A Brief Primer on Islam: Its Tenets and Major Celebrations

FT_17.01.31whereMuslimsLive

According to a recent Pew Research study (www.pewresearch.org) Muslims, with close to 1.8 billion people, account for about 25% of the world’s population and remains the fastest growing major religion. The bulk of that population resides in Asia and Southeast Asia, not the Middle East as some might suspect. With that in mind, I thought it beneficial to provide a brief summary of the key points of the Islamic belief system.
Surah Al Hujurat (43:13) states, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”
This is my attempt at introducing some basic ideas regarding some of your neighbors. Better understanding is a constructive pursuit!
When I was a young adolescent, I would talk about the importance of information. It used to be difficult to obtain. Today, we have much better access but must be able to filter the good from the non-constructive and generally bad. I apologize in advance if I have transmitted anything false. I am fairly certain that I haven’t and assure you that it was not my intention if I have. My information is largely based on memory, traditions practiced and internet references which may offer a better and more coherent presentation.

Read! Learn! Experience and Enjoy!
The religious practice of Islam, which literally means “to submit to God”, is based on tenets that are known as the Five Pillars, arkan, to which all members of the Islamic community, Ummah, should adhere.

shahada_2

1. The Profession of Faith—The Shahada

The Profession of Faith, the shahada, is the most fundamental of Islamic beliefs. It simply states that “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet.” It underscores the monotheistic nature of Islam. It is an extremely popular phrase in Arabic calligraphy and appears in numerous manuscripts and religious buildings.

2. Daily Prayers—Salat

Muslims are expected to pray five times a day. This does not mean that they need to attend a mosque to pray; rather, the salat, or the daily prayer, should be recited five times a day. Muslims can pray anywhere; however, they are meant to pray towards Mecca. The faithful pray by bowing several times while standing and then kneeling and touching the ground or prayer mat with their foreheads, as a symbol of their reverence and submission to Allah. On Friday, many Muslims attend a mosque near midday to pray and to listen to a sermon, khutbah.

3. Alms-Giving—Zakat

The giving of alms is the third pillar. Although not defined in the Qu’ran, Muslims believe that they are meant to share their wealth with those less fortunate in their community of believers.

4. Fasting during Ramadan—Saum

During the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims are expected to fast from dawn to dusk. While there are exceptions made for the sick, elderly, and pregnant, all are expected to refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours.

hajj

5. Pilgrimage to Mecca—Hajj

All Muslims who are able to are required to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and the surrounding holy sites at least once in their lives. Pilgrimage focuses on visiting the Kaaba and walking around it seven times. Pilgrimage occurs in the 12th month of the Islamic Calendar.
Source: Essay by Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis, http://www.KhanAcademy.org

Key Islamic Holidays

Islam has relatively few holidays compared to most other religions; nevertheless, sacred days and times are very important to Muslims.
When holidays are being observed, it is common for routine social activities, such as work and commerce, to stop temporarily out of respect for the person or event being remembered.
Most Islamic holidays either commemorate events in the life of the prophet Muhammad or are special days founded by him.
Traditionally, Muslims observe two major festivals (Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha) and one month of daytime fasting (Ramadan).

What is Eid Al-Adha?

In the religion of Islam, ‘Id Al-Adha or Eid al-Adha (Arabic عيد الأضحى, “Festival of the Sacrifice”) is a major festival that takes place at the end of the Hajj. It is also known as ‘Id al-Qurban or al-‘Id al-Kabir (Major Festival). Eid al-Adha marks the completion of the hajj (pilgrimage) rites at Mina, Saudi Arabia, but is also observed by Muslims throughout the world to commemorate the faith of Ibrahim (Abraham).
Eid Al-Adha begins on the 10th of Dhu’l-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar, and lasts for fours days. It begins the day after Muslims on the Hajj descend from Mount Arafat.

Dates

In the western calendar, Eid Al-Adha begins on the following days:

  • September 23-24, 2015
  • September 12-13, 2016
  • September 1-2, 2017
  • August 21, 2018
  • August 11, 2019

Meaning of the Festival

The festival commemorates Allah’s gift of a ram in place of Isma’il (Ishmael), whom God had commanded Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice. (In Judaism and Christianity, the child in this story is Ishmael’s brother Isaac.)
The devil tried to persuade Ibrahim to disobey Allah and not to sacrifice his beloved son, but Ibrahim stayed absolutely obedient to Allah and drove the devil away. Eid al-Adha is a celebration of this supreme example of submission to God, which is the cornerstone of the Islamic faith (Islam means “submission”).

