Exploring the impact of religions and beliefs on how people live their lives;
Understanding and responding critically to beliefs and attitudes.
Being Muslim impacts on every aspect of a person’s life. ‘Islam’ means submission to the will of Allah and it is by living according to this will that Muslims can demonstrate their belief. In leading a life of submission to the will of Allah, Muslims are always conscious of their obligations to Allah, to their families and to others.
At the centre of Islamic life and belief are the Five Pillars of Faith:
– Shahadah – this is the declaration of faith and states: There is no god except Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
– Salah – five compulsory daily prayers as a mean of communicating with and worshipping Allah. The conditions for Salah, the times, the preparations and the words are carried out in accordance with the ways which were taught by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). All prayer is in Arabic.
– Zakah – ‘the purification of wealth by the payment of an annual welfare due’. This should not be confused with charity. Muslims give 2½% of their surplus income as zakah each year. Zakah began in al-Madinah to care for the widows and orphans. Wealth is seen as a gift from Allah and is to be shared. After paying zakah, the remainder of a person’s wealth is kept pure and people are kept free from greed and selfishness. As well as this, Muslims are urged to make additional voluntary payments called Sadaqah.
– Hajj – the annual pilgrimage to Makkah, which every Muslim must carry out at least once in a lifetime if he or she has the health and wealth. A Muslim man who has completed Hajj is called Hajji, and a woman, Hajjah. The pilgrimage is made during Dhul Hijjah, the twelfth month.
– Sawm – this is fasting from just before dawn until sunset during the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. Muslims must abstain from all food and drink (including water) as well as smoking and sexual relations during the hours of fasting.
The fulfilment of these five pillars is the duty of every Muslim as a demonstration of their obedience to Allah’s wishes.
Each of these five actions is ibadah; an act of worship performed with the intention of obeying the wishes of Allah.
The Qur’an and books of hadith are treated with reverence; the Qur’an especially would be placed in a reverential position at home, work or the mosque. Most mosques traditionally have wooden cabinets or shelving for placing of the Qur’ans and also ensuring that they are accessible to the worshippers. There are also special Qur’an stands available in mosques and most Muslim homes on which the Qur’an is placed when being read. Many Mosques will also stock collections of Hadith and these too must be treated with utmost reverence. In the UK there are estimated to be some 1600 mosques, many are not purpose built but often just large houses or similar buildings converted to a Mosque.
Much of Muslim life is centred on worship. The daily struggle of Greater Jihad (see below) could be said to inform all aspects of Muslim life, however, it is also stressed that there are set times for prayer which turn the thoughts of a Muslim from the secular world to the sacred one and that after prayer there is a return to daily life and work. This is also seen in the observance of Friday prayers, Salat-ul-Jumu’ah, all work stops for the prayers but after the service is over, daily life returns.
For the Muslim the whole of the earth is a Mosque and therefore Muslims are permitted to pray at any clean place. There is usually a Minbar for the Imam to stand and deliver his sermon. Most Mosques will also have a Mihrab, which signifies the direction of Makkah to which Muslims pray. Muslims will often make effort to pray in Jumu’ah (congregation). It is traditional for majority of Mosques also to have large quantities of tasbihs available, usually hanging off the wall so that when Muslims are reciting certain litanies these help to count and also focus the mind. Muslim men and women would be expected to cover their whole bodies including their heads when praying. Imams would often wear a turban and hold the staff as a symbol of Prophetic authority and practice.
The five daily prayers (Salah) mean that Muslims pray as a community, it is a great leveller as all stand side by side in rows, focused towards Makkah and as one body. The Prophet defined perfection of faith (Ihsan) as to ‘worship God as if you see Him, if you see Him not, know that He sees you’, so it is a means of focusing the whole of one’s being towards and in the presence of God.
Birth: When a Muslim child is born the adhan (call to prayer) is whispered in its right ear and the ‘iqamah (command to rise and worship) in the left. This means that the first words the baby hears are: ‘Allahu Akbar’. The words are usually said by the oldest male present but can be said by a Muslim woman.
In India, Pakistan and Bangladesh the tahnik ceremony is held. Sugar, honey or a squashed date is rubbed on the baby’s gums by an elderly relative. This expresses the hope that the baby will be sweet-natured, kind, obedient and considerate.
