In the name of Almighty God, Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. It is recorded in the Sahih al Bukhari or the most widely recognized authentic collection of prophetic sayings and traditions (aka the Hadith) that one day a man came to the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) while he was among his followers and asked the prophet, "What is Islam (complete, willful and peaceful submission to Almighty God)?" To which, the prophet replied, "Islam is to testify that there is nothing worthy of worship besides Almighty God alone with no partner, and that I (Muhammad) am the messenger of God (shahadah), to perform daily ritual prayer (5 times a day) in remembrance and glorification of God (salah), To give a small portion (2.5%) of one's accumulated wealth to needy as a means of purifying one's wealth (zakat), to engage in religious fasting during the holy month of Ramadan (siyam), and to make or have sincere intentions to make the great pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once in one's life (hajj)." *theses are the actions that make a Muslim a Muslim*
The man then asked, "What is iman (faith)?" The prophet said, "Iman is to believe in Allah (God Almighty), to believe in his prophets (all those mentioned in the Qur'an as well as the Qur'anic notion that there were many more not mentioned; these include but are not limited to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ and of course Muhammad, peace be upon them all), to believe in his books (the Torah revealed to Moses, the Zaboor or Psalms revealed to David, the Injil or Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Qur'an revealed to Muhammad), to believe in his Angels (those mentioned by name such as Gabriel but also the countless Angels not mentioned by name), to believe in the Day of Judgment (that all people will be judged for their actions in this life), and to believe in qadr (the belief that Allah knows all that is, has been, and will be). *These are the beliefs that make a Muslim a Muslim*
Then the man asked, "What is Ihsan (perfection)?" To this the prophet said, "Ihsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him, even when you don't see Him, but knowing that He always sees you".
After this the man went away and the prophet asked his followers who were present, "do you know who that was?" His followers said "the prophet of God knows better than us". The prophet then said, "That was the Angel Gabriel and he did that to teach you your religion".
This story teaches us, just as it did the prophets contemporaries, what being a Muslim is all about. It outlines what one must believe to be a Muslim and what one must do to be a Muslim, and this hadith is often quoted when teaching the basics of the five pillars of Islam and the six pillars of faith. However, we often don't spend as much time talking about the last part of this hadith "ihsan". The prophet said that it means to worship Allah as if you see Him, even when you don't see Him, and always knowing that He sees you. Etymologically speaking the word "ihsan" means "to perfect" or "excellence". So, in actuality, the prophet is describing here how one perfects their worship of God, i.e., by worshipping Him as if He's right there in front of you, watching you, because in reality, He is, but it's only our tiny stature in relation to Allah, and our limited sensory perception that Allah created us with that prevent us from ever actually "seeing" Allah in this life.
The word ihsan is used also throughout the Qur'an, often times coupled with the words "iman" or "islam" but also is often coupled with the word "taqwa". Allah said in the Qur'an,
"Allah is with those who have taqwa and are muhsinoon (those who have ihsan)" (Surah an Nahl: 128)
The word "taqwa" is often translated as "fear of God". It is the concept that people do good and avoid wrong action and sin, out of fear of the punishment of God. It can also be understand as having a sense of "God consciousness" or being ever aware of God's sovereignty over you and your life.
Ultimately this is the primary ingredient missing in most of our society today. Not just Muslim societies, and not just American society, but BOTH. God consciousness or "taqwa" and "ihsan" are concepts fundamental to Islam, but I believe carry over into ALL divinely revealed faith traditions (i.e. Judaism and Christianity).
The English philosopher John Locke (who was one of the primary influences on the thought of Thomas Jefferson), in speaking about Atheism in in his "Letter Concerning Toleration" (published in 1689) says, "promises, covenants, which are the oaths are the bonds of human society, can have no hold on an atheist". This of course being because atheist, necessarily, have no sense of accountability to anyone but themselves. Thus, atheists, according to Locke, can't be "tolerated" in society.
So many people only pray when others around them are praying. Many only give charity when it is socially "hip". Like when the earthquake hit Haiti. Then, everyone was giving a dollar here a dollar there, but where were they for the YEARS before that when Haiti was the most impoverished nation in the western hemisphere. Many Muslims that I see on my facebook page or in the local community wave Palestinian flags and brandish red, white, green and black colors when something like the flotilla disaster happens, but where are they the rest of the time? The same is true for folks who speak so passionately about Palestine but seem to neglect to mention Somalia, or the persecution of Christians in China, or other social atrocities.
The point is that for Muslims, and for that matter Christians, Jews and other God fearing people, our entire lives revolve around the worship of Almighty God, and when we say worship we're not just talking about dogmatic rituals, we're talking about serving humanity. Muslims are commanded to serve Allah by serving creation, and Christians are obliged to love all, even the sinners for that was the way of Jesus Christ (peace and blessings be upon him). We need not do that only when it is socially savvy or "in" to do so, but we need to remember, "worship God as if you see Him, even though you don't see Him, but know that He SURELY sees you". We ALL need to live knowing that God Almighty sees us both outwardly and inwardly, and when we are along others or alone. If we all did that, this world might be a little better place.
...And Allah Knows Best...