You alone we worship!
The Arabic word ‘ibadah translates as ‘worship’ in English, and according to the Oxford Dictionary worship is ‘the practice of showing respect for God’. The meaning of ‘ibadah in Islam is also similar to this that an individual demonstrates his humbleness and humility before an entity whom he considers to be a deity (ma’bud). In view of this, for example, when a person performing prayer (salat) stands upright with his hands down at his sides after bowing… (ruku’), then this is also worship, since the entity for whom he is standing is his true deity and God. On the contrary, if a son stands before his father even with his hands folded together, then this is still not worship, rather it is respect and reverence, since no Muslim son considers his father to be divine.
Furthermore, the Qur’an states that the angels prostrated to Prophet Adam [as], and the brothers of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph [as]) prostrated to him. In spite of this, the angels did not become polytheists and nor did the brothers of Prophet Yusuf [as], since they did not consider the objects of their prostration as deities or divine beings, rather only respect was intended. Islam has commanded both worship and respect. Worship is for Allah, and respect is for the righteous servants of Allah. Therefore, not differentiating between worship and respect, and simply accusing a person showing respect of performing worship, thereby labelling him a mushrik (polytheist), is against the character of the Qur’an.
Only Allah alone is worthy of worship. An individual who worships some other creation (Prophet, Friend of Allah, sun, fire, stone, etc.) is clearly affected by some beauty or quality within the object of his worship. Such splendour or excellence, however, is not intrinsic, rather it is bestowed and granted by Allah. Had Allah not placed such a quality within the object, no individual would have been moved by it nor affected. Hence worthy of worship is not the possessor of such excellence, rather it is the Creator of such excellence, who has adorned the universe with splendour and perfection.
In relation to worship, the statement of Rabi’ah al-‘Adawiyyah deserves attention when she said: “I swear by You, O Allah! I do not worship You due to the desire for Paradise or due to the fear of Hell, rather I worship You because You are truly worthy of worship.”
If the houri of Paradise is in the heart dwelling;
What worship is this? This is mere bargaining!
[Adapted from ‘Tafsir Imdad-ul-Karam’ by Shaykh Muhammad Imdad Hussain Pirzada]