The Meaning of Ibadah

Linguistically ibadah is derived from abadah which means to be subservient and to subjugate. In Islam, the word ibadah, or worship, is a comprehensive term referring to everything, inward and outward that Allah loves and is pleased with. (ibn Taymiyyah, al-Ubudiyyah, pg 1) Its pillars are love, hope, fear, submission and humility.

Worship can only be considered to be the true worship when the way of performing it is taken from the Messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, seeking thereby the face of Allah only. These two conditions have to be present for the action to be considered worship and hence acceptable by Allah and are proven by the hadith recorded by Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of Umar bin al-Khattab that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said,

“Indeed actions are by intentions and every person shall have what he intended. So the one whose migration was to Allah and His Messenger, his migration was to Allah and His Messenger; and the one whose migration was for some worldly gain, or a woman to marry, his migration was that for which he migrated to.” (Bukhari 1)

and by the hadith recorded by Muslim on the authority of A’ishah that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said,

“Whoever does an action that we have not commanded, it must be rejected.” (Muslim 4266)

Allah, Exalted is He says, “…[He] Who created death and life that He may test which of you is best in action” (al-Mulk 67:2)

Fudayl bin Iyad commented on this by saying, ‘i.e. who is sincere in [his action] and correct in it. The action, if it is sincere but not correct, is not accepted; if it is correct but not sincere, it is not accepted. It is only accepted when it is both sincere and correct – it is sincere when it is done for the sake of Allah and correct when it is font in compliance with the Sunnah.’ (ibn Rajab)

The proof of what Fudayl said lies in this verse, “…So whoever hopes for the meeting with His Lord, let him work righteousness and associate non as a partner in the worship of His Lord” (al-Khaf 18:110)

It is in this respect that Imam Ahmad said that the foundation of the religion is built upon three ahadith:

  • Indeed actions are by intention.
  • Whoever introduces into this affair of ours that which is not part of it, it must be rejected.
  • The lawful is clear and the unlawful is clear and between the two affairs is unclear. (Bukhari) 

The whole religion is based upon doing the commanded, avoiding the prohibited and holding back from the doubtful matters; this is what the third Hadith proves. However two conditions have to be met to accomplish this:

  1. Outwardly the action must be done as taught by the Sunnah, this is proven by the second Hadith.
  2. Inwardly the action must be done seeking the face of Allah, this is proven by the first hadith. (ibn Rajab) 

The Spiritual Cure: An Explanation of Surah Al-Fatihah prepared and translated by Abu Rumaysah Pages 114-116