Why am I here? Where am I going? What is my purpose in life?
At certain stages in your life, these questions may have occupied your thoughts. Allah ﷻ says,
“I did not create jinn and men except so that they worship Me” (51:56).
Thus, if there is one word that would capture the purpose of our life, it is ʿibādah.
ʿIbādah, often translated as \’worship\’, is a comprehensive term for every action and utterance that Allah ﷻ loves and is pleased with.
ʿIbādah consists of:
Actions of the limbs, or physical acts of worship.
Actions of the heart, or inner acts of worship. These include: firm belief (īmān), knowledge of Allah (maʿrifah), sincerity (ikhlāṣ), piety and mindfulness (taqwā), trust in Allah (tawakkul), hope (rajā’), fear (khawf), gratitude (shukr), patience (ṣabr), love (ḥubb), yearning for Allah (shawq) and certainty (yaqīn).
Every act of worship in Islam consists of both an outer manifestation (‘action of the limb’) and an inner reality (‘action of the heart’), which is its essence and core.
The outer manifestation of ṣalāh consists of rukūʿ and sujūd, whilst its essence is khushūʿ.
The outer manifestation of fasting is to stay away from anything that invalidates the fast, whilst its essence is taqwā.
The outer manifestation of ḥajj consists of ṭawāf, standing in ʿArafah and the pelting, whilst its essence is to honour the symbols of Allah ﷻ.
The outer manifestation of duʿā’ is to raise the hands and utter words, whilst its essence is humility and an utmost need for Allah ﷻ.
The outer manifestation of dhikr is to utter Subḥānallāh, Alḥamdulillāh, Allāhu Akbar etc. whilst its essence is loving, fearing and having hope in Allah ﷻ; and contemplation upon His creation and blessings.
Whilst we often focus on the outer and physical acts of worship, we often neglect the inner dimensions and spiritual elements of these same acts. In other words, we do not pay enough attention to our hearts.
Imām al-Ghazālī explains the inner reality of worship and the centrality of the heart: “The honour and excellence of the human being, by which he surpasses all other creatures, is his ability for knowing Allah ﷻ. Knowing Allah ﷻ is the human’s beauty, perfection and glory in this world; and his provision for the hereafter. He is prepared for such knowledge only through his heart, and not through any other organ. For it is the heart that knows Allah, works for Allah, strives towards Allah, and draws near to Him. In contrast, all the other organs are mere subordinates and instruments that are employed by the heart … For it is the heart that is accepted by Allah ﷻ when it is free from everything except Him. And it is veiled from Him when it becomes immersed in other than Him … Thus, knowledge of the heart and the reality of its qualities is the root of religion and the foundation of the path of the seekers.”
“There is no soundness in the hearts until the knowledge of Allah (maʿrifah), His greatness, His love, fear of Him, awe of Him, hope in Him and reliance on Him are established in them and they are full of that. This is the reality of tawḥīd and it is the essence of the saying, ‘There is no god worthy of worship except Allah.’” – Ibn Rajab