some view worship, servanthood, and devotion as synonymous, most Sufi scholars
and masters say that these words have different meanings and connotations.
‘Ibada (worship) means fulfilling God’s commands in one’s daily life and
fulfilling the obligations of being His servant, while ‘ubuda (servanthood)
is interpreted as living in the consciousness of being a servant. Thus one who
observes his or her religious duties is called ‘abid (worshipper), while one
who lives in consciousness of being a servant of God is usually called ‘abd
another, more subtle difference between worship and servanthood. Acts of
worship consist of all financial and bodily duties: those requiring sufficient
financial resources and physical ability, and that are accomplished with
difficulty, in fear and hope, and with the intention of pleasing God (e.g., the
five daily prayers, fasting, alms-giving, pilgrimage to Makka, offering a
sacrifice, and mentioning or reciting God’s Names). A servant of God,
however, understands these responsibilities or acts of worship in a different
manner: each fulfillment of such a duty has a deeper (inner) dimension that
require a certain degree of consciousness and awareness on the part of the
dimension of religious duties and demands is devotion, which requires total
care and awareness. Ibn al-Farid states: The acts of worship and duties of
servanthood required by every station or rank that I have reached during my
spiritual journey have been fulfilled by my devotion.
have defined worship as the servanthood of ordinary people, servanthood as the
duty required by being a servant of God and carried out by individuals
possessing insight and awareness, and devotion as the responsibility of those
distinguished by their nearness to God. The first group contains those striving
to advance on the path of God; the second group contains those whose mental and
spiritual attitudes allow them to overcome all seemingly insurmountable
obstacles and difficulties encountered; and the third group contains those
whose mental and spiritual states cause them to turn to God wholeheartedly and
with a profound feeling of being in His company.
have summed up the above explanations in two terms: worship of the Absolute
Divine Essence, and worship of the restricted Divine Attributes. The first term
means always being conscious of the relationship between the Creator and
created, the Worshipped One and the worshipper, the Overseeing and the
overseen, the Sustaining and the sustained, and as thinking, feeling, and
acting in the most profound awareness of these relationships. The second term
means fulfilling one’s daily duties as required by this awareness, which
causes one’s awareness to increase. Those performing these duties can be
categorized by their intention, resolution, determination, and sincerity as
follows: those who desire to enter Paradise, those who hope to be rescued from
Hellfire, those who love and stand in awe of God, and those who feel that they
must do so as a requirement of the relationship between God as the Creator (Who
alone deserves worship) and human beings (created beings who must worship their
has another name: traders, slaves, lovers, and the devoted or faithful. These
words of Rabi‘a al-‘Adawiya, a female Muslim saint who lived during the
second century of Islam, are quite appropriate:
Lord. I swear by the beauty of nearness to You that I have not worshipped You
either for fear of Hell or out of the desire for Paradise. I have worshipped
You because of You.
is a cause of honor and dignity for men and women. Nothing is more esteemed and
valuable than being honored with servanthood and devotion to God. Although
other, more valuable ranks may be conferred for a limited time, servanthood is
constant and continuous, and therefore the most valuable rank. This is why God
Almighty mentioned the best of creation, upon him be peace and blessings, in
the most beautiful words: There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is His
servant and Messenger, as His servant, and crowned his servanthood and these
blessed words with his messengership.
inviting the Prophet, the glory of humanity and the peerless, unique one of
time and creation, to honor the heavens by the Ascension,52 He began His
invitation with the complimentary phrase: He carried His servant by night
(17:1), thereby referring to the matchless greatness of his servanthood. This
is even more meaningful, as on this occasion when space and time were almost
transcended and the all-pervasive light of Divine Grace and Beauty welcomed
him, God Almighty again stressed his servanthood and declared: He revealed
to His servant what He revealed (53:10).
not present himself as a saint and an individual of profound spiritual depth,
but as a servant:
have become a servant, become a servant, become a servant;
have bowed and doubled myself up with serving You.
or slaves rejoice when they are emancipated;
I rejoice when I become a servant of You.
some, the following should also be considered when discussing worship and
servanthood. A servant should:
Be aware of his or her
faults and worry about them even if he or she thinks that the acts of worship
have been per-formed perfectly.
Endeavor to worship
perfectly, and then attribute to God whatever is achieved in the name of
servanthood. Each moment of life should be spent in the awareness of his or her
being a servant to the eternal Lordship of God.
Regard all facets of
existence as shadows of the Light of His existence, and never attribute to
oneself the existence of anything or any accomplishment. There should be no
self-pride concerning the blessings conferred, or despair concerning the
withholding all spiritual gifts and radiances.
Be aware of the honor and
dignity of being attached to Him, and never imagine being honored with other
kinds of ranks.
rank or honor is as great or as greater than servant-hood. If any rank or honor
may be considered as such, it may be freedom, but only in the meaning of not
setting one’s heart on anything other than God and renouncing whatever is
other than Him. Those who have not made much progress on the path to God can
only feel freedom, while those who have reached the destination experience it
fully. I think that the true freedom to which one must aspire, one that will be
appropriate for his or her grade and dignity, is this one. A friend of God
draws attention to this fact:
son! Unchain yourself and become free!
much longer will you remain a slave of silver and gold?
Junayd al-Baghdadi warns that unless one is freed from slavery to others,
one cannot attain true servanthood to God. Another friend of God expresses the meaning of servanthood
and freedom by advising that a servant of God should never consider others
apart from God in all his or her thoughts, imaginings, feelings, and manners:
you would like to beat the drum of honor, go beyond the wheel of stars;
this circle filled with rings is a drum of humiliation.
God! Enable us to attain to what is loved by and pleasing to You.