Had an interesting discussion with my mother the other day about the difference in opinion between Mormonism and Islam as far as the purpose of life goes. According to Mormonism, the purpose of this life is to get the experience of having a physical, human body, because supposedly God has a human body Himself, and in order for us to all become gods with our own planets to run in the next life, we all need to know what having a body is like. Don’t ask me, it’s not my religion. Ask my momma.
Anyways, the purpose of life in Islam according to the Qur’an is Ibada- worship or service to God. (Surah 51:56) A lot of people misunderstand this purpose, and think that God created humans just to pray 24/7, which seems impossible as well as restrictive as far as life and human nature go. In order to worship 24/7 you wouldn’t be able to have a job or a family or go to school or basically do anything, right?
Wrong. That misunderstanding comes from not knowing what exactly Ibada is, not knowing what exactly an act of worship is.
Worship can roughly de defined as an act of devotion or religious service performed with the intention of pleasing or earning favor. What that means in that any halal (permissible) action performed with the intention of pleasing God is counted as an act of worship, an Ibada. This obviously includes the formal acts of worship like prayer, charity, fasting, Hajj, etc, but it also includes things like eating one’s Cheerios.
Compare these two scenarios.
- Guy wakes up in morning, falls out of bed, brushes his teeth and eats his Cheerios.
- Guys wakes up and thanks Allah for another day alive. (ding! An Ibada!) He stands up and makes the intention to try and do things right today for the sake of pleasing God and being the best person he can. (ding!) He brushes his teeth. (ding for good hygiene?) and says Bismillah and eats his Cheerios. Ding!
One very lovely concept in Islam is that actions are judged by their intention (1) and an act that is intended to/ devoted to pleasing God counts as an act of worship. This means that if you eat your Cheerios and remember to thank God for the favor and intend to eat your good and halal breakfast as a service to the body He has given you, then you are performing an act of worship. On the other hand, a seemingly religious act that is devoid of the right intention doesn’t count for squat. Compare:
- Guy praying to thank God and seek guidance.
- Guy praying to impress how religious he is on other people.
Both these guys are praying, but the difference is that one if praying for God’s favor and the other is praying for the people’s favor, much in the same way that the first guy was eating Cheerios because they pleased his stomach (Honey-Nut, not plain) and the other was eating the Cheerios because the Zikr (God-Consciousness, Remembrance) associated with the eating of the Cheerios pleased Allah and fulfilled a right that his body had over him. We will call this The Cheerio Theory.
The Cheerio Theory also applies to other things, such as:
- Smiling (is considered an act of charity in Islam)
- Doing homework (learning more about Allah’s creations and the world, striving to become the best at whatever you are for the sake of utilizing the brains Allah gave you.)
- Working (making more money because more money made means more money can be spent on charity.)
- Taking a shower. (with the proper intention and order, your shower can he turned into Ghusl, which is like wudu, and washes away sins from your head to your feet.)
- Writing a blog. (I get blessings for anyone who reads this and makes sense out of it, Allah is Most Generous, Most Kind.)
In Islam worship encompasses every aspect of human life that’s done with the proper intention, and there is no concept of ascetics or monks or hermits who have to withdraw from human society and live in forests wearing hair-shirts to further ‘mortify the flesh’ because they found they could not overcome the desire to live in a house, sleep in a bed and have the comfort of a wife or family. These things are all natural human inclinations, and to deny them all for the sake of ‘worshipping’ by withdrawing entirely for society is impossible. This concept- withdrawal from society to worship 24/7- is not Ibada, and is found in Early, Middle, and even Modern Christianity (nuns? Jesuit priests?) but not in Islam.
Which brings me back to the original point I had: that although the purpose of life is worship, worship is not restricted to the prayer rug, and worshipping God 24/7 is neither contrary to human nature nor impossible. Which is why I love being a Muslim. Now excuse me while I go eat some Cheerios…
(1). Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him says in a Hadith: “Actions are but by intention, and every man shall have but that which he intended…” Bukhari and Muslim