Monday, May 10, 2010

Ibada in Islam (part 1)

Listening to one of Nouman Ali Khan's podcast (this one was a tafseer on Surat Al Bayyinah), I happened upon a most wonderful discussion on the concept of Ibada in Islam. I took the time to write out the discussion as narrated by Nouman, but just changed a few words here and there (since for one to talk about a topic is different than for one to read a topic). I will split the discussion into two posts, in order to not daunt those out there whom are not champion readers.

Just some background info, he has reached the tafseer of the fifth Aya in the Sura. Also, Bayyinah in arabic means that which is crystal clear, there is no black or white to it.

For the full podcast, here's the download link (this discussion starts at about 3.30) :

Tafseer Surah 098 – Bayyinah Part 2 by Nouman Ali Khan


We shall discuss the concept of Ibada from the linguistic point of view only, we're not even gonna go into a full deep discussion.

One of the most beautiful discussions on Ibada is actually compiled by Ibn Taymeya (Rahemaho Allah, May Allah have mercy on him) who talks about the five conditions of being a slave to Allah. I'll atleast hightlight those five things, but for now inshaAllah ta3la we shall talk about some other issues.

Commonly, with the words (Ibada, leya'bado Allah [so they they worship Allah]) when translated to English the translation says "worship". The key term is worship. We have to address the gap between the arabic word

  • (leya'bodo)
  • (Ibabada)
  • (Ya'bodo)
  • It is even mentioned in Surat Al Fatiha (eeyaka na'bodo)

and the english word worship, because there is a gap and if we don't understand that gap, this will lead to there being a gap in our understanding sometimes. You know, if we don't truley fill that void then there is something missing in our reading from the Quran.

The word worship in the English language is very specific, It's used for particular acts of worship offerred at particular times. Worship is also specific to specific religions. So for example the Christian has his own mode of worship, the Muslim has his own mode of worship, the Jews may have their own mode of worship, and Hindus may have their own mode of worship. But if you ask someone who speaks the English language "what comes to your mind when you hear the word (worship)? what images pop into your mind?" The images that will pop into their mind is somebody kneeling, somebody bowing down, somebody at a church, at a synagogue, these are the kind of images that crop into the mind. Therfore, because we are translating from Arabic to English, we have to becareful of the words we choose and the images they conjure up in the mind of the people who speak that language.

The word Abada in Arabic includes the meaning of worship, but has another distinctly seperate connotation also and that is that of slavery. So Abid is a worshiper but Abd is actually a slave. What's the difference between a worshiper and a slave? In English atleast, there is a huge difference. They may not have anything to do with each other. Some one who is worshiping may not be a slave and someone who is a slave may not be worshiping. They could be two mutually exclusive things.

But when we use the word Ibada in Arabic we actually combine two concepts together: that of worship and also that of slavery. These two are together. So when we translate the Aya:

وَمَآ أُمِرُوٓاْ إِلَّا لِيَعۡبُدُواْ ٱللَّهَ
(Wa ma omeroo ila laybodo Allah)
What were they commanded except that they should worship Allah

we are missing the other half that is implied and meant. We didnt capture it.

Now, what is the opposite of Abd in arabic? It is Raab [Master]. The antonym, the lingustic antonym of Abd is Raab. But Abd is two things right? It could be one who is a slave and the one who worships also (in a larger sense a great worshiper). If you think of it in the meaning of slave in Arabic, then the opposite of it is Raab. If you think of it in the meaning of a worshiper, then the opposite of Abd in arabic is Iillah [a diety that is worshiped]. So there is two antonyms: one from the meaning of worship and one from the meaning of slavery. Two seperate antonyms. But both are implied when Allah uses the word Abd in verbal form and in nominal form as a noun, both of those meanings are meant.

So the first thing I wanna do, and I assume everyone here is clear about what worship means, I wanna clarify some things about what slavery means so that we have a little more comprehensive view of the Aya and of the term in general as it occurs in the Quran. I am taking the time to explain this, because as I said this Aya represents a summury of the entire Quran. "What were they told except," and then Allah says leya'bodo Allah, i.e "so they become Ibad of Allah, so they may enter into slavery of Allah and worship him".