Aqiqa: Seven days after birth is the Aqiqa ceremony where the father announces the name of the child to friends and relatives. The parents or the grandparents choose the name. The baby is being welcomed into the ummah. Prayers are recited asking for Allah’s blessing and for the child’s future health, prosperity and spiritual growth. The baby’s head is wiped with olive oil then washed or shaved. The equivalent weight of the shaven hair, in gold or silver, is then given to the poor.
Some Muslims offer a sacrifice after the Aqiqa ceremony. A sheep or goat is offered for a girl and two animals for a boy.
The khitan, or circumcision, may be performed at the aqiqa ceremony or at twenty-one days or even later. It can be done any time up to the tenth birthday.
Bismillah: The Bismillah ceremony is the beginning of the religious education of the child. It takes place when the child is four years old: sometimes when the child is exactly four years, four months and four days. The child must be able to recite ‘Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim’ (In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful).
By the age of seven the child will be able to take part in the five daily prayers and, by the age of ten, to fast, though usually not for the whole month of Ramadan. By the time a child is twelve Muslims are usually considered old enough to be responsible for their own religious activities.
Marriage: Marriages in the Muslim community are often arranged but they can only take place with the consent of both parties. All Muslims are expected to marry. Men may have up to four wives but each must be treated equally:
If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice. (Surah 4:3)
A Muslim man may marry a Jew or a Christian but a Muslim woman may only marry a Muslim man. Divorce is regarded as a last resort.
A Muslim marriage usually takes place in the home or the mosque and the couple give their consent before at least two witnesses. There are readings from the Qur’an and the imam and the guests pray for the couple.
The Aqd Nikah (contract of marriage) is spoken and written. The bride and groom sign three copies to ensure that they have both agreed to the marriage.
The groom gives mahr (a sum of money, property or other valuable gift) to the bride and this remains her property for life. Often a walimah or nuptial feast follows the ceremony.
Sometimes the bride does not attend the ceremony. She may remain at home while the bridegroom goes to the mosque and she appoints an agent and two witnesses to represent her part of the contract.
Death: The funeral rites for Muslims are not in the Qur’an but in law books. Rituals vary according to the customs of the country. Muslim graves in the UK run from north-east to south-west, so the heads can be at the south-west end facing right towards the direction of Makkah and the Ka’bah.
Muslims are buried and not cremated as they want the bodies to be intact for the resurrection of the dead from their graves at the Day of Judgement.
When Muslims are dying, they say the words attributed to Muhammad (pbuh) (‘Allah, help me through the hardship and agony of death’). They also try to repeat the Shahadah (declaration of faith): ‘There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the messenger of Allah’.
Relatives recite verses from the Qur’an to call on the barakah (grace) of Allah and they repeat loudly, ‘la-ilaha-illallah’, ‘there is no god but Allah’ so that Satan will have no opportunity to confuse the dying person with doubts.
The dead body is placed on a stretcher with the head in the direction of the Qiblah. Ghusl a ritual washing is done by relatives of the same sex as the deceased. The corpse is washed three times, perfumed with scents such as camphor, wrapped in a shroud, a single piece of unsewn cloth, and placed in a coffin.
Laws in many countries require coffins but in some Muslim countries the body is placed straight into the ground, protected by planks or with a coffin inverted over it and then covered with earth. Salah is then performed in the house of the dead Muslim or in the mosque.
The funeral takes place as soon as possible, usually the next day, but certainly within three days.
At the graveside in the cemetery, funeral prayers Salat-ul-Janaza (which is salah with no prostrations), and al-Fatihah (Surah 1) are said.
When the corpse is lowered into the ground, the body is committed to the earth with the words, ‘In the name of Allah, (we bury) according to the Way of the Prophet of Allah’ and the ‘From the (earth) did We create you, and into it shall We return you, and from it shall We bring you out once again.'(Surah 20:55).
Seven days after the burial, relatives try to visit the grave as a mark of respect.
Generally, mourning does not last more than three days.
Shi’ah Muslims have different traditions including rawdahs (memorial gatherings) on the fortieth day of mourning.
It is traditional for the grave to be raised a little above the level of the ground, simply to stop people from walking on it or sitting on it.
Islam does not require separation from the non-Muslim world but some of the laws of Islam require separation of a degree. Prayer times must be observed and food must be halal. The laws of modesty, particularly in relation to women have caused some difficulties for Muslims living in the western world. Whilst the Qur’an does indicate what is suitably modest dress for both men and women, much practice is based on the local cultures of the countries in which Islam developed. This has caused some difficulties, in particular for women, who wish to observe a strict code of dress in the outside world with corresponding negative reactions in the media.
