The question concerning the worship of Allah (God) has provoked skepticism and generated strong opinion among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. When you begin to discuss the importance of worshipping God, there are many who question why an all-powerful, all-knowing, needless creator requires our worship, and why he punishes mankind if they do not worship him. This has led a number of people who claim God (we seek refuge from uttering such a statement) is a needy, capricious and an insecure being. It is therefore of utmost importance to recognise what worship truly is, and why it has been prescribed.
As human beings, we find ourselves living in a universe which is so incomprehensibly vast. The stars above us dazzle and overwhelm us, but perhaps what is most remarkable is what is within our own selves. We are after all, sentient, conscious beings, who not only possess intelligence but also meta-cognition, which is the ability to self reflect. Our remarkable nature leads us to question our existence, and in fact, even the very existence of ‘existence’ itself. Through being in harmony with our Fitrah (the inner disposition God has imbued into our nature to recognise him), as well as the faculties of our intellect, we come to realise the manifest existence of a transcendent , immaterial, necessary existence, far removed from the limitations of contingent created beings, and this is who we call ‘God’. We recognise that we owe our entire existence, the faculties of our intellect and sentience, to God and him alone.
Allah has challenged us to consider the origins of our existence.
The noble Quran states: “Or were they created by nothing, or were they the creators [of themselves]?”[52:35]
When one reflects on what it means to be human, they are left awe inspired. How blessed are we, to not only exist, but be so acutely aware of our own existence? To fall in love, to discover mysterious in life, to grieve, to laugh, to reflect, to ponder, to be awestruck and ultimately, to be, to say ‘i am’.
The noble Quran states: “And Allah has extracted you from the wombs of your mothers not knowing a thing, and He made for you hearing and vision and intellect that perhaps you would be grateful.”[16:78]
We also read:
“Has there [not] come upon man a period of time when he was not a thing [even] mentioned?” [76:1]
“‘Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], “Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire. ‘[3:189-3:190]
God has created in us the internal and external guidance. The internal guidance is mans Fitrah and inner nature which has been discussed, and the external guidance through Prophets of God being sent to nations.
The Noble Quran states: “And verily We have raised in every nation a messenger, (proclaiming): Serve Allah and shun false gods. Then some of them (there were) whom Allah guided, and some of them (there were) upon whom error had just hold. Do but travel in the land and see the nature of the consequence for the deniers!” [16:36]
The fundamental message every Prophet was sent to preach was pertaining to the existence of God, and his transcendence and ultimate unity. By knowing God, we know the ultimate truth, we recognise that which we owe our existence to. We affirm the blessings bestowed upon us in the form of our various facets, among the greatest of which is our intellect, and recognise we have a purpose. God has created us with the ability to freely choose our ultimate destinies, through using the rational faculties bestowed on us as well as in sincerely seeking out the truth. Our choices and our actions therefore, create in ourselves the existential capability to mandate that which God, but his infinite knowledge and wisdom, has determined (by his mercy if he so wills) as a consequence in the form of reward or punishment for the contingent created beings that we are. The question now arises: What could God possibly gain from worship, and does it not show that God is capricious, needy and perhaps insecure ? (We seek refuge from God from uttering such a thing).
Given what has been discussed so far, this would be an absurd and patently false accusation. It is evident that God is free of all need. He is transcendent, immaterial, does not by his essence undergo change , nor does he feel human emotion. Even if everyone on earth united in disobedience to him, it would not decrease for him in anything. Worship is therefore prescribed for our benefit. One may therefore ask is this is so, why is it mandatory, and why is there reward and punishment?
Ultimately, the worship of God is the recognition of God and his superiority over all things. It is the humility to recognise without God, we are essentially nothing. It is to recognise that through God are we truly liberated, and that he is the ultimate truth, the ultimate source of our existence and our purpose. What kind of individual wouldn’t consider the ultimate source of their very existence and of all of created reality , and who created for them intellect and an inner disposition to recognise him worthy of veneration? The problem here is not that God requires this veneration, but the state of mind of one who despite this, would arrogantly choose not to.
Indeed, only one who was profoundly arrogant would feel they knew better than the all-knowing, consider themselves self-sufficient yet rely on God at every moment to sustain their existence, choose to chase a finite world yet were created with the free will to recognise God and wilfully choose to embrace truth and live in bliss forever.
The Noble Quran states: ” Indeed, those who are near your Lord are not prevented by arrogance from His worship, and they exalt Him, and to Him they prostrate.” [ 7:206]
Indeed, even if hell or heaven did not exist, God would remain worthy of worship. We find in traditions from the family of the Prophet Muhammed (saw) the following:
Jaffer b. Muhammed b. Ali b. Hussain b . Ali b. Abi Talib has said: “There are three kinds of worship: there are people who worship Allah, the Most Majestic, the Most Holy, because of fear. This kind of worship is the worship of slaves. There are people who worship Allah, the Most Blessed, the Most High, for His rewards. This is the worship of people for hire. There are people who worship Allah, the Most Majestic, the Most Holy, for His love. This is the worship of free people and this is the best kind of worship.'”
علي بن إبراهيم ، عن أبيه ، عن ابن محبوب ، عن جميل ، عن هارون بن خارجة ، عن أبي عبد الله عليهالسلامقال إن العباد ثلاثة قوم عبدوا الله عز وجل خوفا فتلك عبادة العبيد وقوم عبدوا الله تبارك وتعالى طلب الثواب فتلك عبادة الأجراء وقوم عبدوا الله عز وجل حبا له فتلك عبادة الأحرار وهي أفضل العبادة.
[Hasan like-Saheeh, al-Kafi]
There is no doubt we ought to fear hell, and long for promised rewards in heaven, but at the core of our worship should be the fact God is indeed worthy of worship. It is in the recognition that he alone is the transcendent, necessary existence, and the source of all other existence. Consider how profound that is. Reflect on just how blessed we are to possess the rational faculties we do, to posses meta cognition, to experience first hand and to say ‘i am’. We have a purpose, and we will not merely decay into nothingness, extinguished like candles lit under heavy rain, turning into wisps of smoke as quickly as we are lit. Rather, this inner disposition to want to continue to exist, to want to be has been imbued into our inner nature. We will exist beyond our earthly lives, and our decisions and actions have profound consequences. What an unfathomable blessing this is. Rather than living in a cold, aimless, lifeless universe whereby we exist for an insignificant time on a spec of dust before decaying into nothingness, we are creations of God, sentient beings given the free will to determine our destinies and continue to exist and be. Truly, it is through Allah (God) we are liberated!
Hell is therefore a literal manifestation and just punishment of those who wilfully abuse the facets bestowed on them by God, show arrogance, and neglect to gravitate towards the ultimate reality. God has deemed it, in his infinite knowledge and wisdom, a just punishment for those who by their own free will choose this path. What is worse than the physical punishment of hell is in the recognition we were given intellect, we were shown the clear way, yet owing to our heedlessness and arrogance we refused to elevate ourselves to our real potential, to recognise the ultimate which is God, and be truly liberated.
While paradise is a reward the most important reward is in knowing God, recognising those who have merited his mercy and have to a degree , utilised the faculties you were bestowed with, and by their own free will acted in a manner which merited his mercy and subsequennt admission into paradise. In paradise there are many levels coinciding with those whose faith and God consciousness, as well as actions and sincerity were of various levels.