Khidmat is the Persian, thus Urdu, equivalent of the Arabic Khidma, which connotes selfless service. That khidmat is a means to attain divine favour has been explained to us in the Prophetic hadith: “Allah is in the assistance of His servant as long as His servant is in the assistance of others” (Sahih Muslim). The scholars of the inward have insisted that the degree of Allah’s assistance (‘awn or nusra’) reflects the ikhlas or sincerity and purity of intention in serving the other. The ikhlas, in turn, relates to the intention to seek the Creator’s favour, not reciprocal or future favour from His creation nor ostentation (riya).
In serving the need of a fellow human being, one must first be cognizant of his or her needs. Such knowledge is a function of companionship, nearness and affection. It follows that the khadim must be at the very least approachable, though this is a lesser rank that being persistently inquisitive of and preoccupied with other’s welfare.
In addition to safeguarding the temporal and spiritual wellbeing of his circle of friends and acquaintances, he who wishes to obtain divine grace by means of service to humanity, will, as a matter of religious duty, seek out opportunities to serve the less fortunate. With a view to be of benefit to others, and through them himself, he will seek out the needy, the orphans, the widowed, the oppressed and those whose religious rank is a means to attain divine pleasure and proximity. Khidmat, thus, is at the heart of tariqa, and is understood as the dissemination of grace as a means to increase it.
It is related from the Pole, Shaykh Abdal Qadir al-Jilani (may Allah sanctify his secret) that shukr, or thankfulness to Allah, is expressed by three means, shukr of the tongue, shukr of the heart, and shukr of the limbs. The latter, he noted, is expressed in the medium of khidma.
His spiritual heir, Shaykh al-Akbar, Muhyiuddin Ibn ‘Arabi (may Allah sanctify his secret) in his autobiographical work Ruh al-Quds, too, chides those Sufis who eschew khidma, for Sufism without khidma is the motion without the movement. Shaykh Sa’adi sums it up in the Persian couplet: ‘Ibadat bajuz khidmat-e khlaq neest: Worship without service of mankind comes to naught.