Friday, July 08, 2005

The Fabulous Five.

Today's post will be a simple look at Islam, bare-bones and stripped away from the sociopolitical culture that threatens its very existence. I'll continue to post further about Islam, but wanted to start with the basics. Note -- I am not preaching here. The intention is to help bring about a better understanding of the religion, as it is, not the brand Islamofacists peddle.

First and foremost, the word "Islam" literally means "submission."

Misconception: I often hear criticism and misuse of this notion of "submission." It has nothing to do with forcing anyone else to submit to anything.

Truth: Submission refers to an acceptance of that which is. As Muslims, we submit ourselves to God.

All Muslims are taught to uphold five simple tenets. Sunni Muslims refer to these as the Five Pillars of Islam. Shia Muslims follow the similar guidelines, I'll elaborate on those in another post. Today we'll focus on these five pillars of faith. These five tenets are:

1) Shahadah -- Profession of faith in God. Muslims profess their faith in God, Allah in Arabic. We believe that Muhammad is the last of the prophets.

Misconception: Many believe that Muslims exclude other faiths through the Shahadah. As such, there is no room for Christianity or Judaism.

Truth: Christianity and Judaism are, in a sense, critical components of Islam. We hold the Old and New Testaments, the Torah and the Koran as holy texts. Members of both Christianity and Judaism are consider ali Qitab, people of the book, meaning that they are to be respected. True, we have different interpretations of Jesus' teachings and divine role. Still, he is respected as the "purest of all prophets."

2) Salat -- Prayer. Muslims pray five times daily. These prayers are Fajr (morning), Dhuhr (midday), Asr (before sunset), Maghrib (after sunset), Isha'a (night). These prayers are very similar to meditation. They are recited in Arabic.

Misconception: Many belive Muslims spend their entire day praying, and they must be done at a specific time and in a mosque. Strange cleansing rituals occur before Muslim prayers.

Truth: These prayers take less than 5 minutes to perform. There are some Muslims that believe that performing these prayers at a specific time is necessary. The vast majority pray when they can, just like every other religious person on the planet. Muslims perform wazu before praying. It is a tradition that is not strange or weird. It's not much more than washing your face and hands, really.

3) Siyam -- Fasting. During the lunar month of Ramadan, Muslims forgo sex, eating, smoking while the sun is up. When Muslims wake in the morning, they pray, eat and go about their day. At night, we pray, eat and sleep. Siyam is a means of learning self control and discipline.

Misconception: Fasting is required even of the sick, poor and small children.

Truth: Physically ill, impoverished, pregnant women and travelers are not required to fast at all.

4) Zakat -- Charity. Muslims are taught that their material wealth must be shared with the poor and ailing of this world.

Misconception: Muslims are forced to give more than they can for Zakat.

Truth: Muslims must only give what they can afford. Nothing more.

5) Hajj -- Pilgrimage. Muslims travel once in their lifetime to Mecca, during the lunar month of Zul Hijjah. During this pilgrimage, all stand as equals before God and recognize the sanctity of the great pilgrimage we are all a part of, life.

Misconception: The Hajj is part of increasing ones social status within the Muslim community.

Truth: Sadly, there are some Muslims that believe becoming a Haji, one who has done this pilgrimage, will lift their social status. Such beliefs are socially driven. The religion has nothing to do with it.

There is nothing within these five pillars that condones terrorism or violence towards another human being. These are the tenets that a Muslim lives his or her life by. Indeed, this is a peaceful religion, one often misunderstood. If you have any questions, ask away. I'll do my best to answer.


Blogger Fred said...

Thanks very much for the in-depth look at the Five Pillars. I cover this subject in world history; it now it has a new meaning for me.

With your permission, I'd like to keep this post in my notes so I can add more depth to my knowledge. It will also help me clear up any misconceptions that may arise during discussions on the subject.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

Fred: Absolutely. If you need any other suggestions for material, please let me know.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Thanks. That really did clear up some misconceptions for me (which came partially from reading Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verse), and I was interested to see that my world religion class paid off because I remembered a few of the 5 pillars...which are not so different from other religions.

