INTRODUCTION - Four Basic Terms
Ilah, Rabb, Deen and 'Ibadah, are four terms basic to the whole teaching of the Qur'an. Through- out its pages, it stresses again and again that Allah Almighty is the Rabb and the Ilah ;that there is no ilah but He, nor is there any other rabb, nor does He share with anyone else the qualities and attributes implied by these terms. He, and He alone should therefore be accepted as one's Ilah and Rabb, and no-one else should in the least be believed to possess the attributes which these words imply. It also demands that we should give our ibadah to Him and Him alone, and not to anyone else, and make our deen exclusive to Him and reject all other deens !
And to every Messenger We ordained before you (O Prophet), the message which We gave for himself and for others) was none other than that "There is no Ilah but Myself, and therefore give your 'ibadah to Ms alone. " (Quran 21:31)
....,And (they) were not Ordered except to give their 'ibadah to one Ilah, only ; there is no ilah except He, (end) He is free of (the taint of) what they attribute to Him by their shirk (that is, by associating others with Him in His exclusive qualities and attributes). (Quran 9 : 31)
Verily this Brotherhood of the Prophets is single Brotherhood, and I am the Rabb of you all, wherefore give your 'ibadah to Me alone. (Quran 21:92)
Say' to them (0 Prophet) : Would you have me seek-for rabb any other then Allah, and He the Rabb of everything there is ! (Quran 6 : 164)
So, whosoever yearns to meet his Rabb, let him do good deeds, and let him not mix up his ibadah of Him with that of any other(s). (Quran 18:110)
And indeed we raised a Messenger in every people that they should give their 'ibadah to Allah, and abstain severely from giving it to taghoot. [ Literally, this word can apply to a person who commits any kind of transgression. In the sense in which it is used in the Qur'an it denotes a person who transgresses the limits prescribed by his status as a creation of God, who sets himself up as a god and makes the people treat him as such. There are three degrees of transgression or rebellion of a human being vis-a-vis God. The first is that, so far as the principle of the thing is concerned, a person believes in obedience to God to be the right course, but when it comes to deeds, he disobeys. This is known as fisq ... The second is that he should give up obedience to God as a matter of principle and either do as he pleases or obey someone else (in the sense in which one owes obedience to God). This is Kufr. The third is that not only does he rebel against God, denying Him and His right to lay down the law for man but also begins to make his own law prevail in the land. It is the person who reaches this third stage who is a Taghoot and no person can be a Mu'min of Allah in the real sense unless he repudiates Taghoot. A.A. Maududi (Note by the Translator: From the point of view as last explained all those "Muslim" heads of state who deliberately substituted any portion of Islamic by non-Islamic law fall naturally to the category of Taghoots, no matter how much they might protest their devotion to Islam and their professed desire for the glory of Muslims, though in the latter case the glory, actually sought is only that of their own notion and the means advocated are often either a return to their pre-Islamic culture or the adoption of the present day decadent Western culture. Abu Asad)] (Quran 16 : 30)
Do you wish for some deen other than' Allah's, (and this despite the fact that to Him submits all there is in the Heavens and in or upon the Earth, willingly or unwilling, and all are to return unto Him? (Quran 3 : 83)
Say (O Prophet) :The Injunction laid upon me is to give my 'ibadah to Allah, and reserve my deen exclusively for Him. (Quran 38 : 11)
Verily Allah is my Rabb, and is yours too; therefore, give your worship to Him alone-that (truly is the only real) straight path. (Quran 3 :61)
The verses quoted above are just by way of example, and not the only ones of their kind. Whosoever makes more than a cursory study of the Qur'an will soon realize that the entire contents revolve round these four terms only, and that the central idea of the whole book is that : Allah is the Rabb, and the Ilah ; No-one else possesses the qualities and attributes implied by these terms; Wherefore men should give their 'ibadah to Him and Him alone ;and one's deen should be exclusively for Him with no share of it for any other.
It should however be obvious even from the quotations given that it is essential for proper comprehension of the teachings of the Qur'an fully to understand the implications of these four terms. The Qur'an will in fact lose its whole meaning for anyone who does not know what is meant by ilah or rabb, what constitutes 'iba'dah, and what the Qur'an means when it uses the word deen. He will fail to learn what Tawhid (belief in the One-ness of Allah in the fullest sense) is, or what constitutes its anti-thesis, that is, shirk (the attribution to others, either wholly or partially, of any of Allah's exclusive qualities or attributes).
It will not be possible for him to make his 'ibadah, or his deen, exclusive for Allah alone. And little better than such a completely ignorant man would be the one who has only a vague idea of what the terms imply, because in that case the whole teaching of the Qur'an will remain vague and incomplete for him, and both his belief and his conduct will fatally leave much to be desired. He will no doubt keep on reciting the words of the kalimah, and even explain that it means that there is no ilah but Allah, and yet, in practice, he will keep treating many another to be an ilah too. He will go through life proclaiming that there is no rabb but Allah, and yet for all that there will be many whom he will be treating as rabbs. He will protest, and affirm, with all seriousness and sincerity, that he does not give his 'ibadah to any but Allah, and will yet keep giving to others unknowingly, If anyone even so much as hints that he has any other deen, he would feel offended enough to come to blows with the accuser, and yet in practice. he will unwittingly be giving his allegiance to many another deen. No-one will ever hear him actually use the words Allah or rabb in respect of any but in the specific sense in which the words have been employed in the Qur'an, but he will be conducting himself as if he had many an ila'h and many a rabb though without realizing this just like the person who never realized until he was specifically fold that he had been uttering prose all his life; If someone were to tell him in so many words that he was giving his 'ibadah to others, and thus committing shirk, he might resent this strongly and even quarrel violently, but according to the criteria applicable he will unconsciously have been living as a worshiper of others as an adherent of the deens of others, without ever suspecting that in fact was the case.
