Like the other two basic terms already dealt with, the term 'ibadah too has several different meanings, though all related to each other. The basic concept implied by the root word, 'abd, is that of acknowledging someone other than oneself as holding supremacy or enjoying overlordship and of abdicating one's freedom and independence in big favour, of relinquishing any resistance to or disobedience of him, and of surrendering oneself totally to his authority. Since slavery or bondage too are tantamount to similar status, the first sense the word conveys to the mind of any Arab is of this very factor, namely, slavery or bondage.
Also, since the primary role of a slave is to obey his master and carry out his wishes, the word also carries the sense of submission and obedience. Next, a slave not only submits himself to the will of his master physically, but mentally too he accepts his supremacy, and if he at the same time has feelings of gratitude for his kindnesses and favours, he is inclined spontaneously to go out of his way in extolling the master and in showing respect and regard for him. He expresses and demonstrates his obligation in many ways to show his deep attachment, in a manner amounting almost to worship although, obviously, this comes into play only when, in addition to physical bondage, there is mental attachment too.
There are two other senses also in which the word or its derivatives are employed, but they are secondary, and hence it is not necessary to go into them at this stage.
On studying the Qur'an we find that, the word is used wholly in the three senses explained above, except that on occasion both the first and the second senses are implied, on others the second only, on still others the third only and, in yet other places, all the three. Here are examples of use in the first and second senses:
(i) Then We sent Musa and his brother Haroon, with clear proofs of their prophethood to the Pharaoh and his nobles, but they treated them with disdain because of haughtiness born of power. "Should we," they said, "believe in two mere humans like ourselves, and that too of a nation which is in bondage to us?" (Quran 23:-45-47)
(ii) And the Pharaoh reminded Musa of having reared him from his childhood, (to which Musa replied): "As for the obligation you remind me of, is it not a fact that happened only because you had made the Bani Israel your slaves (but for which fact I may never have come into your household)?" (Quran 26:18-23)
The words 'aabidoon and 'abbadta employed respectively in the two verses imply bondage, submission, and obedience. When the Pharaoh used the first word in respect of Hazrat Musa and Hazrat Haroon's nation, what he meant was that the Bani Israel were in bondage to the Egyptians and fully subservient to them. And, when Hazrat Musa (on whom be peace), used the second word in reply to the Pharaoh, he meant that the latter had enslaved the Bani Israel and made them do his bidding.
(iii) O' you who believe! Eat of the clean and good things We have bestowed on you, and render due gratitude to God, if you do truly give 'ibadah to Him alone. (Quran 2:172)
The background of this verse is that, in the pre-Islamic period, the Arabs imposed various kinds of restrictions upon themselves in the matter of eating and drinking, in deference to the dictate, of their priests or due to superstitions, which had come down from their ancestors. When, however, they embraced Islam, the Qur'an demanded that if they now really felt that they owed 'ibadah to Allah alone, they should forget all those restrictions, and eat without hesitation all that was permitted by Islam. The idea, clearly, is that if they had now really submitted their will to that of God, they should shed all the taboos imposed by their priests or ancestors, and instead observe only the Islamic injunctions in the matter of eating and drinking.
