Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer
Kulliyyah of Architecture and Environmental Design
International Islamic University Malaysia
Life as worship (‘ibadah) in Islam
Islam teaches that man has been created as Allah’s vicegerent on earth. With his honorable vicegerency (khilafah) mission, man signifies both the climax and the epicenter of Allah’s act of creation and its divine purpose. As such, when completely submitting to the Will and Word of his Creator and Master – as man’s ultimate fate ought to be — man elevates himself to the highest level in the hierarchy of life’s multifaceted constituents and beings, including angels. Man’s life, then, in its totality becomes one sweet song of worshipping, glorifying and praising Allah, the Lord of the universe. It becomes a form of worship (‘ibadah) where Allah in all the life interests and pursuits of man becomes the ultimate object of all his spiritual cravings and desires. “He is the final end, that is, the end at which all finalistic nexuses aim and come to rest…He is an end for all other ends”, Isma’il Raji al-Faruqi inferred.
In Islam, life is a perfectly meaningful, consequential, purposeful, beautiful, pure and wholesome affair. Thus, it is regarded as sacred, and living it in accordance with Allah’s guidance, which is meant for that very purpose, is synonymous with worship and submission to Allah. Allah says that He had created both men and Jinns only that they may worship and serve Him (Al-Dhariyat, 56). It follows that for a person to thus live his life is to keep things in a natural order, to remain on the right path and to remain faithful and loyal to Allah. It means, furthermore, that he is bound to remain faithful to his inner self and to what he really is and was always meant to be. Conversely, for a person to alienate an aspect of his life from the inspiration and guidance of Allah is to start moving towards an aberrant order of things, unfaithfulness and disloyalty to Allah. The more estranged his life aspects from divine guidance and inspiration, the more alienated from Allah a man becomes, and the more deviant and anomalous the life tendencies, which he evolves and adopts, become, and, finally, the more alienated from, and deceitful towards, his intrinsic self and its disposition, a man becomes. As Muhammad Iqbal remarked: “If (Islamic) faith is lost, there is no security and there is no life for him who does not adhere to religion.”
Hence, Islamic pure religious rituals, which have been prescribed to be performed at appointed times, are to be viewed as neither separated from nor burdensomely imposed superfluous actions on the smooth flow of everyday life activities. Rather, such religious rituals are to be viewed as life’s integral dimension which inspires, guides, facilitates and gives a perfect sense to the rest of life’s dimensions. The two systems of expression, the spiritual and the physical ones, construct a perfect whole which, although operational in terrestrial contexts, transcends them and aims for a higher metaphysical order of ideas and things where its full potential can only be fully realized. However, if the two systems are separated, always being at odds and on a collision course with each other, the religious rituals will then be reduced to mere mechanical and spiritless movements and acts, spawning in turn a lifestyle deeply rooted in a deadening formalism which is incapable of bringing much good to anyone. As per the same proposition, the physical aspects of human existence, once separated from divinity, will become ephemeral, imprudent, hollow, and, more often than not, perilous. The spiritual and physical aspects of life, it stands to reason, need each other for their individual as well as collective realizations. Man’s fulfillment of his vicegerency mission completely depends on such a coalition. Without it, man would not really be a man, his life a life, and his life mission a mission. Islamic worship combines the mundane with the spiritual, the individual with the society, and the internal soul with the external body.
Islam is a religion of actions and deeds. Islam is a religion of life accomplishments. Islam is life, and life, the way Allah created and predetermined it, echoes the quintessence and ethos of Islam. The word “islam” which implies a total submission to Allah through one’s acts, words and thoughts, clearly attests to it. Islam is not a religion of mere words, slogans, or symbols. Islam is not a religion of an abstract philosophy, or a set of sheer religious rituals. Islam knows no distinction between the spiritual and material realms of existence along the ideological and ontological lines. To assert something like that is to distort the Islamic message and to live in the wrong. Due to the unity and oneness of Allah, Islam likewise propagates the unity and oneness of the truth and of the meaning, purpose and providence of life and man.
Moreover, Islam is a religion of culture and civilization. It is as much a matter of a personal spiritual transformation and enrichment, as it is a matter of an all-embracing societal upbringing, reform and advancement. Islam is a religion of wisdom and erudition where revelation and reason are not at loggerheads with each other. Rather, they cooperate with and support each other, each one knowing its respective intent and scope, while honoring the intent and scope of the other pole. Islam is a rational religion. According to Muhammad Iqbal, Islam, in view of its function, “stands in greater need of a rational foundation of its ultimate principles than even the dogmas of science.”
