|Localization Exercise 3
Five Pillars of Faith: Tenets of Islam All cited from R. Michael Feener, “Islam: Historical Introduction and Overview,” in R. Michael Feener, Ed., Islam in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives. (Santa Barbara, CA., Denver, CO and Oxford, UK: ABC-CLIO, 2004), pp. 5-9. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
First Pillar of Faith: Shahada
“The first of the Five Pillars is shahada, or “witnessing” to the faith. The shahada is more than simply a statement of belief; it also marks communal identification through a ritualized speech act. The text of the shahada, spoken with proper intention, determines one’s position as a member of the Muslim community. One becomes a Muslim simply by pronouncing, with the proper intention, the words of an Arabic formula that translates as “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his messenger.” Conversion to Islam is thus rather easy, requiring neither elaborate rituals nor any formal institutional acknowledgement. But this “simple” act of embracing Islam implies an open-ended entry into ongoing processes of Islamization that lead to the other rights and responsibilities outlined in the remaining four “pillars” and in their extensive elaborations in the development of Islamic law over the past fourteen centuries.” (p. 5)
What is the shahada of Islam, and what is its significance for other religious beliefs and duties in Islam?
Second Pillar of Faith: Salat
“The second pillar of Islam, salat, is the obligatory daily prayers that Muslims perform at five set times each day: dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night. Salat may be performed alone or together with others, although according to Muslim tradition communal prayer is held to be more meritorious than individual prayer. The prayers consist of a standard set of verbal formulas recited in Arabic to which are added short readings from the Qur’an. The Qur’anic verses recited in the formal prayers of salat are chosen either by the individual, if he or she is praying alone, or by the leader of the group at prayer. This prayer leader is often referred to as an imam, and in this sense an imam is not an officer of any organized clergy. In fact, in many Muslim communities the leadership of communal prayer rotates among different individuals without any of them having any officially ordained status… Salat can also function to create a sense of unity across the global Muslim community, bridging space and shaping time in the day-to-day lived experience of Islam. At each prayer time, Muslims who do pray face Mecca, each looking toward the same reference point regardless of whether they are to the west, east, north, or south of Arabia.” (p. 6)
What is salat and how does it function to create both local and global concepts of “community” among Muslims?
Third Pillar of Faith: Zakat
“…the sense of moral responsibility and the requirement to act in this world are crucial aspects of a Muslim religious life. Indeed, the third pillar of Islam, zakat (almsgiving), is linked explicitly to the performance of salat in the Qur’an and is centrally concerned with Muslims’ real world responsibilities for the welfare of their communities. Zakat involves the redistribution of the material resources of Muslim communities for the physical and social benefits of the public at large. Muslims who have more than they need for basic subsistence are obliged to give a portion of their surplus for the good of their neighbors. Thus, zakat might be seen as forming a complementary, “horizontal” axis of Muslim piety to the “vertical” orientation of salat. This metaphor reflects a traditional Muslim paradigm of viewing Islam in terms of two related sets of obligations: those to God (hablun min Allah) and those to one’s fellow human beings (hablun min al-nas).” (pp. 6-7)
What is the third pillar of Islam and how does it encourage social responsibility in Muslim communities?
Fourth Pillar of Faith: Sawm
“At a minimum, sawm [the fourth pillar of Islam] entails abstaining from all food, drink, and other physical pleasures such as smoking and sex from sunrise to sunset each day of the month of Ramadhan. Beyond this, however, most Muslims stress the interior dimensions of the fast as being just as important as the physical discipline… Despite such restrictions, however, Ramadhan is a very special time in Muslim communities, an occasion for both pious devotion and pleasant camaraderie. After sunset each day, people gather in homes and mosques to break the fast together. These nightly communal meals are often followed by prayers, readings from the Qur’an, and discussions of religious and other topics, although the foods eaten and the nature of conversations vary considerably across Muslim communities.” (p. 7)
How is self-discipline encouraged by the fourth pillar of Islam, and how is fasting during Ramadan (Ramadhan) observed in Muslim communities?
Fifth Pillar of Faith: Hajj
“Hajj, the fifth pillar, is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca during the lunar month Dhu’l-Hijja. Muslims consider it a good thing to visit Mecca at any time of the year, but only a pilgrimage during the appointed season is recognized as hajj. For more than fourteen centuries, the annual rites of the hajj have brought Muslims from different regions to Mecca to worship together as a community. Over the centuries, as Islam expanded beyond the Arabian peninsula and out of the Middle East, the pilgrimage brought together Muslims from widely diverse regions and cultures, helping foster ties between geographically far-flung areas of the Muslim world and cultivating a sense of community in Islam that ideally transcends differences of language, race, or ethnicity.” (pp. 7-9)
What is the hajj, and how does it serve to create unity across the Muslim world?