“Verily, some people worshipped Allah being desirous (Of His reward) – so this is the worship of traders; and some people worshipped Allah fearing (His punishment) – so it is the worship of slaves, and a group worshipped Allah in gratitude (to Him) so this is the worship of the free.”- Imam Ali (AS)
From a young age, we develop an understanding of the word worship. Respect, reverence, obedience to a deity is the foundation, and actions are the manifestation of one’s worship. As I grew up, my opinion of worshiping Allah(SWT) involved making the five prayers of the day, completing my obligatory fasts, having good manners, respecting my elders and parents, refraining from sins, everything the Qur’an advises us to do. Yet as I entered college and was beginning to adopt an independent life, my worship was threatened, drastically. I knew several people were on the same boat as I, and I asked myself the question why? Despite being brought up with the right morals, the right etiquette, and the teachings of Islam, why did my obedience to Allah(SWT) waiver when it mattered the most?
These challenges brought me down to question the purpose of my worship. Why do I pray to Allah(SWT) five times a day, why did I fast for thirty days, why do I endure the trials of Hajj? Every time I tried to answer a question, I ended up on either of the first two categories the Imam described. I either committed these acts because I had a desire for paradise, or because I was too afraid of entering Hell. And that’s where I realized the problem was. Too often, we tend to worship Allah(SWT) because we fear his punishment, or hope for his reward. While this is acceptable, it is not the strongest form of worship, and definitely not the best. If we obey Allah(SWT) because we want His reward, we are confining our faith, if the Almighty tests us with more trials rather than rewards, will our obedience stay firm? If we worship Allah(SWT) because we dread his punishment, when we are free of tribulations in this world, will our worship not waiver? Both these categories involve confining our faith to the parameters of reward and punishment. And at some point, this kind of worship will stutter.
The words of the Imam are truly amazing. The third type of worship is described as the worship of the free. If we obeyed the Lord out of gratitude, what could ever limit our worship? Look around you: if you are healthy, you can be thankful for not being sick, if you are wealthy, you can be thankful for not being poor, if you are at peace, you can be thankful for not being distressed. Whatever your state, if you look around you well enough, you will have something to be thankful for. And if that sense of gratitude expresses itself in the form of worship to the almighty, then Subhan’Allah there is no limit to this worship, and this is indeed the worship of the free as the Imam describes. Why would this kind of worship stay firm? Because no matter how many good acts we perform, the mercy and blessings of Allah will always surpass that. We will always have something to be thankful for. And if we truly worshipped Allah(SWT) out of gratitude, we would constantly be thanking him for the infinite blessings he’s bestowed upon us.