Do We Worship Allah Due to His Essence Alone, or Due to His Command?

Answered by Shaykh Faraz A. Kahn

Question: Do we worship Allah because it is His right over us, because of His essence alone? Or because He has commanded us to do so?

Answer: Assalamu alaikum warahmatullah,

I pray this finds you in the best of health states.

The two perspectives are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

‘Worship’ (ibada) refers to the utmost state of lowliness and submission, a state fitting for creation by the very essence of Allah Most High. Indeed, He alone is eternal and supreme, and He alone possesses all majesty, glory and honor.

However, most humans fall short in recognizing this reality. So out of His largesse and bounty, He has sent prophets and messengers (peace be upon them all) with revelation and a Sacred Law, in which He commands us to actualize a state of worship and live accordingly.

Foundational Theological Difference

This can be further elucidated by appreciating the difference of opinion between the Asharis and Maturidis on the basis of recognizing the Divine:

(a) The Asharis maintain that there is no obligation of belief in Allah and His oneness until and unless a messenger is sent, as only a messenger brings clarity as to what is incumbent on humanity, by means of the revealed Sacred Law. Indeed, Allah Most High states, “And We were not punishing until We brought forth a messenger” (17:15);

(b) The Maturidis, on the other hand, maintain that there is accountability for recognition of the Divine based on intellect alone, which the Sacred Law then confirms. This is based on the overwhelming signs of Allah and His oneness in creation, coupled with the intellect being endowed by Allah with the ability to recognize these signs.

[Bajuri, Tuhfat al-Murid Sharh Jawharat al-Tawhid; Ibn Abidin, Nasamat al-Ashar Sharh Ifadat al-Anwar; Ibn Nujaym, Fath al-Ghaffar bi Sharh al-Manar; Buti, Dawabit al-Maslaha]

To a certain extent, then, the two perspectives on the basis of worship could be seen as an extension of this theological difference. That is, is gratitude to the Divine incumbent based on the intellect alone, or is it incumbent only when the Sacred Law is revealed?

The Maturidis would affirm the former, whereby worship would be based on recognition of Allah by the intellect, coupled with a realization of the divine attributes of overwhelming sovereignty vis-a-vis the creation’s attributes of neediness and submission — a realization that the very essence of Allah entails creation’s role of worship.

The Asharis would affirm the latter, whereby worship would be based on the divine command to do so. Without a Sacred Law, neither knowledge of the Divine nor realization of His right to be worshiped could be ascertained to an extent that necessitates incumbency.

And Allah knows best.
Faraz A. Khan

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani