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Aspects Of Islamic Faith - 68: Worship That Can Be Counterproductive

Islamic Perspectives - Muslim Journals

Arab News & Information - By Adil Salahi

Every Muslim knows that God has assigned to us certain duties in worship, such as the five obligatory prayers, fasting during the month of Ramadan, the payment of obligatory charity, or zakat, and the pilgrimage. God’s messenger (peace be upon him) has urged us to volunteer more in all these aspects of worship, showing us by his example and encouraging words what to do on a regular basis, such as the 13-rak’ah a day of sunnah prayers distributed alongside the five obligatory ones, and fasting the three middle days of every month. However, he left the door open for people to voluntarily perform as much worship as they wish.

Motivated by their strong faith and eager to increase their reward in the hereafter, some people feel that they should be satisfied with as little as possible in this present life, devoting all their time and energy to worship. This is often true with young people who, in their enthusiasm for their faith, commit themselves to hard discipline of worship. The Prophet was keen to emphasize that a moderate approach in which a person allows himself time to earn his family’s living and have some fun and relaxation is much better. He set the practical example and followed it with clear advice.

Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Al-Aas was one of the younger companions of the Prophet. He was very diligent in his worship. The Prophet was informed that Abdullah spent most of the night, every night, in prayer and worship. He also fasted almost every day. Therefore, the Prophet taught him the best method which achieved his purpose without tiring him too much. Abdullah reports that the Prophet told him: “The prayer God likes most is that of David (peace be upon him) and the fasting God likes most is that of David. He used to sleep half the night, then he would wake up spending one-third of the night in voluntary worship. He then slept the last one-sixth of the night. He used to fast on alternate days.” (Related by al-Bukhari). In another hadith, the Prophet is quoted as saying: “The voluntary works God likes most are those maintained the longest, even though they may be little”.

When we study the Prophet’s statements we realize that he was keen to emphasize that this is the maximum one should do in voluntary worship. To regularly do more is to drive oneself too hard, which could ultimately be counterproductive. By stating that Prophet David’s pattern was the one God likes most, Prophet Muhammad indicates that doing more does not improve one’s status. Besides, this pattern is the best to keep one active and energetic. Prophet David went to sleep for half the night. He thus took enough rest before waking up for his night worship. Spending one-third of the night in such worship was very gratifying and rewarding. He would then sleep for half that period, i.e. one-sixth of the night, to ensure that he had enough rest to go about his work comfortably throughout the day.

Fasting throughout the day, taking neither food nor drink, requires much energy. Therefore, to do it day after day is bound to weaken any person. We all experience this in Ramadan when we fast every day for a month. To spread this for the rest of the year, fasting on most days, like Abdullah ibn Amr used to do, is bound to leave a person very weak. Hence the Prophet advised him that the maximum he should do was to fast on alternate days, like Prophet David did. In this way, a person gives his body enough time to recuperate and be ready for another day of fasting.

Abdullah ibn Amr acted on the Prophet’s advice and fasted on alternate days. However, when he was old, he said that he wished to have heeded the Prophet’s advice better and fasted less. He felt that his commitment to fast on alternate days had weakened him and he was not able to keep it up easily.



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