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Foundations Concerning Worship

The intention, the action, and conformity to the Sunnah – three of the most important aspects of worship!  There is also a focus upon the spiritual aspect of worship, which we – the People of the Sunnah – are often accused of being deficient in.

So knowledge is a condition for the correctness of the statement and action.

The Concise Definition

Shaykh Ṣāliḥ Ibn Sa’d al-Suḥaymī said:

“Worship (ʿibādah) in the (Arabic) language means utter debasement and subservience.  According to the Sharīʿah, it is a general term referring to everything that Allāh loves and is pleased with in terms of statements, and actions; whether they are done openly or secretly.”1

The Purpose of Creation

Allāh the Exalted says:

“Say: Verily my Prayer, and my Sacrifice, and my living and my dying are for Allāh, Lord of the Worlds, having no associate.  This is what I was commanded with, and I am the first of the Muslims.”
[Sūrah al-Anʿām 6:162]

And He said:

“And I did not create the Jinn, nor mankind, except to worship Me.”
[Sūrah al-Dhāriyāt, 51:56]

Imām al-Nawawī (d.676H) – raḥimahullāh– said:

“So mankind, along with every other creation, is in need of Allāh the Exalted in His Essence, and in whatever emanates from His Essence.  It is not possible for the creation to be in need of anything except its Creator.  And no one is self-sufficient by himself, except Allāh alone, and He is as-Samad (the Eternal), and al-Ghanee (the Self-Sufficient), and everything other than Him is in need of Him.”2

Allāh the Exalted said:

“Verily the one who associates partners with Allāh, then verily Allāh has prohibited Paradise upon him, and his dwelling place shall be the Fire. And the transgressors will not have any helpers.”
[Sūrah al-Māʾidah, 5:72]

Imām al-Shātibī (d.790H) – raḥimahullāh– said:

“Indeed Allāh has divided worship up into many types so that the servants may eagerly embark upon it, so from them is: the types of worship that are related to ʿaqīdah (belief), such as believing in the ʿulūhiyyah (divinity) of Allāh the Exalted, and describing Him with the Perfect Attributes.  And from them also is the type of worship that is related to the heart, such as ʿubūdiyyah (servitude), and supplication.  And from them is the type of worship related to this world, such as Prayer, fasting and Ḥajj (pilgrimage). And from them is the type of worship related to wealth, such as zakāt (obligatory alms), and charity. And all of these have only been legislated to preserve the Religion.”3  So from amongst the most important principles related to ʿibādahare the following:

[1] Knowledge Comes Before Action

Imām al-Bukhārī (d.256H) – raḥimahullāh – said in his Ṣaḥīḥ:

“Chapter: Knowledge comes before statement and action.”4

Then al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar (d.852H) – raḥimahullāh– commented upon this statement saying:

“So knowledge is a condition for the correctness of the statement and action.  So these two (statement and action) are not held in high esteem, except due to it (knowledge), so it must take precedence over them; since the correctness of the intention is a prerequisite for the correctness of action.”5

al-Ḥāfiẓ al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī (d.463H) – raḥimahullāh– said:

“So knowledge is a tree, and actions are its fruit.  The one who does not act upon his knowledge is not to be counted as being a scholar.  And it is said, the knowledge is the father, and actions are its offspring.  And action comes after knowledge, and narration comes after investigation.  So do not feel content with action, as long as you are deficient in knowledge.”6

[2] Sincerity to Allāh

Indeed, sincerity to Allāh is “singling out the truth with the intention of obedience.”7

Ibn Masʿūd (raḍī Allāhu ʿanhu) said:

“A statement is not beneficial without an action, nor is the action beneficial without the statement, and neither of them are beneficial, except with the (proper) inention.  And the intention does not benefit, except when it conforms with the Sunnah.”8

Mutraf Ibn ʿAbdullāh said:

“The rectification of the heart is by the rectification of the action.  And the rectification of the action is by the rectification of the intention.”9

Ja’far Ibn Hayyān said:

“The intentions are authoritative over these actions, so a man may reach by his intention, that which he does not reach by his action.”10

Yahyá Ibn Abī Kathīr (d.129H) – raḥimahullāh– said:

“Learn the [proper] intention, for verily it is the most far-reaching of actions.”11

[3] Conformity to the Sunnah

Allāh the Exalted said:

“And verily this is My Straight Path, so follow it.”
[Sūrah al-Anʿām, 6:153]

And He said:

“Say: If you (truly) love Allāh, then follow me.  Allāh will love you, and forgive you of your sins, and Allāh is the Oft-Forgiving, the Most-Merciful.”
[Sūrah Āl ʿImrān, 3:31]

From ’Aa‘ishah (raḍī Allāhu ’anhā) who said: The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said: Whosoever innovates into this affair of ours something that is not from it, then it is to be rejected.”12

From Abū Hurayrah (raḍī Allāhu ʿanhu) who said: The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said: “All of my Ummah will enter Paradise, except those who refuse.”  It was said: Who will refuse?  He said: “Whosoever obey me enters Paradise, and whoever disobeys me has refused.”13

From Anas Ibn Mālik (raḍī Allāhu ʿanhu) who said: I heard ʿUmar saying: When the people were pledging allegiance to Abū Bakr, and he was sitting upon the pulpit, he said: “So verily Allāh has chosen your Messenger for you from amongst yourselves.  And this is the Book of Allāh by which He guided your Messenger, so take it, since Allāh guided your Messenger by it.”14

[4] The Worship of the Heart

Imām Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (d.791H) – raḥimahullāh– said:

“So the actions of the hearts have a greater obligation upon the servants than the actions of the limbs. And how is it that the Believer is distinguished from the disbeliever, except by what is in his heart?  And the servitude (ʿubūdiyyah) of the heart is greater and more enduring than the servitude of the limbs.  So it becomes obligatory in every age.”15


[1] Mudhkiratun-fil-’Aqīdah (p. 25)
[2] al-Majmūʿ (1/42)
[3] al-Muwaafiqaat (2/8)
[4] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī
[5] Fat′h al-Bārī (1/160)
[6] Iqtidaa‘ul-’Ilmil-’Amal (p. 5-6) according to the checking of Abū ’Abdur-Raḥmān Maḥmūd.
[7] Madārij al-Sālikīn (2/91) of Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah.
[8] al-Sharīʿah (p. 131) of Imām al-Ājurrī.
[9] Hilyatul-Awliyaa‘ (2/199)
[10] Related by Ibn al-Mubārak in al-Zuhd (p. 63)
[11] Hilyatul-Awliyaa‘ (3/70)
[12] Related by al-Bukhārī (7/1-2) and Muslim (2/703)
[13] Related by al-Bukhārī (9/284)
[14] Fat′h al-Bārī 8/138)
[15] Badaa‘iul-Fawaa‘id (3/330) 

Translated by Maaz Qureshi

Published: June 22, 2007
Edited: April 13, 2023


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