What is Islam?


The religious aspect of Islam is based on five pillars; belief, Salah (prayer), Sawm (fasting), Zakat (a form of donation, and Hajj (the holy pilgrimage). These are the basic five pillars on which all of the religious affairs are based.

The first pillar is belief. Every Muslim has to have a certain set of beliefs. This opens doors to a whole new subject known as Aqeedah, which basically means belief in the Arabic language. There are numerous books on the beliefs of Muslims. It is the beliefs of Muslims that categorizes them into different sects. This will be explained in detail later.
The second pillar is Salah which means prayer. Muslims hold the view that prayer is a way for a person to communicate with God. Unlike other religions, Muslims hold the belief that every person has his/her own direct special connection with God. There is no need for a medium to assist in communicating between the two.

There are five daily prayers that are mandatory on every single Muslim. There is no excuse to leave these prayers for anyone except for special cases like losing consciousness or menstruation. Other than these, there are no cases in which a person is not required to pray. Aside from these daily prayers, a person is allowed offer as many non-mandatory prayers he/she wants. Muslims should see this as a privilege that they can communicate with their Maker whenever they desire.
The third pillar is Sawm which means to fast. The month of Ramadan is the month in which every Muslim is required to fast. Similar to prayer, there are only a few cases in which a person is allowed leeway not fast. Other than this month, a person can fast as much as he/she desires. Fasting in Islam is from astronomical dawn until sunset. Within this time period, eating, drinking anything as well as sexual affairs with one’s wife is forbidden. Also, a person can fast aside from this month, as many times as he desires.

Aside from being worship there are other benefits to fasting. One of the main benefits is that it teaches self-control, especially in areas with high temperatures or places with long days. A thirsty person sees the glass of water in front of him but fights himself and goes against his desires not to drink it. Similarly, a person may feel the urge to have intercourse with his wife but refuses to break the fast. These are all things that create self-control.

Contrary to popular belief, many people think that Islam oppresses women and that women have no rights in Islam. This will be explained later in detail. The point to note here is that if a man has even a doubt that he will not be able fulfill the rights of his wife or if he has a doubt that he will somehow wrong the woman by marrying her, it is recommended in Islam that this person does not marry. But sometimes a person is poor so he can’t marry. However, he feels sexual urges and is afraid that he will commit adultery. In this case, there is a narration from the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) that this person should fast. He himself gives the reason afterwards that this fasting is way for a person to suppress his urges. When a person learns to control his urges, society will be free of many diseases like greed and hunger for power.

The fourth pillar of Islam is Zakat. This is a form of donation that every Muslim is required to give every year on a date that he/she sets themself. Zakat is an Arabic word that means purification. The money that is obtained from Zakat is all the dirty or unblessed money in a person’s possession, according to Islamic beliefs. By removing this money from his/her possession, the blessed money that remained will increase more easily.

The money obtained from Zakat was originally collected by the government during the times in which Muslims were in power. When the government collected the money, it was not allowed to be used in any government project or be placed in the government’s account. Even a mosque was not allowed to be built with that money. That money was strictly for the poor and for those people who were in need of that money. There is certain amount of money that categorizes every person as rich or poor. The rich will give money to the government and the government will give it to the people who come in the category of poor. Basically, the wealth is distributed throughout society. Karl Marx thought to have taken his idea for the bourgeoisie-proletariat revolution from this concept. But his system requires a revolution that could result in violence.

The final pillar of Islam is Hajj. This is the holy pilgrimage that Muslims do every lunar year. They travel to Saudi Arabia and perform the pilgrimage in the Ka’bah. This is the holy shrine of Muslims. Muslims travel here and wear white towels throughout this several day ritual. The beauty of it is that every person, rich or poor, is there. But they all perform the same rituals and have the same paths and priority as everybody. There is no VIP treatment in the house of God.

Hajj is such a ritual that it is obligatory on every Muslim to perform it at least one in his/her lifetime. However, if a person is unable to afford the travel and stay there, it is not mandatory on that person to perform Hajj. If a person’s wife decides not to go with him, that person must have enough money for his wife to live in his absence in the same lifestyle and same standard of things that she is used to. If all of these prerequisites are met, only then is Hajj obligatory, and it is only obligatory once in a lifetime.

These are the five major pillars of Islam. Based on these, there are other worships and the details could fill up and have filled up tens of thousands of pages. However, these pillars only make up the religious aspect of Islam. There are other aspects of Islam that are related with social, economic, and even medical affairs.

By: Qasim Abdullah

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