The first verse of the Qur’an tells us what the gist of the Qur’an is. All other parts of the Qur’an are only details of this first verse either directly or indirectly. It is the first verse of the chapter Al-Fatiha. The translation of this verse is like this: All praise is due to God, the Lord of the Universe (1:2)
Here the Qur’anic word used for praise is hamd. Hamd is a very comprehensive word in the Arabic language. It includes praise, gratefulness, and acknowledgment with a sense of awe. According to the Qur’an, hamd is a universal culture. All the creatures of the universe, living and non-living both present hamd toward their Creator. Hamd is their daily worship. Thus the whole universe acknowledges the glory of God Almighty. Man and other creatures acknowledge the glory of God,
but there is a difference, the hamd of the other creatures is a programmed hamd: it is inculcated in them by the angels of God. This fact is given in the Qur’an: Do you not see that all those who are in the heavens and on earth praise God, as do the birds with wings outstretched? Each knows his own mode of prayer and glorification: God has full knowledge of all that they do. (24:41)
But man’s case is quite different. The man was born with a mind that has a unique capacity, he was given full freedom. Man does everything by his own choice. So, man’s hamd is hamd by choice. Man’s hamd is not a programmed hamd, but his hamd is a self-realized hamd, discovered by himself. This is the dignity of man. The material world is controlled by the law of nature. Animals behave under their instinct; all the creatures other than man, behave like computers or robots. Their hamd is no doubt a pure hamd, but in computer terms, it is a programmed hamd. All the creatures of the universe, living and non-living both present hamd toward their Creator. Hamd is their daily worship. Thus the whole universe acknowledges the glory of God Almighty.
Man is the only creature in this vast universe who enjoys complete freedom. Man possesses the thinking capacity in the absolute sense of the word. Man thinks, observes, contemplates, analyzes things, thus he discovers the glory of God reflected in His creation. After acquiring this self-discovered knowledge he exclaims: ‘O God, I witness Your existence, I acknowledge Your glory, I surrender before You. You are my Lord and I am your subject.’ This is the greatest hamd and this kind of hamd can be expressed only by human beings.
The chapter Al-Dhariyat (Scattering Winds) of the Qur’an tells us the purpose of creation in these words: I created the jinn and mankind only so that they might worship Me: I seek no sustenance from them, nor do I want them to feed Me—it is God who is the great Sustainer, the Mighty One, the Invincible. (51: 56-58)
According to the commentators of the Qur’an, here worship (ibadat) means marefat. What is marefat? Marefat means the realization of God through contemplation. When one realizes God, he falls into a great sense of awe, and hamd is only an expression of this kind of deep feeling towards the Lord of the Universe.