(iv) Say (O' Prophet): Shall I tell yon of a fate worse than this? It is the fate of those whom Allah placed under His curse, who drew His wrath upon themselves, and of whom many were turned into apes and swine, and who rendered 'ibadah to taghoot. (Quran 5:60)
(v) And We sent Prophets unto all the peoples (to teach them) to give' their 'ibadah to Allah and not to taghoot. ... (Quran 16:36)
(vi) And there are good tidings for those who gave up the 'ibadah of taghoot and adopted that of Allah (instead). (Quran 39:17)
In all these three verses, 'ibadah of taghoot means bondage to any or all of what the latter term stands for, that is, every state or authority or leadership, etc., which, in transgression against God, makes its own word prevail in the land, whether by the use of force or intimidation or through temptation and so on. And according to the Qur'an to submit to the dictates of all such authority and do its bidding amounts to no less than the 'ibadah of taghoot. [ Nasser in Egypt and Bhutto in Pakistan, were glaring recent examples of Taghootdom. There have been others before elsewhere, and there are many another contemporaneously making their word prevail against Allah’s and invoking personality or secular cults as the better alternatives forgetting that, that they will one day have to render account to Allah shorn of all earthly authority, actually a bounty from Him for their trial. Abu Asad]
Now we come to some of the verses in which the word is used in the second sense only, that of submission or obedience:
(i) O' Sons of Adam, did I not enjoin on you that you do not give ibadah to Satan, for he is your avowed enemy? (Quran 36:60)
As everybody knows, no-one really worships Satan in the formal sense, and in fact he is cursed by the whole world, and hence the above charge, which will be made upon mankind on the Day of Judgement, means that people who obeyed the commands of the Devil and allowed themselves to be misled to the path shown by him thereby in effect gave their 'ibadah to him.
(ii) (And when it will be the Day of Judgement, God will say): "Gather together all the wrongdoers and their associates, as also the gods other than Allah to whom they gave their 'ibadah and show them to the door of Hell ...” And they will turn to one another in dispute. The worshippers will say, "It is you who used to come to us from the right hand (of power and authority)!" Those worshipped will reply, "Nay, (now you are blaming us) but is it not that you yourselves had no Faith and were in obstinate rebellion (to God)." (Quran 37:22,23,27-30)
If we reflect on the accusation and cross-accusation between those who gave their 'ibadah and those to whom it was given, we find that the latter do not here comprise any gods or idols but those religious or other "popular" leaders who came to the people in the garb of well-wishers or saviours of the nation or liberators, etc., and led them along the wrong path. The reference is to people who put on sanctified airs, and, while claiming to be friends, caused mischief in the land. It is blind obedience to such people that is here characterised as 'ibadah.
(iii) They (Jews and Christians) made their learned men and priests their rabbs instead of Allah, and Jesus son of Mary too, though they were not bidden except to give their 'ibadah to Allah alone. (Quran 9:31)
Here making of the learned men and priests into rabbs and the giving of 'ibadah to them does not mean believing them to be gods, but making them the sole authority for deciding what to do and what not to do, and obeying their behests without caring to look for any divine or prophetic sanction behind them. This is the explanation, which was given by the Holy Prophet himself (may peace be upon him) when, on an occasion, the question was put to him by a convert who had previously been a Christian.
As to the third sense, of worship, this has two aspects: the first is that of performing one or more of the various rites of worship, such as bowing before the person or thing, standing in his or its presence with hands folded across the breast, of offering sacrifices before it, etc., irrespective of whether the person, etc., involved is regarded as god in his own right or as someone able to intercede with a major god or having a share in the running of the universe under the control of that god.
The other is to believe in the person, etc., as having control over the realm of cause and effect, and praying to him, invoking him in times of distress or trial, and seeking his protection against danger or disaster.
Both kinds of acts amount, according to the Qur'an, to worship, e.g.,
(i) Say, (O'prophet):'I have been forbidden to worship those whom you people worship other than Allah now that I have clear guidance from my Rabb." (Quran 40:66)
(ii) (And Ibrahim said to his people): "And I part company with you and turn away from you (all) and from those whom you invoke other than Allah, and I shall call on my Rabb instead " And when he had turned away from them and from those they worshipped other than Allah, We blessed him with a son Ishaq (Isaac) …(Quran 19:48-49)
(iii) And who is more astray than one who calls on those other than Allah who will not make him any answer till Doomsday and who are in fact unaware even of being invoked; and when the people shall be gathered on the Day of Judgement, those so invoked will turn hostile to them and will repudiate their acts of worship. (Quran 46:5-6)
In all these three verses, the Qur'an itself clarifies that by 'ibadah here is meant calling on the supposed gods or invoking them for help.
(iv) On the other hand, they used to worship the jinn, and many believed in them. (Quran 34:41)
This worship of Jinns (genii) is explained later as Follows:
(v) And some there are among men who seek the protection of some among the jinns. (Quran 72:6)
In other words, to seek the protection of the jinn amounts to giving them worship and believing that they have the power to grant such protection.
(v) On the Day when Allah will gather them and the gods they used to worship other than Him, He will ask the latter whether it was they who had misled the people or it was the people who had themselves gone astray. And they will reply "Glory be to you! How could it have been fitting for us to take for protectors others besides You?" (Quran 25:17-18)
The persons referred to here as having been worshipped are, obviously, the saintly and the pious, while worship of them implies belief in their possessing some of the attributes which are actually divine and in their being capable of listening to and granting the prayers of someone far away, and the showing of respect for them in such manner amounts to worship.
(vii) And on the Day when Allah will gather them together, and will say to the angels: "Are you those they worshipped?" and they will reply, "Glory be to you what have we to do with them? It is You Whom we regard as our Protector." (Quran 34:40,41)
Here the `ibadah of the angels means their worship, for which purpose their idols were kept in places of worship, and various acts of worship were gone through in the hope of pleasing them and winning their favours and enlisting their help in worldly affairs.
(viii) And they used to worship, other than Allah, those who had not the power to do them either harm or good, and used to say, "These are our intercessors with God." (Quran 10:18)
(ix) And those who have taken others than God as their helpers, and say: "We do not perform acts of worship towards them except that they bring us nearness to God." (Quran 39:3)
Here too the particular acts of worship amount to ibadah, and the particular manner in which it did is also indicated.
All the above examples illustrate the use of the word 'ibadah (or one or more of its derivatives) in one or other of the three senses, and we have now to give some examples of the comprehensive use of the word, embracing all the three. But before we do so, it seems desirable to be clear about one point.
In all the verses cited above, there is reference to the worship of others than Allah. Where worship ('ibadah) implies bondage and submission, those worshipped are, either the Devil, or those rebels against God who have become taghoots and who, instead of making people give their obedience to God, make it exclusive for themselves; or those leaders (whether political or religious) who ignore the injunctions of the Qur'an and make the people follow the ways devised by themselves [ e.g., the upholders of "Kemalism", and "Panchshila", two heretical secularist concepts, both preferred openly to Islam, the pure Muslims being persecuted and even maligned as enemies of the country. Abu Asad.]. Where the word does mean worship-that is, performance of various rituals of worship, etc. -those worshipped happen to be either the saints or other pious people, or the Prophets who were raised to the status of godhood in varying degrees contrary to their own teachings; or the angels or the jinns who, through a misconception, were believed to have a share in divinity; or idols or imaginary powers or other physical representations which became the objects of worship through the insinuations of Satan. The Holy Qur'an pronounces all such gods or objects of worship to be false, and their `worship' to be wrong, irrespective of whether it amounts to bondage, or obedience, or the actual observance of the ritual of worship. All, insists the Qur'an, are God's creatures and his slaves. They have no right to be given any kind of worship, nor does this worship beget anything but frustration, and debasement. Allah alone is the Lord of all, whether it be these gods or the rest of creation, and He alone has all the power and the authority and, hence, He alone is deserving of worship in any of the senses of the word:
(i) Verily those you worship are God's creatures like you, so call them, and let them make reply to you (that is, grant your prayers), if you are in the right."...And those to whom you call besides Him, can neither help you nor (for the matter of that) even themselves. (Quran 7:194,197)
