I outlined the basic foundational tenets of Islam in my first post in this series, “Islam 101: What is Islam?” I outlined how Muslims associate themselves to the Judeo-Christian tradition, as well as Muslim belief in angels, prophets, heaven and hell.
This time around I will discuss the Five Pillars of Islam, the ummah, prayer, and the Muslim sabbath. This will give you a good indication of the daily concerns relevant to Muslim belief and practice.
The core, the base of Muslim belief are the Five Pillars. These tenants unite a widely diverse Islamic community that stretches across many countries and many cultures. John Esposito words it well:
“Following the Pillars of Islam requires dedication of your mind, feelings, body, time, energies, and possessions. Meeting the obligations required by the Pillars reinforces an ongoing presence of God in Muslims’ lives and reminds them of their membership in a single worldwide community of believers.” (What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam, pp 17 )
The First Pillar: The Shahada
The Shahada (witness, testimony), or declaration of faith, is: “There is no god but God [Allah] and Muhammad in the messenger of God.” This is the most fundamental belief of Islam, the keystone of the faith. To convert to Islam one need only make this statement with the full integrity of his person. The first part of this statement affirms Islam’s monotheism.
“God does not forgive anyone for associating something with Him, while He does forgive whomever He wishes to forgive anything else. Anyone who gives God associates [partners] has invented an awful sin.” (Qur’an 4:48)
The second half of the statement affirms the belief that Muhammad is not only a prophet but a messenger of God, a role held by Moses and Jesus before him. This is essential to the Muslim belief that Muhammad is the last and final vehicle of revelation.
The Second Pillar: Salat
Salat (supplicaton), prayer, is performed five times daily: daybreak (fajr), noon (dhuhr), midafternoon (asr), sunset (maghrib), and evening (insha’a). Times for prayer and the ritual actions were not specified in the Qur’an. However, they were established by Muhammad.
In many countries the call to prayer echoes around the city through megaphones mounted atop minarets at mosques throughout neighborhoods. The muezzin, the man appointed to call prayer, intones:
“God is most great [Allahu Akbar], God is most great, God is most great, God is most great, I witness that there is no god but God [Allah]; I witness that there is no god but God. I witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God. I witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God. Come to prayer; come to prayer! Come to prosperity; come to prosperity! God is most great. God is most great. There is no god but God.”
Prayer serves as “reminders throughout the day…to keep believers mindful of God in the midst of everyday concerns about work and family with all their attractions and distractions.” (Esposito, pp 19 )
The Third Pillar: Zakat
Zakat (purification) is tithing. A Muslim is required to contribute 2.5% of their total wealth and assets annually (not just a percentage of their annual income). Muslims believe that they are given their possessions and wealth by God as a trust. Therefore tithing is their responsibility to give a part of their gifts from God to the less fortunate within their community.
The Qur’an as well as Shar’ia stipulates that alms are to be used to support the poor, orphans, widows, the free slaves and debtors, and those working in the cause of God (construction of mosques, religious schools, hospitals, etc). Zakat has developed as a Muslim Social Security of sorts.
The Fourth Pillar: Fast of Ramadan
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and refers to the month in which Muhammad first receive revelations from God. Muslims fast (abstain from food and drink) from sunrise to sunset in observance of this holy month. They also abstain from all sexual activity during this time. The discipline of this month is meant to incite reflection on human frailty, inspire focus on spiritual goals and values, and it is meant to serve as a time of reflection on those who are less fortunate. Fast is broken at evening with sepcial meals (iftar) meant to gatehr friends and family to enjoy each other’s company, gather in prayer, and the recitation of the Qur’an over the month.
On the 28th night of Ramadan Muslims celebrate the “Night of Power” (Laylat al-Qadr) a night that marks the beginning of Muhammad’s receiving the revelations of God. Ramadan then ends with two nights of celebration: Eid al-Fitr (Feast of Breaking of the Fast). Celebration of Eid is similar to Christmas in its level of celebration, jubilation, gift giving, and family gathering.
The Fifth Pillar: Hajj
Hajj, pilgrimage, to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is the fifth and final pillar in Islam. Hajj is expected to be completed by every able-bodied Muslim at least once in their life. The hajj season follows Ramadan.
The Ummah in Islam
The ummah refers to the worldwide community of Muslims, of believers. Their religious bond transcends racial, tribal, ethnic, and now national identities. Islam was revealed to Muhammad in a time in which identity was defined by tribal loyalties, where there was no over-arching unifying element. Islam came and served as a means of unification and an absolute equalizer. Thus people primary identifier became Islam – they were Muslims rather than Tribe X or Y, etc. This egalitarianism shattered all previous alliances. Muslims should support and defend Muslims at all times. The egalitarian nature of Islam has always been its chief appeal for converters.
The Muslim Sabbath
Friday is the Muslim day of congregational prayer. In both Muslim and Western countries, Friday prayer (juma) is held at noon. Those who are unable to attend noon prayers due to work or educational requirements attend services and religious education on Sundays at mosques in their area.