You Alone We Worship… اِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِين
Our Essence – Worshiping Allah
Ibn Taymiyyah stated that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (Glorified and Exalted is He) revealed 104 heavenly books. All of these books’ meanings are found in the Qur’an and all of the meanings of the Qur’an can be found in Surat al-Fatiha. Eminently, all of Surat al-Fatiha can be found in the following verses:
اِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِين
“It is You we worship and You we ask for help” (Qur’an 1:5).
After recounting Allah’s majesty and mercy, and after realizing that we will indeed return to Him, in this ayah our attention is brought to the essence of what it is we are supposed to do here on earth – worship Allah and seek His help in doing so.
It is You We Worship – Sincerity
One of the acts of worship of the heart is doing things purely for the sake of Allah. The Prophet ﷺ said,
قال الله تبارك وتعالى أنا أغنى الشركاء عن الشرك من عمل عملا أشرك فيه معي غيري تركته وشركه
“God Almighty has said ‘If anyone does anything in which he associates anyone else with Me, I shall abandon him with one whom he associates with Allah.’” (Muslim)
When we say “You alone do we worship,” we essentially declare our ikhlas (sincerity) and remind ourselves of it. So we must ask ourselves – when we do something good, do we expect some kind of praise from others? Do we become bothered if we do not receive it? This means our act was not purely for the sake of God, rather for someone else too. Ibn Al-Qayyim mentioned that the cure for this is to realize and internalize the fact that no one’s praise can benefit us, nor can their blame harm us. For example, if people think we are truthful, but to Allah we are in contrast of that, can the people benefit us? Or if a wealthy person is mentioned and people say “he is in debt and is not that rich,” does that make us lose any of our wealth?
Moreover, we should know that if people knew that we were doing an outwardly good act to get praise, they would hold a bad opinion of us. So how can we hide our intentions from people because we fear what they think, yet we ignore the One who knows what is in our hearts? This is called riyaa (ostentation).
The worst kind of riyaa is one that is coupled with lies, like a person who wants to be praised for something he did not even do. Allah says,
لَا تَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ يَفْرَحُونَ بِمَا أَتَوْا وَيُحِبُّونَ أَنْ يُحْمَدُوا بِمَا لَمْ يَفْعَلُوا فَلَا تَحْسَبَنَّهُمْ بِمَفَازَةٍ مِنَ الْعَذَابِ ۖ وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
“And never think that those who rejoice in what they have perpetrated and like to be praised for what they did not do – never think them [to be] in safety from the punishment, and for them is a painful punishment.” (Qur’an, 3:188)
The cure? To always revise our intentions and aim to rectify them; if we do many things in public, we should do as much -or more things – in private without telling anyone. This is the essence of this verse, and this is why we recite it everyday,
اِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِين
“It is You we worship and You we ask for help.” (Qur’an, 1:5)
Unfortunately, in many societies, we are brought up on riyaa. How so? We are told, “Don’t do this – what would people say?” Or we are told, “Don’t do that – do you want people to think you have no manners?” instead of being told that we should not do this or that because Allah is watching. So our biggest problem is that we have grown up on this. If people are not watching, we are fine with doing things while they cannot see us. Thus we have more shame in front of people than in front of Allah.
This hidden riyaa becomes so deeply entrenched within us that some of us have it even when we are worshiping and shedding tears (of devotion) in seclusion. How so? By becoming proud of ourselves later and wishing that people had seen us. Or we imagine dying a noble death, such as in sajda (prostration), but then we further imagine the good things people will say about us, rather than the joy of meeting Allah in that state.
As such, we should try to wash our hearts with this verse and become aware of our intentions and of the importance of sincerity.
Those with Soft Hearts
This surah (chapter) and this verse had a profound effect on the people who truly understood the meanings. Muzahim bin Zafar related that Sufyan Ath-Thawri, the great tabi’i (person from the generation after the Prophet ﷺ) was leading the Maghrib prayer and when he was reached this verse from Surat al-Fatiha he started weeping so much that he could not continue to the following verse. He then repeated the surah again from the beginning.
Muhammad Al-Himsy once saw Ibn Abi Al-Hawari, one of the righteous salaf (early Muslims), praying the Isha prayer by the Ka’ba. When he reached the verse “iyyaka na`budu wa iyyaka nasta`een” he could not get past it and wept profusely. So Al-Himsy continued his circling of the Ka’ba, and when he got to Al-Hawari again, he was still reciting that verse.
Do we think that those people who felt that way are just the people of the past? Then see this:
That year was the first year that Shaykh Sa`ud Al-Shuraim recited for taraweeh prayer during the whole of Ramadan. Usually, the most crowded days are the 27th night (because many people believe it to be Laylat al-Qadr (the Night of Power)) and the 29th night because that is when they complete the Qur’an. However, that year in particular they completed the Qur’an on the 27th night – so the view of the masses of people was so great that it reminds us of the Day of Judgment. Perhaps this is why the shaykh was so moved as he recited “Maliki yawmi addeen” (Sovereign of the Day of Recompense).
It is You We Ask for Help – Humility
The key to letting our prayers touch us deeply is sincerity; and we will not be able to be truly sincere unless we ask Allah for help. For this reason Allah has followed the verse, “it is You we worship” with “and You we seek for help.” Allah has said in a hadith qudsi (sacred tradition):
كلكم ضال الا من هديته فاستهدوني اهدكم
“All of you are astray except those whom I have guided, so ask me for guidance and I will guide you.” (Ahmad, Tirmidhi)
And this is why Allah follows this verse with,
اهْدِنَا الصِّرَاطَ الْمُسْتَقِيمَ
“Guide us to the straight path.” (Qur’an, 1:6)
Subhan’Allah (Glorified is He) how Allah creates a perfect order for His words!
Ibn Al-Qayyim said that he heard Ibn Taymiyya say that iyyaka na’budu wards of ostentation, and iyyaka nasta’een wards off arrogance. When we say, “You we ask for help” we acknowledge that we do not have the power to do it ourselves and that we need to ask Allah’s help for all acts. We often hear of one who is “too proud to ask”; he feels that he is better or that he can do it on his own. Conversely we admit our inability and thus we ask Allah – the Self-Sufficient.
May Allah (swt) guide us to worshiping Him with true sincerity and humility.