The Arabic (Qur’anic) word ‘Ibadah’, comes from the word ‘Abd’ which means ‘Slave’ or ‘Servant’ i.e. a person who demonstrates complete obedience to the Laws and commands of his master.[Al-Mawrid,Eng-Arabic Dictionary, pp 863,Al-Asri Eng-Arabic Dictionary, pp 701,A Dictionary & Glossary of the Koran by John Penrice, pp 94 etc]

Thus ‘Ibadah’ means “to be a slave or servant of-” i.e. “to be obedient to the laws of-” or “to accept the sovereignty of”

Let us see how this word has been used in the Qur’an itself and what meaning do the Ayat of Qur’an give to the concepts underlying ‘Ibadah’:

In the Qur’an it is mentioned that when Moses and Haroon delivered the Message of God to the people of Pharaoh their people replied (And their reply establishes the meaning of the word ‘Ibadat’ ‘Abada’ etc):

[23:47] They said, “Shall we believe for two men whose people are our SLAVES (AA’BI-DOON)?”

Above verse establishes the meaning of “Aa’bi-doon” as ‘Slaves’. The people of Pharaoh had enslaved the Bani Israel and had made them obedient to the dictatorial rule of Pharaoh, further more this meaning is more clarified when Moses makes the following statement when confronting Pharaoh;

[26:22] “You are boasting that you did me a favor, while ENSLAVING (ABU’DAT) the Children of Israel!”

In the above verses ‘Aa’bid’ has been shown to mean ‘Slave’ while ‘Abada’, ‘to enslave’. To be kept in mind that a slave is one who is obedient to his master and shows subservience to his laws. Now at many places in the Quran the above words have occurred [‘Ibadah’;’Abid’;’Abd’ etc] so where ever this word occurs then it means subservience or obedience, i.e. accepting the sovereignty and authority. The main message of the Qur’an is that obedience and authority in all human affairs should be only of Allah’s laws and not that of any human being. This is clarified at many places in the Qur’an. We are reminded;

[18.110] “Say: I am only a mortal like you; it is revealed to me that your god is one God, therefore whoever hopes to meet his Lord, he should do good deeds, AND NOT ASSOCIATE ANY ONE IN THE SUBSERVIENCE (IBAD’ATI)  OF HIS SUSTAINER.”

In above ayah it is said that we should not include any one in the ‘Ibadat’ or Subservience of Allah, i.e. we have to follow and be obedient only to the Laws of Allah (The Qur’an), and should not include anyone’s authority upon ourselves except that of Allah’s. This is further clarified in the following verse when it is clearly emphasized that Allah does not include anyone in his Laws and His laws are to be obeyed in purity;

[18.26] “…and He associates in His government (HUKMIHI), no one.”

Compare the arabic of the two verses quoted above.[18:110 & 18:26]

This concept of obedience of only the Laws of Allah is further clarified in the following verse when it is said;

[3.79] “It is not meet for a HUMAN BEING that Allah should give him the Book and the wisdom and prophet-hood, then he should say to MANKIND: Be Subservient to me (IBAD’AN LI) rather than Allah; but rather (he would say): Become sustenance providers (to mankind)  because of your teaching the Book and your studying (it yourselves).”

It is confirmed in the above verse that obedience and subservience is due to Allah alone, and not to any human being, no matter how high a status he may occupy.

The following verse again confirms that for Allah’s ‘Ibadat’ the obedience is of only the laws of Allah and no one else;

[12:40] “…Surely the Government (HUKM) is for none but Allah; He has commanded that you shall not be subservient to (TA’BUDU) aught but Him; that is the established ‘Deen’ but most of Mankind do not know”

Above verses are very clear in describing that:

(a) Allah does not associate any one in his ‘Hukm’ i.e. Government.
(b) ‘Ibadat’ or subservience is only to Allah,ie we have to obey the laws of Allah and not any human being.

Now how we become subservient to Allah’s laws?, and accept his Authority (Hukm) in our affairs is clarified in the following verse;

[6.114] “Shall I then seek a Governor (HAKAM’AN) other than Allah? When He it is Who has revealed to you the Book (which is) detailed; and those whom We have given the Book know that it is revealed by your Sustainer with truth, therefore you should not be of those who doubt.”

The above verse says that we have to seek Allah as a lawmaker by accepting his fully detailed Book, thus it confirms that the Government or Authority of Allah is established in human affairs by obedience to his Book, and not by obeying any individual, or group of people, i.e. Dictators, Parliaments, Theocracy etc. Allah does not communicate with us directly but has sent His revelation in the form of Qur’an which establishes His laws in our lives.

Furthermore “Ibadat” or subservience to Allah is not limited to certain activities only but encompasses all spheres of human life, be they matters of social, economic or any other nature. Quran has guidance for all matters requiring guidance and obedience to laws of Allah has to be in every facet of society. There is no separation between the worldly or spiritual according to Quran, i.e. take the following verse:

[4:29] “O you who believe, do not consume each others’ properties illicitly – only mutually acceptable transactions are permitted. You shall not kill yourselves. GOD is Merciful towards you.”

If a person keeps the above given principle while conducting his business then he is being a ‘Slave’ or ‘Abd’ of Allah as he is being obedient to the Laws of Allah, and is not seeking his man made law in conducting his economic affairs. In other words he is accepting the sovereignty of Allah in matters of
his life.

Similarly for other social dealings, etc when we are passing judgment through the Book of Allah, then we are accepting the sovereignty of Allah in human affairs.

The laws of Allah are for all levels of life and not restricted to a few obligations only. ‘Ibadat’ of Allah is in every department, and people who do not govern their lives in accordance with the laws of Allah (Which is the Quran) are identified as;

[5:44] “…Those who do not rule in accordance with GOD’s revelations are the disbelievers.”

From above verses the concept of ‘Ibadat’ is clarified as accepting the sovereignty of Allah in all matters of life and being subservient and obedient to His laws alone in all facets.

But unfortunately in many translations of the Quran this word “Ibadat” has been translated generally as ‘Worship’ and this has completely changed the concept of ‘Ibadat’ i.e. subservience and obedience to Allah alone, as given in the Quran and changed it with that existing in man-made religions. The term ‘Worship’ is not the correct representative of the Quranic word ‘Ibadat’.’Worship’ is defined as; “Homage or reverence paid to a deity, esp. in a formal service”-Oxford English Dictionary pp 1414

“Reverence offered to a divine being or supernatural power; also: an act of expressing such reverence: a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual”-Websters English Dictionary

‘Worship’ is not being obedient and subservient to the laws of God but it is just the reverence paid to a deity through the formalistic performance of some rituals and customs. Worship is what is known in the Urdu language as ‘Pooja’ and ‘Parastish’.

If you observe and study the Religions of the world you will see that ‘Worship’ is the name of a private relationship between a worshiper and the object of worship and is an expression of an internal feeling paying homage to a deity through some rituals or performances. When a Hindu goes to a temple he is going there for worship, same as Jews in a synagogue and Zoroastrians in their fire temples etc.

They don’t go to their places of worship to take guidance or become subservient to the laws of God in every matters of life, but they go there to perform some rituals under the hope that these rituals and creeds are what is required to get ‘Salvation’ in the hereafter, and usually when the worship is completed they go back to their daily activities and govern their matters of life in accordance with their self made laws and standards.

In ‘worship’ (not ‘Ibadat’), every worshipper, be he a member of any religion is under the assurance that he is on the right and has internal satisfaction that he has performed his duties. There is no objective and external way to ascertain if the ‘worship’ of that person is producing results or not. However a society which follows Quranic laws and are subservient to the law of Allah, their progress can be measured and observed objectively. (How this is done? Is a separate issue requiring in depth analysis from some verses, which I’ll discuss some time later)

Total subservience to the Laws of Allah in all matters of life. That is what is called ‘Ibadah’.

By translating ‘Ibadah’ as worship the essence of Quranic laws is not conveyed in its correct form.

People who uphold the sovereignty of Allah in their life are called in the Qur’an as “Ibad Allah” and these are the group of people who enter into “al-Jannah”.

The Qur’an informs us very clearly that the very purpose of our creation is that no human should make any other human his subject, but subjection and subservience is due to Allah’s laws only, willingly and on merit.

[51.56] “And I have not created the jinn and Ins except that they should serve Me.”

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