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The Muslim concept of worship is very broad. Muslims consider everything they do in this life according to Allah's will, an act of worship. Worship of Allah is foremost in a Muslim's mind all the time. There are also five formal acts of worship that help strengthen a Muslim's faith and obedience that are referred to as the Five Pillars of Islam.
The first of the five pillars is the testimony of faith called Shahadah. The statement is "Ashadu alla ilaha illa Allah, as ashadu anna Muhammad ar-Rasool Allah," which means "I bear witness that there is no God other than Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His messenger" (Smith, 14). When one declares this statement, one testifies to the Unity of Allah, and to the message of the Prophethood. When one bears witness that Muhammad is His messenger, one is confirming that all of the prophets before him were also His messengers. A person becomes a Muslim once this statement is declared with the purity of heart and conviction of heart.
The second pillar is the act of prayer called Salat. Formal prayer is very important because it is "mankind's connection to Allah through which on gathers strength, guidance, and peace of mind" (Norcliffe, 119). Muslims repeat and refresh their beliefs by taking time out of their day to remember Allah and renew their effort to follow His guidance five times a day: (1) Fajr-before sunrise, (2) Zuhr-after the sun begins to decline, (3) Asr-mid-afternoon, (4) Magrib-after sunset, and (5) Isha-night.
The third pillar is the act of fasting called Sawm. Fasting is abstaining completely from eating, drinking, and intimate sexual contact from the break of dawn till sunset. This is a unique Islamic institution which teaches man the principle of sincere love and devotion to Allah.
"O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may learn self-restraint. Fast for a fixed number of days... Ramadan is the month in which was sent down the Quran, as a guide to mankind, and clear signs for guidance and judgment between right and wrong. So every one of you who is present at home during that month should spend it in fasting... Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties. He wants you to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you, and perchance you shall be grateful."
The fourth pillar of Islam is the participation in almsgiving called Zakat. Charity giving is an act of worship and spiritual investment. This is a type of "institutionalized almsgiving which consists of two and a half percent of the Muslim's total savings" (Norcliffe, 126). The money may be given to the poor or go towards furthering Islam. Zakat fosters in a Mulsim the quality of sacrifice and rids one of selfishness, greed, and vanity.
The final pillar of Islam is Hajj which refers to the pilgrimage to Mecca. Every Muslim who is financially and physically able must go on this pilgrimage during the month of Hajj, which is the twelfth month of the lunar year. Mecca is the center of the Muslim world; it was here that Abraham built the first house of worship on earth, called the Kaaba.
"The first House of worship appointed for men was that at Bakka (Mecca), full of blessing and of guidance for all the worlds. It is Signs manifest - the Station of Abraham - whoever enters it attains security. Pilgrimage thereto is duty men owe to Allah, for those who can afford the journey..."
During this pilgrimage, all Muslims must complete Tawaf, which "consists of walking around the Kaaba four times at a hurried pace and then three times more closely at a leisurely pace, all in a counterclockwise direction"(Caner, 187). All pilgrims dress in pure white cloth and are required to suppress passion, refrain from any bloodshed and be pure in word and deed.
"For Hajj are the months well-known. If anyone undertakes the journey therein, let there be no obscenity, nor wickedness, nor wrangling in the Hajj. And whatever good you do, be sure Allah knows it. And take a provision with you for the journey, but the best of provisions is right conduct..."
This pilgrimage is to commemorate the "Divine rituals observed by the prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael, who were the first pilgrims to the house of Allah on earth"(Caner, 188). It is also to remember the great assembly of the Day of Judgement wherein all people, kings or peasants, stand equally before Allah as equals.
The importance of the Five Pillars of Islam is shared among the three sects of Muslims?Sunni, Shi'a, and Sufi. Islamic sects are not simply "denominations," if that word is understood to mean various valid approaches to the same religion. Members of one Islamic group do not usually recognize members of other groups as fellow Muslims, and open conflict between sects is not uncommon. As a whole, Islam is much less divided than Christianity and Judaism? the vast majority of the world's Muslims are Sunnis.
Sunni is the largest Islamic sect with "approximately nine hundred and forty million adherents out of about one billion Muslims" (Besancon, 43). The Sunni tradition is known in Arabic as the Ahl-i Sunnah, the people of Sunnah, a term which according to the earliest classical sources emerged in the ninth century. The word "Sunnah" means custom, method, path or example and refers particularly to the example of the prophet Muhammad as found in the Hadith. Thus, the Ahl-i Sunnah are those who follow the tradition of the prophet and his companions in understanding the Islamic faith.
The Shi'a sect includes most of the Muslims that are not counted among the Sunni. The primary division within Islam, between Sunni and Shi'a, dates to the death of the Prophet Muhammad when his followers were faced with the decision of who would be his successor as the leader of Islam. Shi'ites are those who followed Ali, the son in law of Muhammad, as Muhammad's successor.
Sufism is a mystic tradition of Islam; Sufi Islam differs from classical Islam in its emphasis on a mystical religious life and its concepts of secrecy. Sufis stress the love of God and teach that they have a special relationship with God that goes back to a primordial covenant. (Waliullah, 13-14)
All Muslims? Sunni, Shi'a, and Sufi ? have the same fundamental beliefs as prescribed in the Five Pillars of Islam: faith, prayer, purification, charity, and the importance of the pilgrimage to the Holy City.
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