The reason why the misapprehensions hinted at above have come into existence is a historical one. When the Qur'an was first presented to the Arabs they all knew what was meant by ilah or rabb as both the words were already current in their language. They were not new terms, nor were any new meanings put upon them. They knew fully well what the connotations were and so, when it was said that Allah alone is the IIah, and the Rabb and that no-one has the least share in the qualities and attributes which the words denote, they at once comprehended the full import, understood completely without any doubt or uncertainty as to what specifically was being declared to Pertain to Allah exclusively and what was being hence denied to others. Those who opposed the precept were. very clear in their minds as to the implications of denying others than Allah to be ilahs or rabbs, in any sense, while those who accepted it knew equally well what they would have to give up by their acceptance and what they would forgo.
Similarly, the words 'ibadah and deen were in common use, and the people knew what was meant by 'abd, what state was implied by 'uboodiyyah (the state of being an 'abd) what kind of conduct was referred to when the word 'ibadah was used, and what was the sense of the term deen. So, when they were told to give up the 'ibadah of all others and reserve it exclusively for Allah, and give up all other deens and enter into the Deen of Allah only, they felt no difficulty in concluding what the Qur'anic d'awah (message) implied and the drastic revolution in their way of life it sought to bring about.
But as centuries passed, the real meanings of these terms gradually under went subtle changes so that, in course of time, instead of the full connotations, they came to stand for only very limited meanings or restricted and rather vague concepts. One reason was the gradual decline of interest in the Arabic language and the other that the words ceased to have the same meanings for the later generations of Muslims that they had for the original Arabs to whom the Qur'an had been revealed. It is for these two reasons that in the more recent lexicons and commentaries many of the Qur'anic words began to be explained not by their original sense but by what they had by then come to stand for, e.g., The word ilah, as used in respect of others than God, came to be synonymous with idols or gods; The word rabb came to mean only someone who brings up or rears or feeds another or provides for his worldly needs ; 'Ibadah began to be understood as the performance of a set of rituals of "worship" ; Deen began to mean a religion, or belief in some precepts ; and The word Taghtoot began to be translated to mean an idol or the Devil.
The result obviously was that it became difficult for people to get at the real message of the Qur'an. The Qur'an asks people not to regard any other than Allah as an ilah. People thought that since they had actually given up the worship of idols or of others regarded as gods, they had fulfilled the requirements, although in practice they have in fact gone on treating others as gods, but without the least suspicion crossing their minds that they were actually doing so. The Qur'an had asked that men should not acknowledge any other than God as rabb. The people thought that since they did not profess anyone else to be a rabb, they had complied with the full requirements of the concept of Tawhid. True enough, their oral professions or even their own understanding of their beliefs and actions, denoted that for them Allah was the one and only Rabb, but they little realized that by their actions they were instead according to many another too the status of rabb. They protested that they no longer worshiped the idols, that they uttered curses on the Devil, and prostrated themselves before Allah only, and so here too they were doing all that the Qur'an required of them. And yet, how far they were from that ! All they did was to give up the idols shaped by the hands of men, but not any of the other Taghoots, and as for 'ibadah, here too, except for the formalities generally associated with worship, they continued giving it to many others besides Allah. The same has been the case with deen. To reserve it exclusively for Allah -came to mean to profess only the "religion of Islam," and not any of the other religions known as such, and this was all that was required and whosoever did this had satisfied the criterion of exclusiveness, although when looked at from the wider connotation of the word deen the majority fall far, far short of the criterion.
This being the case, is it any wonder that, through the mist that has come to surround the precise sense of the four terms in question, more than three-fourths of the teachings of the Qur'an, or rather, the real spirit thereof, have become obscured, and this is the main cause of the shortcomings that are to be seen in peoples' beliefs and acts despite the fact that they have not formally given up the faith of Islam but are still in its fold. It is therefore of utmost importance that in order to have a full and complete understanding of the Qur'anic teachings and of their central idea, one should know, as a fundamental to being a good Muslim, what these terms really mean.
Although I have given explanations of these terms in many earlier writings, they are not enough to remove all the misconceptions in peoples' minds, nor are they likely to satisfy everybody because, in the absence of full semantic explanations based on recognized Arabic usage, and quotations from the Qur'an itself, I might be taken as expressing my own opinion only, an opinion which in any case will not appeal to those who differ with me on other issues. I shall therefore endeavor, in the forthcoming discussions, to extensively quote the dictionary sense of the words, and not say anything which I cannot base either on recognized usage, or the Qur'an. The order I shall follow will be Ila'h, Rabb, Ibadah, and Deen.