إِنَّ قَوْماً عَبَدُوا اللهَ رَغْبَةً فَتِلْكَ عِبَادَةُ التُّجَّارِ، وَإِنَّ قَوْماً عَبَدُوا اللهَ رَهْبَةً فَتِلْكَ عِبَادَةُ الْعَبِيدِ، وَإِنَّ قَوْماً عَبَدُوا اللهَ شُكْراً فَتِلْكَ عِبَادَةُ الاْحْرَارِ۔
A group of people worshipped Allah out of desire for reward surely, this is the worship of traders. Another group worshipped Allah out of fear; this is the worship of slaves. Still another group worshipped Allah out of gratefulness; this is the worship of free men.
— Imam Ali a.s.
(Nahj al-Balagha — Peak of Eloquence: Hadith #237)
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of all worlds. Peace and blessings be upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), his pure progeny, and his noble companions.
In this profound Hadith of Imam Ali (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ), he describes three different types of worship based on the intentions and motivations behind them. The Imam (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) begins by stating that there are some people who worship Allah out of a desire for reward, and he compares this type of worship to that of traders.
The word used in the Hadith for "worship" is (ibadah) "عِبَادَةُ", which refers to acts of devotion and obedience to Allah. The word (raghbah) "رَغْبَةً" is used to describe the desire for reward. This type of worship is likened to the worship of traders because traders engage in transactions with the expectation of gaining something in return. Similarly, those who worship Allah solely for the purpose of seeking rewards are engaging in a transactional form of worship, where they expect to be compensated for their acts of devotion.
To support this understanding, we can turn to the Quran, where Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَىٰ) says in Surah Al-Baqarah (2:165):
And [yet], among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals [to Him]. They love them as they [should] love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah.
Here, Allah highlights the importance of sincere love and devotion to Him alone, without associating any partners with Him. This verse emphasizes the need for worship to be solely for the sake of Allah, rather than seeking worldly gains or rewards.
Imam Ali (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) then goes on to describe another group of people who worship Allah out of fear. The word used in the Hadith for "fear" is (rahbah) "رَهْبَةً". This type of worship is likened to the worship of slaves because slaves often perform their duties out of fear of punishment or retribution. Similarly, those who worship Allah out of fear are driven by the fear of divine punishment and seek to avoid any negative consequences.
In the Quran, Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَىٰ) says in Surah Al-Imran (3:175):
It is only Satan that suggests to you the fear of his allies. So fear them not, but fear Me, if you are [indeed] believers.
This verse reminds us that our fear should be directed towards Allah alone, as He is the ultimate authority and the only one deserving of our reverence and awe. Worship based solely on fear may lead to a limited understanding of Allah's mercy and may prevent individuals from experiencing the true essence of worship, which is based on love and gratitude.
Lastly, Imam Ali (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) describes a group of people who worship Allah out of gratefulness. The word used in the Hadith for "gratefulness" is (shukran) "شُكْرًا". This type of worship is likened to the worship of free men because free individuals are not bound by fear or desire for reward. They worship Allah out of a genuine sense of gratitude for His blessings and favors upon them.
In the Quran, Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَىٰ) says in Surah Ibrahim (14:7):
And [remember] when your Lord proclaimed, 'If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.'
This verse highlights the importance of gratitude in worship and the promise of increased blessings from Allah for those who are grateful. Worship based on gratitude allows individuals to recognize and appreciate the countless blessings bestowed upon them by Allah, leading to a deeper connection with Him.
Imam Ali's (عَلَيْهِ ٱلسَّلَامُ) thought-provoking words in this Hadith remind us that our intentions and motivations behind worship are crucial. Worship should not be driven by a desire for rewards or fear of punishment, but rather by a genuine sense of gratitude and love for Allah. True worship is characterized by a deep understanding of Allah's mercy, love, and blessings, which motivates us to worship Him sincerely and wholeheartedly.
May Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَىٰ) grant us the ability to worship Him with pure intentions and sincere devotion, and may He guide us to the path of true worship.
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