The Concept of Worship (Ibadah) in Islam
O mankind! Worship your Lord (Allãh), Who created you and those who were before you so that you may become Al-Muttaqûn (the pious).
Concept of Worship in Islam
Worship is the essence of our existence. It is the reason why we have been created. Worship is the difference between humans and the animals. Animals eat, drink, work, form communities, copulate, reproduce, grow and die just we humans do. The only difference between us and animals is our servitude to our Creator.
Worship is Perfection
The more you fulfil this noble duty, the higher your status. Those who turn away from worshipping their Lord are always intellectually backward. They worship trees, rivers, and humans like them etc. Please read our article on the concept of Shirk to learn more of the irrationality of disbelief. Even the so called atheist who claims not worship anything actually worships wealth, his lusts and desires. So, the only perfection is in worshipping as Islam ordained. The more a person strays from the worship of his Lord, the more he becomes incomplete till he goes lower than animals. We ask Allãh for safety.
You may compare societies where there is no trace of Islam to societies where there are elements of Islam; let alone societies where pristine Islam is practiced. The difference between them is greater than the heavens and the earth; a man has intercourse with his spouse in the morning and puts on his trousers like that never to wash his genitals till the next day. The same goes for the women.
Therefore, your perfection as a human lies in your submission to the commandments of your creator. The more you uphold it and remain steadfast by it, the more you increase in perfection.
Definition of Worship
Ibadah (translated as worship) is from the root verb (عَبَدَ | يَعبُدُ). Basically, it means to be subservient and to surrender. But in the usage of Islam, worship is more specific than the literal meaning. The most common definition of worship is the definition of Sheikhul Islam, Ahmad bn Abdil-Haleem ibn Taymiyyah.
Sheikhul Islam Ahmad bn AbdulHaleem Ibn Taymiyyah (mercies and blessings of Allãh be upon him) defined worship thus:
Worship is the general term for everything that Allãh loves and is pleased with such as statements and actions; explicit and implicit”
The above definition is regarded by many scholars as the most encompassing definition of the term. It contains a number of points to note. By the mercy of Allãh, we will be discussing some of those points. It’s not up to a thousand words but its highly beneficial.
Haram (Prohibited) Acts Cannot Be Worship
Worship is what Allãh loves and is pleased with therefore what He has made haram (prohibited) can never be an act of worship. This makes us understand the error of those who take music and dancing as acts of worship and a means of Da’wah (calling to Allãh) after Allãh has said regarding the Arab polytheists:
Their Salât (prayer) at the House (of Allãh, i.e. the Ka’bah at Makkah) was nothing but whistling and clapping of hands. Therefore taste the punishment because you used to disbelieve.
He also rebuked music in His words:
And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks (i.e.music, singing, etc.) to mislead (men) from the Path of Allãh without knowledge, and takes it (the Path of Allãh, the Verses of the Qur’ân) by way of mockery. For such there will be a humiliating torment (in the Hell-fire). 
Imam Ibn Katheer said in the exegesis of the above verse:
After Allãh had mentioned the state of the fortunate people; those who follow the guidance of Allãh’s book and benefit from listening to it… Thereafter, He mentioned the unfortunate people; those who turned away from benefitting from the words of Allãh and focused on listening to music and singing with rhymes and acoustic instruments.
Ibn Mas’ood said: regarding His words And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks:
“(I swear) by Allãh, it (idle talk) is music”.
Worship Includes Actions and Statements
Another point in the definition of ibadah (worship) given by Sheikhul Islam is: worship includes our actions and statements.
Statements are the utterings of the tongue. Examples of such worships are dhikr (remembrance of Allaah), saying the truth, making the adhan or iqamah, bearing witness for the truth etc.
Actions, on the other hand, are divided into two;
- Actions of the heart: They are the root of all good. They include Ikhlaas (sincerity), bashfulness, patience, reliance on Allãh, hope in Allãh, fear of Allãh, love of Allãh etc
- Actions of the limbs: these are the fruits of the heart’s actions, they include; charity, fasting, solah, hajj, goodness to parents, family members and neighbours etc.
The evidence for our claim that acts of the limbs are fruits of the heart’s actions is the hadith:
Listen! There is a PIECE OF FLESH in the body if it is good (reformed) the whole body becomes good but if it gets spoilt the whole body gets spoilt and that is the heart.
Worship is Both Explicit and Implicit
The third -and last but not the least- point we will ponder on in Sheikhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah’s definition of worship is that worship encompasses both implicit and explicit acts. This is an aspect of the point discussed above but we have singled it out for discussion due to its importance.
Imam Ibn Taymiyyah said (after giving an exegesis of a verse):
That is because Allãh has obligated the purification of the heart and He obligated the purification of the body, both purifications are aspects of the religion which Allãh has made obligatory. Allãh says (in the verse of tayammum):
Allãh does not want to place you in difficulty, but He wants to purify you, and to complete His Favour on you that you may be thankful.
And He says (regarding the mosque of Quba):
In it are men who love to clean and to purify themselves. And Allãh loves those who make themselves clean and pure
And He says:
Truly, Allãh loves those who turn unto Him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves
And He says:
Take Sadaqah (alms) from their wealth in order to purify them and sanctify them with it
And He says:
Those are the ones whose hearts Allãh does not want to purify (from disbelief and hypocrisy
And He says:
Verily, the Mushrikûn (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allãh, and in the Message of Muhammad) are Najasun (impure)
And He says:
Allãh wishes only to remove Ar-Rijs (evil deeds and sins, etc.) from you, O members of the family (of the Prophet), and to purify you with a thorough purification.
You find that many of those who ascribe themselves to understanding and worship are only concerned about explicit purification, to the extent that they pay more attention to it and do more than is required in it but they neglect the obligatory or supererogatory aspects of purification of the heart. We also find that many of the mystics (Sufis) and ascetics are only concerned about the purification of the heart to the extent that he does more than is required but neglects the obligatory or supererogatory aspects of purification of the body (i.e. explicit purification).
Allaah knows best.
 Baqarah: 21
 Lisaanul Arab: 3/271 (Shamela)
 Tafseer Ibn Katheer: above mentioned verse
 Hadith 049. (Shahih Bukhari)
 Majmoo’atul fataawa: 1/16