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In the world we live in today there are many different religions. Islam is a religion that has over one billion followers worldwide. It teaches that one must submit to God (Allah) in heart, soul, and deed. A person that follows Islam religion is called a Muslim. Islam is based on the teachings of Muhammad, the central figure in Islam.
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He symbolizes to Muslims the perfect man that shows what it means to be a Muslim. The Quran is the book of Allah and it is written in Arabic. The word Quran means recitation in Arabic. All Muslims must recite the Quran in Arabic, regardless of their national language.
The Quran consists of one hundred and fourteen chapters of six thousand verses, originally revealed to Muhammad over a period of twenty-two years (Esposito, Islam 17). These chapters which are called surahs are arranged according to length, from the longest being some twenty-two pages of Arabic text for sura two, through the shortest being only a single line for sura one hundred and eight (Rippin19).
The name of Allah appears more than two thousand five hundred times in the Quran (Esposito, Islam 22). The Quran emphasizes service to God. “It envisions a society based on the unity and equality of believers, a society in which moral and social justice will counter balance oppression of the weak and economic exploitation” (Esposito, Islam 29). The Quran is the central religious text used by most Muslims to guide their prayer rituals, worship services, and family traditions.
Muslims have many different forms of prayer rituals that they perform on a daily basis. To them, prayer is very important in their way of life and they use the Quran for many of their prayers. They perform prayer rituals called Salat five times each day. They pray at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening. These five prayers, in the order of which they are performed, are called salat al-subh, salat al-zuhr, salat al-asr, salat al-maghrib, and salat al-isha (Rippin 101).
Since Muslims live all over the world, there are Muslims praying all the time because of the time differences. Prayer is always done in the direction of the Kaaba shrine in Mecca. Kaaba is the House of God and Mecca is the holiest city of Islam and the birthplace of Muhammad (Esposito, What Everyone 24). The prayers are said in Arabic and they combine “meditation, devotion, moral elevation, and physical exercise” (Esposito, What Everyone 24).
Their basic physical positions for prayer are standing, bowing, sitting or kneeling, and prostration (Zepp 82). The prayers take about five to ten minutes each (Ahmed 33). “The whole sequence of the ritual is repeated twice in the morning, three times at sunset, and four times in the noon, afternoon and evening prayers” (Rippin 101). This equals to seventeen daily prayers.
Additional prayers can also be performed. There is the witr prayer which is performed at night (Rippin 102). Also, the wird prayer is a private prayer based on the recitation of the Quran (Rippin 102). Before Muslims pray they must perform ablution. Ablution is a spiritual and physical cleaning. They begin by cleaning their minds from thoughts and concerns and concentrate on God and his blessings. Then they wash their hands, face and feet.
The arms they wash up to the elbows. Then they say, “I bear witness that there is no god but God; He has no partner; and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and messenger” (Esposito, What Everyone 25). The person that recites this must say the statement with an honest intention. If a person is under ceremonial impurity, then he must wash his whole body. The cause of this impurity is any seminal emission or contact with sexual organs (Williams 98).
Worshippers may also use sand when water is not available. This process is called tayammum. The person places the hands on the soil and rubs the face with the hands (Williams 98). There are two types of ablution. They are ghusl and wudu. Ghusl is done after acts of great defilement like sexual intercourse. Wudu is done after small defilements like going to the bathroom, sleep, and simple contact with the opposite sex (Farah 138).
Muslims also follow the Quran as a guide to do their worship services. They follow the Five Pillars of Islam to Worship Allah. The first pillar is daily confession of the faith called shahada. A Muslim must say, “There is no god but God (Allah) and Muhammad is the messenger of God” (Esposito, What Everyone 17). This proclamation confirms to Muslims that there is only one God and to idolize others is an unforgivable sin. The second pillar is daily ritual prayer called salat. They are performed five times a day.