Practicing Islam inevitably means the creation of a comprehensive culture and civilization that carry the imprints of Islamic values, teachings and principles, in some aspects more and in other aspects less. Islam is so much concerned about quenching man’s thirst for socializing and interacting with others that some people could not help observing that Islam, as a matter of fact, have a preference for the sedentary over the nomad, and for the city dweller over the villager. While contending that Islam is a “profoundly urban faith” , those people were implicitly suggesting the universalism, comprehensiveness, pragmatism and dynamism of Islam’s teachings and value and belief systems, which in no way can be restricted to a geographical region, a point of time, a group of people, or a single aspect — or a few aspects — of human existence.
Thus, whatever believers do, they do it for the sake of Allah, i.e., for the sake of upholding the truth, as well as for the sake of ensuring that the Word of Allah reigns supreme on Allah’s earth and in the midst of Allah’s animate and inanimate creatures, which is the only natural, logical and needed thing. Indeed, this is exactly what is expected from true believers to do. Consequently, they are abundantly rewarded for their actions in both worlds: in this world by living an honorable, consequential and truly productive life, and in the Hereafter by the eternal bliss of Paradise. In short, for every act of his, no matter how small and insignificant it may be, a believer is rewarded by Allah, even when he or she spends the most intimate moments with his or her spouse, as expounded by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) on many occasions.
Islam strikes a fine balance between the exigencies of the material and spiritual aspects of existence, between the requirements of one’s well-being in this world and in the Hereafter, and between the needs of personal, family as well as societal development. Islam means having a strong and complete faith in Allah and the other required realities from the spiritual and corporeal worlds plus performing good deeds under all circumstances. Appropriation of simply one aspect of Islam without the other is insufficient for attaining salvation. The two must be integrated in a whole that we call “Islam”, which, in turn, must be interwoven with the life-force of the notion of comprehensive excellence or ihsan. In Islam, faith and good deeds go hand-in-hand. Neither faith suffices without good deeds, nor good deeds are of value without faith. A strong relationship between faith and good deeds is the way towards comprehensive excellence. That, too, is the way towards an Islamic quality culture.
About how neatly Islam strikes a fine balance between the exigencies of the material and spiritual aspects of life, and between the soul and the body, Isma’il Raji al-Faruqi wrote: “The Prophet (pbuh) has directed his followers against overextending rituals of worship, against celibacy, against exaggerated fasting, against pessimism and the morose mood. He ordered them to break the fast before performing the sunset prayer, to keep their bodies clean and their teeth brushed, to groom and perfume themselves and wear their best clothes when they congregate for prayer, to marry, to take their time to rest and to sleep and recreate themselves with sports and the arts. Naturally, Islam ordered its adherents to cultivate their faculties; to understand themselves, nature, and the world in which they live; to satisfy their innate craving for food, shelter, comfort, sex and reproduction; to realize balance and harmony in their relations with men and nature; to transform the earth into a producing orchard, a fertile farm and a beautiful garden, to express their understanding, craving, doing and realizing in works of aesthetic beauty.”
Finally, Allah brands Muslims, those who genuinely follow Islam, as the best community that has been raised up for mankind (Alu ‘Imran, 110), because what Islam makes of them, and a culture and civilization that they inexorably generate, are good and beneficial materials not only for them and their wellbeing, but also for the wellbeing of non-Muslims and the wellbeing of the whole earth and everything that lives on it. The eternal supreme objective of such people’s existence is the establishment of the reign of the truth, justice and social egalitarianism deeply embedded in strong faith and enlivening religious practices. Their modus operandi can be summed up in the enjoining of what is right and good, and the forbidding of what is wrong and evil (Alu ‘Imran, 110), in exhorting one another to truth and exhorting one another to endurance (Al-‘Asr, 3), as well as in helping one another in goodness and piety, and not helping one another in sin and aggression, and keeping their duties to Allah (Al-Ma’idah, 2).
 Isma’il Raji al-Faruqi, Al-Tawhid: its Implications for Thought and Life, (Herndon: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1995), p. 2.
 Muhammad Iqbal Quotes, http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/muhammad_iqbal.html.
 See: From Madina to Metropolis, edited by L. Carl Brown, (Princeton: the Darwin Press, 1973), see the editor’s introduction, p. 38.
 Joel Kotkin, Islamic Cities: Can the Past Be the Key to the Future?, http:/www.islamicity.com/articles/Articles.asp?ref=GL0306-1991.
 Al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Iman, Hadith No. 53. Mukhtasar Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Ikhtasarahu al-Sabuni Muhammad ‘Ali, (Beirut: Dar al-Qur’an al-Karim, 1981), vol. 1. p. 19, vol. 3 p. 127.
 Isma’il Raji al-Faruqi, Al-Tawhid: its Implications for Thought and Life,p. 82.