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Five Pillars of Islam

 

Shahadah(Eman)

The first Pillar of Islam is Shahadah or Eman or Belief, the declaration with full conviction of mind and heart that Allah is the one and only diety and the Prophet Muhammed(PBUH) is His Messenger. Belief in Allah does not require approval or acceptance from anyone but Allah. The person who utters this testimony with sincerely and whole heartly and conviction immediately comes into the fold of the Religion of Islam and the person known as Muslim or Momin. However, it is quite comman for new reverts to Islam to declare Shahadah in the company of two Muslim witnesses.

 

SALAH

What is Salah?

Salah is the name for the obligatory prayers which are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and God with no earthly intermediaries.

What no Priests?
There is no hierarchical authority in Islam, and no priests, so the prayers are led by a learned person (Imam) who knows the Qur'an, chosen by the congregation. These five prayers contain verses from the Qur'an, and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation, but personal supplication can be offered in one's own language.

An Audience with God
Each prayer is practically an audience with God. Facing in the direction of the Kaaba (the first mosque ever, built by patriarch Abraham and his son Ismail for the worship of the One God, at the site which long later became the city of Makkah in Arabia), the prayer is opened by saying "Allahu Akbar", ie. God is Great, and practically you are turning your back to all the universe and are addressing God. One of the constant readings during prayer is the Opening Chapter of the Quran that reads "Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds. The Compassionate, the Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgment. You only do we worship and to You only we cry for help. Guide us to the straight path. The path of those on whom You have bestowed Your grace, those whose lot is not wrath, and who go not astray." (1:1-7) Bowing down and prostrating oneself (to God) interjecting "Glory to my Lord the Great", "Glory to my Lord the Highest", "Allah listens to those who thank Him" and what fills one's heart by way of supplication, the prayer is concluded in the sitting position by reiterating the affirmation of the faith, the Shahada, and seeking God's peace and blessings on Mohammad and Abraham and their people and followers.

When and where
Prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entire day. Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and universities and not on dirty places. Visitors to the Muslim world are struck by the centrality of prayers in daily life. Performing daily prayers is an act of communication between humans and God. The prayers are considered a duty for all Muslims,and on these occasions preparations in ritual purity are required.

Ritual prayer and worship
Ritual prayer (Salah) is a distinct entity from worship in its wider sense, that is communicating your feelings to God at any time in any place and asking for His guidance, help and forgiveness, an ingredient of life which is highly commendable whether in Islam or other religions. Salah takes a special form and content, where both body and soul are harmoniously involved.

In prayer, every muscle of the body joins the soul and the mind in the worship and glory of Allah. Prayer is an act of worship. It is a matchless and unprecedented formula of intellectual meditation and spiritual devotion, of moral elevation and physical exercise, all combined.

Congregational prayer and Mosques
Although salah can be performed alone, it is meritorious to perform it with another or with a group. The word mosque comes from the Arabic masjid, meaning "place of prostration." Although it is permissible to pray at home, at work, or even outdoors, it is recommended that Muslims perform salah in a mosque.

Who is it applicable to?
Offering of prayers is obligatory upon every Muslim male and female who is sane, mature and in the case of women free from menstruation and confinement due to child birth.

How is it performed?
Requirements of prayer: performing of ablution (Wudu), purity of the whole body, clothes and ground used for prayer, dressing properly and having the intention and facing the Qiblah (the direction of the Ka'bah at Mecca). Only around the Kaaba mosque in Makkah do Muslims stand in circles for their prayers (quite an impressive scene). All the world over they are in straight lines, leaving no gaps, and facing Makkah.

Remebering the Creator
Praying to the Creator on a daily basis is the best way to cultivate in a man a sound personality and to actualize his aspiration. Allah does not need man's prayer because He is free of all needs. Prayer is for our immeasurable benefit, and the blessings are beyond imagination.

In addition to the prescribed prayer, a Muslim expresses gratitude to God and appreciation of His favours and asks for His mercy all the time. Especially at times of, for example, childbirth, marriage, going to or rising from bed, leaving and returning to his home, starting a journey or entering a city, riding or driving, before or after eating or drinking, harvesting, visiting graveyards and at time of distress and sickness.

Friday Prayers
The noon congregational prayer of Friday afternoon is mandated to be a collective and must be said in a Mosque, and is preceded by a sermon (Khutba). The Imam (prayer leader) is not a priest nor need be the same person every time, but considerations of scholarship and knowledge of the Quran and the religion are exercised in choosing him (doctors, teachers, business people and others as well as religion scholars are commonly featured in bearing this responsibility).

