Meaning

The Arabic word “as-sadschda” literally means prostration, worship. Another word “ibadah” comes from the Arabic “abd” which means ‘slave’ or ‘servant’. So “ibadah” is service or servanthood. It is about submitting oneself to Allah and serving only him: Serving God. “You (alone) we serve and you (alone) we ask for help” (Sura 1:5) is also translated “We worship you”. The other aspect is asking for help. All help is expected from the one we call upon; God alone (Sura 6:162-163). Ritual prayer (salat) is the highest form of Islamic worship

 

What does Worship in Islam Encompass?

Worship does not only mean praying but also total obedience, servanthood, submission to Allah. To worship him means obedience to his commands in the Koran and to the prophet Muhammad. This includes both the Islamic articles of faith (belief in Allah, the books, the prophets, the Last Day, angels), and the implementation of Islamic duties (obligatory prayer, fasting, giving alms, good deeds… Sura 2:177). Islamic worship or serving God includes doing and saying everything that pleases Allah and forsaking all that is against his will. Every aspect and activity of life is affected and must be worship of Allah; e.g. non- ritual areas such as our daily work (cf. Rom. 12:1).

 

The History of Worship in Islam

In pre-Islamic times Arabs worshipped a variety of deities in Mecca. They made a pilgrimage with sacrificial rites and prescribed prayers to miscellaneous gods. Muhammad regarded Friday prayer as central to worship, but he experienced that his followers abandoned him on Fridays for business reasons and failed to attend Friday prayer (Sura 62: 9-11). Countless times Muhammad pointed out the centrality of ritual prayer in Islamic practice in order to win the commitment of his followers to his understanding of worship to God. Only the hadiths provide Muslims with details on how they should worship. For many Muslims repetition of the same words and movements is today a meaningless routine and futile duty. According to some Muslims, if necessary, it is a worship that can also be forcibly demanded; e.g. by beating the soles of the feet with sticks and by imprisonment (hanafi) or, according to a few Islamic schools of law, omission of this obligation even leads to the death sentence (after failure to comply after repeated calls to prayer in the case of maliki, schafi’i and hanbali). Although at first Muhammad demanded from himself and his followers a great willingness to suffer and tolerance towards those of other faiths, he later threatened to use force, and coerced representatives of polytheism to practice his form of monotheistic worship (Sura 9:5 –from the second to last sura to be revealed). Polytheists were forbidden worship and even access to the mosque around the Kabaa (Sura 9:28).

 

Prerequisites for Worship

The ritual prayer as central to the worship of Allah is only “valid” after carrying out the ritual washing, making sure that the prayer direction towards Mecca is correct, expressing the intention to pray and ensuring that the correct movements concur with the Arabic recitation. If a donkey, a dog, or a woman passes in front of the worshipper, however, the prayer is deemed “invalid”. So much attention is given to externals during worship – more than the internals?

 

Worshipping Allah alone

Only Allah may be worshipped and no other god besides him (Surah 12:106; cf .Exodus 20:3). Tauhid is the concept of the one God who constitutes the center of right worship: “This your religion is the only true one, and I am your Lord; therefore worship me alone” (Sura 21:92). Therefore, only Allah is to be called upon, prayed to, fasted for, gone on the pilgrimage for. The Koran even forbids mediators and accomplices, who are supposed to help us come to God (Sura 39:3).

The Kaaba is the central location of worship on which everything is focused. It is where Muslims from every nation want to worship Allah in the same clothing, with one voice and in one language, Arabic. Interestingly, the Koran does not permit the worship of stones or sacrifices to stones (Sura 5:90). However Muhammad himself kissed the black stone at the corner of the Kaaba during a pilgrimage (Hadith: Al-Buchari, Vol. 2, Book 26, No. 673+680). One of Muhammad’s followers was shocked by the act of idolatry (Hadith: Al-Buchari, Vol. 2, Book 26, No.667+675+679).

 

Worshipping Adam?

Although only Allah may be worshipped, Allah ordered the angels to prostrate themselves before Adam and in so doing worship him. All angles fell down before Adam, except Satan. This according to the Koran constituted his actual sin (Sura 2:34; 7:11-13; 15: 28-33; 17:61; 20:116).  Not only did created beings fall down prostrate before Adam, Josef’s parents did the same before Josef in Egypt (Sura 12:99-100) – a gesture reserved exclusively for God. (Some Muslims differentiate though between a form of prostration that may occur when paying homage to a king, and worship that belongs to God alone). The worship of Adam poses an unresolved problem – and offers a good opening for an evangelistic conversation about the second Adam, before whom the whole world will one day bow (Rom. 5:18; 1 Cor. 15:45; Phil. 2:10).