The prayers are recitations of the Quran in Arabic. The prayers are done with physical movements. These movements are: standing, bowing, kneeling, touching the ground with one’s forehead, and sitting. The recitation and movements demonstrate submission, humility, and the adoration of God (Esposito, What Everyone 19). At the conclusion of the prayer, they recite the shahada and they repeat their “peace greeting” twice. This “peace greeting” says “Peace be upon all of you and the mercy and blessings of God” (Esposito, Islam 89).
The third pillar is paying the alms tax called zakat. Muslims are required to pay an annual contribution of two and a half percent of their individual wealth and assets. This money is used to help the poor, orphans, and widows. Zakat is an obligation to respond to the needs of the less fortunate. It is an act of worship, or thanksgiving to God, and of service to the community (Esposito, Islam 90). The fourth pillar is fasting during the month of Ramadan and is called sawn. It is done once a year on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
During this month, Muslims that are healthy must abstain from dawn to sunset from food, drink, and sexual activity. Families eat before sunrise to sustain them until sunset. Then they eat a light meal at dusk and eat a late evening meal (Esposito, Islam 91). Fasting lasts for twenty-nine or thirty days. Ramadan is a time of spiritual discipline and of expressing gratitude towards God (Esposito, Islam 90). “Total abstinence reminds the Muslim that each life is one of sacrifice, dependent on God” (Zepp 88). Muslims recite a special prayer that is only recited during Ramadan (Esposito, Islam 91).
The Eid al-Fitr is the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast of Ramadan and is a celebration that lasts three days (Esposito, Islam 91). The fifth pillar is a pilgrimage to Mecca called hajj. At least once in their lifetime, a Muslim must make the sacrifice to make this pilgrimage which is done after Ramadan. The conditions to go are that they must pay for themselves without burrowing the money and be able to afford it (Ahmed 37). They are from different classes, colors, nationalities, and races and they are in the same dress performing the same rituals (Zepp 90).
About two million Muslims go every year. Pilgrim men must wear two seamless white sheets and the women must cover their whole body except for their hands and face. These coverings symbolize purity as well as the unity and equality of all believers (Esposito, What Everyone 22). As Muslims arrive in Mecca they go to the Kaaba where they move counterclockwise around the Kabba seven times symbolizing their entry before God.
The Kaaba is known as the “House of God”. It is a cube-shaped house in which the sacred black stone is embedded (Esposito, Islam 91). In the coming days, the pilgrims participate in several ritual ceremonies that symbolize important religious events. They also visit the Plain of Arafat where they stand before God in repentance for forgiveness for all Muslims (Esposito, Islam 92). The Eid al-Adha is the Feast of Sacrifice which lasts four days and symbolizes the annual completion of the pilgrimage to Mecca. Here they sacrifice animals and most of the meat is given to the poor (Esposito, Islam 92). Also, during daily prayers, the faithful go to the mosque to pray.
The mosque is a place of peace and serenity without images or idols of worship. The mosque has a carpet on which to stand or sit and meditate. “If a mosque is unavailable, a prayer rug may serve as a “mosque”, and each rug will have a point in its design to orient the prayer to Mecca” (Zepp 81). Muslims stand and bow before God. Worshippers begin by raising their hands and proclaiming God’s greatness, “Allahu Akbar”, or God is most great (Esposito, What Everyone 25).
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Then, passages of the Quran are recited. On Fridays a great congregational prayer is done in the afternoon called juma. The men and women worship in separate groups (Esposito, What Everyone 33). This prayer is led by a leader who is called imam. There is also a sermon called khutba which combines religious advice on social and political issues based on the Quran’s teachings (Esposito, What Everyone 33). Muslims use the Quran as a guide to worship Allah. They invoke the name Allah (God) on an average of no less than twenty times a day (Farah 6). Worshipping Allah has many effects on their actions.
Muslims shed the attire of daily life for a plain white linen cloth as a symbol of equality. A person must profess the Shahadah, or open testimony which states their belief in Allah. “The words of the Shahadah are said fourteen times a day if a Muslim does all daily prayers. The Shahadah is heard at every significant occasion from birth to death” (Zepp 80). “Al-Islam” signifies the total submission to the will of God. Muslims also have obligations they must follow.
