About this Series
This series is a study of concepts which feature prominently in The Quran. The words representing these concepts appear tens, if not hundreds, of times and form the backbone of its philosophy. This study is based on my own personal method of study called ‘Qira’ah Wujudiyyah’ (QiWu) or ‘An Existential Reading’. It does not necessarily represent any other Quranist although our methods may overlap. The point of QiWu is to transcend any religious or historical connotation but rather to find a meaning that fits our experience of life.
What is ‘ibaadah?
‘Ibaadah ( عبادة) is a foundational idea in The Quran, appearing more than three hundred times in various forms. I have chosen to translate the word as ‘worship’ which readers may take to indicate the performance of rituals. This is, however, not what I mean at all. ‘Worship’ in English has a wide variety of connotations including servitude, devotion, and attachment. I believe these meanings are contained in the Quranic concept rather than rituals.
In this essay, I will be analysing the very first verse that contains a form of the word ‘ibadaah as well as its context and significance of the chapter it appears in. Readers are advised to consider how these concepts manifest in their own lives. Quranic concepts are immediate and can be experienced at any time and place in the totality of human experience.
The first occurrence of the word ‘ibadaah appears in the very first chapter of The Quran. In Chapter 1 Verse 4, we say ‘to you alone we worship (نَعْبُدُ) and to you alone we seek optimisation’. The word for ‘we seek optimisation’ (نَسْتَعِينُ ) is usually translated as ‘we seek help’. I have chosen to translate it as ‘we seek optimisation’ because the noun of this root, [‘awan ( عَوَانٌ) which appears in 2/68] is something which has reached the zenith of its youth but has not yet begun to decline. ‘Nasta’een’ is, therefore ‘we seek the state of ‘awan’. It is conspicuously different from words translated as ‘help’, namely nasr which is most used to show a cooperative help or ighaathah (in 8/9) which is to seek aid.
So the first occurrence of worship is related to seeking optimisation. We worship God and thereby seek an optimised state at all levels: that of the self, humanity, and the planet at large. This is the meaning of Quran 1/4 but what if we were to take into consideration the entirety of Chapter 1?
Chapter 1 begins with the lordship (rabubiyah) of Allah in 1/1. This is His role as nourisher and sustainer of the worlds. The next verse explains this as His dual quality of nourishment, (rahmaan and raheem). 1/3 then connects this with the human experience and shows His ownership of this system which connects to us via ad-deen or religion. Hence in order for us to worship, we must acknowledge His ownership and follow His laws.
‘Ibaadah is also connected with as-siraat al-mustaqeem in 1/5. This is the straight and direct path (siraat) that we would be on which leads us to an established and stable position (mustaqeem). ‘Ibaadah would result in being on this path which logically fits in with being in an optimised state.
Finally, the path also confers an intimate channel of bounties from Allah in 1/6. There is no anger in this path and we would be meeting our intended goals and not swerving away from that goal.
If we were to take into account these meanings from context, we would come to a fuller understanding of ‘worship’ as explained in the Quran.
Next: ‘Ibaadah and the performance of good.