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The Five Pillars of Islam (2)
Victor M. Eskew
In the Islamic faith, the minimum practices required of each Muslim are found in “The Five Pillars of Islam.” In our previous article, we examined two of these pillars. One was the Shahada. This is the basic confession of faith of the Muslim. “I testify that there is no God but Allah, and I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. The second pillar is called salat. These are the daily prayers required of all Muslims. In this article, we want to continue to examine the remaining three pillars of Islam.
The third pillar is known as zakat. It is an obligatory tax that every Muslim pays annually. The basic rate is 2.5% of all liquid assets and income producing property of the believer. The money is contributed to either the local mosque or to an Islamic organization. The word “zakat” means “purification” or “growth.” It is believed that this setting aside of funds enables one’s goods to be purified. It is also seen as a pruning which enables new growth to occur. The zakat is used for many things: 1) To help the poor and sick, 2) To spread the Islamic faith, 3) To ransom captives, 4) To aid travelers, 5) To free Muslim slaves, 6) To help debtors, and 7) To defend Islam.
The fourth pillar is called sawm. The sawm is the fasting that takes place during the month of Ramadan. Sura 2:183-185 says: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may learn self-restraint – (fasting) for a fixed number of days…Ramadan is the month in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind.” This fast takes place from sunrise till sunset. This period of fasting serves two main purposes. First, fasting allows the Muslim to experience “the deprivation that the poor suffer throughout the year, becoming more sensitive and responsive to their plight” (Islam for Dummies, Clark, 153). Second, “although fasting is beneficial for health, it is mainly a method of self-purification and self-restraint. By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person focuses on his or her purpose in life by constantly being aware of the presence of God (www.islam101.com). On the evening of the 29th of Ramadan, the fast ends. At that time a festival called id al-fitr begins. This time of rejoicing lasts three days.
The final pillar in “The Five Pillars of Islam” is the Hajj. This involves a Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca. “The requirement is that each Muslim makes this pilgrimage once in his or her life, if able to do so. Muslims don’t go into debt or sacrifice the material well-being of their families in order to make the trip” (Islam for Dummies, 154). The trip is taken from the 8th until the 12th during the twelfth month of the Muslim calendar. Some two million Muslims will make the pilgrimage every year.
Several things transpire during the pilgrimage. “The rites of hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin, include going around the Ka’bah seven times, and going seven times between the hills Safa and Marwa as did Hagar (Hajir, Abraham’s wife) during her search for water. The pilgrims later stand on the wide plains of ‘Arafat (a large expanse of desert outside of Makkah( and join in prayer for God’s forgiveness, in which is often thought of as a preview of the Day of Judgment” (islam101). The pilgrimage ends with the festival of sacrifice called ‘Id al-Adha. During this festival a ram is sacrificed that commemorates the ram that God provided Abraham and was sacrificed by the patriarch instead of his son. Some of the pilgrims will also make an additional trip while in that region of the world. They will visit Medina in order to visit the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad.
Most Muslims are very serious about the practice of their faith. As Islam continues to grow in our nation, we will feel the impact of The Five Pillars of Islam, especially during the times of prayer. The calls for prayer will be heard in many cities. Muslims will be seen going through their prayer rituals. Many of them will break from work and other activities to engage in this rite. It is important to note that Muslims vary in their individual faithfulness. Some are extremely faithful. Others are not faithful at all. Then, there are those who fall in between the two extremes.