What is Islam?
Islam simply means to achieve peace. Peace with God, peace with oneself, and peace with the creations of God – through wholly giving oneself to God and accepting His guidance.
Islam is not a new religion but the final culmination and fulfillment of the same basic truth that God revealed through all His prophets to every people. A way of life symbolized by peace-peace with God, peace within oneself, and peace with the creations of God through submission to God and commitment to His guidance.
Muslims believe that it is the same truth that God revealed through all His prophets to every people. For a fifth of the world’s population, Islam is not just a personal religion, but a complete way of life.
Islam is a qualitative term – the quality of accepting God’s supreme authority above one’s own. As such, being a Muslim does not mean having to give up one’s culture or traditions; rather it means adopting the simple and logical principles of Islam to better one’s life and attain peace.
What are the pillars of Islam? Testimony
The “five pillars” of Islam are the basis of Muslim life. Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said:
“Islam is founded on five pillars: to testify that ‘there is no deity except God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God;' to establish the ritual prayers; to give charity (to the needy); to perform the pilgrimage to the house (of worship in Makkah); and to fast during the month of Ramadan.”
A practicing Muslim's life is centered on these pillars. The first and foremost of these is the testimony. “There is no deity except God; Muhammad is the messenger of God.”
This simple declaration of faith is required of all those who accept Islam as their chosen way of life. The words have to be uttered with sincere conviction and under no coercion. The significance of this testimony is the belief that the only purpose of life is to serve and obey God; and this is achieved through following the example of Prophet Muhammad.
Muslims believe that throughout history, God sent His chosen messengers to guide humankind. The testimony that these prophets taught was similar. The first commandment found in the Bible is “I am the Lord, thy God; thou shalt not have other gods before Me.” This belief in the Oneness of God is central to Islam and permeates all of Muslim life.
What are the pillars of Islam? Pilgrimage
The pilgrimage to Makkah (the hajj) is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for those who are physically and financially able. Over two million people, from all corners of the globe, go for hajj each year making it the largest gathering for peace. Hajj provides a unique opportunity for people from different nations to meet one another.
The annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year. The Islamic year is lunar, consequently Hajj occurs throughout all seasons during one's lifetime.
Pilgrims enter a state of sacredness where arguing and fighting, cutting a plant or even harming a fly is prohibited. They wear simple garments that strip away distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God.
The rites of the Hajj go back to Abraham and his family. They include visiting the Kabah and standing together on the wide plains of Arafat (a large expanse of desert outside Makkah). Here pilgrims pray for God's forgiveness, in what is often considered a preview of the Day of Judgment. The Hajj provides a unique opportunity for Muslims to reflect on their lives, to refocus on God, and to return to their families and homes spiritually rejuvenated.
The close of the Hajj is marked by the Festival of the Sacrifice, Eid al Adha. Pilgrims sacrifice a sheep or goat, commemorating Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his own son. The sacrificial meat is distributed to the needy. Muslims around the world celebrate this day with prayers, ritual sacrifice, and an exchange of gifts. More on the Hajj here .
What are the pillars of Islam? Fasting
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is an essential part of being a Muslim. Muslims fast from dawn until sundown-abstaining from food and drink, and guarding themselves from destructive behavior.
Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and a women who are pregnant or nursing, are permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of days later in the year. Children begin to fast (and to observe prayers) from puberty, although many start earlier.
God stated in the Quran: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may achieve greater awareness (of God)” (Quran 2:183)
Fasting is not only beneficial to heath, but it also allows one to truly empathize with those less fortunate. However, fasting is mainly a method of self-purification and self-restraint. By cutting oneself from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person focuses on his or her purpose in life by constantly being aware of God.
Ramadan is a special time for Muslims everywhere; a time for reflection and greater spirituality. The end of Ramadan is observed by a holiday- Eid al Fitr. On this day, Muslims all over the world celebrates with prayers and an exchange of gifts.
What are the pillars of Islam? Zakah or Almsgiving
An important principle of Islam is that every thing belongs to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word ‘zakah' means both “purification” and “growth”. Setting aside a proportion for those in need purifies our possessions, and like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth.
What are the pillars of Islam? Prayer
A key element of Muslim life is the obligatory, ritual prayer. These prayers are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshiper and God. This very personal relationship with the Creator allows one to fully depend, trust and love God; and to truly achieve inner peace and harmony, regardless of the trials one face.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Indeed, when one of you prays, he speaks privately with his Lord.”
Prayers are performed at dawn, mid-day, late-afternoon, sunset and nightfall; reminding one of God throughout the day. Regular prayer helps prevent destructive deeds and gives one opportunity to seek God's pardon for any misgivings.
The Prophet once asked his companions: “Do you think if there was a river by the door and one of you bathed in it five times a day; would there remain any dirt on him?” The Prophet's companions answered in the negative. The Prophet then said: “That is how it is with the five (daily) prayers; through them God washes away your sins.”
Friday is the day of congregation for Muslims. The mid-day prayer on Friday is different from all other prayers in that it includes a sermon. Prayers at other times are relatively simple; they include verses from the Quran and take only a few minutes to complete.
Muslims are greatly encouraged to perform their five daily prayers in congregation, and in a Mosque. A Mosque, in its most basic form, is simply a clean area designated for prayers. Mosques throughout the world have taken on various architectural forms, reflecting local cultures. They range from detached pavilions in China to elaborate courtyards in India ; from massive domes in Turkey to glass and steel structures in the United States . However, one unique and very obvious feature remains-the “call to prayer.”
The first person to call Muslims to prayer was a freed African slave from Abyssinia , Bilal ibn Rabah. He was a beloved companion of Prophet Muhammad, whose rich and melodious voice called the Muslims of Madinah to prayer five times a day.