The concept of worship in Islam should be understood in the particular context of Islam before we can meaningfully grasp the role of public or private worship.
Dictionary.com gives these definitions for worship:
– The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity, an idol, or a sacred object.
– Ceremonies, prayers, or other religious forms by which this love is expressed.
These definitions only partially include the Islamic concept of worship. This is because in Islam, the term worship does not merely signify the ritualistic activities such as prayer, fasting, charity, or pilgrimage.
It includes all the activities of a believer; in fact it stands for everything a Muslim (i.e. a person who submits peacefully to the Creator) believes, says or does.
When a Muslim performs all the activities of his life for the pleasure of God, then all his deeds become `ibadah or worship. Naturally, this includes his ritualistic worship such as prayer and fasting.
Islam requires a person to submit himself or herself wholeheartedly and fully to God:
Say: “Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are [all] for God, the Cherisher of the Worlds.” (6:162)
Surrendering all the areas of one’s activity to God, leaving nothing to the whims and fancies of anyone else, is in fact Islam. God says:
Truth stands out clear from Error. (2:256)
Have We not made for him a pair of eyes? And a tongue, and a pair of lips?… (90: 8-10)
These verses show that there are only two ways before humanity: one is the way of God and the other is the way of the Devil.
Muslims believe that a person cannot stand with one foot in God’s way and the other in the way of the Devil. They are people who have willfully submitted their whole selves and lives to God, the Creator, and their duty is to obey Him. And they cannot split their life into compartments and say that this is the area of religion where they will obey God and these are the areas where they will follow others.
Islam is a complete way of life that requires its followers to model their entire lives in accordance with its principles in every aspect of life. This may sound somewhat difficult for many, but, in fact, it need not be because it is chiefly a change of attitude and approach.
What is important is to understand that Islam does not value rituals for the sake of rituals, especially when one is performing them mechanically and have no influence on one’s life.
God says in the Quran what means:
It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in God and the Last Day… (2:177)
This means that if rituals do not have any influence on day-to-day life, they then would have no value. Similarly, when daily duties are carried out with sincerity and faith expecting reward from God, they become important acts of worship.
The Prophet Muhammad said that:
Faith is made up of over sixty branches: the highest of which is the belief in the oneness of God, i.e., there is no God but God, and the lowest in the scale of worship is removing obstacles from people’s way. (Muslim)
Explaining the concept of charity, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said that:
Receiving your friend with a smile is sadaqah (charity). Helping people load their animals is sadaqah, and pouring some water in your neighbor’s bucket is also sadaqah. (At-Tirmidhi)
This comprehensive approach to worship enables people to purify and spiritualize the entire spectrum of their life. But this is not to belittle the importance of ritualistic worship.
Actually ritual worship, if performed in its true spirit, can elevate humans morally and spiritually. It enables them to carry on their activities in all walks of life according to the guidance of God.
Forms of Worship
The five daily ritual prayers in Islam that are called salah are a form of worship that is preferably done in congregation in the mosque. Optionally, one can pray alone or in the privacy.
The weekly congregational prayer (Jumuah) is performed in the mosque on Fridays. This is a public act of worship.
Obligatory fasting during the month of Ramadan is a very important form of worship in Islam. But this is not really a visible or external act.
Similarly, paying zakah is another form of worship in Islam. It is chiefly a sincere setting apart of a specified portion of one’s material possessions for one’s fellow beings, which God has commanded in His Book.
The pilgrimage, known as Hajj is yet another form of worship. This is enjoined particularly on those who have the means to do so. It is compulsory for such people only once in a life time.
Worship in Islam trains the individual to lead a life in perfect obedience and submission to his Creator.
(From Reading Islam’s archive.)