"I BEAR WITNESS THAT THERE IS NO GOD BUT ALLAH, AND I BEAR WITNESS THAT MUHAMMAD IS THE MESSENGER OF ALLAH."
The moment a person voluntarily utters the above declaration of the shahadah, he or she becomes a Muslim. The shahadah is the profession of faith, and it is the first pillar of Islam.
This profound statement expresses a Muslim's complete acceptance and total commitment to the message of Islam. There are several conditions that a person should adhere to in order for him/her to utter the shahadah, among them; knowledge, certainty, acceptance, submission and truthfulness. Hence, it is crucial for a person to thoroughly understand what the shahadah is all about when submitting him or herself to it and to the teachings of Islam.
This statement of faith is a genuine belief that includes all the articles of faith. It comprises two parts: the first part is the creed "There is no god but Almighty Allah. This phrase refers to the witnessing of the Oneness of Allah and therefore, is a rejection of any form of deity other than Him.
The act of witnessing the Oneness of Allah means that we accept Him as the shaper and guide of our lives, undistracted by other influences including people, things, moods or desires.
The second part of the shahadah declares that Muhammad is God's Messenger to mankind. By reciting the shahadah with full commitment and acceptance, a Muslim accepts Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the last Messenger of Allah sent with the mission of spreading the glad tidings of Islam.
Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) mission brought the final posting of the Divine Truth and thus he is regarded as the Seal of the Prophets, and the final Messenger from Allah Almighty.
The declaration of the shahadah must be accompanied with actions that please Allah as representations of one's submission to Him. As such, Muslims must always avoid actions that may nullify their shahadah, among which are associating partners with Allah and setting up intermediaries between oneself and one's Creator.
As-Salah, or prayer is the second pillar of Islam. It begins with the purification of the body and ends with the purification of the soul. It is performed five times a day. Prayer (Salah), in the sense of worship, is the second pillar of Islam. Prayer is obligatory and must be performed five times a day. These five times are dawn (Fajr), immediately after noon (Dhuhr), mid-afternoon ('Asr), sunset (Maghrib), and early night (Isha'). Ritual cleanliness and ablution are required before prayer, as are clean clothes and location, and the removal of shoes. One may pray individually or communally, at home, outside, in virtually any clean place, as well as in a mosque, though the latter is preferred.
The significance of prayer lies in one's maintaining a continuous link to Allah (God) five times a day, which helps the worshipper avoid misdeeds if he/she performs the prayers sincerely. In addition it promotes discipline, God-consciousness and placing one's trust in Allah alone, and the importance of striving for the Hereafter. Thus, man moves from one prayer to another until he meets with his God. The Messenger, peace be upon him, said:
"Consider a river running by your door in which you wash yourself five times a day. Would that spare any soiled spot on your body? (His listeners) said: "Certainly not" He said: So do the five daily prayers with which Allah effaces the sins." (Narrated by: Ibn Majah)
There is no hierarchical clerical authority in Islam, no priests or ministers. Prayers are led by any learned person who knows the Qur'an and is chosen by the congregation. He (or she, if the congregation is all women) is called the imam. There is also no minimum number of congregants required to hold communal prayers. Prayer consists of verses from the Qur'an and other prayers, accompanied by various bodily postures - standing, bowing, prostrating and sitting. They are said in Arabic, the language of the revelation, though personal supplications (Du'ah) can be offered in one's own language. Worshippers face the Qiblah, the direction of the Ka'bah in the city of Makkah.
The main postures of the prayer; standing, bowing, prostrating and sitting, are an expression of humility, submission and adoration to God and should be performed with full concentration. The time spent performing the prayer is a time to forget all worldly things, all problems, worries or stress and focus entirely on God. The prayer is a chance for a person to communicate with their Creator directly, without intercessor or middleman.
Quranic verses regarding Prayer: Allah says in the Qur’an: Those who believe and do deeds of righteousness and establish regular prayers and regular charity will have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve. (2:277)
"When ye pass (congregational) prayers celebrate Allah's praises standing sitting down or lying down on your sides; but when ye are free from danger set up regular prayers: for such prayers are enjoined on believers at stated times."(4:103)
And for this their prayer hath Allah rewarded them with gardens with rivers flowing underneath their eternal home. Such is the recompense of those who do good. (5:85)
The fourth pillar of Islam is fasting. Allah prescribes daily fasting for all able, adult Muslims during the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar calendar, beginning with the sighting of the new moon. Exempted from the fast are children, the very old and the insane. On the physical side, fasting is abstaining from food, drink, and sensual pleasures beginning from first light of dawn until sunset. On the moral, behavioural side, one must abstain from lying, malicious gossip, quarrelling and trivial nonsense.
Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are menstruating, pregnant, or nursing are permitted to break the fast, but must make up an equal number of days later in the year. If physically unable to do so, they must feed a needy person for each day missed. Children begin to fast (and to observe the prayers) from puberty, although many start earlier.