Eid al-Adha Observances

On Eid al-Adha, families that can afford it sacrifice an animal such as a sheep, goat, camel, or cow, and then divide the meat among themselves, the poor, friends and neighbors.
In Britain, the law requires that this is done in a slaughterhouse.
The sacrifice is called Qurban. During the sacrifice, the following prayer is recited:
In the name of Allah And Allah is the greatest O Allah, indeed this is from you and for you, O Allah accept it from me. Eid al-Adha is a public holiday in Muslim countries. Like ‘Id al-Fitr, ‘Id Al-Adha begins with communal prayer at daybreak on its first day, which takes place at the local mosque. Worshippers wear their finest clothes for the occasion. It is also a time for visiting friends and family and for exchanging gifts.

References

Id Al-Adha. Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 2004).
Eid ul Adha – BBC Religion & Ethics
Eid ul-Adha – Wikipedia
External Links on Eid Al-Adha –
Islamic Garden: Eid Al-Adha – Menus and recipes for Eid Al-Adha.
Islam Online: Eid Al-Adha – Guide to the holiday, with audio.
George W. Bush’s Eid Al-Adha greeting to Muslims – February 2002
Eid Al-Adha in Melbourne, Australia – ABC, March 2003
Muslim Pilgrims ‘Stone the Devil’ – CBS News, January 29, 2005
Source: www.religionfacts.com/eid-al-adha

Eid Al-Fitr breaking the fast of Ramadan

‘Id Al-Fitr or Eid al-Fitr (Arabic for “Festival of the Breaking of the Fast”) is one of Islam’s two major festivals.

Meaning

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. It is a time of celebration and thankfulness to God for the self-control practiced during Ramadan.

Rituals

Rituals and practices of ‘Id al-Fitr are characterized by joyfulness, togetherness, and thankfulness. They include the following:

  • communal (mosque) prayer at dawn on the first day
  • social gatherings and official receptions
  • gift-giving
  • eating sweets
  • wearing new clothes
  • visiting graves of family
  • the greeting ‘Id Mubarak (“May God make it a blessed feast”). {2}

Dates of Eid al-Fitr

‘Id al-Fitr is celebrated during the first three days of the Islamic month of Shawwal, which falls on the following dates on the western calendar:

  • June 25, 2017
  • June 15, 2018
  • June 5, 2019
  • May 24, 2020

References

  1. “Islam.” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 2004).
  2. Lingnet: The Global Language Network.

Source: http://www.religionfacts.com/eid-al-fitr

Ramadan

Ramadan is not a holy day to Muslims, but a holy month. It is the ninth month of the Islamic year, in which “the Quran was sent down as a guidance for the people” {1}. Ramadan is similar to the Jewish Yom Kippur in that both constitute a period of atonement; Ramadan, however, is seen less as atonement and more as an obedient response to a command from Allah. {2}
During Ramadan, those who are able must abstain from food and drink (including water), evil thoughts and deeds, and sexual intercourse from dawn until dusk for the entire month. Because the holiday cycles through the solar year, this fast can be much more challenging in some years than others. When Ramadan falls in the summer season, the days of fasting are longer and it is a greater hardship to do without water.
Non-Muslims in Islamic countries during Ramadan must be careful not to eat, drink, or smoke in the presence of Muslims during the daytime hours of fasting, as the law requires adherence to the fast in public. The traditional greeting during Ramadan is “Ramadan Mubarak” (“May God give you a blessed month”) and the reply is “Ramadan Karim” (“May God give you a generous month”). {3}
The beginning and end of Ramadan are announced when one trustworthy witness testifies before the authorities that the new moon has been sighted; a cloudy sky may, therefore, delay or prolong the fast. The end of the fast is celebrated with one of two Islamic festivals, ‘Id al-Fitr. {4}

Fasting during Ramadan

Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam. The fast (sawm) begins at dawn and ends at sunset. In addition to abstaining from eating and drinking, Muslims also increase restraint, such as abstaining from sexual relations and generally sinful speech and behavior.
The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities. Ramadan also teaches Muslims how to better practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and compulsory charity (zakat).
It becomes compulsory for Muslims to start fasting when they reach puberty, so long as they are healthy, sane and have no disabilities or illnesses. Exemptions to fasting are travel, menstruation, illness, older age, pregnancy, and breast-feeding. However, many Muslims with medical conditions insist on fasting to satisfy their spiritual needs, and healthcare professionals must work with their patients to reach common ground. Professionals should closely monitor individuals who decide to persist with fasting.
While fasting is not considered compulsory in childhood, many children endeavour to complete as many fasts as possible as practice for later life. Those who are unable to fast are obliged to make up for it. According to the Quran, those ill or traveling (musaafir) are exempt from obligation but still must make up the days missed.

