressed.

    These definitions only partially include the Islamic concept of worship. This is because in Islam, the term worship (Arabic: `ibadah) does not signify merely the ritualistic activities such as prayer, fasting, charity, or pilgrimage. It includes all the activities of a believer; in fact it stands for everything a Muslim (i.e., a person who submits peacefully to the Creator; a genuine believer in Islam) believes, says or does. When a Muslim performs all the activities of his life for the pleasure of Allah, then all his deeds become `ibadah or worship. Naturally this includes his ritualistic worship such as prayer and fasting also.

    Islam requires a person to submit himself or herself wholeheartedly and fully to Allah, as Allah commands in the Quran what means: 

{Say: “Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are [all] for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds.”} (Al-An`am 6:162)

Thus, surrendering all the areas of one’s activity to Allah, leaving nothing to the whims and fancies of anyone else, is in fact Islam. Allah says what means:

{...Truth stands out clear from Error...} (Al-Baqarah 2:256)

He also says what means:

{Have We not made for him a pair of eyes? And a tongue, and a pair of lips? And shown him the two highways?} (Al-Balad 90:8-10)

These verses show that there are only two ways before Man: one is the way of Allah and the other is the way of the Devil. You cannot stand with one foot in Allah’s way and the other in the way of the Devil.

Muslims are persons who have willfully submitted their whole selves, and their whole lives to Allah, the Creator, and their duty now is just to obey Him. They cannot split their life into compartments and say that this is the area of religion where they will obey God, and these are the areas where they will follow others.

Islam is a complete way of life that requires its followers to model their entire lives in accordance with its principles in every aspect of life. This may sound somewhat difficult for many, but, in fact, it need not be because it is chiefly a change of attitude and approach. What is important is to understand that Islam does not value rituals for the sake of rituals, especially when they are performed mechanically and have no influence on one's life.

Allah says in the Quran what means:

{It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and give zakah (obligatory charity[2.5 percent of yearly savings]); to fulfill the contracts which you have made; and to be firm and patient in pain [or suffering] and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing.} (Al-Baqarah 2:177)

This means that if our rituals do not have any influence on our day-to-day life, they then would have no value. Similarly, when we do our daily duties with sincerity and faith expecting Allah’s reward, they become important acts of worship.

The Prophet said about faith, that it “is made up of over sixty 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 from people's way.”

He has also said, “Whoever finds himself at the nightfall tired from his work, God will forgive his sins.” In another saying he said, “Seeking knowledge for one hour is better than praying for seventy years.” Again, “Receiving your friend with a smile is sadaqah, and pouring some water in your neighbor’s bucket is also sadaqah.”
 
This comprehensive approach to worship enables a person to purify and spiritualize the entire spectrum of his life. But this is not to belittle the importance of ritualistic worship. Actually ritual worship, if performed in its true spirit, elevate Man morally and spiritually and enable him to carry on his activities in all walks of life according to the guidance of God.

The five-times-daily ritual prayer in Islam called salah is a form of worship that is preferably done in congregation in the masjid (place of worship, also known as mosque). Optionally, prayers can be done alone or in the privacy of one’s home. The weekly congregational prayer called Jumu`ah is done in the masjid on Fridays. You may call it a public act of worship.

Obligatory fasting in the month of Ramadan is a very important form of worship in Islam. But this is not really a visible or external act. Only the person who fasts and God know whether it is done properly. Similarly, paying zakah is another form of worship in Islam. This cannot be called a time-bound and specific rite as such. It is chiefly a sincere setting apart of a specified portion of one’s material possessions for one’s fellow beings, which God has commanded in His Book. The pilgrimage, known as Hajj is yet another form of worship. This is enjoined particularly on those who have the means to do so. This is compulsory for such people only once in a life time.

Thus, worship in Islam, whether ritual or non-ritual, public or private, trains the individual to lead a life in perfect obedience and submission to his Creator, thereby wiping out all evil from his life and enabling him to lead a life fully dedicated to the service of God.

And God knows best. I hope this answer clarifies matters to you. Thank you and please keep in touch.

Salam.

Useful Links:

Jumu`ah (Friday Congregational) Prayer

Tarawih Prayers

Significance of Pilgrimage

Purifying Wealth


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