For instance, they have obligations such as obedience to Allah, kindness, consideration, and chastity (Farah 127-28). They also have a social morality that requires them to place duty before right, as well as ceremonial duties (Farah 128). These duties are incumbent regardless of their status in society. Their most important act of faith in their ceremonial duties is “There is no god but God”, or al-Shahadah (Esposito, Islam 88).
Muslims also use the Quran to guide their family traditions. To them, marriage is the basis of a family. Although to have a valid Muslim marriage, a marriage contract or marriage proposal must be mutually agreed upon by the bride and the groom (Zepp 99). The man must give the bride a mahr, or gift, as a form of surety. This gift is usually money, but it can be any other thing. Two Muslim men must be witnesses to the offer and to the acceptance (Zepp 99). Unlike other religions, marriage is not a sacrament but a social contract to establish family unity (Zepp 99).
Marriage is preferred to be between two Muslims and within the extended family, even though men are allowed to marry non-Muslim women (Esposito, Islam 94). “The Quran permits a man to marry up to four wives, provided that he is able to support and treat them equally” (Esposito, Islam 95). On the other hand, “The vast majority of men are monogamous” (Ahmed 152). The marriage “emphasizes the great significance attached to family life as a force for unity in Islamic society” (Farah 166). Divorce and remarriage is allowed as a last resort. A requirement stated in the Quran says that a husband must pronounce “I divorce you” three times for a period of three months to allow time for reconciliation (Esposito, Islam 96).
Nowadays, in many countries, Muslim women can request a divorce from the courts based on different grounds. Also, in a marriage, the men must pay the household expenses and he has the final decisions on family matters. The wife takes care of the house and the children and supervises their religious and moral training (Esposito, Islam 96). On the other hand, the wife obeys her husband. The birth of a son is a joyful event for every Muslim family. When the son reaches the age of seven, the circumcision rite is performed and strictly observed (Farah 167).
Male circumcision is required in Islam according to tradition and Muhammad’s example (Sunnah) (Esposito, What Everyone 101). Circumcision symbolizes submission to God’s will. It is an important part of a boy’s life showing a transition to adulthood that includes male responsibilities and attendance to public prayer. This circumcision rite launches the boy’s formal study of the Quran at school (Farah 167). The daughter on the other hand stays close to the house where she receives her education. The girl is taught to become a good housewife and mother. The parents’ main concern is about a properly arrange marriage (Farah, 167).
For Muslims, the Quran is the central religious text that guides their prayer rituals, worship services, and family traditions. Memorization of the entire Quran brings immense prestige and merit. The Quran provides rules that guide a person in relation to modesty, marriage, divorce, inheritance, feuding, intoxicants, gambling, diet, theft, murder, fornication, and adultery (Esposito, Islam 29).
The Quran emphasizes service to God because is their belief that it is on earth and in society that God’s will is to govern and prevail (Esposito, Islam 28). Islam is not only a religion but an all-embracing way of life (Farah, 14). The Quran is the sacred text that is most widely read in the world today (Farah 79). As a result, Muslims use it to help guide their spiritual life all over the world.
Ahmed, Akbar S. Islam Today: A Short Introduction to the Muslim World. London: I.B.Tauris, 1999.
Esposito, John L. Islam: the Straight Path. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.
Esposito, John L. What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam. New York: Oxford UP, 2002.
Farah, Caesar E. Islam: Beliefs and Observances. 7th ed. Hauppauge: Barron’s, 2003.
Rippin, Andrew. Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. Vol. 2. London: Routledge, 2001.
Williams, John A., ed. Islam. New York: Washington Square P Inc., 1961.
Zepp Jr., Ira G. A Muslim Primer: Beginner’s Guide to Islam. 2nd ed. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas P, 2000.
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