Suhoor and Iftar in Ramadan

Each day before dawn, Muslims observe a pre-fast meal called suhoor. After stopping a short time before dawn, Muslims begin the first prayer of the day, the Fajr prayer. At sunset, families hasten for the fast-breaking meal known as iftar. Considering the high diversity of the global Muslim population, it is impossible to describe typical suhoor or iftar meals. Suhoor can be leftovers from the previous night’s dinner (iftar), typical breakfast foods, or ethnic foods.
In the evening, some dates are usually the first foods to break the fast; according to tradition, Muhammad broke fast with three dates. Following that, Muslims generally adjourn for the Maghrib prayer, the fourth of the five daily prayers, after which the main meal is served.
Social gatherings, many times buffet style, at iftar are frequent, and traditional dishes are often highlighted, including traditional desserts, especially those made only during Ramadan. Water is usually the beverage of choice, but juice and milk are also consumed. Soft drinks and caffeinated beverages are consumed to a lesser extent.
In the Middle East, the iftar meal consists of water, juices, dates, salads and appetizers, one or more entrees, and dessert. Typical entrees are “lamb stewed with wheat berries, lamb kebabs with grilled vegetables, or roast chicken served with chickpea-studded rice pilaf”. A rich dessert such as baklava or kunafeh (“a buttery, syrup-sweetened kadaifi noodle pastry filled with cheese”) concludes the meal. Over time, iftar has grown into banquet festivals. This is a time of fellowship with families, friends and surrounding communities, but may also occupy larger spaces at masjid or banquet halls for 100 or more diners.

Charity during Ramadan

Charity is very important in Islam, and even more so during Ramadan. Zakat, often translated as “the poor-rate”, is obligatory as one of the pillars of Islam; a fixed percentage is required to be given to the poor of the person’s savings. Sadaqa is voluntary charity in given above and beyond what is required from the obligation of Zakat.
In Islam, all good deeds are more handsomely rewarded in Ramadan than in any other month of the year. Consequently, many will choose this time to give a larger portion, if not all, of the Zakat for which they are obligated to give. In addition, many will also use this time to give a larger portion of sadaqa in order to maximize the reward that will await them on the Day of Judgment.
In many Muslim countries, it is a common sight to see people giving more food to the poor and the homeless, and even to see large public areas for the poor to come and break their fast. It is said that if a person helps a fasting person to break their fast, then they receive a reward for that fast, without diminishing the reward that the fasting person got for their fast.

Increased prayer and recitation of the Quran

In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Quran. Some Muslims perform the recitation of the entire Quran by means of special prayers, called Tarawih. These voluntary prayers are held in the mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Quran (Juz’, which is 1/30 of the Quran) is recited. Therefore, the entire Quran would be completed at the end of the month. Although it is not required to read the whole Quran in the Salatul Tarawih prayers, it is common.

References

  • Qur’an 2:185.
  • “Islam.” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 2004).
  • Lingnet: The Global Language Network.
  • “Islam.” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 2004).
  • “Ramadan, Practices” (Wikipedia, used under GDFL)

Source: http://www.religionfacts.com/ramadan

Advertisements

The Power of Prayer

wpid-photo-editing_cloud20150508.jpg.jpeg

Every morning at the crack of dawn, I look forward to the time in which I pray. It is a time when I contemplate my life, review what I have done and seek guidance on how I should proceed further.

Prayer, salat, supplication or whatever you might call it is your personal conversation with God. There are many characterizations of this gesture. Some may dress a certain way. Others may stress that it be performed in a language not understood by all, simply a repetition of verses. It may argued that its structure is tantamount to its conveyance. I would humbly submit regarding the issue of form over substance, the latter of the two takes priority.

It is, I repeat, your conversation with God! I only hope that your sentiments are from the heart, most sincere and occur on a fairly regular basis.

The contents of a good prayer should include gratitude and a request. It should express gratitude acknowledging the excellence and favors of the One to Whom we address our prayer. We may not realize just how much we have to be thankful for, from the air we breathe to life itself…

Life is better when one shows gratitude. It sets you in the right attitude and may protect you from temptations. It has been said that “God turns to man when man turns to God.”

The other crucial element is the request. The vicissitudes of life can be overwhelming. We must acknowledge that we do not control all things and that a little help may be warranted. Only through the remembrance of God and His role in all our lives can matters truly be placed in their proper perspective. One’s request may be to seek guidance on how to make someone’s life better.

On a personal note, as I get older, I feel the need to express gratitude for all that has happened to me, both good and bad. I have come to believe that all experiences are just trials and challenges instituted by God to help me better myself, to make me stronger. He is the Guardian, Sustainer, Provider and Nurturer of all things!

There have been times in my life when I have achieved much success. There were other times when my will to see future days waned. I was happy for God’s intervention when it was most needed. Now I view each setback as an opportunity to regroup and continue to press forward. Now I begin to understand the importance of having faith. I accept all challenges and take them all in stride…

Today, after I pray for me, my family and my friends, I find myself praying for a better world. I pray for world peace and harmony (http://wp.me/p2hekR-v). I believe we each have the sense of a divine presence within us. If we concentrate collectively, if we each make an extra effort, anything is possible!

Won’t you join me in this prayer? It costs you nothing and the potential for rewards are immeasurable…