Conclusion
Prayer, obligatory and spontaneous, is an immense spiritual treasure to be tapped. It inspires peace, purity and tranquility and instills companionship with God. It amazingly reduces the hustle and bustle of life to tame proportions. By their spacing to five times a day, including its beginning, prayers tend to maintain a therapeutic level and practically leave no room for mischievous thought or deed.

 

Fasting

What is Sawm?
The fast is an act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a richer perception of God. Sawm during Ramadan or any time is recognized as physically demanding but spiritually rewarding.

It is the duty of all healthy muslims to observe the fast for this whole month. It is done so that we will know what humility really is. Fasting is also an exercise in self-control whereby one's sensitivity is heightened to the sufferings of the poor.

Who is it prescribed upon?
Fasting of Ramadan is a worship act which ordained upon every adult Muslim, male or female if he/she is mentally and physically fit and not on a journey. Exceptions: women during their period of menstruation and while nursing their child, and also in case of travel and sickness for both men and women. If they are physically unable to do this, they must feed a needy person for every day missed.

Abstention and self control
Abstention means abstention completely from eating, drinking and intimate sexual contact from dawn to sunset and curbing even the smallest of evil intentions and desires.

It is not a month of starvation since nutrition and hydration are ensured at night although it is recommended to be taken in a mood of asceticism. As one conquers the daily habits and endures hunger and thirst, Ramadan furnishes a first class drill in self-restraint and will power (and what would humanity be if the faculty of self restraint is gone?)

Eating and Drinking
Ramadan also is a joyful month. Muslims break their fast at sunset with a special meal, iftar, "break-fast; "perform additional worship, tarawih, after evening prayer; and throng the streets in moods that are festive and communal.

Improving physical and mental health
A fast does have positive health benefits, the stomach has been working for 24 hours a day non stop fasting will give it a rest. Although beneficial to health it is regarded principally as a method of self-purification. By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person gains true sympathy with those who go hungry as well as growth in one's spiritual life. Fasting is a very enriching experience as one transcends the needs of our material component and cherishes the spiritual. The month feels like going "into maintenance" and is almost like charging your batteries for the rest of the year.

Teaching Mankind
It teaches man the principle of sincere love to God. Fasting teaches man patience, unselfishness, moderation, willpower, discipline, spirit of social belonging, unity and brotherhood.

It is not difficult to do so and this is only for one month. Is it too much to ask? The poor are forced to do it for the 24 hours a day all year round. When we know how lucky we are to live a comfortable live and our duty next is to help the poor.

When does it occur?
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It begins with the sighting of the new moon. The month of Ramadan is part of the lunar calendar, and since this is eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, Ramadan comes eleven days earlier every year which allows fasting in various seasons and weather throughout a life time.

What happens at the End of Ramadan
Intensified worship and charity are a feature of the month. At its conclusion Muslims preform a a special collective morning prayer. Celebration start at the end of the Eid with a spirit of joyous achievement by four days of celebration called eid al-fitr, the feast of the Breaking of the Fast. Customarily, it is a time for family reunion and the favored holiday for children who receive new clothing and gifts from family members and friends.

 

 

Zakat

What is Zakat?
Giving money for charity is highly commendable, and the sky is the limit, but Zakat is different because it is obligatory and is given in a calculated amount.

Why?
Zakat represents the unbreakable bond between members of the community, whom prophet Mohammad described to be "like the organs of the body, if one suffers then all others rally in response."

One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word zakat means both 'purification' and 'growth'. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need, and, like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth.

Zakah does not only purifies the property of the contributor but also purifies his heart from selfishness and greed. It also purifies the heart of the recipient from envy and jealousy, from hatred and uneasiness and it fosters instead good-will and warm wishes for the contributors.

As Muslims pay the Zakat they have the genuine feeling that it is an investment and not a debit helping to establish economic balance and social justice in the society.

In general terms, what remains over and above the meeting of needs and expenses, and is hoarded for the full span of one year, is liable to Zakat. Zakat is the right of the poor in the wealth of the rich and is neither optional charity nor philanthropy.

Zakah has a deep humanitarian and social-political value; for example, it frees society from class welfare, from ill feelings and distrust and from corruption. Although Islam does not hinder private enterprise or condemn private possession, it does not tolerate selfish and greedy capitalism. Islam adopts a moderate but positive and effective course between individual and society, between the citizen and the state, between capitalism and socialism, between materialism and spiritualism.

How is it Calculated?
Zakah is a proportionately fixed contribution collected from the surplus wealth and earnings of the Muslim.

Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakat individually. Zakah is paid on the net balance after paying personal expenses, family expenses, due credits, taxes, etc. Every Muslim male or female who at the end of the year is in possession of the equivalent of 85 grams of gold (approx. $1400 in 1990) or more in cash or articles of trade, must give Zakah at the minimum rate of 2.5%. Taxes paid to government do not substitute for this religious duty. The contributor should not seek pride or fame but if disclosing his name and his contribution is likely to encourage others, it is acceptable to do so.

Other gains and profits have their respective formulae, such as proceeds from industry, agriculture and animal husbandry, real estate, etc. as thoroughly detailed in specialized references.

Note the obligatory nature of Zakah; it is required. Muslims can also go above and beyond what they pay as Zakah, in which case the offering is a strictly voluntary charity (sadaqa). Sadaqa is given preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as 'voluntary charity' it has a wider meaning. The Prophet said 'even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is charity'.

The Prophet said: 'Charity is a necessity for every Muslim'. He was asked: 'What if a person has nothing?' The Prophet replied: 'He should work with his own hands for his benefit and then give something out of such earnings in charity'. The Companions asked: 'What if he is not able to work?' The Prophet said: 'He should help poor and needy persons.' The Companions further asked 'What is he cannot do even that?' The Prophet said 'He should urge others to do good'. The Companions said 'What if he lacks that also?' The Prophet said 'He should check himself from doing evil. That is also charity.'


Hajj

What does it mean
Meaning "visit to the revered place," the pilgrimage to Makkah, is the the most significant manifestation of Islamic faith and unity in the world. For those Muslims are able to make the journey to Makkah, the hajj is the peak of their religious life.

Who is it applicable to?
The annual pilgrimage to Makkah -- the Hajj -- is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to perform it.

Worlds largest display of Unity
About two and half million people (1989) go to Makkah each year from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet one another. Although Makkah is always filled with visitors. Pilgrims wear special clothes: simple garments which strip away distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God. A person who has successfully performed the Haj is then called a Haji (for males) and Hajjah (for females)

The actual rites and prayers take place at the sacred Ka'ba in Mecca and at nearby locations. Muslims associate the origin of the Hajj and the founding of the Ka'ba with the prophet Abraham.

Peace is the dominant theme. Peace with Allah, with one's soul, with one another, with all living creatures. To disturb the peace of anyone or any creature in any shape or form is strictly prohibited.

Muslims from all walks of life, from every corner of the globe assemble in in response to the call of Allah. There is no royalty, but there is loyalty of all to Allah, the Creator. It is to commemorate the Divine rituals observed by the Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael, who were the first pilgrims to the house of Allah on earth: the Ka'bah. It is also to remember the great assembly of the Day of Judgement when people will stand equal before Allah.

When is it?
The annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar, not solar, so that Hajj fall sometimes in summer, sometimes in winter).

What does it relate to?
Islam relates so profoundly to the monotheistic mission of Abraham that its fifth pillar (Hajj) is none but a ritualistic commemoration of the Patriarch. Throughout his belief in the One True God and submission (islam) only to His will, Abraham stood the test of confronting authority (King Nemrod who argued that like Abraham's God, he could give and take life by ordering a prisoner killed and another spared. When Abraham retorted that God brings the sun from the East and challenged him to bring the sun from the West, the King was just confounded), and confronting public opinion and their religious leaders when he destroyed their idols, was arrested and condemned to die by fire, but God saved him "We said O fire, be coolness and safety upon Abraham." (21:69) A more taxing test, however, was when Abraham, upon the nagging of his wife Sarah agreed to take Hagar and their son Ismail and banish them in the desert, "and the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son." (Genesis 21:11) When Abraham abandoned them at the site of the future city of Makkah, their provisions became nearly depleted and the mother went through the ordeal of fetching for water in panic and near despair, until the Well of Zam-Zam unexpectedly erupted. Abraham periodically came to visit, and on one of those visits he was ordained by God to build, with the assistance of Ismail, the first mosque for the worship of God, and to call the believers on an annual season of pilgrimage (hajj) to visit that mosque in worship. The most strenuous test for Abraham was no doubt the divine command to slay his own son, that he finally brought himself together to obey, followed by God's will to spare the boy and ransom him with the ram.

The pilgrimage therefore started with Abraham and Ismail and continued unbroken ever since. Unfortunately, however, the people after many generations slipped again into paganism, and transformed the House of God into a house for idols. Each tribe of those pagan Arabs took an idol, gave it a name, and placed it in the Kaaba. The pilgrimage season remained in observance, but instead of worshipping God it became a season of merriment and festivities, booze and vice, and new rituals were improvised like encircling the Kaaba in the nude while clapping, singing and whistling. It was a great financial bonanza for the people of Makkah, whose economy was based on the season and on two annual caravan journeys for transit trade between East (Africa and Asia) and West (Syria and beyond to the Byzantian Empire). A clergy arose to speak on behalf of the god's and accept offerings and pledges.

