Dr Teresa Lesher
Humans have a need to worship, a need most appropriately satisfied in the worship of God. However, when God is not worshipped, other things fill the vacuum. Some people seem to worship physical pleasure, indulging in food, alcohol, drugs and so forth. But they realize that it was a poor god when their addictions turn to diseases, and they are left to deal with the devastating effect they have on their bodies and relationships.

Other people worship wealth and materialism, amassing far more than they can use while cheating others of their rights and denying the needy some easy compassion.  Yet others value romantic love above all else, shifting from one relationship to another when commitment and unconditional love require sacrifice and emotional work. Some people are controlled by the pursuit of human youth and beauty: working out diligently to keep an attractive body, spending hours shopping for flattering clothes, plastering their faces with makeup, undergoing painful procedures to enhance physical beauty.

Still others worship power and domination, or elements of nature, or things even more undeserving than these. Fulfilling our needs, investing in the future, seeking loving relationships, aspiring for promotions, and striving to be healthy and fit are all worthy goals; but when they crowd out or completely replace spirituality and our relationship with God, they become deceitful gods who distract you from what's important in life.

Worship is always God-centered for those who submit exclusively to their Creator - the true Muslims. Every deed, whether big or small, is worship when it is done to please God.  In Islam, worship involves both the mind and body.  For example, the prayer is engages the body, mind, voice and heart at regular intervals.  Worship in Islam also involves both restraint and expenditure.  We restrain ourselves during fasting, which is an annual month-long course in self-discipline, compassion and gratitude, and we worship with expenditure when we pay zakat, which is compulsory charity that reinforces the concept of collective responsibility.

Worship in Islam is also both personal and communal. Optional late night prayers are encouraged, and these are usually prayed in seclusion, yet other prayers are to be performed in congregation.  The largest congregation of Muslims takes place every year during the pilgrimage, or hajj, which unites believers through time and space in a single rite whose focus is worshipping the Creator.

Worship in Islam is not the mere performance of rites and rituals, but a frame of mind and a way of life.   God said in the Quran, "I have created man and jinn to worship Me" (51:56). To worship our Creator is the most exalted occupation a human can aspire to and yet it is within anyone's reach.  It does not require one to isolate himself from worldly endeavors, but to focus on a higher authority while engaging in them.

It does not require one to abstain from physical pleasures but to express gratitude for the many bounties he enjoys.  It does not require deep study and rigid exercise, but a sincere and tender heart, ever mindful of the Creator. With the proper mindset and intentions, a person can be in a state of worship 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With this achievement, you can say that your life is "mission accomplished."

Courtesy of the TIES Center, whose mission is to empower Kuwait's expats through social and educational services that promote a positive and productive role in society, and to facilitate opportunities for intra- and interfaith interactions that promote social solidarity. For more information, please call 25231015/6 or e-mail: [email protected].

By Teresa Lesher