Wednesday, February 11, 2015
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.
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.
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.