The Kaaba, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, during Hajj
The heart of Islam is the Five Pillars of Islam (arkan al-Islam). These are the five obligations all Muslims must perform. Revealed by the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad, these five obligations appear in the Qur'an and the hadith, and in particular, the Hadith of Gabriel (hadith jibril).
Shahadah (or witness) "is the first and most important pillar in that it requires the individual to recognize and believe that there is no God but God and Prophet Muhammad is the Messenger of God." Before Muhammad received his revelations, the people of Mecca worshipped over 360 idols that were enshrined in the Kaaba. Besides these idols, the Arabs believed that "Allah was the invisible God, creator of the Universe, and above all the others." Muhammad's mission was to bring the Arabic people back to monotheism.
The believer who recites the shahadah makes a covenant with God based on four conditions. In the first condition, the believer affirms the Oneness of Allah (Tauhid-ar-Rububiyyah). In the second condition, the believer acknowledges that only Allah is worthy of worship (Tauhid-al-Uluhiyyah). In the third condition, the believer agrees that the names and qualities of Allah cannot be changed or attributed to others (Tauhid-al-Asma was-Sifat). In the fourth condition, the believer confirms that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
Salah (the five daily prayers) are incumbent upon all Muslims after the onset of puberty. "The prayers . . . are spread throughout the day as a reminder to Muslims of their true purpose in life, which is the obedience and worship of God." In Muslim countries, a Muezzin calls the people to prayer from a minaret attached to the mosque. Since the five daily prayers are recited in Arabic, Muslims are strongly encouraged to learn Qur'anic Arabic.
Before prayer, believers ritually purify themselves with water or clean sand (wudu) or a full bath (ghusl). During prayers, Muslims face the direction of Mecca and the Great Mosque (al-Masjid al-Haram). The body positions required during prayer force believers to reaffirm their dependence on and obedience to God. "Prayer is . . . the quintessential act of submission to God and the main proof of Islam."
Friday, right after noon, is the day when all Muslims gather for congregational prayer (juma) at the mosque. Men and women are segregated "so that there is no temptation that can interfere in the worship." A strict dress code is observed by women, which requires them to cover their heads, arms, and legs.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan (saum) is the third pillar of Islam. All Muslims who have reached puberty are obligated to perform this fast. The Ramadan fast commemorates "the day in which the Qur'an was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad." The fast was prescribed in the Qur'an, Surah 2:183: "O, you who believe! Observing As-saum (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqun (the pious)."
Although the fast is difficult (believers must abstain from food, water, and sex from dawn to dusk), they honor it "as both a purifactory act of sacrifice and an affirmation of ethical awareness." Suffering thirst and hunger during Ramadan reminds believers to remember the poor and needy when performing zakat (giving charitable alms). "The larger principle [however] is the total awareness and submission to God."
Zakat (charitable alms) is the fourth pillar of Islam. Muslims believe that it is "the act of giving in charity that leads to the purification of . . . money, and this altruism of giving to others does not contribute to its diminution but to its increase." In other words, sharing with others in remembrance of Allah increases the blessings received from Allah. Muslims are required annually to donate 1/40th of their excess wealth to charitable causes. Charitable acts which also qualify as zakat include kindness to others, preventing evil, and promoting the general good.
The fifth pillar of Islam is the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca). "Muslims are required to perform the Hajj at least once in their lifetime if they are capable physically and financially of doing so." According to the Qur'an (2:127-219), Abraham and his firstborn son, Ishmael, built the Kaaba. Allegedly, Allah taught Abraham the rituals of the Hajj and "required [mankind] to make the pilgrimage to that House."
The rituals of the Hajj commemorate the story of Abraham, Hagar, and their son, Ishmael. When pilgrims run back and forth between the two hills (As-Safa and Al-Marawah), they are remembering Hagar's search for water. When pilgrims throw three stones at the pillars of stone representing Satan, they are reminded of Satan's attempts "to dissuade Abraham from sacrificing his son." The sacrificing of a sheep or ram at the end of Hajj honors the Angel's intervention in stopping Abraham from sacrificing his son, Ishmael, and the appearance of a sheep to take his place. Over a period of ten days, pilgrims "re-enact those traditions passed on from Abraham through subsequent generations and continued by Prophet Muhammad."
Circumambulating the Kaaba is one of the most important traditions of the Hajj, for it "symbolizes the believer's entry into the divine presence." The entire purpose of the Hajj is to remind pilgrims of their submission to God.
The Five Pillars of Islam are the external rituals which set Islam apart from other religions. The rituals are meant to evoke a constant reminder of God (dhikr) and to affirm the Oneness of God.
January 17, 2019
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