What are the various acts of worship in Islaam?


(Acts of Worship)

The Arabic term used for Acts of worship is Ibaadah. This does not mean worship. It means service. To serve God in the manner in which He has commanded his creatures to serve Him is Ibaadah. The term would include all acts of piety as well as the mandatory acts of worship.

The mandatory acts of worship accepted by both the Sunnis and the Shiahs are:

1. Salaah (The Daily Prayers)
Every Muslim, from the time he or she attains puberty must perform the salaah. Except for a woman in menstruation, no person is excused from this act of worship.

Before a person begins his salaah he must perform the ritual ablution in the prescribed form. The object is symbolic preparation for the salaah and not, as often believed, cleanliness. A person has to be clean to perform the ablution (wudhoo). Then he stands facing Mecca and declares his intention to pray for gaining proximity to Allah. With this declaration he enters the formal state of salaah in which he remains until the completion of his prayers.

A salaah consists of a number of units called rakaahs. Each unit (rakaah) consists of

1. recitation of the opening chapter and one other chapter of the Quraan while in the standing position,

2. the bowing down (rukoo) and glorifying God in that position and

3. two prostrations each called a sajdaah in which again God is glorified. Then the second rakaah would commence.

The morning prayers to be performed between the dawn and sunrise have two rakaahs, the mid-day prayers four rakaahs, the sunset three and the evening four.

The prayers are ended by affirmation that Allah is One and has no partners and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger. Salutations are offered to the Prophet, all the righteous souls and all who are engaged in prayers.

Salaah is regarded as not only a ritual act of worship but a communion with the Maker. It is the most important form of ibaadah and sickness (other than insanity), age or infirmity is no excuse for not performing prayers.

Lapsed prayers constitute a debt to God and are a first charge on a muslim's time and conscience. In the event of a person having died without having said any of his lapsed prayers, the eldest son, or if the deceased is not survived by a son, his heir must say or pay someone to say the lapsed prayers of the deceased.

Seyyid Hossein Nasr writes in his Ideals and Realities of Islam:

" In the canonical prayers man stands before God as the representative of all creatures. He prays for and in the name of all beings."

Amongst the many sayings of the Prophet on the subject are:

" Salaah is the spiritual ascension of the faithful where he communes with Allah."

" The good deeds wipe out the evil deeds of a man. The salaah and patience (sabr) are the best of deeds."

Salaah is a spiritual activity where the person performing it is totally immersed, mentally and physically, in the remembrance of God. (XXIX:45, XXII:34 & 35, XXVII:1-3, XX:6-7 and 14, IX:71, LXXIV:38-48, VI:71 & 72, XV:98 & 99, XI:114 & 225).

2. Saum (Fasting).
The second act of worship is fasting in the month of Ramadhaan, the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. This is obligatory upon every mature muslim except the sick, the traveller, a woman during her menstruation period and those infirm by age.

Fasting involves refraining from eating, drinking and sexual activity from the beginning of the nautical dawn to sunset. But these are not the sole objectives. Fasting is a conscious obedience of Allah's command. It is the human being's struggle to dedicate a whole month to activities which please his Maker. "It is the means", says Nasr, "by which man pulls the reins of his animal desires and realizes that he is more than an animal."

Fasting also begins with a declaration of intent to fast for the attainment of proximity to Allah. (II:184, 185, 187)

It is incumbent upon a muslim to know why he prays and why he fasts. Imaam Ali says, "One who knows not why he prays or why he fasts, his prayers and fasts are little more than meaningless physical exertions, hunger and thirst."

3. Hajj (Pilgrimage To Mecca).
Every Muslim who has attained puberty and has sufficient means not only to undertake a journey to Mecca but also for the subsistence of his dependants during his absence, must once in his life time perform pilgrimage.

Kaaba is the edifice which was presented to God as a gift by His Prophets Abraham and Ishmael.

The rites for the pilgrimage begin on the 8th of the eleventh month and culminate into the Idd of Sacrifice on the 10th. (II:158, 196-203; III:97; V:3; XXII 26:33).

A muslim's journey to the House of God, and there seeking his Maker's forgiveness through expression of repentance and the performance of all the rituals attending pilgrimage, is a spiritual experience so overwhelming that the pilgrim's very soul appears to undergo a purification.

The pilgrimage has another philosophical aspect.

In the Quraan, like in the Old Testament, there is the story of Abraham having been commanded to sacrifice his son. The Quraan, however, states that the son was Ishmael.

The father communicates the message to the young lad who had just attained puberty. The lad exhorts the father to comply with the divine command adding, "God willing, you shall find me amongst the patient ones."

Unbeknown to the mother, the father and the son travel to the planes of Arafaa, a short distance from Mecca. There they spend the night in prayers. The following afternoon they travel to the town of Meena where the sacrifice was to take place. They spend the night on the outskirts of the town. The following morning they enter Meena.

On the way to the appointed place, the Satan tries thrice to lure them into abandoning the enterprise, but each time the father and the son chase him away by throwing pebbles at him.

When they get to the place of sacrifice, the father blindfolds his son saying that he did not wish the lad to see the anguish on the father's face. He then blindfolds himself for, as he reasoned, how could any father watch his son die ?