This first thing. Slavery is different than worship because slavery has no time associated with it. Worship is at a cetain time, at a cetain place, a certain activity. But a slave, when is he a slave? When he's sleeping he's a slave, when he's awake he's a slave, when he's eating, when he's not eating, when he's changing he's clothes, when he's working, when he's on vacation, he's always a slave. So slavery is a state of being, while worship is an act itself. Someone can be a worshiper at cetain times, but they are not always worshipers, but a slave is a a slave, they are always a slave.

That's one huge difference between the two. The other thing sometimes, to be politcally correct, when some people translate, instead of slave, they use the word servant. Or humble servant, some translations offer that word. This comes from the english word service. You are a servant at your company. If you're an accountant you serve your company, you are a servant for them. A servant could be a janitor, a servant could be somebody who is working a job but in any of those scenarios service is a give or take, it's an exchange. Service is an exchange, I give a service what do I expect in return? To be payed. Also, service is specified. If you're an accountant you cannot be asked to wash the windows, unless the economy is really bad. If your service is one thing you are not asked for anything else. But in slavery, what are you asked to do? Everything that the master says. Everything that the master says you have to do. So it is totally different from the idea of service and significatly different from the idea of worship. Both of those things are seperate. That's the first issue with slavery.

The second issue is that slavery, as it is understood in the world, is never something you want to enter into, slavery is usually something forced upon you. Worship is something you do voulntarliy but slavery is not something you would do voluntarily. It's always involuntary. You can apply for a job in a service, you can be in a certain service industry and apply to become a part of that service. But you don't apply to become a slave, you don't give in an application and say "I love taking beatings, and I love chains around my neck". You don't do that, it doesn't make any sense. The one who is in slavery would want nothing more than to be free of that slavery. That is the nature of slavery in human history. So it does conjure up negative images. However, we cannot abonden the term and stop being true to the text because of those negative images. We have to still be true to the text, plus fully explaining the concept.

The thing is, in this slavery [the one mentioned in the Aya, and in the Quran] who is the master? Allah ... and Allah is nothing like his creations. He's far above his creations. In every other slavery a human being is the master. Another human being is the master. But in this slavery, Allah is the master. And since Allah is completely different from all of his creations, when he is the master he's a different kind of master ... a kind of master that no other master can be like. Even in Surat Al Fatiha, before we call him Raab, What do we say?

ٱلۡحَمۡدُ لِلَّهِ رَبِّ
Al Hamdu Lillahi Raab

We say Al Hamdu Lillah first, which means we praise him, and we show him gratitude first. No master is praised, no master is shown gratitude, except Allah. Every other master is cursed, every other master is complained about, but even Allah before he tells us he is master what does he tell us? Al Hamdu Lillah. This is a different kind of master. Which means that, if he is a different kind of master we must be a different kind of slave. You understand so far?


Umm Ququ said...

MashaAllah wa barak Allah feech ameen.
A beautiful blog post.

SubhanAllah wa bihamdi...Islam is so simple & amazingly calming to our souls, heart and body.

I look forward to more refreshing islamic posts.

Hiyyach Allah

Sara said...

Salam Alekoum sister! *hugs* sorry I just get really happy and excited everytime I meet a revert to Islam hehe =P

Thanks for joining the site as a follower. It truley is calming, and the level of it increases the more you learn and the more (inshaAllah) your Iman grows.

InshaAllah more posts to come, hope I wont dissapoint =)

Texan in UAE said...

masha'a'Allah!!!! lovely!!! subhana'Allah! I am so blessed to have been guided to al-Islam! and so blessed to have sisters like you! truly gorgeous post!

Sara said...

Hamdullah, and *hugs* =D yay I'm blessed to have you as a sister as well. It would be lovely to hear your story of how you were guided back to Islam, both you and Um Ququ .. might keep that an upcoming blogpost inshaAllah =P

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