(ii) And they say that Rahman (the God of Mercy) has taken a son now Himself. Far above is He of such a thing! They (the supposed sons) are, actually, His creatures whom He has honoured. (And yet, despite this honor) they dare not open their mouth on their own to make any submission to Him. They only do as He bids. He knows what is visible to them, and also what is hidden from them. They cannot intercede with Him in behalf of anyone (at all) save where He Himself wishes to accede to any intercession. And they are constantly in awe of Him. (Quran 21:26-28)
(iii) And they have made goddesses of angels, who are actually creatures of Ar-Rahman, The Merciful God. (Quran 43:19)
(iv) And they have assumed some blood relationship between God and the jinns, though the jinn, know for themselves that they will one day have to appear before Him to account for their conduct. (Quran 37:158)
(v) Neither did Jesus consider it beneath his dignity to be a slave of Allah, nor do the angels; and whosoever considers it beneath him to give himself in bondage to Allah, (then where can he escape from Him, and) He will gather them all to Himself. (Quran 4:172)
(vi) The Sun and the Moon both follow courses (exactly) computed; and the plants and the trees both (alike) bow in adoration and submission to Allah (their Creator). (Quran 55:5-6)
(vii) The seven heavens and the earth, and all beings therein, proclaim His Glory; there is not a thing but celebrates His praises, except that you understand it not. (Quran 17:44)
(viii) And to Him belongs all beings in the heavens and the earth, and all are subservient to his commands. (Quran 30:26)
(ix) And there is not a creature that moves but He has grasp of its forelock (that is, complete control over it). (Quran 11:56)
(x) There is not a single being in the heavens and the earth but will come to (God) Most Gracious as a bonded slave; He does take account of them (all), and has numbered them (all) exactly. And everyone of them will come to Him singly on the Day of Judgement. (Quran 19:93-95)
(xi) Say (O' Prophet): "O God! Lord of Power (and Rule), You Grant power to whom You pleases, and shed Power from whom You please; You endue with honour whom You please, and You bring low whom You please. In Your hand is all Good [ That is, no good can come to any being unless Allah wills it so. Abu Asad]. Verily, You have (all the) power over everything. (Quran 3:26)
Having thus clarified categorically that all who are worshipped besides Allah in any form were or are no more than His creatures and slaves with no power or authority of their own at all, the Qur'an demands of all human beings and jinns that 'ibadah must, in whatever form it take, be reserved exclusively for Allah. All bondage, submission, and worship should be to or of Him alone, and there should not be even the slightest semblance of these for anyone else:
(i) And We sent a messenger to every people with the message that they give their 'ibadah to Allah and forbear from giving it to taghoot. (Quran 16:36)
(ii) Good tidings are for those who turned away from the 'ibadah of taghoot, and turned to Allah instead. (Quran 39:17)
(iii) Did I not enjoin upon you, O' sons of Adam, not to give your 'ibadah to Satan, for he is an open enemy to you, but to give it to Me instead and that is the straight path? (Quran 36:60-61)
(iv) They made their learned men and praises into Rabbs, although they were not bidden except to give their 'ibadah to Allah alone. (Quran 9:31)
(v) O' you who believe! If yon have really made your 'ibadah exclusive for Us, then eat without hesitation of the clean and good things We have bestowed upon you, and render gratitude to God. (Quran 2:172)
In these verses the 'ibadah which is ordered to be reserved exclusively for God is that which amounts to bondage or slavery and submission and obedience, and the implication clearly is that men are being told to forbear giving their submission and obedience to taghoot, to Satan, to the priests and rabbis, and to fathers and forefathers, and to give it instead to Allah alone:
(i) Say (O' Prophet): "Forbidden it is for me to give my 'ibadah to those to whom you call instead of God. Clear signs have I received from my Lord, and I have eke been bidden to bow to the Will of the Lord of all the Worlds " (Quran 40:66)
