Al-Salam ‘Alaykum, this is Syed Ali Imran – and you are listening to the Forties podcast, brought to you by Mizan Institute.
This is episode 3 – Types of Worshipers.
عَلِيُّ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنِ ابْنِ مَحْبُوبٍ عَنْ جَمِيلٍ عَنْ هَارُونَ بْنِ خَارِجَةَ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع قَالَ: إِنَّ الْعُبَّادَ ثَلَاثَةٌ قَوْمٌ عَبَدُوا اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ خَوْفاً فَتِلْكَ عِبَادَةُ الْعَبِيدِ وَ قَوْمٌ عَبَدُوا اللَّهَ تَبَارَكَ وَ تَعَالَى طَلَبَ الثَّوَابِ فَتِلْكَ عِبَادَةُ الْأُجَرَاءِ وَ قَوْمٌ عَبَدُوا اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ حُبّاً لَهُ فَتِلْكَ عِبَادَةُ الْأَحْرَارِ وَ هِيَ أَفْضَلُ الْعِبَادَةِ.
Hadith #2: Abu ‘Abd Allah has said, ‘There are three kinds of worshippers: there are people who worship Allah, the Most Majestic, the Most Holy, because of fear. This kind of worship is the worship of slaves. There are people who worship Allah, the Most Blessed, the Most High, for His rewards. This is the worship of people for hire. There are people who worship Allah, the Most Majestic, the Most Holy, for His love. This is the worship of free people and this is the best kind of worship.’”
This is a very popular tradition and a number of different versions of it can be found in the books of ḥadīth. If you recall, in the previous episode we said there is a group of Muslims who believed for sincerity to be genuine so that your acts are deemed valid, one should not even have any desire for paradise or reward, nor should they have any fear of hellfire and punishment – rather the only time an act of worship is sincere is if it is done only for the sake of Allah and out of his love.
Well this tradition is a good response to that claim, as Imam Sadiq (a) says that the best kind of worship is the worship done solely for the love of Allah, but this superlative use of the word “best” itself shows that there is some goodness in the previous two types of worship as well.
The fact that the other two types of worshippers also have some good, means that the act of worship is valid, because if the worship was not valid it would have had no good at all.
The figurative language used in the tradition is further evidence to show us that all three types of worshippers are worshipping correctly, even if the worship of one is better than the other.
The first type of worshiper has been compared to a slave – obviously the figurative language used in this tradition is based on the context of the pre-modern world when slavery was a norm – we know that when a master commanded a slave to do something, the slave may have carried that act out due to fear of how the master would treat them afterwards, and in fact the slave would be deserving of it any punishment they may have received for not following commands. Perhaps a more familiar example would be a prisoner who has to follow orders out of fear so as to not face repercussions of their disobedience.
The second worshiper is compared to one who is hired to do some work – this is someone who only obeys orders and fulfils their part of the contract because of the money they will make at the end of the project. A worshiper of this kind is someone who seeks the rewards Allah has promised them.
The third type of worshiper is one who worships Allah for the sake of Allah – they are not slaves nor hired, rather they are free and make their own decisions and choices. They are not bound to their desire for heaven and reward, nor to their fear of hellfire and punishment – they take their sincerity to a much higher level.
So if sincerity is not in conflict with having a desire for a reward Allah has promised, or out of fear of a punishment Allah has informed us of, rather it is just a lower degree of sincerity, are these the only two exceptions or can our sincerity be accompanied with other intentions as well. For example, if I perform Wuḍū for the sake of Allah (swt), but at the same time I am also doing it because the temperature is hot and I want to cool off – is that in conflict with performing actions with sincerity?
Don’t forget to listen to the next episode in which we will address this question with a ḥadīth from Imam Sadiq (a).
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Sayyid Ali studied in the seminary of Qom from 2012 to 2021, while also concurrently obtaining a M.A in Islamic Studies from the Islamic College of London in 2018. In the seminary he engaged in the study of legal theory, jurisprudence and philosophy, eventually attending the advanced kharij of Usul and Fiqh in 2018. He is currently completing his Masters of Education at the University of Toronto and is the head of a private faith-based school in Toronto, as well as an instructor at the Mizan Institute and Mufid Seminary.