The Misconception of Worship

Maulana Sayed Abul A’la Maududi

Translated by Adnan Mahmud

What would you say about a servant who, instead of performing his duties as ordered by his master, just stands in front of him all the time with folded hands, constantly chanting his master’s name? The master tells him to go and fulfill various tasks for different people, but he doesn’t go. Instead, he stands there, occasionally offering prayers and then folding his hands again. The master instructs him to deliver things to others, but he doesn’t move an inch and keeps bowing down. But not once does he try to understand the commands of the master, which include punishing thieves. What would you say about such a servant?

I don’t know what you would call him. This unjust person, from morning till evening, reads the Quran numerous times and prays, but doesn’t move from his place to perform his actual duties. Instead, he just keeps reciting extra prayers and chanting God’s name while reading the Quran with joy. He writes and says that he is a devout servant. This misconception arises because you don’t understand the true meaning of worship. Another servant performs tasks for others day and night, follows laws that don’t belong to his master, and always disobeys his master’s commands. However, when it’s time for prayers, he appears in front of his master and chants his name. If one of your servants did this, what would you do?

This is a simple matter that anyone can understand. But how is it that people who break God’s laws day and night, tear them apart, and follow their own desires, think that their prayers, fasting, recitations, and rituals are worship? This misconception is because you don’t understand the true meaning of worship. Take another example of a servant who wears the uniform with meticulous care, presents himself to his master with great respect, and says there is no greater servant than him. During prayers, he stands at the front and chants his master’s name more fervently than anyone else. But on the other side, this same person serves the enemies of his master, participates in conspiracies against him, and supports those trying to erase his master’s name from the world. At night, he stealthily enters the master’s house, and in the morning, he stands in front of him as if he is a loyal servant. What would you say about such a servant?

What would you say about them? Do you think that worship is about staying hungry and thirsty from morning till evening during the month of Ramadan? Do you think worship is about reciting a few verses of the Quran? Do you think worship is about visiting Mecca and performing rituals at the Kaaba?

You have confined worship to these few forms and think that once a person performs these rituals, they have worshipped God and fulfilled their duty, making them free to do whatever they want in their lives. But God has created you for a different kind of worship, and the commands given to you are for something else entirely.

Worship means that you live your life according to God’s commands at all times and in all circumstances, free from all laws that contradict divine laws. Every movement of yours should be within the bounds set by God. Every action should be in accordance with the way prescribed by God. This life you lead will be complete worship. In such a life, your sleep, your wakefulness, your eating, and your drinking will all be acts of worship. Going to your spouse and loving your children are also worship. The daily activities you consider mundane are all worship if you observe God’s limits while performing them and check what is lawful and unlawful according to God. Whenever you go out to earn a living, many opportunities may arise where you can easily earn unlawful income. If you avoid it out of fear of God and earn only lawful sustenance, then the time spent earning that bread is all worship. Bringing that bread home and eating it yourself, feeding your spouse, children, and those whom God has made rightful recipients, all of this makes you worthy of reward. If you remove a stone or thorn from the path to prevent harm to others, that too is worship. Helping an elderly or sick person, assisting someone in need, or offering kind words to someone—all these acts are worship. True worship is to live according to God’s laws from the moment you understand them until your death. There is no fixed time for worship; it should be continuous. Worship has no singular form; it should be present in every action and every situation. You cannot say that you belong to God at one time and not at another, just as you cannot say that worship is only for specific times.

Brothers, now you understand the true meaning of worship and that living every moment in servitude to God is worship. What is the answer? The commands that God has made obligatory for you are meant to prepare you for greater worship, which you must perform at all times and in all circumstances in your life. You are God’s servants, and you should serve Him. Fasting for a month each year prepares you for this servitude. Zakat repeatedly reminds you that the wealth you earn is given by God and should not be spent solely on your desires but should also be spent as per God’s commands. If, after performing all these acts of worship, you become capable of making your entire life an act of worship, then daily prayers, fasting, zakat, and Hajj are all beneficial. But if this goal is not achieved, then simply performing rituals, fasting, and charity are not enough. A lifeless body, even if it has all its limbs, is just a corpse. Similarly, prayers and fasting without the fear, love, and loyalty to God are just burdensome acts. That is why prayers and fasting have been prescribed, so you can instill the fear of God, His love, and His loyalty within you.


[1] Pakistan Overview. (2013, May 1). Syed Abul A’la Maududi in Pictures [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Translated from a lecture recording:

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