13 December 2017

INSIGHT INTO ISLAM: Part 3: ‘The Five Pillars of Islam’

As an educated Middle Eastern Muslim, Majed made his pilgrimage to Mecca, the fifth pillar of Islam, at the age of nineteen. But his spiritual journey was to result in a radically different discovery. Through Bible correspondence and meeting with Christians it was finally revealed to him that the ultimate divine truth is not a religious framework, but a divine person, Jesus Christ.

On his becoming a Christian, Majed’s family disowned him and he was forced to leave the country. Now he is living out the consequence of this life-changing revelation.

Majed is currently involved in ministry to Muslims, mainly on Christian literature translation and Bible commentaries. He is also involved in speaking in Churches in N. Ireland and Europe to explain the faith of Islam and the challenges faced by evangelism to Churches. Majed’s full story is written in a book called ‘The Fifth Pillar’, published by Piquant.

This year, Majed graduated from Belfast Bible College after completing a post graduate theological course. The aim was to deepen his understanding of the theological aspects of the Bible and the Christian faith so that he could better approach the Muslim community with an apologetic approach in both dialogue and respect.

Majed is currently based in N. Ireland for another year.

In the previous issue we examined the Articles of Faith in Islam, and how the true faithful Muslim believes in one God, supreme and eternal. In this issue, we are going to look at the practices of Islam, known as ‘The Five Pillars of Islam’.

For most Muslims, Islam is as much a way of life as a system of beliefs. The daily lives of the majority of Muslims may bear little resemblance to the formal practices of Islam. Partly this is because a larger number of Muslims do not speak the Arabic language, and their practices may vary from one culture to another.

Many people, including some Muslims, misunderstand the concept of worship in Islam. Worship is commonly taken to mean performing ritualistic acts such as prayers, fasting, charity, etc. This limited understanding of worship is only one part of the meaning of worship in Islam. That is why the traditional definition of worship in Islam is a comprehensive definition that includes almost everything in any individual’s activity.

The worship in Islam is everything one says or does for the pleasure of Allah. This, of course, includes rituals as well as beliefs, social activities, and personal contributions to the welfare of one’s fellow human beings. Islam looks at the individual as a whole.

Islam does not think much of mere rituals when they are performed mechanically, and have no influence on one’s inner life. Social courtesy and cooperation are part of worship when done for the sake of Allah.

The Confession of Faith Al-Shahada

In all of the Abrahamic religions, the first and foremost duty is to confess the faith. The recitation of the creed indicates that one has understood the theological message.

“There is none worthy of worship except God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” This declaration of faith is called Al-Shahada, a simple formula that all the faithful pronounce. The key Islamic concept here in Arabic, Shahada, carries with it the idea of being present or witnessing. The significance of this declaration is the beliefthat the only purpose of life is to serve and obey God, and this is achieved through the teachings and practices of the prophet Mohammad.

The Prayer Al-Salah

Salah is the name for the obligatory prayers that are performed by Muslims everywhere five times a day and are a direct link between the worshipper and God. There is no hierarchical authority in Islam, and there are no priests. A learned person, Imam, who knows the Qur’an and is generally chosen by the congregation, leads the prayers.

Prayers are said at dawn, mid-day, late-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entire day. These five prescribed prayers contain verses from the Qur’an and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation. Personal supplications, however, can be offered in one’s own language and at any time.

Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and universities.

The Financial Obligation upon Muslims Al-Zakah

An important principle of Islam is that everything belongs to God and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word al-zakah means both “purification” and “growth”. All possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need, and for the society in general. Like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth.

Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakah individually. This involves the annual payment of a fortieth of one’s capital, excluding such items as primary residence, car, and professional tools.

An individual may also give as much as he or she pleases as sadaqa and does so, preferably in secret, as a voluntary charity.

Fasting Al-Sawm

Every year in the month of Ramada-n all Muslims fast from dawn until sundown – abstaining from food, drink and sexual relations with their spouses.There are some exceptions for those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are menstruating, pregnant or nursing are permitted to break the fast, and make up an equal number of days later in the year if they are healthy and able. Children begin to fast (and to observe prayers) from puberty, although many start earlier.

Although fasting is beneficial to health, it is mainly a method of self-purification and self-restraint. By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person focuses on his or her purpose in life by constantly being aware of the presence of God.

God states in the Qur’an, Sur’a 2:183, “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may learn self-restraint.”

Pilgrimage Al-Hajj

The pilgrimage to Makkah (the hajj) is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to do so. Nevertheless, over two million people go to Makkah, in Saudi Arabia, each year from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet one another.

The annual hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. Pilgrims wear special clothes: simple garments that strip away distinctions of class and culture so that all stand equal before God.

The rituals of the hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin, include going around the Ka’bah seven times and going seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwa as did Hagar (Hajir, Abraham’s wife) during her search for water. The pilgrims later stand together on the wide plains of ‘Arafat (a large expanse of desert outside Makkah) and join in prayer for God’s forgiveness in what is often thought as a preview of the Day of Judgment.

The close of the hajj is marked by a festival, the Id al Adha, which is celebrated with prayers and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere.

Majed Tinawi