Islam is a monotheistic religion — Allah (God) is the sole god, the creator, sustainer, and restorer of the world. The overall purpose of humanity is to serve Allah, to worship Him alone, and to construct amoral lifestyle. The Five Pillars of Islam were set down as the anchor for life as a Muslim. A Muslim should express belief in them and uphold them in daily life.

The five pillars are:

  • Profession of faith. There is no God, but God; Muhammad is the prophet of God. Sometimes a variation is used: There is no God, but God and Muhammad is his prophet.
  • Prayer. A Muslim must pray five times a day facing Mecca: before sunrise, just after noon, later in the afternoon, immediately before sunset, and after dark.
  • The Zakat. Each Muslim must pay a zakat (an obligatory tax paid once a year) to the state government.
  • Fasting. A Muslim must fast for the month of Ramadan (the ninth Muslim month). Fasting begins at daybreak and ends at sunset. During the fasting day eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual intercourse are forbidden.
  • Hajj. “Hajj” means “pilgrimage.” A Muslim must make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his lifetime, provided he is physically and financially able.

Rituals and Customs

Birth is not observed in any established routine manner; local traditions vary greatly. Many Muslims wish that the first sounds a baby hears is the call to prayer whispered in each ear. Boys must be circumcisedbetween the ages of seven days and twelve years.

Marriage in Islam is considered God’s provision for humanity; no value is given to celibacy. Parents are responsible for choosing marriage partners for their children; marriage is considered to be a joining of two families, not just two people. However, the Qur’an says that the girl must give her consent and not be forced into marriage.

Marriage is a contract between a man and a woman, not a religious rite. Although it does not have to be performed in a mosque with an imam in attendance, it must be conducted according to Islamic law with two male Muslim witnesses. Nevertheless, marriage is seen as a state blessed by God.

Divorce is allowed, but it is certainly discouraged. Islamic law allows a man to have more than one wife; in traditional Islamic societies, this is one way of trying to make sure that women can have the protection of family life. However,the Prophet Muhammad advised that unless a man feels able to treat the wives equally, he should marry only one.

Observant Muslims believe that their deaths are predetermined by Allah as part of His design. Therefore, death should not be feared, for the deceased will go to Paradise. To overdo mourning would show a mistrust of God’s love and mercy.

Muslims believe in the resurrection of the body. Accordingly, they bury their dead quickly, giving all due care to treat the body with respect. The body is washed and shrouded in linen and then buried quickly, usually in a day.

In Islam, on the Day of Judgment Allah will raise all the dead and judge them. The good will go to Paradise, the others to the fire.

Aside from being ritually washed and wrapped in a linen shroud, all Muslims, regardless of sect, are dressed in the standard grave clothes, which number three: an upper shroud, a lower garment, and an overall shroud. Only martyrs are buried in the clothes in which they die, without their bodies or garments being washed. As evidence of their state of glory, the blood and dirt are on view.


Prayer and Mosques

Prayer has been described as the act of communication by humans with the sacred or holy. The Islamic Qur’an is regarded as a book of prayers, as is the book of Psalms in the Bible, considered to be ameditation on biblical history turned into prayer. Prayer obviously takes as many forms as there are religions.

Muslims are expected to pray five times a day at definite times, wherever they happen to be. In addition to that practice, on Fridays all Muslim men are also expected to attend the mosque for the after-midday prayer. Friday is not an identifiable holy day in the manner that Christians and Jews, for instance, consider the Sabbath. In Islam, business may go on as usual before and after the midday prayers.

Islam teaches that the whole world is a mosque because a person can pray to God anywhere. Islam makes no distinction between what is sacred and the everyday; however, every mosque has an area with a water supply so that the devout may wash their hands, feet, and face before prayer. Muslims may use sand for washing if water isn’t available.

The first mosques were modeled on Muhammad’s place of worship, which was the courtyard of his house in Medina. The first mosques were just plots of earth marked out as sacred. At the mosque, the worshipers align themselves in rows, spaced so they may kneel and bow without touching those in front of them.

There is no prescribed architectural design for mosques. They generally have a minaret in an elevated place, usually a tower, for the crier or muezzin to proclaim the call to worship. The muezzin stands at either the door or side of a small mosque or on the minaret of a large mosque. He faces each of the four directions in turn: east, west, north, and south. To each direction, he cries:

Allah is most great.
I testify that there is no God but Allah.
I testify that Muhammad is the prophet of Allah.
Come to prayer.
Come to salvation.
Allah is most great.
There is no God but Allah.

The muezzin’s call to worship is followed by the imam, who leads the community prayers, and then the khatib, who often preaches the Friday sermon. Sometimes the imam performs all three functions. The imam is not a priest; although he can’t perform any rites, he usually conducts marriages and funerals. The imam generally acts as a leader of the local Muslim community and gives advice about Islamic law and customs. Imams are picked for their wisdom.

Islam does not use liturgical vestments in the way many religions do; instead, it has universal regulations governing dress. For example, all who enter a mosque must remove their footwear, and all individuals on a pilgrimage must wear the same habit, the hiram, and thus appear in holy places as a beggar.

Inside a mosque, no representations of Allah or humans, plants, or animals are allowed. Women who attend, particularly in America, should wear a head scarf (hijab) and avoid wearing jewelry, particularly any that might depict people or animals or Jewish or Christian religious imagery. Modesty should be the guiding factor; Muslim girls and women cover their hair completely.

While women may attend prayers in a mosque, they are seated in a separate area, often upstairs if there is one, in a gallery so that neither sex is distracted.

