Supplication (du’a) and Slavehood (ubudiyyah)


This article originally appeared in The Treasure: Australia’s Sufi Magazine, no. 37 (2016), pp. 14 – 16.

بِسْمِ اللّهِ الرَّحْمـَنِ الرَّحِيمِ (1:1)

الْحَمْدُ للّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ (1:2)

الرَّحْمـنِ الرَّحِيمِ (1:3)

مَـالِكِ يَوْمِ الدِّينِ (1:4)

إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ (1:5)

اهدِنَــــا الصِّرَاطَ المُستَقِيمَ (1:6)

صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنعَمتَ عَلَيهِمْ غَيرِ المَغضُوبِ عَلَيهِمْ وَلاَ الضَّالِّينَ (1:7)

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful (1:1)

Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds (1:2)

Most Gracious, Most Merciful (1:3)

Master of the Day of Judgement (1:4)

Thee alone do we worship, and Thine aid we seek (1:5)

Show us the straight way (1:6)

The way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose portion is not wrath, and who go not astray (1:7)


The Prophet (saws) said: No one of you will enter Paradise by his deeds alone.” The companions asked, “Not even you, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Not even me, unless Allah covers me with His Grace and Mercy” (Bukhari and Muslim).

The Prophet (saws) said: Allah said: I have divided Surah Fatihah into two halves between Me and my slave, and My slave will receive what he asks. So, when His slave says “Praise be to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds,” Allah says “My slave has praised Me.” And when His slave says “Most Gracious, Most Merciful,” Allah says “My slave has extolled Me.” And when His slave says “Master of the Day of Judgement,” Allah says “My slave has glorified and entrusted Me.” And when His slave says “Thee alone do we worship, and Thine aid we seek,” Allah says “this is between Me and My slave, so whatever he asks, it will be granted.” And when his slave says “Show us the straight way, the way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose portion is not wrath, and who go not astray,” Allah says “this is for My slave and My slave shall receive whatever he asked for” (Muslim).


Du’a or supplication has a multifunctional role within the individual’s soteriological development. One key function of du’a is the development and refinement of the individual’s etiquette (adab) in their approach to, and relationship with, Allah. This initially manifests in an understanding of the individual’s dependence on Allah and their relationship with the Divine name the Provider (al-Razzaq). As this relationship deepens, the individual begins to manifest and develop their sense of slavehood (ubudiyyah). This, in turn, as the individual develops soteriologically, changes the relationship between the slave (abd) and their Lord (rubb) such that the du’a becomes a means of intimate discourse (munajat).

Du’a is a key aspect of an individual’s worship of Allah. Allah states in the Qur’an “I have not created the invisible beings and men to any end other than that they may [know and] worship Me” (51: 56). That the purpose of an individual’s existence is the worship of Allah is explicit within this verse. The idea of knowing Allah is implicit within the elliptical language of the Qur’an as worship is at best limited, and at its worst impossible, without knowledge. The Prophet Muhammad has stated that “supplicatory prayer (du’a) is the core of worship [of God].”[1] Du’a, often translated as “supplication” or “(humble) request,”[2] means “to call out, to summon”[3] and is seen as “a plea from the very heart of a believer directed towards Allah – the Hearer of all things, the Knower of all secrets.”[4] It may be asked, given that Allah is the All-Knowing (al-‘alim) and the Determiner (al-muqtadir), what the purpose of du’a is, as Allah knows the individual’s needs and determines their provision (rizq) before the individual themselves is aware of such needs. Yet, there are countless verses[5] that encourage the individual to call on Allah and even more Hadith that encourage the performance of du’a, many listing specific du’a in accordance with specific times and actions. So, if Allah knows of each individual’s circumstances and nevertheless encourages the performance of du’a, then there must be more in the performance of du’a than merely the act of asking and receiving.

The etiquette (adab) of du’a is an important aspect of its soteriologically transformative function. Allah gives indication as to the etiquette of du’a by stating “call unto your Sustainer humbly, and in the secrecy of your hearts” (7: 55) for Allah is “the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds” (1: 2). Humility in du’a manifests itself in numerous ways, three of which will be discussed. Firstly, a specific time or time limit for du’a to be answered cannot be set, as can be seen in the example of al-Junayd who, in response to a request for a supplication to be made, said thrice “go away and be patient.”[6] Secondly, a key to du’a is acceptance of the answer received, as al-Qushayri states “the servant should pray to God with his tongue, while maintaining satisfaction [with His decree] in his heart.”[7] Thirdly, a request for a specific thing which limits the potential outcome should not be requested, as Allah states:

it may well be that you hate a thing the while it is good for you, and it may well be that you love a thing the while it is bad for you: and God knows, whereas you do not know (2: 216).

The result of adhering to these etiquettes of du’a is that by asking of Allah without limiting the potential response the individual does not become dissatisfied with Allah thereby is constantly turning to Allah for all needs. In constantly turning to Allah, a Muslim both supplicates and reminds themselves “Thee alone do we worship, and Thine aid we seek” (1: 5) at least seventeen times a day and Allah has stated in a hadith qudsi that when the individual states this Allah says “this is between Me and My slave, so whatever he asks, it will be granted” (Muslim).