 

Sufis and Worship

Muslims do not worship Allah in the Christian sense, out of gratitude and because they have found assurance of eternal salvation, but rather in a more or less outward form out of a sense of duty. Sufis, i.e. Muslim mystics, who have taken on many Christian and Hindu elements, try in part to worship God for his own sake. Using musical instruments they meditate on a kind of mantra that they repeat countless times in order to unite themselves with God.  Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207-1273) is known for his poetry, written with the aim of worshipping God and introducing a form of Islam with various steps, which should lead us ever closer to God. The whirling dervishes, (Mevlana) Rumis are well known. In Islam, dhikr (Arabic for ‘remembrance’, also dhikrullah ‘remembrance of Allah’) mean the intensive loud or quiet worship of Allah, normally as the ceremony of Sufi orders. Primarily the 99 most beautiful names or attributes of Allah are the subject matter of this worship and invocation of God. The most used phrases are Ya Allah (“Oh Allah”), Ya Hu (something like: “Oh he”) and Ya Hayy (“Oh Living One”). Furthermore, the Shahada (the Islamic confession of faith) is frequently recited together: La ilaha illa Allah (“There is no god but Allah”). From such practices trance like states may result, similar to those found in Shiite sects.

 

Muhammad’s Problem with the Worship of Jesus

The Koran repeatedly emphasizes that Allah has no son (Sura 9:30f; 18:4; 23:91). It appears that Allah literally put the words into the mouth of Muhammad “Say: If the most Benificent had a son, I would be the first to worship him” (Sura 43:81). As no-one other than God may be worshipped, Muhammad reasoned with Christians that a prophet would never say: “Worship me rather than God” (Sura 3:79). This statement would be fully correct if Christ had been declared to be a second God beside God (the worst possible sin for a Muslim –“shirk”). For no partner associated with God is allowed (Sura 3:64), not even Jesus Christ who according to Islamic teaching, even though a prophet was only a human being (Sura 3:79-80). Christians are criticised for worshipping Christ as God’s Son and as the incarnate living God (Sura 9:30-31). The Koran lets Jesus even say that he never commanded worship of himself or his mother (Sura 5:116-118). In the sixth to last sura to be revealed (109:1-6) Muhammad distanced himself irrevocably from all non Muslims concerning the worship of God: “And I shall not worship that which you are worshipping. Nor will you worship that which I worship. To you be your religion, and to me my religion”. This contradicts earlier suras stating that Christians, Jews and  polytheists worship the same God as Muhammad (Sure 2:62+139; 10:104; 40:66: Polytheists who served other gods as well as Allah).

 

Evaluation from a Christian Perspective

The Bible gives no instructions concerning outward forms of prayer. Prayers were offered standing, sitting or in a kneeling position. While praying, hands could be stretched out, or not. In Exodus 3:12+18 we read how the people of Israel would worship the living God in truth on Mt. Sinai after he had gloriously delivered them from Egypt. After experiencing deliverance from slavery, thanksgiving and true worship just flowed spontaneously to the God, who is by nature faithful and trustworthy. If, however, there is no assurance of salvation (in Islam only a vague hope, Sura 28:67) God can not be worshipped in this way. We also read in Exodus 3:18 that worship has to do with sacrifice (The first mention of ‘worship’ in the Bible is Genesis 22:5 – Abraham offering his son Isaac), reaching its full expression with the ultimate sacrifice Jesus, the shedding of the blood of God (Acts 20:28), which Islam rejects. That is a further indication that “true worship” in truth and in Spirit is missing in Islam.

Christ said clearly: “…(that) all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him” (John 5:23 NIV). Whoever refuses to honour the Son also refuses to honour the Father (John 8:49; 15:23; Phil. 2:10f; Heb. 1:6; 1John 2:23). Because Jesus is the way and the truth and the life there is no other way to be saved from sin and eternal death. Therefore, anyone who does not worship this Christ will not reach the heavenly destination. At the end of time Christ will be worshipped by countless angels as the Lamb, and all creation will worship the One who sits upon the throne and the Lamb (Rev. 5:12-14). True worship arises from within on the basis of gratitude and the knowledge of God.

 

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