The imam — the title means the spiritual leader of the entire community — is an individual with religious training who is learned in the Koran. On Fridays, the leader often gives a sermon that addresses political and religious problems or points of interest.

All Muslim prayer is made facing Makkah (Mecca). When prayers are held congregationally, people stand in rows shoulder to shoulder with no gaps or reserved spaces. All are considered equal when standing before God. Muslim prayers are memorized; new members of the faith generally have someone to guide them until they commit the prayers to memory.


Worship and Practices

The Qur’an forbids the worshiping of idols, which means Muslims are not permitted to make images either of Allah or of the prophet. Some Muslims object to any form of representational art because of the inherent danger of idolatry. For this reason, mosques are often decorated with geometric patterns.

A great sin in Islam is something called shirk, or blasphemy. The Qur’an stresses that God does not share his powers with any partner. It warns that those who believe their idols will intercede for them will find that they and their idols will become fuel for hellfire on the Day of Judgment.

Different grades of shirk have been identified in Islamic law. The shirking of custom includes all superstitions, such as the belief in omens. The shirking of knowledge, for instance, is to credit anyone, such as astrologers, with knowledge of the future.

Many of Muhammad’s restrictions in the Qur’an were explicit in establishing distinctions between Arabs and Jews as shown, for example, in his dietary rules, which borrowed heavily from the Mosaic Law. The most radical difference between the Qur’an and Mosaic laws has to do with intoxicating beverages. Jews frown on alcoholic beverages, but they do not forbid them entirely; wine is an important element in many Jewish rituals and feasts. However, Muhammad absolutely forbade the use of such beverages.


Developments of Modern Islam

To be a Muslim, or at least a reasonably devout one, is a way of life. Whereas other religions usually have at least an implied division between the secular and the religious, that is not the case withMuslims. Daily life is where Islam resides — the religion is about a way of living. The Qur’an and the Hadith provide the guidance to carry that out.

Islamic Law

Islamic law is founded on the Shari’ah that is based on the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the advice and wisdom of scholars. Allah is seen as the supreme lawgiver. The integration of this philosophy is directly related to the demographics of the country where Islam is being practiced. In countries where Muslims are in the minority, the integration of religion and secular activities will be less than where Muslims are in the majority. Money comes under the guidance of the Qur’an, which forbids usury and the charging of interest, though it approves making a fair profit. Naturally, this can be difficult to implement in a world market. In the Qur’an, business dealings and their outcome are described as “seeking the bounty of God.” Wealth should first be used for the support of family then shared with those in need. The Qur’an also forbids gambling.


Jihad in Arabic means “fighting” or “striving.” In Islam, it is a doctrine that calls upon believers to devote themselves to combating the enemies of their religion. The term has been used in more recent times to describe a “holy war,” even though this is not its literal meaning. Historically, the term was applied to wars between various Muslim sects and non-Muslim ones.

Family Life

Family life is an essential part of the Muslim way of living; all family members should care for one another. The Prophet Muhammad made particular reference about a man taking care of his mother. Animals, too, are to be respected and treated in ways that do not violate their lives in the family or community. Animals used for food must be slaughtered in the correct way. Pig meat and alcohol are strictly forbidden.


Holy Writings

The Qur’an or Koran is the holy book of Islam. According to one Muslim tradition, it was written by God and revealed to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel from his first revelation at forty until his deathat sixty-two. In another of the many traditions regarding the writing of the Qur’an, Muhammad had the revelations written down on pieces of paper, stones, palm leaves, or whatever writing materials were available. He indicated to the scribes the context in which the passages should be placed.

After the prophet’s death, it was decided to find people who had learned the words by heart and to locate written excerpts from all parts of the Muslim Empire. The resulting information was edited to complete a correct edition of the work. Thus, an authoritative text of the Qur’an was eventually produced. It is held in very high regard; its Arabic language is considered unsurpassed in beauty and purity. To imitate the style of the Qur’an is a sacrilege.

The Qur’an is the primary source of every Muslim’s faith and practice. It deals with the subjects that concern all human beings: wisdom, beliefs, worship, and law. However, it focuses on the relationship between God and his creatures. It also provides guidelines for a just society, proper human relationships, and equal division of power. The Qur’an also posits that life is a test and everyone will be rewarded or punished for their actions in the next life. For example, on the last day, when the world comes to an end, the dead will be resurrected and a judgment will be pronounced on every person in accordance with their deeds.

Mecca is the birthplace of Muhammad and is the most sacred city in Islam. According to tradition, Muslims around the world must face Mecca during their daily prayers. Every year, during the last month of the Islamic calendar, more than 1 million Muslims make a pilgrimage or hajj to Mecca. Muslims are obliged to make the hajj once in their lifetime.

Another source of Islamic doctrine is the Hadith (a report or collection of sayings attributed to the prophet and members of the early Muslim community). The Hadith is second only to the authority of the Qur’an. It is considered the biography of Muhammad created from the long memory of the members of his community. Hadith was a vital element during the first three centuries of Islamic history, and its study gives a broad index into the philosophy of Islam.

To the non-Muslim, the Hadith is an introduction to the world of Islam with almost encyclopedic inclusiveness. Provisions of law are the primary element, dealing with the moral, social, commercial, and personal aspects of life and the theological aspects of death and final destiny. The content of the Hadith has the kind of minutia found in the Talmud, the body of Jewish civil and ceremonial law and legend.

There is evidence of the impact on Islam of Jewish and Christian philosophies and theology, particularly as they relate to the last judgment. Together, the Qur’an and the Hadith form the basis of Islamic law.


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