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Say: Truly my prayer and my sacrifice and my living and
my dying-all belong to God, the Lord of the worlds. (6:163)


Islam's concept of worship complements its view of life. I recall a conversation I had not long ago with a friend who asked me how Muslims worship. I told her that we go to work to provide for our families, attend school functions that our children are involved in, take a few pieces of cake we just baked over to our neighbour next door, drive our children to school in the morning.

"No! No!" She said. "How do you worship?"
I said we make love to our spouses, smile and greet someone we pass on the street, help our children with their homework, hold open a door for someone behind us.
"Worship! I'm asking about worship!" She exclaimed.
I asked her exactly what she had in mind.
"You know-Rituals!" She insisted.

I answered her that we practice those also and that they are a very important part of Muslim worship. I was not trying to frustrate her, but I answered her in this way in order to emphasize Islam's comprehensive conception of worship.

A famous tradition of the Prophet states that a Muslim is responsible for at least one sadaqah daily for every joint in his/her body. The word sadaqah is often translated as "charity." It is derived from the same root as the Arabic verb "to be truthful or sincere" and thus most generally signifies an act of fidelity or sincerity towards God. Hence, to Muslims, an act of sadaqah is a form of worship.

When Muhammad (peace be upon him) made this statement to his Companions, they felt overwhelmed, for how can anyone perform so many acts of piety each day? He responded to them that to act justly is a sadaqah, to help a rider on his mount is a sadaqah, and to remove a stone from the road to ease the way for other travellers is a sadaqah" On other occasions, he mentioned that smiling at another person, bringing food to one's family, and making love to one's spouse are all pious acts.

Muhammad's (pbuh) Companions expressed shock at the last of these, since it brings such carnal satisfaction. So he asked them if they did not consider adultery sinful and harmful, and when they responded that they did, he asked them why were they surprised that marital romance was a meritorious act in the service of God. The Prophet's followers wondered what, then, were the greatest acts of faith? He included on different occasions: fighting in a just cause, standing up to a tyrant, taking care of your parents in their old age, giving birth to a child-and if a mother should die while giving birth, then she ranks amongst the highest witnesses of faith.

To the Muslim, almost every moment of life presents an opportunity for worship, and he or she aspires to transform all of his/her earthly life into a type of continuous prayer as verse 6:163 has the Muslim say: "Truly my prayer and my sacrifice and my living and my dying-all are to God." This idea is ingrained deeply in the Muslim character, and so we find believers dedicating even their simplest actions to God with the formula, "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate."

An Egyptian cab driver about to start his car, a Moroccan mother reaching to pick up her crying child, and a Pakistani worker raising a glass of water to his lips, will pronounce "bismillah-ir-rahman-ir-raheem" (In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate). Every healthy and wholesome activity has the potential to be a worshipful act. Any good deed, performed by one who strives to surrender his/her life to God, can become a moment of devotion. A believer knows that his/her inner peace, happiness, growth, and prosperity correspond to the level of self-surrender he/she attains. To him or her, worship then becomes synonymous with doing what is good and ultimately personally beneficial.

Many western scholars of Islam have objected to the verse in the Qur'an where God states "I have not created jinn (beings beyond human perception) nor man except that they should worship me" (51:56), seeing an infinitely jealous and capricious narcissism-the worst side of the Old Testament depictions of God. Yet a Muslim, possessing his/her understanding of the purpose of life and possessing this very general and broad concept of worship, will read the very same verse and respond: "But of course, for what other purpose could there possibly be?"

An excerpt from Even Angels Ask: A Journey to Islam in America, athiest-turned-Muslim Dr. Jeffrey Lang's second book.

photo credit: ahmadzamri

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