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Nothing happens in a vacuum in Islam. Everything is connected to one’s fundamental faith and belief in One God. To emphasize this strong monotheism, the first formal pillar of a Muslim’s daily faith is a declaration of it. In Arabic, this is called the Shahada and can be translated to mean The Witnessing. It is regularly repeated throughout the day, but it is more than just a statement void of meaning. A Muslim says the following statement to declare their faith: La ilaha illa Allah wa Muhammad ar-Rasulallah. This means that there is no God to be worshipped except Allah and Muhammah is the messenger of Allah.” A Muslim believes that when we utter this declaration we must also live by it. To believe is simply not enough in the way of faith. Action must accompany your belief as well.
After the declaration of faith comes the expression of that faith in daily worship. For Muslims, this means the five daily prayers. Prayer has always been used by human beings as a way to connect with the Creator and to gather guidance and peace of mind. It has been clinically shown to reduce blood pressure, anxiety and depression. For Muslims, this couldn’t be more true, especially because of the regularity with which Muslims pray. The continual repetition of belief and renewal of faith comes multiple times during the day and serves as a way to slow down and remember God throughout our busy lives. These are not meant to be ritualistic or mindless activities but are made to constantly remind Muslims about the true purpose of life and reaffirm their faith in God.
The names and timing of the five prayers are Fajr: This prayer is performed just before sunrise, Dhuhr: This prayer is performed just after midday, Asr: This prayer is performed in the later afternoon period, Maghrib: This prayer is performed after sunset, Isha: This prayer finished the day and is performed in the late evening.
Prior to praying, Muslims will perform ablutions (wudu) in order to purify themselves enough to stand before God in worship. In Islam, Muslims do not require a religious leader to access God for them but believe that we are all capable of calling on Him and communicating to Him directly in our worship. To perform wudu, a Muslim must first set the intention of cleansing for prayer (niyyah). Then they rinse the following parts of their body with pure water, starting always with the right-hand side:
Head, including the ears
Wudu is kept (ie. Your state of purity for prayer) unless you break wind, bleed from an open wound, vomit, use the bathroom, or sleep for a long period of time. If such a thing occurs, you must redo your ablutions before the next prayer.
To pray, Muslims face the Ka’aba in Mecca. The direction of prayer is called the Qiblah. Muslims can also pray together in a congregation or alone. Prayers in Islam are completed in the Arabic language, even for Muslims that don’t speak that language. You can add additional non-obligatory prayers to increase your worship as well.
Aside from the formal prayers, Muslims also have another type of prayer that others may be more familiar with. These are personal prayers or supplications called duaa. These prayers do not have a specific time frame, format or even language. They are simply a Muslim’s call to God for help in any form. Many Muslims will recite prayers that have been recommended by the Prophet Muhammad as being beneficial, or those that one might find in the Qur’an, for surely God and His Prophet know best what mankind needs even if we remain ignorant.
Lastly, there is something called dhikr. This is the remembrance of Allah with our tongues through the recitation of His Names or the glorification of Him through exclamations of worship.
Most Muslims understand that money and wealth in their lives is a blessing given from God and that these gifts are given with certain duties and responsibilities. One of these duties is that act of helping the poor by giving in charity. This is emphasized in the faith again and again throughout the Qur’an and is mentioned many times over in the same breath as prayer. Thus its significance is understood to be of the utmost importance. Charitable giving is a continuous recommendation in Islam but wealthier members of the community are obligated to give alms in a process called zakat. This can be translated from Arabic as meaning purify or grow meaning that by sharing your wealth, you purify your own and help others to grow. Official zakat is calculated at the rate of 2.5% of one’s remaining wealth after your life expenses have been deducted from the total earned.
The valid recipients of one’s zakat include the following: The poor and destitute, People who are employed to distribute zakat, Converts to Islam (who may be in trouble due to being disowned by their own family), Slaves, so they may purchase their freedom, People in debt, People who are in the cause of jihad, The stranded traveler
Additionally, Muslims can offer non-obligatory charitable donations (sadaqah) to anyone, at anytime, in any amount. Even small deeds can be considered charity, including opening doors and smiling at strangers.
Once every year, Muslims around the world practice this pillar of Islam by fasting for the entire month of Ramadan. This is a period devoted entirely to worship and intense practice of the religion and is usually a time of additional prayers and family. The fast involves abandoning food, drinks; sexual intercourse, uttering falsehoods, foul speech, arguing etc during the daytime hours of the month. After the sun sets, one is free to partake in food and drink, and most Muslims will also take in additional prayers at the mosque called taraweeh. It is a period of self-reflection and sacrifice in order to practice self-control and focus on worship. Addtionally, Muslims are encouraged to fast non-obligatory days throughout the rest of the year, particularly Mondays and Thursdays. The only days on which it is forbidden to fast are the two Eid festivals.
While Ramadan happens once a year, the Hajj pilgrimage might be something that happens once in a lifetime for a Muslim and represents the final pillar of the Islamic faith. Every Muslim strives to make this journey to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. During the pilgrimage, Muslims shed all of their garments and wear only a white covering called an ihram. It represents the equality of each person before God. When they don these clothes, the pilgrims enter a state of devotion and worship. During this time, violence of any kind (towards people or animals) is strictly forbidden and religious rites are performed. Over 4 million pilgrims embark on the Hajj pilgrimage every year. The Hajj occurs at the same time in the Islamic calendar every year and its ending is symbolized by the holiday Eid-ul-Adha.