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Only Allah is Worthy of Worship

Sep 15, 2022

Having explained the erroneous premises behind the question at hand, we now proceed to demonstrate why worshipping Allah is necessary and beneficial.

Since many people think of “worship” as consisting of mechanical rituals performed by the limbs, we must first pinpoint the emotion lying at the core of the Qur’anic term ‘ibada (usually translated as worship or devotion). The linguist ar-Raghib al-Aṣfahani (d. 1108) explains that ‘ibada denotes the epitome of humility and brokenness. Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 1350), an expert theologian, explains that ta‘abbud (commitment to ‘ibāda) is the highest level of love, wherein a person is rendered powerless before their beloved. Elsewhere, Ibn al-Qayyim elucidates: “Complete ‘ubūdiyya (servitude) is a by-product of complete love, and complete love is a by-product of the beloved’s perceived perfection. As for Allah (the Glorified), He possesses such absolute perfection that even imagining Him flawed is impossible. And whoever is like that, their hearts would not consider anything dearer to them than Him, so long as their natures and minds remain sound. And if this [love] is the dearest thing to them, then loving Him will absolutely necessitate serving Him, obeying Him, pursuing His pleasure, and exhausting every effort to worship Him and seek nearness to Him. This stimulus is the strongest and best driving force behind ‘ubudiyya. Even if this [feeling] was not accompanied by commands, prohibitions, rewards, and punishments, one would still expend [their] capacity and dedicate [their] heart to the One truly worthy of ‘ibāda.”

Therefore, ‘ibada involves a state that is manifested in the surrender of the heart and the limbs. It stands on two pillars: absolute love and absolute humility. These emanate from understanding the perfection of Allah’s qualities and recognizing Allah’s favours (generating love), as well as recognizing one’s own flaws compared to His flawlessness (generating humility). One can say that ‘ibāda is the phenomenon necessitated by observing the dual nature of existence: Creator and creation, Giver and given, Blesser and blessed. ‘Ibāda is not a burdensome task, nor mere labour that results in wages, but rather a gracious gift attained through spiritual insight and sincere effort. The more a person becomes acquainted with the greatness of Allah and His innumerable dispensations, the more he or she comes to terms with the necessity of ‘ibāda. ‘Ibāda represents a declaration of love for Allah, for “worshipping” Allah without loving Him first is not ‘ibāda, and the more one ascends the staircase of love, the more comfortable they become in the gardens of servitude.

In the opening chapter of the Qur’an (al-Fātiḥa), it is meaningful that Allah placed the phrase

إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ
“Only You do we worship”
after the verses praising and extolling Him. This sequence captures how servitude is an offshoot of recognition, and hence a Muslim is moved to worship Allah both internally and externally. The external motivation is the revealed command of Allah which obligates people to perform ritual worship, while the internal motivation results from an appreciation of Allah’s Perfection and one’s own imperfection and appreciation of His benevolence. Thus, you find the Messenger of Allah ﷺ (the best of humanity) standing in the night prayer (the best of times for ritual devotion) to say in his prostration (the best state for declaring surrender and obedience),

لاَ أُحْصِي ثَنَاءً عَلَيْكَ أَنْتَ كَمَا أَثْنَيْتَ عَلَى نَفْسِكَ
“I cannot praise You enough; You are as You have praised Yourself.” [Sahih Muslim – 486]

Even the angels who fill every inch of the skies and earth in prostration and surrender will say on the Day of Resurrection, “Glorified are You; We have not worshipped You as You deserve to be worshipped.” [Tabarani] These noble beings created from light who devote themselves to Allah without interruption, in perpetual obedience, know that His Majesty (Glory be to Him) could never be adequately recognized by created beings.

Allah was worthy of ‘ibāda before He created, and even if He had not created at all, His sublime nature itself entitles Him to be the direction of our heart’s devotion. Even if we had not received anything from Him, He would still deserve this, so how about when a torrential downpour of blessings comes to us from Him each moment of our lives? Venerating Him is necessary because this entire world and the next belong to Him, and because He will judge in perfect justice on the Last Day, and reward the righteous beyond measure. Venerating Allah is also necessary since every atom in this stunning universe points to Him.

In our everyday lives, we feel compelled to acknowledge people’s exceptional achievements and moral excellence. How then can we not acknowledge the unparalleled actions of the Creator and His endowing people with a fiṭra (pure nature) from which everything admirable about them radiates? People who claim that they alone deserve credit for their accomplishments are seen by us as conceited ingrates. Should this sentiment not multiply beyond measure regarding those who refuse to thank Allah—He who drenches them in blessings they recognize and blessings they are unaware of, and makes available to them innumerable means of comfort and enjoyment?

 

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