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When work is worship

Huzaima Bukhari

All religions, whether Godly or man-made, prescribe sets of rituals that signify essential elements of their tenets. One can easily identify followers of a particular religion from the way they perform their rites and observe their customs. Similarly, even the houses of worship can be discerned as belonging to a typical faith. Another interesting feature in case of believers is that they are tuned to separate religion from worldly life. This means that for the majority of people, a congressional gathering for the purpose of hearing sermons, fasting, giving alms or praying is religion but other than that all other activities like, going to schools, offices, parties, buying/selling properties, banking, business, social life etc. are strictly non-spiritual and there is a clear distinction between the two.

For the Muslims, however, worship has an entirely different perspective. It implies a complete code of life where even an involuntary act of breathing falls under veneration where the main purpose is seeking Allah’s approval. Scholars have tried to explain this idea as: “Worship is an all-inclusive term for those internal and external sayings and actions of a person that are pleasing to Allah.”

For the followers of Islam, there should be no scope for a well-defined line that separates religion and earthly life. Worship encompasses each and every act performed, each and every word spoken and each and every thought that comes to one’s mind. It would not be wrong to say that worship is in short, total submission to God where each step taken is utterance of a prayer. Hence things that are taken for granted such as simple greetings, smiles, appreciative nods, helping hands, soothing words are all accompanied by divine recompense thereby implying that the Al-Mighty wishes to reward His followers for the slightest of reasons.

“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives Zakah; [those who] fulfil their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” [Al-Quran: 2:177]

These words convey in very straight forward terms that form is not as important as its underlying substance. They imply that mere performance of one’s duties is ibadat. Stepping out of the house in search of sustenance for one’s family has been termed worship or where a mother nurtures her child, she is rewarded by Allah. Simply put, work is something that is highly exalted as a duty imposed by Islam. If this be the situation then Muslims everywhere should take whatever job they are doing extremely seriously. This means that just like the call for prayers, call for duty should also be answered in the best possible manner. A surgeon in the process of a long-drawn operation may be missing out on his prayers but leaving a patient in the middle could jeopardise his life. These are critical decisions but apparently, many concessions have been provided for making up the lost time in spiritual duty but performance of so-called worldly task is blessed with divine rewards.

When work has been elevated to such a high position, there is every reason to perform one’s undertakings with complete sincerity and honesty. This would be true for every single Muslim who is out of his or her home for seeking bread for his/her family. From the labourers to the chief executive officers of a company, all are supposed to do their work as if they are in the position of bowing their heads before the Al-Mighty. Thus indolence, lethargy, unpunctuality, unnecessary delays, inefficient output, non-serious attitude, doing personal work during the time of the one assigned, taking bribes, deliberately making or supplying sub-standard goods, violating contractual obligations and such other acts that could attract civil or criminal proceedings would also attract Allah’s wrath with severe retribution. When worship gets tarnished with bad faith, the consequences can be very harmful.

Experience has shown that in order to become rich overnight people are willing to go to any extent. As long as the main purpose is to earn wealth through a sense of honour, it would constitute worship but the moment a person falls below his dignity, that same worship turns into a most despicable act. The present day scenario depicts a materialistic world where people are adjudged on the basis of their temporal assets rather than the quality of their characters or purity of their souls. In such a situation chances are that the younger generation may be oblivious to the spiritual teachings inculcating the true meaning of life. On the one hand some children today are getting modern ‘western type’ education in order to lead a comfortable earthly life while on the other some are being subjected to old school, traditional, religious curriculum. Both extremes need to be revamped as this is causing a total imbalance in the personalities of the young ones.

This can only be done when on one end religious dogma is taught in a pleasurable style blended with the worldly callings and at the other end, worldly subjects are taught with a touch of divinity. What more can a person want when he is rewarded with money and blessings for passionately pursuing both his non-spiritual and spiritual aspirations. After all, if some students are studying chemistry or botany, they are actually trying to unravel the secrets that God has created then why declare this knowledge as worldly? Similarly, why should the study of Quran, fiqah or shariat be considered as religious in nature when all that is being taught there has a direct implication with worldly matters? When God has not drawn any boundaries in attaining knowledge or in the conduct of our daily lives, then why have we?

There is no denying that moderation and proper balance between the body and soul are vital for the sanity of mankind. Unrest and discontentment need to be addressed with a sensible combination of so-called “worldly” and “ethereal” perception of knowledge and practice. Unless both aspects are given due attention, it would not be possible to attain the much needed mental stability which can help to foster better understanding about life so as to imbibe civic and social sense in human beings.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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