(ii) And your Rabb has said: 'Call to Me, and I shall hear your prayer [ This does not mean that all the prayers will necessarily be granted the way one wishes. The Holy Prophet is reported to have stated on one occasion that no prayer ever goes waste. Either Allah Almighty grants it, or He bestows something better-may be after some times- or He averts some harm or disaster instead. It must be understood, however, the point does not need any argument that the prayer must be for something good. It would be the height of depravity, for example, for some misguided fool to pray that Allah enable him to seduce the wife of a friend or to make a huge profit in a black-marketing transaction, sad so on. And he certainly can have no right to feel ungrateful to Allah for not granting his Prayer. Abu Asad.] - and as for those who go against My Commands, they will surely be flung into (the fire) of hell." (Quran 40:60)
(iii) This is Allah, the Rabb of all of you. All Power is His alone, and as for those you call to others than Him, they do not own any power; if you call to them, they do not listen to your prayer, and if they could listen they would not be able to respond, and on the Day of Judgement they will simply repudiate your association of them with God! (Quran 35:13-14)
(iv) Say (O' Prophet):' Do you give 'ibadah to those, other than Allah who have power to do you neither harm nor good, (whereas) Allah alone is the All-Hearing, All-Knowing." (Quran 5:76)
In these verses the emphasis is on making 'ibadah exclusive for Allah, in the sense of worship, and there is also evidence that the sending up of prayers to someone is also an act of ‘ibadah, while the verses that precede and follow those quoted above speak of these supposed gods who were treated as co-sharers with Allah in His rububiyyah in the supernatural sense.
It should not therefore be difficult for anyone with even the least sense to understand that wherever the Qur'an speaks of the `ibadah of Allah, and it does not appear from the context that it is used specifically in one or other of its three different senses, it encompasses all the three, namely, bondage, submission, and worship, e.g.
(i) Verily, I am Allah; there is no ilah hot I; therefore give your 'ibadah to Me (alone). (Quran 20:14)
(ii) This is Allah, your Rabb; there is no ilah but He-the Creator of all that exists; therefore give your 'ibadah to Him (alone), and He it is Who looks after every thing and its needs. (Quran 6:102)
(iii) Say (O' Prophet): "O People, if you are in doubt as to what my deen is, then let it be clear to you that I do not give my 'ibadah to those other than Allah to whom you give yours instead, I give mine to Allah, Who causes you to die, and I have been commanded to be of believers (in Him)." (Quran 10:104)
(iv) Those to whom you give your 'ibadah others than, Allah, they are nothing but things or beings whom your forefathers and you yourselves have, under false notions, come to believe as invested with divinity. Allah Himself has not sent down any proof therefor. To Allah alone belongs all Power and the Realm. Clearly has He ordained that to none but Him may one give one's 'ibadah, and that (alone) is the straight path. (Quran 12:40)
(v) And Allah alone knows the realities unseen by man; with Him alone rests ultimate dispensation; therefore give your 'ibadah to Him, and in Him alone place your reliance. (Quran 11:123)
(vi) To Him (alone) belongs all that is on front of us or behind us or in between; nor is your Rabb given to lapses of memory; He is the Rabb of the heavens and the earth and whatever is in between; therefore give your ibadah to Him alone, and keep steadfast in such 'ibadah alone. (Quran 19:64-65)
(vii) So, whoso wishes to meet His Rabb, then let him do pious deeds, and not mix up the 'ibadah of his 'Rabb with that of any other. (Quran 18: 110)
There truly seems not the slightest reason for taking the word 'ibadah as used in these verses to have only one or other of the three senses, of worship, bondage, or submission. Actually, the Qur'an puts its whole d'awah and its import in verses like these and, obviously, its whole d'awah is none other than that our bondage, our submission, and our worship should all be for Allah, wholly and solely. Therefore, the restriction of the meaning of the term, in the above verses, to just any one of the three senses amounts to placing a limitation on the d'awah of the Qur'an and the logical result of this would be that those who embrace the Islamic faith with such a restricted understanding of the Qur'anic d'awah will be able to achieve only a sub-standard compliance with its precepts and will remain defective in their Iman.