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As worship (العبادة) is the purpose and reason for which mankind was created, then it is vital for us to clearly understand what this worship is, specifically what is its definition, what are its pillars and what are its conditions.
The Definition of ibaadah
There have been many definitions provided by the Scholars for the meaning of ibaadah, before briefly mentioning them, we can mention the linguistic meaning of (العبادة). In the language it means (الذل والخضوع), which is "lowliness, submissiveness", giving the meanings of humbleness, being lowered, being submissive, and thus there are expressions used in the Arabic language, from them, (بعير معبد), meaning a camel that has been humbled, made submissive. And likewise, (طريـق معبد), meaning a lowered path (due to it being frequently trodden upon). Also from the linguistic meanings of this word is "obedience" (taa'ah) and "compliance" (inqiyaad), "ta'alluh" (devotion).
As for the Sharee'ah definition, which is the precise reality of the worship which is requested in the Sharee'ah, then amongst the definitions provided are the following:
The Comprehensive Definition
This now brings us to the definition we want to use for the purpose of this article, alluded to by Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen (rahimahullaah), which is that of Shaykh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah, for it is the most precise, accurate and comprehensive definition for worship (ibaadah):
هي اسم جامع لكل ما يحبه الله ويرضاه من الأقوال والأعمـال الظاهرة والباطنة
It (ibaadah) is a [comprehensive] term that brings together everything that Allaah loves and is pleased with, from the sayings and actions, [both] inward and outward.
This statement is explained by the Scholars of Ahl us-Sunnah with what can be summarized as follows:
A Term That Gathers ...
That (العبادة) is an (اسم جامع) a term (noun) that gathers together, it brings together, and what are those things? It is everything that Allaah loves and is pleased with.
What Allaah Loves and Is Pleased With...
So then how do we know that Allaah loves something or is pleased with it, we know it by way of what is in the revealed texts and this is generally known in one of a number of ways:
a) Allaah praises the action
And the same can be said for those things which are prohibited:
d) Allaah dispraises the action (which means He loves and is pleased with its avoidance)
So when we find revealed texts in which we see the above, then we know what comes under worship - and this is the criterion, it is whatever Allaah loves and is pleased with.
Innovations are Not Considered worship...
So this excludes all innovated forms of worship which are not sanctioned or for which no evidence exists in its basis (this is an absolute innovation, completely, from all aspects), or if it exists in its basis, then (no evidence exists) for the particular manner or detail in which it is performed (this is relative innovation, from some aspects), it agrees with the Sharee'ah in its basis but disagrees with the Sharee'ah in its details. So al-bid'ah al-haqeeqiyyah (an innovation in its essence, from all angles) and al-bid'ah al-idaafiyah (relative innovation, an innovation from some angles as opposed to others), then they do not come under the definition of worship, since there is no proof that Allaah loves them or is pleased with them. And it is established that Allaah perfected the religion and left nothing and that the Messenger (alayhis salaam) fulfilled the trust and conveyed the complete truth. So worship is only what Allaah loves and is pleased with, and this excludes the innovations. And each act of worship which has a basis in the Sharee'ah, it must agree with the Sharee'ah in at least one or more of the following parameters (depending on what it is):
a) in its number ('adad), b) in its place (makaan), c) in its time (zamaan), d) in its species (jins), e) in its form or manner (kaifiyyah), f) in its reason or cause (sabab).
So with this, the act of worship is in accordance with the Sunnah and Sharee'ah.
Inward and Outward Speech and Action
Then the sum whole of what Allaah loves and is pleased with is made up of speech (qawl) and action ('amal), and this covers both what is inward and outward, and this then provides us with four categories into which everything that is worship enters into:
Knowing and Understanding This Definition
So this is the understanding of Ahl us-Sunnah wal-Jamaa'ah of (العبادة), worship, and so you should learn and memorize this definition, along with its concise explanation, such that if you are asked by anyone, a non-Muslim, or a Muslim, then you should be able to explain it finely, you should be able to explain precisely what is worship in Islaam, and how it differs from what is found in other religions and from what is found amongst the sects of Islam who have errors and mistakes in this field and who have followed the way of those nations before us, who departed from what their Prophets and Messengers brought them, and made tahreef (distortion) and tabdeel (alteration, replacement) of their religion, and thus began to worship with that for which Allaah sent down no authority.
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