This was really interesting; I hope you keep posting them.

4:25 PM  
Blogger LoraLoo said...

Vavoom - thank you. I didn't have any prior misconceptions, only simple ignorance to what Islam is really about. I've shied away from religion in general, but don't have prejudice against those with their own belief system. I appreciate the information, thank you very much for sharing it.

10:17 PM  
Anonymous little john said...

Great post. Thanks. No sex during daylight in the period of Ramadan?

10:46 PM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

lj: Nope. Like I said, it's all about self discipline.

11:05 PM  
Blogger Raine said...

Could you explain what a "jihad" is according to Islam. Is this term used in the Koran, and if so, how?

Also, why do some Muslim terrorists believe that they will be given 72 virgins in heaven?

Lastly, a political question, if you don't mind. If Bush were to extract our soldiers from Iraq, how do you think that would affect the radical Islamic movement in which young men wish to die a martyr's death? Wouldn't they simply continue to seek it as they did before the Iraq war?

12:35 AM  
Blogger Camphor said...

All right, skip the pilitics for now, I just had a huge argument with one of my Hindu radical freinds about Muslimes, (I was pro) so I won't look at the policial side for a couple of days, later I migth have a few more questiosn for you.

For now ~ Is it true you can't earn interest? One of my freinds from one of the Middle East countries says that it is a sin to collect interest from a bank, so you have banks where they give no interest. Basically, it's a storehouse of gold. Won't this have a huge nagative effect on the economy?

Do you speak Arabic?

As for my only misconception that you cleared ~ somehow, I though Islam meant 'peace' or 'bortherhood'. Must have confused it with another term... Thanks. :)

3:47 AM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

Raine: Wonderful questions. I'm glad that you've posed them.

First and foremost, the literal interpretation of jihad is "struggle." There exists two general situations where jihad appears in the Koran. Those scenarios are inner and external struggle.

Prior to the crusades, the term jihad was primarily used to describe "inner struggle." We all strive to be better and are tempted to be otherwise. Jihad, in this sense refers to one's fight with oneself to be righteous. This was the definition I was taught as a child. It has served me well.

The second definition of jihad refers to "external struggle." This is where things get messy. Currently, this is the definiton that has been improperly overused and underexplained. Following Pope Urban II use of the term "holy war" during the crusades, Muslims began using jihad to describe militant battle. Jihad as an external struggle really refers to halting activities akin to mass genocide of Muslims. Islamically, a quorum of Muslim scholars and leaders are the only people permitted to call for jihad. They may only do so only under absolutely dire circumstances.

Here's where the problem lies. In the threat assessments I linked to in my other post today, we can clearly see that bin Laden is not a spiritual leader. He has no authority to call for a massive "external struggle." Besides, who is commiting mass genocide on Muslims? Nobody. It's simply not happening. There is absolutely no justification for a jihad in this sense.

Perhaps the saddest thing about all of this is the way jihad has been misused. When used to describe an "inner struggle," it is a beautiful concept. Unfortunately, terrorist factions have distorted the definition of jihad as primarily an external militant struggle that anyone can call upon to justify the murder of innocent people. The western world has accepted this distorted interpretation and now believes that jihad defines a rancid holy war. That's just not true.

Osama bin Laden and the like really frustrate me. They have perverted and twisted Islam, all in an effort to justify their rancid political philosophies. The true meaning of jihad is one of many spiritual casualties.

72 Virgins:
Nowhere in the Koran is it explicitly stated that martyrs are alloted 72 virgins in paradise. Why should they be given any reward for blowing up a bus or flying planes into buildings filled with innocent people? Islam does not condone anything of the sort. I know of the verse most people get this 72 virgin notion from. Those dying to stop genocide, for example, are offered "hur." Translators interpreted that as virgins. I'm really not sure why. In fact, "hur" in aramaic means white and was used in the time the Koran was written to refer to white grapes, a rare delicacy. The idea is that heaven is filled with amenities beyond human conception. Once again, terrorist factions have deliberately misinterpreted Islam as a means of justifying their actions. How sick.

