Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The 5 Pillars of Islam

Most nationals within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are Muslim (I'm guessing 98%) and Islam is the national religion of choice for all six governments (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE).

Although Islam affects every aspect of life here, we'll start with contemplating the fundamentals: in this case the 5 Pillars of Islam, the obligatory devotional-rites or duties which must be carried out by every Muslim.

1 - Shahadah [shar-haa-dah]
Every Muslim must, at least once in their lifetime, profess their faith using the following words, “La ilaha illa Llah, Muhammadun rasul Allah” or the Shahadah (literally: ‘witnessing’) and which translates as, "There is no God but God and Muhammad is the Prophet of God". In reality it means total surrender to the one and only God, Allah. Hence the term, ‘Muslim’, to surrender.

When a non-Muslim decides to embrace Islam they will recite the Shahadah, in the presence of another person; a very exciting time for many people.

2 - Salah [saa-lah]
Salah is the word given to the Muslim act of praying, that is speaking the words and moving the body. Every Muslim is expected to pray five times a day, every day, whilst facing towards Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

In hotels throughout the Gulf and the Muslim world you will usually see a compass printed and then stuck to the ceiling, always pointing in the direction of Mecca.

3 - Zakat [zaa-cat]
Zakat, literally ‘purity’ or ‘sweetening’, is a system of taxation on personal unused wealth. At the end of each Islamic year individuals will give 2% or 2.5% of their unused assets to the poor. This includes all assets not used during the previous 12 months, for example, unworn gold jewellery and/or savings.

4 - Sawm [sai-yim]
Sawn is the term given to the fast which takes place during the hours of daylight (or sunrise to sunset), during the Holy Month of Ramadan. During daylight hours, Muslims who are fasting will neither drink, nor eat; nothing at all will be consumed until the call from the Mosque says the fast can be broken with the Iftar [if-tarr] meal.

The start of Ramadan is determined by the sighting of the moon and the hours of fasting are determined by the ability to see the difference between a black and white thread, using only your eyes (no electric or battery lights should be used).

5 – Hajj [ha-J]
Hajj is the name given to the pilgrimage to Mecca. A journey every able Muslim is obliged to go on, at least once in their lifetime. The Hajj consists of eight different ceremonies, each of which symbolises an essential concept of Islam and/or the difficulties faced by the prophet Abraham and his family.

The Hajj takes place once a year during the first 10 days of Dhul al-Hijja [d-hul al-hij-jah], the twelfth month of the Islamic year. In 2008 the Hajj should take place from 6 - 9th December.

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