Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Five Pillars of Islam

   What is required of Muslims?
How do they show their devotion to God through worship? How do they fulfil their religious obligations towards God’s creation? Where can they find spiritual contentment? At the heart of these questions lie the Five Pillars of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad called them the foundation of the edifice of Islam. The Five Pillars consist of a number of devotional acts. 

The proclamation of faith: Shahada

The Shahada is the proclamation of faith made by all Muslims. In reciting the Shahada, Muslims state:
“There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God”
“lā ʾilāha ʾillā-llāh, muḥammadun rasūlu-llāh”
Faith and belief in God is an action of the heart and mind. It is the foundational pillar of Islam. Without professing it one cannot qualify to be a Muslim. 

Prayer: Salat

After faith the most important pillar is prayer.
The commandment to offer the prayer is iterated in the Qur’an no less than 80 times and the Prophet called prayer the apple of his eyes. Muslims pray five times a day. The prayer times are determined by the movement of the sun and therefore the times vary throughout the year. The prayer itself consists of different postures such as standing, bowing, prostrating and sitting. These postures are supposed to help Muslims think about their spiritual development from being in a state of arrogance (standing up) to a state of humility and humbleness (prostrating).
There are three stages to Muslim prayers. The first is the Azan, which is the call to prayer. The second is Wudu, which is the ritual cleansing which should be performed before praying and represents spiritual purification. The third is the Salat - the prayer itself.

Month of fasting: Ramadan

Where prayer is seen as a worship by doing, fasting is a worship by abstinence. Muslims fast in the month of Ramadan (the 9th month of the Islamic calendar). Not eating or drinking for 30 consecutive days from dawn till dusk helps Muslims to think about God’s blessings for basic necessities such as food and drink. This reflection develops empathy for the poor people in the world.
Ramadan is believed to be the month in which the Qur’an was first revealed to Muhammad in Mecca. Muslims use a lunar calendar and begin fasting for the month of Ramadan at the sighting of the new moon which signifies the start of a new lunar month. Using a lunar calendar means that Ramadan will fall about a week earlier in each solar year so currently Ramadan occurs around the middle of summer. This makes fasting particularly challenging for Muslims in the UK as the days are so long. Over the years this will change as Ramadan begins to fall more towards the winter months.
The Eid festival marks the end of Ramadan. Eid is a way of showing thanksgiving to God for his kindness and Muslims pay a charity on the day of Eid so that the poor people in the world may also rejoice on this happy day. For British Muslims, this is possibly the most important celebration of the year. In towns and cities around Britain, members of British Muslim communities can be seen walking out in new clothes and joining each other for communal feasting.

Alms giving: Zakat

The previous pillars involved bodily worship. This pillar, Zakat (alms), involves worshipping God through giving away one’s wealth.
The Qur’an reminds Muslims that the wealth they have accumulated is not really theirs. It is God’s kindness towards them which they must also show to those who are less fortunate than them. Islam stipulates that if a person has surplus savings, he or she should give 2.5% of his savings to the poor. The Zakat, literally means ‘purification’ and also has a spiritual significance. The idea is that by giving to charity one purifies his or her heart by divorcing it from pursuing worldly gains.

Pilgrimage: Hajj

Every year, millions of Muslims from around the world converge on the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj: the pilgrimage that should be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim that can afford to do so.
The Hajj is a journey which involves all of the above pillars and therefore is the ultimate journey of a lifetime. It is seen as a calling from God, only for those who have been invited by Him to visit His sanctuary. It involves physical worship such as going round the Kaaba in imitation of the old tradition of Abraham. It also involves giving charity to the poor. The Hajj represents Muslim unity where all people are donned in the same white clothes doing the same rituals. The white clothing which looks like a shroud also reminds Muslims of their own frailty and mortality.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Faith in Islam

Nearly a quarter of the global population are Muslims, the name given to those who are followers of Islam. Indeed, Islam is the second largest religion in the world and, along with Judaism and Christianity, is seen as one of the three Abrahamic religions. According to the 2011 census, there are around 2.7 million Muslims living in England and Wales today.
It is important, then, to have an understanding of Islam and the beliefs and practices of Muslims and, in the first part of this course, we will examine the fundamental tenets of the faith.
The word Islam itself has a number of meanings. First and foremost it means submission to the will of God. A person who submits themselves to the will of God is a Muslim. Secondly Islam means peace: inner-peace, peace with friends, neighbours, humanity and nature. The common Muslim greeting ‘Assalamualaykum’ (peace be upon you) reflects this understanding. The Prophet Muhammad says, ‘The true Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hands others are secured.’
Islam is a blend of beliefs (Iman), practice (Islam) and good manners (Ihsan). There are seven basic beliefs in Islam which are the fundamentals of the faith. They are:
  1. Belief in God, that He is the Creator (al-Khaliq), the Sustainer (al-Bari’) and the Fashioner (al-Musawwir). He is unique (al-Ahad) in his Godhead and there are no gods but He.
  2. The Prophets play a major role in communicating God’s message to humanity. Muslims believe in Biblical Prophets like Abraham, Moses, Job, Jonah and Jesus. Believing in Muhammad as the final Prophet of God is a core Islamic doctrine.
  3. Muslims also believe that God communicated his message to humanity through written texts which were taught to the people by the Prophets. The Five books mentioned in the Qur’an are: Abraham’s scriptures (Suhuf), the Torah, Psalms (Zabur), the Gospels of Jesus (Injeel) and the Qur’an.
  4. Angels are God’s creation like humans. The Qur’an says that angels are created to carry out God’s work without questioning. Muslims believe that the angels facilitate the smooth running of the world.
  5. Life after death and belief in the hereafter is an integral part of the Islamic faith. Muslims believe that the fruits of the labour of this world will be reaped in the hereafter, therefore one needs to live a God-conscious life.
  6. Muslims believe that there will be a time of reckoning or Judgement Day when all people will be judged for what they have done in this world.
  7. The final article of faith is to believe that ultimately everything happens with the will of God.
In addition to the above articles of faith, Islam commands its followers to pray, to give charity, to fast and to travel to Mecca for pilgrimage for those who can afford it. What are these religious practices and what is their significance? We will have the opportunity to explore these in the articles that follow.