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Islamic Beliefs and Practices

Islamic Beliefs and Practices

Giving a charitable tax, fasting for 30 days, forsaking alcohol and intoxicating substances... these are a few practices followed by the people of Islam or Muslims. Read on for a look at the principal beliefs or ideals behind this form of religion.
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The second largest religion in the world, with around 1.41 -1.57 billion followers, is the religion of Islam. It's not a religion confined to one particular region, country or set of people, there are Muslims in nearly every country of the world. Below some basic Islamic beliefs and practices are discussed, with a brief description of each.

Five Pillars of Islam

The following are the 5 pillars of Islam, which make up the key beliefs or principles that all Muslims must abide by and follow in their life. These must not be confused with Islamic culture or traditions, as those are subject to regional influence and these are strict religious observances.

I. Shahada (Creed)
Islam is a monotheistic religion, so its followers believe in one God and He has no sons or daughters or kin. Nothing is his equal or should be associated with him. Associating or equating any being, living or non living with God is considered a major sin in Islam. The basic principle of faith in Islam imparted through the statement of Shahada: Ashhadu al-la ilaha illa-llah wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasulu-llah. which translates to: "I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Messenger".

II. Salah (Prayer)
A Muslim's prayers are called Salah. A Muslim must pray 5 times a day, when the Azan or call to prayer is made. The 5 prayers are individually called:
  • Subah performed at dawn
  • Zuhr performed at noon
  • Asr performed in the middle of the afternoon
  • Maghrib performed at twilight or sunset
  • Isha performed at night
The prayers are said in Arabic and the worshiper must observe qibla, while praying, i.e. he must face the Kaaba in Mecca and pray. Prior to praying, ritual holy ablutions or Wodhu must be carried out. Prayers can be performed in congregation or alone. A Muslim must perform most of his prayers in congregation at a mosque, where the prayer is led by an Imam.

III. Zakat (Purifying Tax)
Muslims believe that all wealth and gain are worldly charms and that everything comes from God. As such, it is their moral and religious obligation to help those less fortunate and to take care of the poor. So, a purifying tax or Zakat must be paid, as charity to help the poorer members of the Muslim community. It's not just about money, Muslims also believe in good deeds and a Muslim should perform one everyday.

IV. Sawm (Fasting)
Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the holiest of all Islamic beliefs and practices. It was during Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar, that Prophet Muhammad was blessed with the revelation of the Quran through the angel Jibril. During this month, Muslims must not consume any food or drink and should not be intimate with each other from sunrise to sunset. They must break their fast, with the Azan of the Maghrib prayer, at which a feast or Iftar is served and eaten. This month is very holy and prayers and an atmosphere of piety should be observed to reflect the holiness of this time period. In addition to fasting, a Muslim must abstain from foul language or thoughts, remove oneself from worldly comforts and temptations and be charitable to one and all. The traveling, the sick, the elderly and lactating and pregnant mothers are exempted from fasting temporarily, as they must make up for the lost fasts later in the month.

V. Hajj (Pilgrimage)
A Muslim must journey to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, at least once in his lifetime. This pilgrimage or Hajj takes place during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar and involves a succession of religious rites and rituals, which include:
  • A pilgrim must circle the Kaabas seven times in a counter-clockwise manner
  • Pilgrims must run seven times between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah
  • Water from the holy Zamzam Well must be drunk
  • Pilgrims gather in the plains of Mount Arafat and stand or sit for the entire day, praying and asking for forgiveness
  • The stoning of the devil takes place, where pilgrims throw rocks at two pillars, representing Satan. On this day, Eid al-Adha takes place.
Miscellaneous Islamic Beliefs

Angels & Prophets
In Islam, angels or Malāikah are designated of carriers or bearers of God's will. They are meant to appear in front of men to convey God's message. They are powerful beings and can appear in multiple forms but they only obey God and perform his will. The number of angels and any classification of them is unknown. The Prophets are ordinary men, who have been chosen by God to impart His teachings among mankind. At different points of time, prophets have come and preached the word of God to different sects of people. The final prophet of Islam is Prophet Muhammad or The Messenger, to whom the Quran was revealed.

Halal & Haraam
Certain items of food and drink as well as certain acts are forbidden in Islam, these are termed as Haraam. Indulging in such vices is a major sin. Halal is what is permitted or allowed in the sight of God. Haraam acts and items include:
  • Any wealth obtained from illegal or criminal means
  • The practice of gambling, be it money or property or any object
  • The practice of taking interest or usury
  • Drinking or consuming alcohol in any form
  • Taking drugs
  • Eating the flesh and products obtained from pigs or swine
  • Eating the flesh of dead animals or carcasses
  • Eating flesh of carnivorous beasts and birds of prey
  • Eating flesh of an animal that has not been killed in the name of God
The above Islamic beliefs and practices highlight the simple and focused lifestyle, that the average Muslim follows. From the concept of Azan and Ramadan to various tales and stories from Islamic history, Islam is a fascinating religion and delving deeper into its features and beliefs makes for a very interesting study into one of the world's oldest religions.