Obedience as an aspect of worship

Q409 :There is much confusion and contradiction among scholars in our country over the meaning of worship, or 'ibadah'. Some argue that ibadah means as an act of worship only, such as prayers, fasting, etc. and the word does not have any connotations of obedience. Others maintain that the Islamic term includes to cover both worship and conditional obedience. Hence, it can be addressed to Allah alone. If you obey your parents, teachers or the government unconditionally, then this is contrary to what Allah wants of us. Indeed, it signifies worship of parents, teachers or the government. Hence, obedience to anyone other than Allah must be conditional, they argue. Please comment.


A409 : This question is related to the very basic concept of the Islamic faith. It has much to do with the very meaning of the word "Islam". The name is derived from the root verb "aslama" which means "to give up; surrender; to yield." The same verb "aslama", is used to denote that a person has employed Islam. Within the Islamic context, the word means to submit. Islam, therefore, means submission to Allah, which is pure, genuine and total. When a person declares "there is no deity save Allah", he is basically saying that he submits to no one other than Allah. The second part of the declaration: "Muhammad (peace be upon him) is Allah's messenger", means a commitment to accept legislation only when it comes through the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This has far reaching practical implications. To start with, submission to Allah means a willing commitment to implement Allah's laws. It is not possible to imagine that a person who declares that he has submitted to Allah continues, at the same time, to violate His laws. If he does, his very actions belie his declaration. Hence, a Muslim tries all the time to steer away from any action which represents disobedience to Allah. Moreover, man's submission to Allah should demonstrate itself in special types of action which man should not have undertaken if it was not for the purpose of emphasizing that he has submitted himself to Allah. These are the acts of worship a Muslim is required to perform regularly. Who would have fasted from dawn to dusk, allowing himself nothing to eat or drink - day after day for a whole month - if it were not for pleasing Allah? You need only to look at pilgrimage to realize how much Islamic worship emphasizes dedication to Allah and total surrender to Him. The same applies to prayer and zakah. Islam, however, does not differentiate between pure acts of worship and other actions. In everything a human being does, a good intention must be present and a good purpose need to be served. When this condition is fulfilled, every action becomes an act of worship. When you read the Qur'an, you are surprised at the number of times you notice that orders which concern worship are given in midst of the discussion of matters of day-to-day life. In the surah entitled "The Cow", or "Al-Baqrah", we read Allah's instructions to attend regularly to prayers right in the middle of a long passage which speaks about the provisions of divorce, marriage and breast-feeding. The instructions regarding ablution and prayer are given in Surah 5, immediately after a long passage dealing with what Muslims are allowed to eat. This emphasizes the fact that Islam looks at both types of action, worship and human, in the same light. Any action which is intended for a good purpose earns reward from Allah. Perhaps the clearest example can be given by quoting the Hadith in which the Prophet is quoted to have said: "When one of you fulfills his sexual desire, he is rewarded." His companions wondered: "Is any of us to be rewarded for the fulfillment of a physical desire?" The Prophet answered: "Since he is punished for fulfilling it in an illegitimate way, he is to be rewarded for fulfilling it in the way Allah permits." What is required to achieve this is the proper intention. Therefore, when a man takes his wife to bed, he should have the right intention, such as helping himself and his wife to maintain their chastity or hoping to have a child for whom they will make an effort to bring up as a good Muslim. We have so far emphasized that submission to Allah is translated into practice through obedience to Him. Now the question arises whether obeying people such as one's parents, teachers, friends, or the government, constitutes worship. No simple answer can be given to this question. Many are the Qur'anic verses and pronouncements by the Prophet which make it absolutely clear that dutifulness to one's parents is a duty of every Muslim. Anyone who disobeys his parents, without good reason, is disobedient to Allah. Again, a Muslim must obey the ruler of his Muslim state. We have the instructions given to us by the Prophet: "A Muslim servant of Allah is required to show obedience, as long as he is not ordered to commit a violation of Allah's laws." This means in effect that to obey one's parents and to obey the Muslim ruler is part of obeying Allah. Hence, it cannot be described as worship. When you obey your parents, you are not worshipping them. There is, however, one proviso: obeying human beings cannot be absolute. You have to take every order separately, examine it and make sure that, when you carry it out, you are not disobeying Allah. The Prophet states absolutely clearly: "No creature may be obeyed in what constitutes disobedience to the Creator." You often find people who are required to carry out laws and instructions of their superiors protesting that they have no say in the way they carry out their duties. In some countries, an official may say, "I am only serving the boss." In other countries, a junior official may say, "I am only following the orders I am given." From the Islamic point of view, such excuses are not acceptable. If the order given to a junior official represents disobedience to Allah, he must not carry that out. If he does, he is a partner in disobeying Allah. If the order means injustice, he has his share of doing injustice. When such blind obedience to human beings is carried a little further, it borders on worship or it may indeed be a manifestation of worship. This is certainly the case when a person obeys willingly the orders of others, regardless of their position, knowing that these orders are contrary to Allah's commandments. In such a case, there is no pressure on him to obey. He does not feel himself obliged or compelled to obey. But he may have an interest in obeying, such as hoping to achieve a promotion in his job or securing a financial or moral advantage. In such a case, his obedience is not only sinful, but it is a form of worship. This is illustrated most clearly by the Hadith which mentions that when Hatem ibn Addiy, a former Christian who became a companion of the Prophet, heard the Qur'anic verse which states of Christians and Jews: "They have taken their rabbis and their monks, as well as the Christ, son of Mary, for their lords beside Allah, although they had been bidden to worship none but the One God, save Whom there is no deity" (9;31). Hatem protested to the Prophet, saying: "They did not worship them" (meaning their monks and rabbis). The Prophet said, "They (meaning the monks and rabbis) made lawful to them what Allah has made unlawful, and prohibited what Allah has made lawful, and they obeyed them. This is how they worshipped them." To sum up, when obedience to others represents disobedience to Allah, it is an aspect of worship which no Muslim may permit himself to do.


Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )