Home Religion & Spirituality A Life Devoted: The Concept of Worship in Islam

A Life Devoted: The Concept of Worship in Islam

Understanding the true essence of Ibadah and living a life in complete submission to the Almighty's guidance is the crux of Islam. Merely performing outward rituals without internalizing the spirit of worship in all aspects of life leads to a superficial practice of faith.


Recall: Islam: A Divine Favor

Worthy of worship is He alone who has created and keeps you alive. Everything in the heavens and on earth obeys Him. This is the central message of the Qur’an, simple and emphatic.

Islam & Reasons for going astray

Islam demands total submission of man to God. A man is not a servant of himself, his ancestors, his family, and nation, or any ruler, leader, or any other person. He is a servant of the Almighty alone.

But Why do people disobey the Almighty and go astray? According to the Qur’an, there are three main reasons.

  1. Self-Worship 

The first is love of one’s own desires. 

Almighty says: And who is more astray than he who follows his own likes and dislikes without any guidance from God. Surely God guides not the wrongdoers (Al-Qasas 28: 50).

Thus, more than anything, it is man’s wishes and desires that lead him astray. For, the one who becomes a slave to his own desires can never become a true slave of God.

  1. Society and Culture 

The second reason for going astray is following blindly the customs and practices, beliefs and notions, rites and ceremonies of society and regarding them as superior to God’s guidance.

How can one who is suffering from such a disease be a servant of God? His gods are society, family, and nation.

What right has he to claim that he is a Muslim? 

To become obedient servants we must give up all attachments, except to God, and adhere strictly to His commands.

The Qur’an Says: And when it is said to them, ‘Follow what God has sent down’, they said, ‘No, but we will follow what we found our fathers doing.’

  1. Obedience to Human Beings 

The third reason is obeying other human beings in preference to God. How does this happen?

Believing someone infallible, controlling our fate, or having authority beyond reason closes the door to divine guidance, obstructing spiritual connection and understanding of Allah’s will.

The Qur’an warns: If you obey most of those on earth, they will lead you astray from the path of God. (Al-Anam 6: 116).

We can be on the right path only when we have faith in one God and follow His guidance only. How can we find that path when we have invented numerous gods, sometimes obeying one and sometimes another?

With these three aforementioned idols in our hearts, we cannot become slaves of God. Merely by offering Prayer many times a day, by ostentatiously observing Fasts, and by putting on the outward face of Muslims, one may deceive other fellow beings – as well, indeed, own selves – but they will never be able to deceive God.

A True Muslim and Devotion to Allah

A true Muslim should be free from these three ailments. Only someone who is a slave of none but of Almighty Allah and a follower of none but His Messengers can be truly called a Muslim.

The Qur’an Says: They Say: My prayers and my sacrifices, and my living and my dying are for God alone, the Lord of all the worlds. No partner has He. (Al-An’am).

The Qur’an makes clear what Allah demands of you. You should devote yourselves wholly to the service of Allah, you should live for Him alone, you should die for Him alone.

Contrasting Behaviors

Often, we observe traders, rulers, soldiers, and professionals behaving as if they are autonomous, disconnected from their Muslim identity. When they establish cultural, educational, and political norms, these may seem Islamic but often lack true Islamic foundations.

In contrast, some fully integrate their personalities and their lives into Islam. This approach extends beyond personal life to encompass public and societal realms, where Islamic principles solely guide their collective existence and behavior.

The thing here is, to which group or category do we belong?

Understanding Ibadah (Worship)

The word “Ibadah“, meaning worship, is an important term often used by Muslims but often not fully understood. It signifies the sole purpose of our creation, lasting until the end of our lives.

And I have not created jinn and mankind except to worship and serve Me. (Al Dhariyat 51).

If a doctor fails to cure a patient or a farmer fails to yield a good crop, they are deemed to have failed in their work. Likewise, if we haven’t fulfilled the purpose of our life, [Ibadah], we may be considered a failure. Understanding and remembering the meaning of Ibadah is crucial, as it determines the success or failure of our life.

The Duties of a Servant

The Arabic word Ibadah [Worship] is derived from the same root as the word ‘Abd’, which means servant and slave. Thus, Ibadah means to perform the duties of a servant as does a slave or bondsman. A person becomes a slave to someone when he lives his life serving and obeying that person, behaving as one should toward a master.

A slave’s first duty is to acknowledge only his master as the true authority, being loyal solely to the one who provides, protects, and pledging allegiance to no one else. The second duty is to obey the master’s commands, without following personal desires or others’ opinions against the master’s will. The third duty of a slave is to revere and adore his master.

Beyond Rituals

Consider a scenario where a servant, instead of carrying out his master’s instructions, remains stationary, repetitively chanting his master’s name with folded hands. Despite the master’s commands to fulfill responsibilities towards others and to combat evil, the servant remains unmoved, continuing to prostrate before his master. This behavior is contrary to what is required to please the Almighty.

Too often, we mistakenly equate Ibadah with mere physical rituals: standing with folded hands, bowing, prostrating, fasting during Ramadan, reciting the Qur’an, or performing the pilgrimage to Mecca. While these actions are part of Ibadah, true worship goes beyond outward rituals.

Then, what does the term “Ibadah” (worship) truly signify in Islam?

Living according to the Almighty’s law at every juncture, rejecting conflicting laws, and aligning all actions under His guidance, transform our lives into acts of worship. In such a life, every moment is an act of worship; whether asleep or awake, eating or drinking, working or resting, silent or speaking—all can be acts of worship.

Real worship means following His way and living by His commandments from childhood to death. It must be continuous and not confined to a specific time or form. Every word and deed should serve the Almighty. If you truly honor, adore, love, and fear God, all your actions will be considered worship, and serving the Almighty cannot be separated from any aspect of your life.

The Role of Prescribed Worship Rituals

One may ask: ‘What then is the position of prescribed worship rituals like the Prayer (Salah), Alms-giving (Zakah), Fasting (Sawm), Pilgrimage (Hajj), and so on?’ These acts of worship, which Allah has enjoined upon us, in reality, prepare us for that greater overall Ibadah that we have to perform throughout our lives. They are the means which turn our lives into lives of worship.

Prayer reminds you five times a day that you are slaves of Allah and that Him alone you must serve. Fasting prepares you, for an entire month once every year, for this very service. Almsgiving repeatedly brings home to you the truth that the money you have earned is a gift from God. Pilgrimage engraves on your hearts such love and awareness of the majesty of God that once they take root, they remain with you all your lives.

Performing acts of worship [such as Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, and Pilgrimage] is meaningful only when you understand their inner significance, transforming your entire life into an unceasing act of worship. Otherwise, the mere performance of a few movements – bowing, kneeling, fasting, and giving—serves no purpose. These rituals are like a body without a soul: lifeless. True worship generates love, fear, loyalty, and obedience to God. Without these, rituals are empty, like a corpse devoid of life.


In conclusion, understanding the true essence of Ibadah [Worship] and living a life in complete submission to the Almighty’s guidance is the crux of Islam. Merely performing outward rituals without internalizing the spirit of worship in all aspects of life leads to a superficial practice of faith. A true Muslim, therefore, strives to be free from self-worship, societal conformity, and servitude to humans, dedicating their entire being to the service of Allah.