Almost as soon as the Arab armies of Islam conquered new lands, they began erecting mosques and palaces and commissioning other works of art as expressions of their faith and culture. Many aspects of religious practice in Islam also emerged and were codified. 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, Umma, should adhere.
The Five Pillars of Islam are: Shahadah, Salat, Zakat, Sawm, and Hajj.
- The Profession of Faith, the Shahadah, is the most fundamental expression 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.
- 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.
- The giving of alms is the third pillar. Although not defined in the Quran, Muslims believe that they are meant to share their wealth with those less fortunate in their community of believers.
- 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.
- All Muslims who are able 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.
The one I chose to discuss into further detail is the fourth Pillar of Islam and I chose this one specifically because this is the one that I am more familiar with. The fourth Pillar of Islam is fasting, or Sawm. Sawm takes place during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and begins with the sighting of the new moon. Because Islam uses a lunar calendar, Ramadan comes around eleven days earlier each year than in a western calendar. All adult Muslims must fast for 29 to 30 days during daylight hours. Fasting covers abstinence from food and drink of any sort, smoking and sexual activity. Muslims should also avoid bad habits, bad deeds, and evil thoughts. Many Muslims will take this time to try to become better Muslims by praying more or reading the Qur’an. Fasting helps train worshippers in patience and self-discipline and is an opportunity for them to express their gratefulness to God. Since fasting takes place during daylight hours, many Muslims will eat a meal, called Suhur, just before sunrise and eat Iftar (breakfast) after sunset. Friends and family often join each other for the evening meal. Ramadan is important for several reasons. First, that is was the month when the Qur’an was first revealed. And second, because it is a period in the Islamic calendar when the gates of heaven are open and the gates of hell shut. During this time, Muslims believe their good deeds bring greater reward than during any other month because Allah has blessed Ramadan.
“The name Sufism is thought to derive from the Arabic word suf (‘wool’), because early Sufis wore a simple robe made of common wool.” (Molloy, 2013). People believed that sticking to the rules was all that there was to being a good Muslim. Sufism is called “the heart of Islam” because it sought the involvement of emotions. Sufism believed that one may “go through the motions” while leaving the heart uninvolved (Molloy, 2013). As do other Muslims, Sufis take part in the fasting. “[The] encouragement to eat should not be taken to excess (7:31), and during the month of Ramadan a fast from food, drink and sexual intercourse was commanded during the daylight hours.” (Hoffman, 1995).
Hoffman, V. (1995). Eating and Fasting for God in Sufi Tradition. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 63(3), 465-484. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1465088 (Links to an external site.)
Molloy, M. (2013). Experiencing the world’s religions. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill