Not just worship : Semantic layers of the word ibadah.

The word ibadah corresponds to such a life style and state of being, which is one of the fundamental structures of Islam. If Islam is a like ship, ibadah is the mast. However, this important notion’s meaning is not underscored properly if it is translated into English just as “worship”

Language is a living organism. It’s fed from the subconscious every human brain that operates in that language, like a gigantic web of intricate communication layers. When you translate a word from one language to another, the living discourse usually distorts or dictates the original meaning.

In this case, when you translate ibadah as worship, the meaning is somewhat lost due the linguistic discourse the word of worship. The word worship has many connotations and social and culture attachments related to it, thus preventing the “end user” from comprehending the word ibadah to its full extent.

Let’s take one dictionary example in English language, and see how they explain the word worship. Wordweb lists the synonyms as adoration, hero-worship and idolize. It explains the word worship as “Love unquestioningly and uncritically or to excess; venerate as an idol”.

This doesn’t sound like something like a healthy mind would do.

It resembles “blindness” and it automatically associates “worship” with some sort or idolatry.

So Muslims should be aware of such a “linguistic” problem, when they try to explain what “ibadah” means to non-Muslims. Simply saying “worship” won’t cut. Even a simple correlation between the word “worship” and “idolatry” would suggest a contradiction to the true essence of “Islam”

Why such a contradiction? Because true essence of Islam initiated from saying a big “no” to every form of idolatry.

So when a Muslim says in English, “Muslims worship to Allah(j.j) only” is not that a true statement?

Of course it is a true statement but if one wants to understand what “worship” means in the real sense, one has to understand what “ibadah” means, since it has much a deeper sense that just “worship”. Since such a concept never existed in English language, maybe due to historical or philosophical reasons, translating ibadah simply as “worship” doesn’t cut.

Worship is a shallow act of blind obedience. However, from both Quran and Hadith, we learn the importance of “tafakkur” which means deep thinking. For an analysis of the word tafakkur, you can read here. Every Muslim has an obligation to think about the whole process of creation and universe, as if it is form of worshiping.

Ibadah is a way of life.

It is a social manifest, it is how to stand up against every form of tyranny and idolatry and every form of insipid, enslaving worldly possessions.

It is not just a mental or spiritual state, but it is also a exercise of “physical” being.

When a Muslim decides what to eat and what not to, he is on “ibadah”. While doing so, he is “performing” his religious duty.

Ibadah is not just a prayer, asking for some sort of gain from your Maker. It is a perpetual state of mind where you constantly remember who you are, where you are coming from, and where you are headed. In this case, ibadah is a sum of every “Islamic” action where you base it on such a journey. The journey of life, where you remember you are “creature of Allah(j.j) and you are coming from Him and you are headed to his final hour, “Judgement day”

Ibadah is how you pay your respect to your existential position in the whole universe.

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