Islam is a religion born out of Abrahamic beliefs and one that has finds its true meaning and interpretation in the sacred writings of Qur'an. The Qur'an is considered by the Muslims as the word of God. They strongly believe that the only purpose of life is to spread the feeling of love and help each other in the name of Allah. He who serves others, serves Allah. According to them, the religion of Islam is the religion that completely captures the essence of all the faith and teachings that have been bestowed on believers at different times and places from even before Abraham, Moses or Jesus. Today, it is believed that although the ancient teachings and revelations have been changed or manipulated over time, the Qur'an still remains as the unaltered word of God.
The most important religious concepts of this religion include the five pillars of Islam, which primarily symbolize the five basic acts in Islam- kalima (belief), salat (daily prayers), zakat (alms giving), sawm (fasting in the days of Ramadan) and hajj (pilgrimage). The interpretations of each one of these cover all the aspects of life ranging from society, money, prayer, empathy and selflessness. It is obligatory for all the believers of Islam to believe in these teachings and act on them too. Following is an account of the significance of each of these five pillars:
- Kalima (Islamic belief): It is the eternal declaration of one's faith in the belief that there is only one God (Allah) and that the Muhammad is his dutiful messenger. Kalima is a statement that is recited in Arabic at mosques as well as in one's own prayer and it goes like, "I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is His Servant and Messenger." One has to recite it in his ritualistic daily prayers (known as salah/ salat), as well as on other occasions like a conversion to Islam ceremony.
- Daily prayers (salāh/ salat): According to the Sunna belief, a salat consists of five prayers at different times of a day. Each one of these have separate names: Fajr (morning dawn) that is to be performed before sunrise, Zuhr (noon) to be performed at midday when the sun has just reached its highest point, 90 degree in the sky, Asr (afternoon) is performed in evening after the sun has receded from its highest point, Maghrib (after-sunset) is the prayer offered after sunset, and finally Isha (night) that is performed at night. Traditionally a person has to wash his hands and face before sitting for any of these prayers and also needs to face in the direction of Mecca while offering his/ her prayers.
- Zakat (alms giving): It is the practice of doing charity work. According to the tradition, the Qur'an calls for all the Muslims to donate a part of their wealth to the betterment of the poor and the needy in the society. It is considered to be a task for lessening the economic hardships of other not so well-to-do people. A person has to donate 2.5% of his wealth towards this charity work.
- Sawm (fasting): This pillar stands as a symbol to the practice of fasting during the days of Ramadan. There are three kinds of fasting involved in this religion: ritual fasting (done during festivals), fasting for absolve from repentance, and ascetic fasting, which is done to practice the sacrifice of all the worldly things and abstinence from craving for more than is required.
- Hajj (Mecca pilgrimage): Going on a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in lifetime is a compulsory tradition in Islam. It is undertaken during the holy month of Dhu-al-HIjjah by going to the city of Mecca.
Sunni and Shia Muslims
According to the census, out of the entire population of Muslims all over the world, 75% - 90% belong to the Sunni race, while the other 10%-25% are Shia. Suni and Shia are different schools of thoughts that have their own dedicated believers.
Sunni are the group of people who believe in the tradition of Muhammad. They are the orthodox group of this religion and believe that the Muhammad never appointed any subsequent successor.
On the other hand, the Shias believe that the Muhammad indeed appointed a his successor, which was his son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib who then became the first Imam. Today, Shias think of Imam as the man with the final say on all religious matters. He holds religious and spiritual authority. But his authority is only limited till here; he cannot introduce any new religious laws or strike off the old traditions of Islam. He is only there to speak of the divine revelations of the Allah.
Since centuries, Islam has been one of the most practiced religions of the world.
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