Islam requires practices to be performed by Muslims. Five duties offered directly to God, known as the "pillars of Islam," are regarded as fundamental in Islam and central to the life of the Islamic community. Each of these pillars of Islam is intended to constantly purify the soul and body of the Muslim.
In accordance with Islam's absolute commitment to monotheism, the first duty is the declaration of faith (the Shahadah): "I declare that is no Deity but Allah and Muhammad is Messenger of Allah." Every Muslim must make this profession publicly, or at least in front of two or more witnesses, at least once in lifetime "by the tongue and with full consent from the heart"; it defines the membership of an individual in the Islamic community. This testimony is accepted as evidence of one converted to Islam. Muslims repeat it on the average of twenty times every day.
The second duty is that of the five daily prayers. The first prayer (Fajr) is offered before sunrise, the second (Dhuhr) is in the very early afternoon, the third (Asr) is in the late afternoon, the fourth (Maghrib) is immediately after sunset, and the fifth (Isha) is before retiring and before midnight. In prayers, all Muslims face the Kaabah (a small, cube-shaped structure) in the courtyard of al-Haram (the "inviolate place"), the great mosque of Mecca. Kaabah is the first house of worship built on earth for the worship of Allah, the One True God. It was re-built (raised from the existing foundation) by Prophets Abraham and Ismael. The Kaabah is 40 feet long, 33 feet wide and 50 feet high. It is covered with a black cloth with verses from the Quran written in golden letters. A single unit of prayer consists of a standing posture, then a bow followed by two prostrations, and finally a sitting posture. During these five prayers verses from the Quran are recited during the standing posture in Arabic, the language of the Revelation. During other postures supplications, glorifying and praising Allah, exalting and blessing Prophets Muhammad and Abraham and their followers are offered. Every Muslim on earth should know at least few Surahs in Arabic to perform the prayers.
All five prayers in Islam are congregational and are to be offered in a mosque, but they may be offered from any location such as: house, office, bus, airplane, car, wilderness, etc. A Muslim riding a bus, airplane or a car may pray in the direction of the vehicle and does not have to face Mecca during prayer. Before praying, the worshiper must make ablution which is washing of at least the hands, face, arms up to elbows, rubbing head with water, and washing feet up to ankles. There are certain concessions with regard to the timings of prayers. For example, when one travels, one may combine Dhuhr with Asr at any time from the beginning of the period of Dhuhr to the end of Asr prayer. One can also combine Maghrib with Isha at any time during the range for both prayers. Also, when there is a good reason that prevents a person from offering prayer, he may combine Dhuhr with Asr and Maghrib with Isha even in his hometown. Shortening prayers is another concession given to travelers after they have started their journey. Only Dhuhr, Asr and Isha can be shortened. Maghrib and Fajr remain as they are. The Messenger of God encouraged Muslims to offer voluntary prayers (Nafl) because Allah will reward Muslims for these added prayers that are over and above the religious duties that Allah has imposed, but He does not punish anyone for their omitting. Nafl is not obligatory. Before every congregational prayer, the muezzin (from azan, "call to prayer") makes a formal public call to prayer from a minaret of the mosque. The call to prayer may also be offered inside the mosque in the prayer’s area of the Imam (leader of the prayer). In recent times the call has been made over a microphone so that those at some distance can hear it.
Special early afternoon prayers are offered on Fridays in congregation at mosques, preceded by a sermon by the Imam. On the two annual religious festival days called Eid (one immediately after the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and the second during the pilgrimage to Mecca on the tenth day of the Islamic lunar month of Dhul-Hijjah), there are special prayers followed by sermons in the morning. These prayers are not held in mosques but in a wide space outside set apart for this purpose.
The third duty of a Muslim is to pay Zakat, primarily to help the poor. The word Zakat in Arabic means both "purification" and "growth." This was the required charity ordered by Allah and collected by Muhammad (and later by Muslim states) from every Muslim who has at the end of the year in his or her possession certain minimum prescribed value called ‘Nisab.’ Zakat requires a minimum rate of two and half percent of Muslims’ wealth above the value of ‘Nisab.’ Islam teaches that humans own nothing in life. God gives everything they possess as a trust; they are trustees. Only when Zakat has been paid is the rest of a Muslim's property considered purified and legitimate. In most Muslim states Zakat is no longer collected by the government and instead has become a voluntary charity, but it is still recognized as an essential duty by all Muslims. In a number of countries, strong demands have been made to reinstate Zakat as a tax.
The fourth duty is the fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, fasting is not confined to any one season. Even during hot summers, most Muslims meticulously observe fasting. During fasting, one must refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual intercourse from dawn until sunset. After sunset, all lawful in food, drink and sex are allowed. Throughout the month one must abstain from all sinful thoughts and actions. If one is sick or on a journey that causes hardship, one need not to fast but must compensate by fasting on subsequent days or feed poor people. The Messenger of God encouraged Muslims to offer voluntary fasting because Allah will reward Muslims for these added fasting. Fasting is a religious method of self-purification. By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person gains true sympathy with those who live daily lives without even the most basic necessities, food and drink. It is also intended as a time to grow one’s spirituality and Islamic values of love, honesty, devotion, and generosity.
The fifth duty is the pilgrimage to the Kaabah at Mecca. Every adult Muslim who is physically and economically able to do so must make this pilgrimage at least once in his or her lifetime. Hajj activities take place during six days (from the eighth to thirteenth) of the Islamic lunar month of Dhul-Hijjah. Every year, during pilgrimage, the world witnesses the wonderful spectacle of this international exhibition of Islam in leveling all distinctions of race, color, and rank. Not only do the Americans, the Europeans, the Africans, the south Asians, the Arabs, the Chinese and all other nationals meet together in Mecca as members of one divine family, but they are all dressed in one dress, every person in two simple pieces of white seamless cloth, everyone chanting, "Here am I, O God; at Thy command; Thou art One and the Only; here am I."
Thus there remains nothing to differentiate the high from the low, the rich from the poor, the peasant from the king. The fact is: no religion in the world can show a parallel to what Islam has done towards the establishment of the principle of international unity and human brotherhood on such universal foundations.
During Pilgrimage, Muslims abstain from shedding blood and even cutting either hair or nails, and avoid all forms of vulgarity. The main activities of the Hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin, include seven circumambulations of the Kaabah, walking fast between two mounds near the sanctuary seven times, marching three miles to the city of Mina, then proceeding six miles to the mountain of Arafat, staying the afternoon and listening to a sermon there, stoning of three pillars representing Satan’s temptation of Abraham, his wife Hagar and his son Ismael, then marching back to Mecca, cutting the hair to symbolize the completion of Hajj, offering a sacrifice in the memory of Abraham's attempted sacrifice of his son Ismael, and once again circumambulating the Kaabah. During the tenth day of Dhul-Hijjah, Muslims worldwide gather for communal prayers.
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