Terrorist leaders need evidence that the United States is the "great Satan" to recruit followers. A war waged as part of a first strike policy against a Muslim nation may provide that evidence. We simply can't identify Iraq as a localized hot spot for terrorist activity. Terrorists are, unfortunately, everywhere. I'm afraid we're only providing al Qaeda with further "evidence" that we're against the Islamic world. That, of course, is my opinion.

Camphor, I also appreciate your questions. My responses follow.

The word Islam shares the same etymological root as Salam, which means peace. Submission is a closer fit, methinks. At least that's what I've learned from my studies.

Yes, there are Muslims that believe that you can't accrue interest. Typically, more conservative Muslims carry such beliefs. Really, Muslims are forbidden from loaning money to others and collecting huge interest rates. That is to say, Muslims aren't supposed to be loan sharks. Banks are fine, in my books. Yes, forgoing banks would be an economic no no.

Yes, I can read it.

4:17 AM  
Blogger An80sNut said...

"1) Shahadah -- Profession of faith in God. Muslims profess their faith in God, Allah in Arabic. We believe that Muhammad is the last of the prophets."

I was wondering about this first pillar. During prayer Muhammad is praised as "the prophet" although they accept Jesus, Abraham and Moses as others. Do they put greater importance on the last of the prophets?

7:56 AM  
Blogger Teri said...

Vavoom, thanks once again for your great insight.

My question/concern is the role of women in the Muslim faith. The media tends to portray Muslim women as second class citizens. Can you please shed some truth on this subject?

11:11 AM  
Blogger Raine said...

Thanks for the insight, V. :)

6:27 PM  
Blogger Anandi said...

What a great post - I didn't know any of it and really appreciate the info.

2:11 AM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

Martin: Muslims are taught that all prophets are of equal importance. The belief that Muhammad is "the prophet" really entails stating your belief in his final revelations. I guess you could take Christianity as a parallel. Jesus Christ plays an integral role, but that doesn't denigrate the role other religious figures played.

Teri: I need to be honest here. I think all religions demean women to some extent. That's always bothered me. For example, Eve was created from one of Adam's ribs. On the other hand, Mary is exalted. Islam also exalts Mary, as well as other female figures.

My mother always taught me about Muhammad's proclamation in one Hadith that, "Paradise lies beneath the feet of a mother." I was always taught to respect women.

All religions suffer from "sins of the scripture," whereby conflicting information appears. Islam is no different. Unfortunately, the changing face of Islamic culture has placed women in a subservient role, thereby amplifying the effect of passages of the Koran where women's rights do not appear equal.

Again, I was always taught the following passage from the Koran:

"I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female - you are equal to one another."

The problem lies in what passages people want to live their lives by. Ask a chauvinist pig and he'll tell you to ignore this passage. I, on the other hand choose to live my life believing that "paradise lies beneath the feet of a mother" and that "male or female - you are equal to one another."

I'm excited to see a rise in feminism in the Muslim world. I hope that such activity will steer Islamic culture back towards treating women equally.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Rattie said...

I appreciate the sharing of your faith. I appreciated my former housemate, who was Muslim, to share with me her faith - any misconceptions I had of Muslims went out the window when her and I lived together.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Keefieboy said...

Great blog Vavoom. I live in a Muslim country and have the greatest respect for the faith. However I do think that in the current climate, true Islam is not defending itself against the distortions and misrepresentations of both 'Islamist' and non-Islamic commentators. Your thoughts? With reference to the leadership structure of Islam?

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My comment is merely a question.. I would like to know the exact chapter and verse which references the 72 virgins bit.. I have done quite a bit of surfing on this subject and had already concluded that the Govt. was mis-using the Koran for propaganda..Right wingnuts are always reciting this as evidence that Muslims are all fanatics which just doesn't hold water..

5:05 PM  

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