For thousands of years that state of affairs continued on this (Ismail's) side of the seed of Abraham. Out of the distant progeny of Ismail, from the powerful tribe of Qureish, Mohammad was born in the year 570 C.E. His father died before he was borne, and his mother in his early childhood. Mohammad was raised by his grandfather, and when the latter died, by one of his uncles. As he grew up he became the focus of respect and admiration of all the community, and at quite an early age he was nicknamed "the honest." At the age of twenty five he married a wealthy widow, Khadija, whom he had worked for as caravan trade manager and who valued his character. She was fifteen years his elder, but they lived happily in monogamous marriage for the next twenty eight years until she died. He never shared with his people the worship of the idols or the various wrongs or ineptitudes that were the very life of those pre-Islamic (jahiliyya ie. taken to ignorance) Arabs.

He habitually visited a cave at the top of a mountain near Makkah to reflect and meditate, and during one of those visits the Angel Gabriel appeared to him and conveyed the divine assignment of prophethood, and gave him the first revelation ever from the Quran that read: "Read! In the name of thy Lord who created.. created man out of a leech-like clot. Read; and thy Lord is the Most Bountiful. He who taught with (the use of ) the Pen. Taught man what man knew-not." (96:1-5) The month was Ramadan, and the night was the Night of Power (Qadr). Mohammad was over-awed, and hurried home shivering and trembling, where his wife comforted and tranquilled him saying: "By Him who dominates Khadija's soul, I pray that you will be the prophet of this nation. You are kind to your kin, generous to the guest, helpful to the needy and truthful in your speech, so God will not let you down."

The angel visited again, and again until Mohammad went about his ministry. Although it was the truth and the turning from polytheistic idolatry back to the pure monotheism of Abraham, nothing could be more threatening to the alliance between the rich and powerful and the clergy, whose very existence depended on the status quo. For thirteen years Mohammad and his followers were persecuted, until they emigrated to their base in Madinah and permitted (by the Quran) to hit back. Eventually Mohammad's army conquered Makkah, declaring general amnesty, but they destroyed the idols, purifying the shrine of Abraham from paganism and restoring the religion to its pure source. Pilgrimage went on at its specified season, and the fifth pillar of Islam was decreed upon every Muslim man and woman once in a life time for those who are physically and financially able to afford it. After this lengthy explanation, is it not reason enough for a heart to ache on reading some of those specialists, experts and scholars (clergy and orientalist) who described pilgrimage simply as "a pagan ritual incorporated by Islam"? The pilgrimage season comes with the twelfth month of the lunar calendar, which is called the month of the hajj (Zul Hijja), already known when Islam came, since it was an Abrahamic event. Men have to wear a pair of white unsewn body garbs, without any other (under) clothing except perhaps sandals and a (pocketed) belt. It is a universal dress and they all look alike without any class distinctions and mingle together in full brotherhood and prompt eagerness to offer help to one another whenever possible, transcending all differences in colour, language, race, ethnicity, degree of education.. .. only the goodness of humanity shows and the purity of the belief that humanity is ONE family worshipping ONE GOD. The women wear ordinary clothes that cover the whole body except the face and hands. There is no segregation, and families and other groupings try to stick together so none would drift and be lost amongst the millions.

Rituals include worship at the Mosque of Abraham and circumambulating the Kaaba, several to-and-fro walks between the hills of Safa and Marwat where Hagar had frantically ran in search of water for her son, the pligrims stand together on the wide plain of Mount Arafat and join in prayers for God's forgiveness, stopping at the three sites where the devil tried to tempt Abraham against slaying his son and throwing pebbles at them symbolic of conquering the temptation. The highlight is the collective prayer and sermon of the Eid (of sacrifice) followed by sacrificial slaughter of a ram (donated to the poor but part goes to family and friends) following upon the tradition of Abraham. Muslims who are not in hajj also celebrate the Eid by the collective prayer (and sermon) and the sacrificial offering of a sheep, and the Eid lunch is a happy occasion to rejoice in. In view of the large number of animals sacrificed at the hajj near Makkah, that cannot be possibly consumed there and then, the authorities established a meat packaging plant to preserve and can the meet for leisurely shipment to the poor and needy in the Islamic world.

What happens at the close of Hajj

The close of the Hajj is marked by a festival, the Eid al-Adha, which is celebrated with prayers and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. This, and the Eid al-Fitr, a feast-day commemorating the end of Ramadan, are the main festivals of the Muslim calendar.




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