The teachings of shirk (association), that is, regarding anything as being equal or partner to Allah, has caused problems when some western media have sought to represent the Prophet in drawings or cartoon form. Many of these representations have been derogatory and offensive to Muslims. Muslims do not condemn freedom of speech but nevertheless this cannot extend to this sort of treatment of the Prophet of Allah.
Many Muslims live in very tight-knit families and communities and feel that Islam has not been well reported in much of the media, especially in the light of the destruction of the twin towers in New York in 2001 and the London bombings in 2005. Such extremist atrocities are condemned by Muslims in the UK as having nothing to do with the true teachings of Islam.
It is important to note that these aspects separation from the non-Muslims world are not associated in any way with any idea of Muslims being better than others, such an idea is anathema and contrary to the teachings of the Qur’an.
A further very important aspect of Islamic spirituality is Jihad.
Greater Jihad is defined as ‘personal individual struggle against evil in the way of Allah’. This is a daily feature in the life of a Muslim as they try to ensure that every aspect of their life is lived in accordance with Allah’s will.
The concept often referred to as Jihad, particularly in some parts of the media, is in fact Lesser Jihad. This is sometimes translated as a Holy War – fighting to protect Islam. The conditions of Lesser Jihad, like those of a Just War, are very strict and Muslims in the UK say that no Lesser Jihad has been legitimately called for many centuries.
There are two main festivals (‘Id, sing.) in the Islamic calendar. The first comes after the yearly performance of hajj. It is called ‘Id-ul-Adha (the festival of Sacrifice; some Muslims sacrifice an animal which is then distributed amongst family, friends, neighbours and the needy). The second is to mark the end of the month of the month of Ramadan and hence the end of fasting. It is called ‘Id-ul-Fitr (the festival of the breaking of the fast). The day of Friday (yawm al-Jumu’ah) is also a festival but on a smaller scale. Muslims all over the world also commemorate the birth of the Prophet (Mawlid an-nabi). Shi’ah Muslims have many more festivals as they celebrate the birth of each of the Imams and other events such as Ghadir Khumm.
These two mains festivals are celebrated over three days and people from different cultures have different practices. Festivals are celebrated with the family and with the community. On ‘id, people wear their best or new clothes; go to mosque to pray and wish each other a blessed ‘id (‘id mubarak); and in some communities, breakfast is served at the mosque for ‘Id-ul-Fitr. Families exchange gifts (children traditionally are given money), have lots of sweets, visit family and friends (to whom gifts or sweets may be taken), visit the graveyard and give charity (sadaqah) to the poor and the needy. The birth of the Prophet and the Imams is celebrated on the night before the day of their birth. There is usually a lecture at the mosque followed by the recitation of poetry (qasadah) and other acts of worship.
The importance of these festivals is in their religious and spiritual significance. ‘Id-ul-Adha goes back to the story of the Prophet Abraham and the command of God to sacrifice his son. This ‘id symbolises one’s total submission to the will of God and one’s readiness to give or sacrifice anything if God wished him to just like the prophet Abraham. ‘Id al-Fitr is a time for Muslims to thank God for the opportunity they were given to fast another Ramadan and to ask God for the same opportunity again. During this month, it is recommended to pray for forgiveness and hence one hopes at the end of Ramadan that his prayers have been answered. Ramadan is sometimes also called the minor fast as it is a time in which Muslims would have been working on their spirituality and their closeness with God through discipline, self-control and more awareness but which they should carry on for the rest of the year which is the major fast (in this sense, fast no longer refers to the physical aspect of it only). Festivals are also an occasion for people to meet each other again. Every person is more careful about their duties and obligations and the spirit of ‘id offers an opportunity to make amends and encourages reconciliation. These gatherings strengthen communities by bringing families and friends together as they worship God as a unit.
On the two ‘ids, Muslims perform an ablution (ghusl) in the morning and then go to the mosque for a special ‘id prayer performed in congregation and which is followed by a sermon. Muslims are recommended to spend some time in worship and to read certain supplications. Giving sadaqah is highly recommended on the day of ‘id. On the day of ‘Id al-Fitr, each household must pay a fixed amount of money called fitrah or zakat-ul-Fitr which is then distributed to the poor.
As the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, Islamic festivals do not always occur on the same days. An example of this would be the ‘Id-ul-Fitr may take place on either the 29th or the 30th of the month of Ramadan depending on the sighting of the moon.
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