As an individual repeatedly turns to Allah for their needs through du’a, “Thee alone we worship,” that individual begins to realise their total dependence on Allah, “and Thine aid we seek.” This occurs as the individual begins to acknowledge that all provision (rizq) comes from Allah, for Allah “the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds” (1: 2). The recitation of “the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds” (1: 2) is mentioned as an exaltation of Allah due to seeing Him as the source of all provision. As a result, the individual begins to understand their relationship with the Divine name the Provider (al-razzaq). As al-Ghazali states:

Al-razzaq – the Provider – is the one who created the means of sustenance as well as those who are sustained, and who conveys the means to the creatures as well as creating for them the ways of enjoying them. Sustaining is of two kinds: outward, consisting of nourishment and food, which is for the sake of what is outward, namely the body. Inwardly, it consists in things known and things revealed, and that is directed to our hearts and in most parts. This latter is the higher of the two modes of sustenance, for its fruit is eternal life; while the fruit of external sustenance is bodily strength for a short period of time. God – great and glorious – Himself attends to creating the two modes of sustenance and is graciously disposed to convey both kinds, but “He extends sustenance to whomever He wills and decrees” (42:12).[8]

From this is becomes clear that provision (rizq) is not limited to the purely physical, for rizq literally means “anything granted by someone to someone else as a benefit,” hence “bounty, sustenance, nourishment.”[9] In the Qur’an, wherever provision (rizq), or its related verbal forms, occur Allah is “virtually always the subject or implied agent.”[10] That all sustenance rests on Allah is put beyond dispute in the Qur’anic statement that “there is no living creature on earth but depends for its sustenance on Allah” (11: 6). Thus, by constantly turning to Allah through the performance of du’a, the individual begins to realise and embody their total dependence on Allah.

Through embodying one’s dependence on Allah, the individual manifests traits of slavehood (‘ubudiyyah). It could be said that there are stages of slavehood,[11] which is firstly affirmed through enacting of the individual’s ontological poverty through petitioning Allah for outward needs, such as “nourishment and food” as mentioned by al-Ghazali. This further develops as the individual comes to realise their epistemological and soteriological dependence on Allah’s provision of the individual’s inward needs that are directed to their hearts. Making du’a explicitly expresses the individual’s dependence on Allah and is a means through which they can “cling to the attributes of His Lordship and realize the attributes of your servanthood.”[12] The realisation of the source of provision (rizq) of an individual’s inward needs creates an ever deepening understanding, and embodiment, of their slavehood, for “understanding from Allah unveils to you the secret of servanthood in you.”[13] As the individual deepens the embodiment of their slavehood, looking to Allah as “Master of the Day of Judgement” (1: 4) brings with it the realisation of total dependence. This total dependence is reinforced in the hadith stating that “no one of you will enter Paradise by his deeds alone,” with the Prophet Muhammad (saws) adding “not even me.” The realisation of dependence on Allah, which is explicit within du’a, opens the individual to realising, deepening, and embodying the traits of slavehood (‘ubudiyyah).

Soteriological development depends on understanding the ontologically contingent position of creatures in relation to Allah. This culminates in embodying this position and affirming it through action. Du’a can be seen to have a dual role in this regard. Firstly, the act of making du’a aids the individual to realise their inherent slavehood (‘ubudiyyah) because of their constant turning to Allah for all needs. Secondly, in constantly turning to Allah through du’a, the individual’s slavehood is deepened as they have a greater and greater awareness, and thus embodiment, of this ontologically contingent position known as slavehood. In turning to Allah to “show us the straight way” (1: 6), the individual can be seen to be turning to Allah in a state of slavehood, with the inherent knowledge that Allah’s guidance, particularised for each and every individual, reflects their state of slavehood. This comes because the slave knows that it is Allah alone that guides, as Allah states “he whom Allah guides aright can never be led astray” (39: 37), and in the individual’s slavehood there is an embrace knowing that Allah’s way, irrespective of what it is, is “the straight way.”

The individual’s state of slavehood (‘ubudiyyah), and the soteriological transformation that is implicit therein, opens a means whereby du’a becomes a form of intimate discourse (munajat) with their Lord (rabb). This form of intimate discourse arises from the individual’s total dependence on Allah and, being a form of du’a, follows, at the very least, all the required etiquettes that are to be found within other du’a. Du’a have, to varying degrees, been set, in as far as there are books that state what is recommended to ask for according to the individual’s situation and tend to focus on either fear or hope, depending on condition of the individual. Munajat, on the other hand, flow from the heart of the individual in their station of slavehood (‘ubudiyyah) and can often show a unification of the states of fear and hope. Examples of this can be found in Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah where he states

My God, if virtues (al-mahasin) arise in me, that is because of Your grace: it is Your right to bless me. And if vices (al-masawi) arise from me, that is because of Your justice: it is Your right to have proof against me.[14]

And again,

My God, my hope is not cut off from You even though I disobey You, just as my fear does not leave me even though I obey You.

My God, the world has pushed me toward You, and my knowledge of Your generosity has made me stand before You.

