Definition of the Arabic Term ‘Ibaadah (Worship)
Fatwa No: 86279

Question

Can you give me the exact definition of the Arabic term "Ibaadah"?

Answer

All perfect praise be to Allah, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) is His slave and Messenger.

The word ‘Ibaadah linguistically means 'submission or servitude', and it may be used to mean 'obedience'.

In Islamic terminology, this word is given various definitions by Muslim scholars, the most comprehensive of which is the following: “It is an encompassing noun that includes all the sayings and actions (interior and exterior, or actions of the heart and actions of the body) that are loveable to Allah, The Almighty.

Expressions such as ‘Ibaadah (worship), closeness, and obedience are all close to each other in meaning. It is, as Ibn 'Aabideen wrote in his Haashiyah only a matter of generality and specialty:

- ‘Ibaadah is everything, which is when said or done, rewarded by Allah, and which needs intention as a precondition for its acceptability.

- Closeness (to get near to Allah) is everything that is done after being aware of whom to be close to by that action.

- Obedience is anything done that is rewarded whether it is bound by intention or not, whether the doer is aware of whom to do it for or not.

Obedience comprises action and abstinence (avoidance). So whoever does righteous deeds and avoids sinful actions in obedience to Allah, then both his action (doing righteous deeds) and his avoidance (of sinful actions) are to be viewed as rewarded worship.

It is wrong to limit ‘Ibaadah to prayer, Zakaah, and fasting. For it includes, as mentioned above, all the obligations, recommendations, and prohibitions. Even the actions that are lawful to do, are considered ‘Ibaadah if they were to be done for the sincere intention (to get reward for them).

Therefore, he who – for example – eats, drinks, or sleeps for the purpose of having enough energy for obedience (worship), all these actions (eating, drinking, and sleeping) are regarded as forms of worship of his Lord.

There is a Hadeeth that gives evidence to this effect: The Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) said: “Even having sexual intercourse with your wives is an act of charity. The listeners (companions) said in exclamation: “O Prophet of Allah! How could it be that one of us is rewarded for satisfying his desire?" The Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) retorted: "If he satisfies his desire by an unlawful act, will he not be sinful (of course yes)? Similarly, if he satisfies his desire lawfully, he will be rewarded for that.” [Muslim]

One of the righteous predecessors has been reported as having said: “I really hope to be rewarded by Allah for my sleep as I hope to be rewarded for standing up (during the night) for prayer.

So, if it is true to say that ‘Ibaadah is a comprehensive term that covers actions, refraining from committing prohibitions, performing obligations, recommendations, and what is permissible; therefore, it is likewise true to say that it covers the entire life system.

Allah knows best.

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