God saves Ishmael by substituting a ram and sends His salutations to Abraham for his act of obedience. God also promises Abraham to immortalize the event. (II:125-127; III:96-97; XXXVII:101-111).

The mother, on learning what had happened, screams and falls unconscious at the thought of what might have happened had Allah not intervened to save her beloved son. Shortly afterwards she dies and is buried close to Kaaba. Her burial place is treated as being included in the hallowed ground around which the pilgrim circumambulates.

Every pilgrim takes the same route which Abraham and Ishmael had taken. He too spends the first night, as they did, in Arafaa and the second night outside Meena. He too symbolically stones the satan at the three places in Meena.

While of-course the visit to the House of Allah has its own great spirituality, the pilgrim also must reflect upon the rituals which appear to enshrine family values, parents' love for their off-spring, the vanquishing of the satan, the one within man's heart, by symbolically stoning him and above all the willingness to make sacrifices for the pleasure of God.

4. Zakah. (The Wealth Tax).
Zakah, which literally means purity or purification, is a wealth tax of a small percentage (usually 2.5%) for the benefit of the needy in the society. It is regarded as a debt to God and must be distributed for the pleasure of Allah to the less fortunate amongst one's relatives, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarers, and the beggars, and for the freeing of slaves. (II: 2-3, II-43, II:177, IX:11, XXII:41, IX:71, III:91, XIV:91, XXIV:22, XXVI:9, XIV:35-37, XXII:26)

There are innumerable traditions of the Prophet insisting upon zakah being paid by every muslim. Imaam Ja'far Sadiq said that the one who does not give zakah can not expect his salaah to be accepted by Allah.

The Doctrine Of Five Pillars:
Many Sunni theologians, instead of enumerating the Articles of Faith and Acts of Worship separately, state that belief in God and the Prophet as affirmed in the creed (the Kalemah), together with the foregoing four acts of worship constitute the Five Pillars of Faith.

The Shiahs list the five Articles of Faith as the roots of religion (Usool-e-Deen) and the Acts of Worship as the branches of religion (Furoo-e-Deen).

In addition to the above acts of worship the Shiahs believe in the following acts of worship (The sunnis regard them as mandatory acts of piety):

5. Jihad Struggle Or Striving:
There are two kinds of jihad, the major jihad and the minor jihad.

The Major Jihad: (Jihad Al-Akbar)
This is the struggle against one's inner self (nafs) to subjugate and control one's passions and carnal desires. The base self (nafs-e-ammara) must be controlled by the conscience (nafs-e-lawwama), and only when one succeeds in this struggle does one attain the perfect self, the self at peace with itself (nafs-e-mutmainna). To those who attain this state, the God says:

" O the soul at peace, return to your Lord, pleased with His good pleasure AND enter into the company of My true servants. Enter the Garden !." (LXXXIX:27-30).

The Minor Jihad (Jihad Al-Asghar)
This means to struggle for Islam. Not for extension of boundaries, not for personal glory, not for the glory of any tribe, community or nation, but for the defence of Islam and the protection of its values. Such a struggle can take many forms, through the use of pen, through the use of tongue or through the use of the sword. This last form is often referred to in the Quraan as Qitaal (warfare).

In the Shiah theology, a general qitaal can be declared only by an Imaam. A mujtahid has no authority to summon Muslims to a jihad involving qitaal.

6. Amr Bi L-Ma'Aroof (Directing Others Towards Good).
It is an act of worship for a Muslim to advise and direct others to the doing of good deeds for the pleasure of Allah.

7. Nahy 'An Al Munkir (Directing Others Away From Evil).
Similarly it is the duty of every Muslim to advise others against committing sins. (III:103, 109, 113; VII:199; IX:71, 112; XXII:41; XXI:17.)

8. Khums (The One-Fifth Tax)
Only the Shiahs believe in this additional tax and they regard it as a major obligation of every Shiah Muslim. It was instituted by God as a token of regard for the Prophet and his family. (VII:1:41; XXXIII:27; LIX:6-9).

It is a 20% tax on all earnings after deduction of house-hold and commercial expenses.

Khums is paid to the mujtahid and is divided into two equal portions. One half of all receipts of khums by the mujtahid is the portion belonging to the Imaam in occultation and the mujtahid spends this portion in educational, social and economic projects for the betterment of the Shiah community. First priority is accorded to the community from which the khums was received. The second half is distributed amongst the poor and deserving descendants of the Prophet (the sayyids) each of whom may receive only up to a year's subsistence.


Featured Views

Sir William Muir on Hazrat Ali

(1819 - 1905) Scottish scholar and statesman.  Held the post of Foreign Secretary to the Indian government as well asLieutenant Governor of the Northwestern Provinces.

q       “Endowed with a clear intellect, warm in affection, and confiding in friendship, he was from the boyhood devoted heart and soul to the Prophet.  Simple, quiet, and unambitious, when in after days he obtained the rule of half of the Moslem world, it was rather thrust upon him than sought.”

[The Life of Mahomet, London, 1877, p. 250]