Islam is frequently perceived as a “different” religion and it is often poorly understood in the Western world. For many people, their thoughts about Islam are triggered only by hearing about certainly military or political events, or by being told that it is time for “Ramadan”.
In terms of core beliefs and practices, though, what is Islam about? There is much more to Islam than Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar), just as there is more to Christianity than Christmas, and more to Buddhism than the Buddha.
Islam arose as an organized religion in the Middle East in the 7th century, founded by the prophet Muhammad who received revelations that would become the Qur’an – the sacred scripture of Islam. There are many teachings within the Qur’an, but the central tenants of Islam are called The Five Pillars. They are:
- Belief and Witness (the Shahadah) – this is the central creed for all Muslims (followers of Islam) – “there is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is the Messenger of God”. The belief and proclamation of this creed is what makes one a Muslim.
- Prayer (salaat) – the second pillar is that of the daily prayer. Five times each day, every day of the year, there is an audible call to prayer from mosques around the world, at which time all Muslims face toward Mecca (in Saudi Arabia), bow together and pray.
- Charity (zakat) – in addition to prayer, Muslims are also required to give to the poor, often to needy Muslims around the world. Typically, the amount that is to be given is 2.5% of a Muslim’s acquired wealth at the end of the year.
- Fasting (sawm) – there are various fasts throughout the year, but the most important and the only one that is obligatory, is during Ramadan. All Muslims who are able are to fast from food, drink and sex every day during the month of Ramadan, from dawn to dusk.
- Pilgrimage (hajj) – finally, the fifth pillar is that of going on a pilgrimage to Mecca. It is expected that all Muslims will make the pilgrimage once during their lifetime, if they are physically and financially able. The pilgrimage occurs during the twelfth lunar month (Dhul-Hajja), and upon completion, every Muslim participant can add the title “al Hajj” to their name.
Of course, there is much more to the beliefs and practices of Islam than the Five Pillars above. The Five Pillars, though, are the core of Islam.
What has been your involvement with, or your response to, Islam? From what you have personally experienced or been exposed to through the media, have you seen any of the Five Pillars “in action”?