Dar as-Sahaba

The Meaning of Worship

July 19, 2009

The Meaning of Worship

By Shaykh ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Ḥasan aalush-Shaykh (d.1285H) [1]

The saying of Allāh – the Most High -:

“I did not create the jinn nor mankind except to worship Me.”

[Sūrah adh-Dhaariyaat 51:56]

Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah (d.728H) said: “Al-ʿibādah (worship) is obedience to Allāh by following that which He ordered upon the tongues of His Messengers.” He also said: “Al-ʿibādah is a comprehensive term covering everything that Allāh loves and is pleased with – whether sayings or actions, outward or inward.” [2]

Ibn al-Qayyim (d.751H) said: “Worship revolves around fifteen principles. He who completes them has completed the stages of ‘uboodiyyah (worship and servitude to Allāh). The explanation of this is: that ʿibādah is divided between the heart, the tongue, and the limbs. And that for each one of these three comes the five types of rulings, covering all actions: wājib (obligatory), mustaḥabb (recommended), ḥarām (prohibited), makrūh (disliked) and mubaah (permissible).” [3]

Al-Qurṭubī (d.671H) – raḥimahullāh – said: “The root of ʿibādah is: humility and submissiveness. The various duties that have been prescribed by Allāh upon the people are called ‘ibaadaat (acts of worship), since what is required is that these acts of worship must be done with submissiveness and humility to Allāh – the Most High.” [4]

Ibn Kathīr (d.774H) – raḥimahullāh – said: “And ʿibādah is: obedience to Allāh by acting upon what He commands and abandoning what He forbids; and this is the reality and essence of Islām. And the meaning of Islām is: istislaam (submission and surrender) to Allāh – the Most High – along with the utmost compliance, humility and submissiveness to Him.”

He also said – whilst explaining the meaning of the above āyah: “Indeed Allāh – the Most High – created the creation so that they would worship Him alone, without associating any partner with Him. Whoever obeys Him would be completely rewarded, whereas whoever disobeys Him would be punished with a severe punishment. And He has informed that He is neither dependant, nor does He have any need for them. Rather, it is they who are in dire need of Him, in every condition and circumstance – since He is the One who created, sustains and provides for them.” [5]

The Meaning of Tāghūt

The saying of Allāh – the Most High:

“And to every nation We sent Messengers ordering them that they should worship Allāh alone, obey Him and make their worship purely for Him; and that they should avoid at-tāghūt.”

[Sūrah an-Naḥl 16:36]

And at-tāghūt is from the word at-tughyaan, which means: going beyond the limits.

Umar b. al-Khaṭṭāb – radi Allāhu ‘anhu – said: “The tāghūt is: Shayṭān.”[6]

Jābir – radi Allāhu ‘anhu – said: “The tāghūts are the soothsayers and fortune-tellers upon whom devils descend.”[7]

Imām Mālik (d.179H) – raḥimahullāh – said: “Tāghūt: that which is worshipped besides Allāh.”[8]

So this is what has been mentioned by certain people. However, Imām Ibn al-Qayyim – raḥimahullāhu taʿālá – has given a very comprehensive definition, so he said: “The tāghūt is all that which causes a person to exceed the limits with regards to that which is worshipped, followed or obeyed. So the tāghūt in any nation is whosoever turns to other than Allāh and His Messenger for matters of judgement; or is pleased to be worshipped besides Allāh; or is followed without a clear proof from Allāh; or is obeyed in that which is known to be disobedience to Allāh.”[9]


[1] Fatḥ al-Majīd li Sharḥ Kitābit-Tawḥīd (1/84-90), slightly abridged and edited.

[2] Majmūʿ’ul-Fatāwá (10/149) of Ibn Taymiyyah.

[3] Madārij al-Sālikīn (1/109).

[4] Al-Jāmiʿli Aḥkāmil-Qurʾān (1/225, 17/56) of al-Qurṭubī.

[5] Tafsīr Qurʾān al-‘Adhīm (7/402).

[6] Related by al-Ṭabarī in Jāmiʿul-Bayān ‘an Ta’wīl al-Qurʾān (no.5834). Al-Ḥāfidh b. Ḥajar said in Fatḥ al-Bārī (8/251): “Its isnād is strong.”

[7] Related by al-Ṭabarī in his Tafsīr (no.5845).

[8] Related by as-Suyūṭī in ad-Durr al-Manthūr (2/22), by way of Ibn Abī Ḥātim.

[9] I’lām al-Muwaqqiīn (1/53).