My God, how could I be disappointed while You are my hope, or how could I be betrayed while my trust is in You?[15]

In these short passages there is evidence that the supplicator has a degree of closeness to the One to whom they are supplicating. Yet, at the same time, there is a respectful distance that is acknowledged as a result of the supplicator’s explicit recognition of their station of slavehood (‘ubudiyyah) to the One to whom they are supplicating. If the verse “show us the straight way” (1: 6) is seen as du’a, then it is possible to consider the verse “the way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose portion is not wrath, and who go not astray” (1: 7) as being akin to munajat. While the request (du’a) is to be guided along the straight path, the intimate discourse (munajat) includes a degree of closeness in specifying the type of path being guided to, being “the way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace,” while also including a respectful distance by acknowledging that there is the possibility of wrath and being led astray. Thus, as mere request (du’a) deepens and becomes intimate discourse (munajat), there is evidence of a deepening awareness and embodiment of the individual’s state of slavehood (‘ubudiyyah).

Du’a is more than a petition from the individual for that which they desire from Allah. By approaching du’a with the correct intention and etiquette, the act of making du’a has the potential for becoming the means through which soteriological transformation takes place. A key role of du’a is that it can aid and train the individual in developing, manifesting, and embodying their state of slavehood (‘ubudiyyah) such that they may realise their true potential as a slave of Allah (abdallah).



al-Ghazali, Abu Hamid. The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God. Translated by David B. Burrell and Nazih Daher. Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1992.


Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah. Kitab al-Hikam. Translation in Victor Danner. Sufi Aphorisms. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1973.


  • Kitab al-Tanwir fi isqatal-tanwir. Translation in Ibrahim Hakim. Illuminating Guidance on the Dropping of Self-Direction. Virginia: Green Mountain School, 2007.McAuliffe, Jane D. “RIZK,” in The Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition. Volume VIII, 567 – 568. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995.Nakamura, Kijiro. Ghazali and Prayer. Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2001.Qadhi, Yasir. Du’a: The Weapon of the Believer. Birmingham: al-Hidaayah,, Abu ‘l-Qasim. Epistle on Sufism. Translation Alexander Knych. Great Briton: Garnet, 2007.


McAuliffe, Jane D. “RIZK,” in The Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition. Volume VIII, 567 – 568. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995.


Nakamura, Kijiro. Ghazali and Prayer. Kuala Lumpur: Islamic Book Trust, 2001.


Qadhi, Yasir. Du’a: The Weapon of the Believer. Birmingham: al-Hidaayah, 2001.


al-Qushayri, Abu ‘l-Qasim. Epistle on Sufism. Translation Alexander Knych. Great Briton: Garnet, 2007.


[1] In Abu ‘l-Qasim al-Qushayri, Epistle on Sufism, trans. Alexander Knych (Great Briton: Garnet, 2007), 273.

[2] Kijiro Nakamura, Ghazali and Prayer (Kaula Lumpur: Islamic Books Trust, 2001), 74.

[3] Yasir Qadhi, Du’a: The Weapon of the Believer (Birmingham: al-Hidaayah, 2001), 21.

[4] Ibid., 15.

[5] Such Qur’anic verses include, but are not limited to, 12: 108, 17: 110, and 41: 33.

[6] In al-Qushayri, Epistle, 274.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali, The Nonety-Nine Beautiful Names of God, trans. David Burrell and Nazih Daher(Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1992), 78.

[9] Jane D. McAuliffe, “RIZK,” in The Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995), vol. VIII, 567.That sustenance (rizq) covers both the material and non-material needs of the individual is apparent in verses such as “partake of the good things which We have provided for you as sustenance” (2: 57) and “verily, unto God do we belong and, verily, unto Him shall we return” (2: 156), both of which indicate that all real benefit derives from Allah. Without being exhaustive, see also 2: 60, 2: 172, 3: 169, 5: 88, 5: 114, 6: 142, 6: 151, 7: 160, 8: 26, and 10: 31.

[10] Ibid., 568.

[11] For clarity a comment on this term is necessary. The idea of being a servant has been sullied over the past few centuries and because of this may justifiably appear irksome to modern sensibilities. A servant or slave cannot be continually mistreated, the fruits of which are evinced through the numerous slave revolts in colonised countries. Rather, if it is understood in the form used here, as within many Islamic texts, it gives a clue to solving the problem of rizq. A true servant or slave can serve their master without concern for materialistic gain because they are safe in the knowledge that a true master will unconditionally meet all such needs. While mortal masters may not always live up to this ideal, the point is that in connecting oneself with the Master of all existence one’s needs are met to the degree that the individual embodies their inherent slavehood. This is what is meant by the term ‘ubudiyyah.

[12] Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah, Kitab al-Hikam, trans. in Victor Danner, Sufi Aphorisms (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1973), 41.

[13] Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah, Kitab al-Tanwir fi isqatal-tanwir, trans. in Ibrahim Hakim, Illuminating Guidance on the Dropping of Self-Direction (Virginia: Green Mountain School, 2007), 5 – 6.

[14] Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah, Kitab al-Hikam, 64.

[15] Ibid., 68.

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