ذَٰلِكَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ
This is the Book about which there is no doubt, a guidance for those who are mindful of Allah — Quran 2:2
The Qur’an is the unaltered word of Allah and the message of Islam is a timeless guidance to all of mankind. A source of help and refuge:
ٱلْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِى وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ ٱلْإِسْلَـٰمَ دِينًا
Today, I have perfected your religion for you, and have completed My blessing upon you, and chosen Islam as Deen (religion and a way of life) for you — Qur’an 5:3
Belief in Islam, Allah, His books and His messengers calls us to act in accordance with Allah’s divine message. Always striving to worship Him, aiming to do what is most pleasing to Him and seeking nearness to Him through good deeds. But what exactly are good deeds? What does Allah ask us to do in the Qur’an? If we want to live our best lives, in accordance with the divine message, what does that entail?
The Divine Message
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ رَبَّكُمُ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَكُمْ وَٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
O mankind, worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, so that you may become mindful ˹of Him˺. — Qur’an 2:21
وَٱذْكُرِ ٱسْمَ رَبِّكَ وَتَبَتَّلْ إِلَيْهِ تَبْتِيلًا
And remember the Name of your Lord, and devote yourself to Him wholeheartedly. — Qur’an 73:8
إِنَّ فِى خَلْقِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ وَٱخْتِلَـٰفِ ٱلَّيْلِ وَٱلنَّهَارِ لَـَٔايَـٰتٍ لِّأُو۟لِى ٱلْأَلْبَـٰبِ ٱلَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ ٱللَّهَ قِيَـٰمًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِى خَلْقِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَـٰذَا بَـٰطِلًا سُبْحَـٰنَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ ٱلنَّارِ
Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the day and night there are signs for people of reason; those who remember Allah while standing, sitting, and lying on their sides. They reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth ˹and pray˺, “Our Lord! You have not created ˹all of˺ this without purpose. Glory be to You! Protect us from the torment of the Fire." — Qur’an 3:190-191
وَٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ وَعَمِلُوا۟ ٱلصَّـٰلِحَـٰتِ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ أَصْحَـٰبُ ٱلْجَنَّةِ ۖ هُمْ فِيهَا خَـٰلِدُونَ
Those who believe and do good will be the residents of Paradise. They will abide therein eternally — Quran 2:82
The message is clear that Allah tells us to worship Him to gain taqwa (mindfulness) of Him; drawing close to Him and ultimately achieving paradise. Paradise is the ultimate return to Allah, and the felicity granted in His presence; through being near to Him.
What counts as worship though? Is worship just praying and fasting? Does the perfection of one’s worship involve relinquishing everything else? Becoming a monastic ascetic?
What Is Worship?
Allah tells us many things we can do to worship Him, such as the way doctors help others with their health:
وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَآ أَحْيَا ٱلنَّاسَ جَمِيعًا
Whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity. — Quran 5:32
Similarly the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) informed us of the nobility of teaching:
عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ " خَيْرُكُمْ مَنْ تَعَلَّمَ الْقُرْآنَ وَعَلَّمَهُ"
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "The best among you are those who learn the Qur'an and teach it." — [Sahih]
We sometimes think of actions and professions as "secular" when they aren’t overtly Islamic in their nature. For example designing cars or bridges may not seem like something inherently done for the worship of God, however our actions are always judged by our intentions. Anything that we do, and we intend by it to drawer closer to Allah and to help others for His sake, then it is an act of worship.
Some professions are clearly highlighted for their nobility but intention is at the heart of all of our worship. We have specific scripture informing us the virtue of helping others, but any number of endeavours can be considered worshipful.
Intention In Everything
"رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، يَقُولُ : " إِنَّمَا الْأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ، وَإِنَّمَا لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مَا نَوَى
"The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, "Indeed actions are considered by intentions, and a person will get the reward according to his intention." [Sahih]
Our intention is key in our professions and our actions. Are we doing things from a place of vanity, greed or seeking fulfilment through the end goal? Or rather are we doing them to please Allah, trying to bring a sense of excellence to everything we do.
For example one might want to sincerely earn a good wage so that they have money to support their family and community. One might want to become a senior leader in their industry, not for ostentation but to help them to lead projects they deem impactful and important to helping others; the list goes on.
Even if we lived in a community where everyone worshipped Allah whole-heartedly, religiously and spiritually, we would still be a community that needed professionals. Lawyers, taxi drivers, engineers and a myriad of other professions help our society to run smoothly — each person plays their part to help others and in doing so provides good to those around them. With the correct intention, all of this is considered worship.
Intention is at the heart of all of our worship and actions. Are we doing something for ourselves and our egos or solely for Allah? In making our intention clear it helps us to clarify our thoughts and to make sure we’re focused; both on pleasing Allah and being our best selves.
