Islam is a faith that was founded in the 7th Century C.E., which means Common Era, a term now used in place of the A.D. (Anno Domini). In recent years the use of A.D. has fallen into disfavor with historical revisionists, a term used for centuries to indicate the time from the birth of Jesus Christ to the present. With the continued secularization of American culture, historians are erasing the Christian influence from recorded history.
This week in our attempt to gain some understanding of a religion that is confusing to most of us in the Western world, we will briefly look at Islam’s Five Pillars of Faith. Over the years I have sat to discuss the Muslim faith with various leaders of this faith, from Navy chaplains to Imams in Manama, Bahrain, gaining insight into Islam along with written material. I have also spent time inquiring about the faith of friends who are Muslim. This in itself does not make me an expert on Islam, but rather a curious student.
The first pillar in Islam is the Profession of Faith. This is called Iman. This can be summed up in the statement, "There is none worthy of worship except God and Muhammad is the messenger of God." This is called the Shahadah. All faithful Muslims profess this declaration.
The second pillar is Prayer, or Salah. This is the term used in identifying prayer offered five times a day by devout Muslims who stop, face in the direction of Mecca, bow to the ground and recite prayers. These prayers are ritually held in mosques where an Imam gathers the faithful. The Imam is selected by the members of the mosque because of his extensive knowledge of the Muslim Holy Book, the Koran, or Qur’an. The prayers are taken from the Qur’an and are recited in unison in Arabic. Personal prayers may be offered at any time and anywhere.
The third pillar is Charity, or Zakah. This is very loosely interpreted to cover just about anything from a large financial gift to a simple smile. The principle underscoring charity is that everything belongs to God; therefore, by whatever means you are financially equipped, you are to give of your largesse generously and with liberality to either poor brethren, or the local mosque. There is an expected annual payment of a fortieth of a person’s personal income and possessions.
The fourth pillar is Fasting, or Sawm. Most Westerners have become aware of the month of Ramadan when Muslims enter into a period of fasting. This is a daily exercise requiring the faithful to abstain from food, drink, and sexual relations with their spouses. The daily period of time for fasting is from sunrise to sunset. It is not a 24 hour daily fast lasting an entire month. However, at the end of the month, Muslims celebrate the breaking of the fast in what is called Eid al-Fitr. During this celebration people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family. The month of Ramadan for 2011 begins August 1st. "O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may learn self-restraint." (Qur'an 2:183)
The fifth pillar is Pilgrimage, or Hajj. The city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia is considered to be holy by Muslims. All able-bodied Muslims with the financial means are to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives. Pilgrims to Mecca are to wear very simple non-descriptive clothing so as not to reveal any class distinction. Once in the city pilgrims are to circle seven times around the Ka’bah (a cube-shaped building supposedly going back to Abraham), and then seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwa, in remembrance of Abraham’s wife, Hagar, who searched seven times for water in this same area according to Muslim teaching. The pilgrims later stand together on the wide plains of Arafat (a large expanse of desert outside Mecca) and join in prayer for God's forgiveness in what is often thought as a preview of the Day of Judgment.
As I move through this series of articles on Islam it is my intention to provide my own observations as suitable to the topic.
Next week I will begin an overview of Muhammad.