This series is a study of concepts that 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.
‘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 indicate a 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, we will be examining worship and the performance of good or ihsaan. While doing good is not the only concept mentioned with worship, it is certainly the one of the concepts which are the most emphasised. We can objectively say this because worship and the doing of good are mentioned consecutively no less than three times!
Before we look at those verses, we should first consider the linguistic meaning of ihsaan (إحسان) Ihsaan comes from the root (ح س ن) which means beautiful or balanced. Indeed, al-hasanaah (the fruits of goodness) expel the bad or sayyiat (11/114). Allah’s names or attributes are called ‘asmaaul husna’ or ‘the beautiful/balanced names’ and this appears 4 times.
What is the link between worship and doing good though? As mentioned above, there are four verses to link the two. The first is 2/83:
And remember We took a covenant from the Children of Israel: Worship none but Allah and do good to the parents and ones who are close, and orphans and the stagnant; speak to the people goodly; establish links and produce growth. Then did you turn back, except a few among you, and ye backslide.
This is a covenant to bani israil, the people who sought freedom from tyranny of firaun and followed the path of musa, the most mentioned Quranic personality. They were told to worship none but Allah and do good to the parents (not necessarily one’s own parents), their close ones such as neighbours, orphans and those seeking to improve but are stagnant.
Straight after, they are told to ‘speak goodly’ to the people. ‘Goodly’ (husna) is a deliberately chosen word here because it is from the same root as ‘ihsan’ and so shows the link between the two. The first thing in doing good is speaking good to all people.
Next, we are to build links with them. This means to have strong ties with them which can lead to mutual growth.
The second reference in Chapter 4 Verse 36:
Worship Allah, and do not associatiate with Him a thing; and do to the parents and ones who are close, and orphans and the stagnant, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion who are swerved away, the wayfarer and what your right hands control: For Allah loves not the arrogant, the vainglorious.
In 4/36, a new idea is introduced which is shirk or associating with Allah. Given the proximity of ihsaan with the idea of worship and association, it would be logical to say that doing good helps reduce association or expel it altogether.
The same categories of those whom we do good for are mentioned as well as some new ones. Neighbours who are close by and those who are not in terms of common paths. Friends who are swerved away from progress. Travellers along the path and whoever is under our control such as servants etc.
Next, we look at Chapter 17 Verse 23 as well as the subsequent two verses.
Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that do good to to the parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour.
And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: “My Lord! bestow on them your Mercy even as they nourished (rabba) me in childhood.”
Your Lord knoweth best what is in your hearts: If you do deeds of righteousness, verily He is protective to those who turn to Him again and again
This passage (17/23-25) tells us that worshipping God is especially close to doing good to the parents. The context indicates that the parents here are one’s own. Doing good here is also connected with ‘rabba’ which is to nourish or raise or bring up someone. Deeds of righteousness (‘amal saalihan) are also mentioned here. This refers to deeds which reconcile divine laws and produce a fertile environment. Hence, this is yet another meaning of goodness.
From the above verses, we can see how worship is closely related with doing good. Further, doing good is related with the acts of nourising and making fertile environments.
Next: ‘Ibaadah and the governance of Allah in our lives.