Why do we pray? Fast? Pay zakah (obligatory charity)?
Of course, if you consider the whole concept of ‘ibadah (worship) altogether, its goal is to attain the pleasure of the Creator, and they’re also necessary in order to obtain an entry pass into Jannah. But considered individually, each act of worship is unique – it has unique rituals, rewards, times, and places associated with it. And each has a different individual goal. Each of these individual goals come together and contribute to make up the overall goal of the religion of Islam.
With this in mind, let us look at the goals behind some of the primary acts of worship.
For the believer, prayer is a personal meeting with the Lord. Five times a day, we are required to leave every important or unimportant task. We purify ourselves to get ready for the most important meeting of the day. We stand in prayer and go through the actions taught by our Prophet (sa).
One of the purposes of prayer is to remember Allah, the Exalted. Allah says to Musa (as):
“Indeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance.” (20:14)
Prayer also keeps us away from evil deeds. Allah says:
“…and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater.” (29:45)
So we need to ask ourselves: does my prayer fulfill these two goals? Does my prayer make me remember Allah more, or is it just an obligation or a ritual for me? If I truly remember Allah through prayer, it will automatically protect me from evil deeds. I’ll be too ashamed to commit sins because of my increased awareness of Allah’s presence.
For a few hours every day, we keep away from some of our basic needs – food, drink, and intimate relations. Despite every temptation, we keep our nafs (self) in control. Why? Because we fear Allah and we know He’s watching us all the time. Thus fasting develops and strengthens our sense of taqwa (consciousness of Allah). Allah says:
“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous [attain taqwa].” (2:183)
Fasting also protects an unmarried person from committing fornication. The Prophet (sa) said: ‘He who can afford to marry should marry, because it will help him refrain from looking at other women, and save his private parts from committing illegal sexual relation; and he who cannot afford to marry is advised to fast as fasting will diminish his sexual power.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
The word zakah itself indicates its purpose. Linguistically, it means purification. It is a purifier and a cleanser for our wealth.
We put our time and energy to earn money, and then we give away a prescribed portion of it. It isn’t easy, and that’s how we learn to sacrifice for the sake of Allah. We realize that our wealth is not our own – it belongs to Allah. We feel humbled, and we become free from the pride and arrogance associated with the possession of wealth. In this way, zakah also purifies our nafs.
“Take, [O, Muhammad], from their wealth a charity by which you purify them and cause them increase….” (9:103)
Zakah also purifies our wealth, according to Ibn ‘Umar (ra):
“…and when zakah was prescribed, Allah made it a means of purifying one’s wealth.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
On a communal level, zakah helps maintain the circulation of wealth and prevents it from being concentrated among the rich only. The Prophet (sa) said:
“And it (zakah) is to be taken from the rich amongst them and given to the poor amongst them…” (Sahih al-Bukhari)
Copyright 2016 IIPH. This article was originally published on IIPH blog here: http://blog.iiph.com/the-goals-of-worship/