Correcting and affirming one’s intention may be a simple fix, and may only require two seconds before an action to say "Bismillah" (I begin in the name of Allah). But often it’s two seconds that we forget to dedicate. To paraphrase one scholar "The problem facing muslims today isn’t that they have bad intentions, but that they have no intentions!"
We may find ourselves going through life on "auto-pilot". We just go to sleep because we’re sleepy or because it is late. How often do we take a second, literally just a second, before sleeping to think "I want to wake up on-time for fajr, and then in the morning I want to be well rested so I can be my best self tomorrow". It may sound verbose when spelt out, but that little change can make sure all of our actions are hopefully pleasing to Allah. This helps us to remain focused and on track; striving for what is important to us.
Striving In Our Worship
وَمَنْ أَرَادَ ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةَ وَسَعَىٰ لَهَا سَعْيَهَا وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ كَانَ سَعْيُهُم مَّشْكُورًا
"But whoever desires the Hereafter and strives for it accordingly, and is a ˹true˺ believer, it is they whose striving will be appreciated." — Quran 17:19
Striving to worship Allah through good actions, means He is our priority at all times. Our intention is always drawing closer to Him. Ideally beginning every action in His name, by saying "bismillah"; and intending to do good that is pleasing to Him. During our actions, we seek His help to be successful — and after we have finished anything, we thank Him for the outcome. Whether He granted us the outcome we wanted or provided us with something better.
We all have something important in our lives. For some people that might be the pursuit of money or status, seeking a loving romantic partner etc. Absolutely none of that is bad in and of itself but it should never be our primary goal that we grant supreme importance to above all else.
When we fall into that trap we’re chasing a goal we cannot attain and that won’t fully satisfy us. Rather having Allah as our God means seeking to worship only Him through all of our actions. Rectifying our intention and striving todo what is most pleasing to Him, in every moment, in every action.
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ ٱلْجِنَّ وَٱلْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ
And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me — Qur’an 51:56
In conclusion, we have looked at how our only purpose in life is to worship Allah. This reaches beyond just overtly religious actions such as praying and fasting, but by setting our intention, anything permissible can be considered an act of worship.
Simple acts such as washing one’s car or dressing nicely could be done for the purpose of ostentation or showing off, but that doesn't mean we shun them and seek to be disheveled. Quite the opposite, we see in a hadith that as muslims we seek to bring ihsan (excellence) to everything we do; including having a presentable and beautiful outwardly appearance.
عن النبى صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: “لا يدخل الجنة من كان في قلبه مثقال ذرة من كبر” فقال رجل” إن الرجل يحب أن يكون ثوبه حسناً ونعله حسناً؟ قال: “إن الله جميل يحب الجمال الكبر بطر الحق وغمط الناس”
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "He who has, in his heart, an ant's weight of arrogance will not enter Jannah." Someone said: "A man likes to wear beautiful clothes and shoes?" The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, "Allah is Beautiful and He loves beauty. Arrogance means ridiculing and rejecting the Truth and despising people." —[Sahih]
Similarly, travelling and holiday provide an enjoyable break from work — that we may not exactly consider to be worship (unless we are performing Hajj or Umrah). Travel however provides a natural and beautiful chance for reflection. The opportunity to remove ourselves from our regular context and observe the beauty and the intricacy of the world that we often take for granted.
أَفَلَمْ يَسِيرُوا۟ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ فَتَكُونَ لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ يَعْقِلُونَ بِهَآ أَوْ ءَاذَانٌ يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا
Have they not travelled throughout the land so their hearts may reason, and their ears may listen? — Quran 22:46
I pray that Allah grants us all the steadfastness and istiqamah to rectify our intention. May He accept all of our good deeds and allow us to perform them seeking only Him. May He forgive us for any mistakes and transgressions and allow us to be of those that enter Jannah, insha’Allah.
وَٱعْبُدُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَلَا تُشْرِكُوا۟ بِهِۦ شَيْـًٔا ۖ وَبِٱلْوَٰلِدَيْنِ إِحْسَـٰنًا وَبِذِى ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ وَٱلْيَتَـٰمَىٰ وَٱلْمَسَـٰكِينِ وَٱلْجَارِ ذِى ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ وَٱلْجَارِ ٱلْجُنُبِ وَٱلصَّاحِبِ بِٱلْجَنۢبِ وَٱبْنِ ٱلسَّبِيلِ وَمَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَـٰنُكُمْ ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ مَن كَانَ مُخْتَالًا فَخُورًا
Worship God ˹alone˺ and associate none with Him. Be good to your parents, to relatives, to orphans, to the needy, to neighbours near and far, to travellers in need, and to your slaves. God does not like arrogant, boastful people — Qur’an 4:36
وَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ رَبِّى وَرَبُّكُمْ فَٱعْبُدُوهُ ۚ هَـٰذَا صِرَٰطٌ مُّسْتَقِيمٌ
And surely Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. This is a straight Path — Qur’an 19:36