During one of my classes yesterday, we had a visitor from Texas sitting in. The topic was on Taharah. At the end of the session, he came up to ask: "If God is God, why does it matter that we need to perform ablution or ghusl prior to performing our prayers? Or to cover our awrat? Shouldn't God be looking into our hearts instead?"
A fair question for someone who is new to Islam.
First, the affirmation that Allah s.w.t. does look into the condition of the heart of His servants even for ritualistic worships. In fact, in all matters actually.
Instead of answering his question immediately, I posted him a question: "If President Obama were to invite you for dinner at the White House, what would you wear for dinner?" He replied: "If it's a White House reception, then surely I will wear tuxedo and tie." So I asked him: "Why not wear what you are wearing today (bermudas and tee-shirt)?" And he replied: "Well, that's improper, isn't it?"
I smiled and replied: "Therein lies the answer to your question." It is easy to assume everything about Allah. In this case, He should be this and that, instead of us being such and such. It is a security blanket to cover up for our shortcomings.
Since we are in a relationship with our Creator, this process is about our Adab with Allah s.w.t. It is easy to perform deeds as an act of obligation, but it takes a more nuanced and intimate approach to do them with mindful consciousness. It makes the world of difference between these two states of being.
Islam is a beautiful religion, full of wisdom and harmony. The Beloved Prophet s.a.w. said: "The best among you are those who have the best manners and character." [Bukhari] In another hadith, he said: “I was only sent to perfect noble character.” [Ahmad] In the Qur’an, Allah s.w.t. declared the Prophet s.a.w. as follows: “Truly, you are of a tremendous character.” [al-Qalam 68:4]
This should be sufficient to address the importance of having beautiful adab in everything we do, with the Prophet s.a.w. as our role model. Adab, is not exclusively the domain between a servant and his Lord, but also extents between His servants. This is how the Qur'an describes our relationship with Allah and our relationship with mankind. This is why we do most of the things we do. If there is no Adab, the things we do looses its beauty, its meaning and its significance.
Adab defines us. It distinguishes true knowledge and acquired hand-me-downs.