Although fasting is beneficial to the health, it is regarded principally as a method of self-purification. By cutting oneself off from worldly pleasures and comforts, even for a short time, the fasting person gains true sympathy for those who go hungry frequently, and achieves growth in his/her spiritual life, learning discipline, self-restraint, patience and flexibility.
During this month of fasting, one is encouraged to read the entire Qur'an. In addition, special optional prayers, called Tarawih, are held in the mosque every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Qur'an (Juz') is recited, so that by the end of the month the entire Qur'an has been completed. These prayers are performed in remembrance of the fact that the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during Ramadan.
During the last ten days - though the exact day is never known and may not even be the same every year - occurs the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr). To spend that night in worship is equivalent to a thousand months of worship, i.e. Allah's reward for it is very great.
On the first day of the following month, after another new moon has been sighted, a special celebration is made, called 'Id al-Fitr. A quantity of food is donated to the poor, communal prayers are held in the early morning, followed by a day of celebrating, visiting relatives and friends.
Apart from Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to fast on Mondays and Thursdays throughout the year. While fasting is encouraged, constant fasting, as well as monasticism, celibacy, and otherwise retreating from the real world, are condemned in Islam. Fasting on the two festival days, 'Id al-Fitr and 'Id al-Adha is strictly forbidden.
Zakah is the third pillar of Islam. The main idea behind zakah is that all the wealth that a person has, does not belong to them, it all belongs to Allah, therefore, anyone who is in need should have a share of it. Zakah which is giving as charity a part of your wealth, is a financial act of worship, it is due on the wealth kept in possession for one year. A certain percentage is taken from every kind of property to be given out to the poor to enable them to meet their needs. The Zakah fulfils the poor's needs, and purifies the donors from selfishness, a natural tendency in men.
"Take Sadaqah (alms) from their wealth in order to purify them and sanctify them with it, and invoke Allah for them. Verily! Your invocations are a source of security for them, and Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower"(9:103)
The Prophet, peace be upon him said:
"Never will charity diminish the wealth, rather it augments it."
Thus the Zakah is a means of augmenting the wealth, and purifying the souls from miserliness, stinginess and selfishness. It is a manifestation of social mutual responsibility among the Muslims, that the wealthy among them may sympathise with the poor and the poor among them may love the wealthy. After all, the Zakah is an act of worship dedicated to Allah and a positive response to His command and a means of gaining His pleasure.
For most purposes this involves the payment each year of 2.5% of one's excess capital after providing for ones personal and family needs. This small amount is not great enough to be a burden and yet it would make a great difference to someone in need. Pragmatically, this would alleviate poverty and would help to maintain a social security system in society. A generous person can pay more than this amount, though it is treated and rewarded as voluntary charity (Sadaqah). This amount of money is provided to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, and can be used in many useful projects for the welfare of the community.
Zakah is mentioned more than thirty times in the Qur'an, usually in the same breath as Prayer. So important is this pillar that one is not considered a part of the Islamic brotherhood if one ignores this obligation.
The act of Zakah purifies the heart from selfishness, greed, avarice and on the part of the recipient it lessens any feelings of hatred or envy to those who are better off. Additionally, by giving away this amount of money a person becomes more thankful to God for what they have and it also prevents large divisions in the distribution of wealth so that a balance exists so that one person is not living extravagantly while another is destitute.
"Alms are for the poor and the needy and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom."(9:60)
The Hajj is the ultimate form of worship, as it involves the spirit of all the other rituals and demands great sacrifice. On this unique occasion, nearly two million Muslims from all over the globe meet one another in a given year. Regardless of the season, pilgrims wear special clothes (Ihram) - two, very simple, unsown white garments - which strips away all distinctions of wealth, status, class and culture; all stand together and equal before Allah (God).
The rites of Hajj, which go back to the time of Prophet Abraham who built the Ka'bah, are observed over five or six days, beginning on the eighth day of the last month of the year, named Dhul-Hijjah (pilgrimage). These rites include circumulating the Ka'bah (Tawwaf), and going between the mountains of Safa and Marwah, as Hajjar (Abraham's wife) did during her search for water for her son Isma'il. Then the pilgrims stand together on the wide plain of Arafah and join in prayers for God's forgiveness, in what is often thought of as a preview of the Last Judgment. The pilgrims also cast stones at a stone pillar which represents Satan. The pilgrimage ends with a festival, called 'Id al-Adha, which is celebrated with prayers, the sacrifice of an animal, and the exchange of greetings and gifts in Muslim communities everywhere.
The Hajj is unique as it is the greatest gathering of mankind, that remains unparalelled in any part of the world. Over two million people, men and women of all different races, colours and nationalities come together for the worship of the one Supreme God in complete brotherhood and harmony. The white clothes that are worn during the pilgrimage are symbolic of perfect equality as no one person seems richer than the other. Rich and poor, Arab and non-Arab, black and white all gather together united by their common faith in one God, an ultimate expression of human brotherhood.
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