A Thumbnail Sketch of Islam for Christians - page 4


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From the Winter 2014 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

A Thumbnail Sketch of Islam for Christians

by Gerald R. McDermott, Ph.D.
Jordan Trexler Professor of Religion, Roanoke College

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The Five Pillars

  These are the five practices that every faithful Muslim wants to observe.
  1. Profession of faith: “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” Simply reciting this in public makes one a Muslim. Notice how important Muhammad is. Many Muslims believe he never sinned and performed many miracles, though there is no record of these in the Qur’an. His sayings and deeds, recorded with varying degrees of authenticity in the Hadith (many volumes), contain miracle stories. These sayings and deeds, after being weighed for their relative authenticity, serve as precedents for Islamic law (shari’ah). At the same time, it is insisted upon that he was only a man.
   2. Prayer five times daily. Believers are to face Mecca and pray in the early morning, at noon, midafternoon, sunset, and in the evening. But before prayer at each of these times, there is to be washing of the arms, feet, mouth, and nostrils—and three times for each of these body parts. The prayers are generally set prayers of praise and adoration. There is a prayer service every Friday (which is not a holy day as Sunday is for Christians and Saturday for Jews), with two sermons by trained laymen. Women sit separately from the men, but most women do not attend.
   3. Almsgiving. Sunnis give 2.5 percent of their income to support Muslim needy, but Shi’ites are told to contribute 20 percent.
   4. Fasting during Ramadan. Ramadan is a month in the Islamic calendar, which is based on the moon, and so the month is at a different time from year to year. It marks the time when the Qur’an was first revealed to Muhammad. During this month Muslims are to abstain from all liquids, food, tobacco, and sex between first light in the morning and full darkness at night. They say the purpose of this fasting is to practice self-restraint.
  5. Pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims believe Mecca (in today’s Saudi Arabia) is the navel of the world, the location of Eden, and the one point on planet Earth closest to Paradise. Here they say Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael built a house of worship, which still exists as a giant stone cube, draped in black. It was also from here that Muhammad is said to have taken his “night journey” to Jerusalem and then Paradise and back—all in one night. Some Muslims say this was allegorical not literal. Few Muslims actually make the pilgrimage to Mecca; those who do not are blameworthy only if they can afford it and are healthy enough but neglect to do so.

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