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The Hidden Meaning Behind the Five Pillars of Islam

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In understanding Islam through the eyes of its practitioners, distinctions in fiqh (Islamic Law) must be made initially in the two types of human activities: ibadat: duties/obligations one owes to god, and mu’alamat: duties mutually owed to humankind. In Islam, purity of intention (niyya) is the key in the determination of one’s fate, as purification of najasas and both major and minor hadaths, stand as necessary practices and rituals (i.e. washing, bathing oneself to purify). The cleansing practices “stand as a reminder that sanctity relates to the physical, as well as the mental and spiritual aspects of life” (Shepard 100). Holding in place purity of intentions and sanctity, Muslims oblige to five main pillars of Islam that relate to umma, or the entire Muslim community. Personal, as well as public dimensions characterize all the pillars. The first pillar is shahada, or the idea that there is one God, and Mohammad serves as a Prophet sharing God’s sacred message. Following shahada is salah: a form of worship practiced five times a day, during designated periods following the motions of the sun and moon, consisting of specific bodily motions, recitations and prayers. It is important that salah does not take place precisely art sunrise, noon, or sunset to avoid the misconception that the sun, not God, is being worshipped, reaffirming the pillar of shahada: the monolithic view of Islam. During time of prayers, the sexes are often separated, with an imam as a prayer leader. An adhan or “call to prayer” is recited shortly before the beginning of salah, and one must face quibla: the direction of Mecca during prayer. Salah, similarly to the shahada, “effectively integrates the individual and the social dimension…by [bringing] the individual face to face with God” (Shepard 106). Another pillar of Islam is zakah: the act of distributing, in the name of God. Zakahs are not considered donations (sadaqas), but rather a form of fulfillment of one’s duty to give back to people in need what already belongs to them under God’s will. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is the fourth pillar of Islam. The month of Ramadan is historically noted as “the month when the Qur’an was first revealed and also the month or the Battle of Badr” (Shepard 107). Thus, Ramadan enforces a universal solidarity of the umma, and reinforces the idea of a higher self, as well as the control and strength of oneself. The last day following Ramadan is the day of the festival ‘Id al-Fitr the festival of breaking the fast. Finally, the pilgrimage to Mecca, known as Hajj is the final pillar of Islam that calls upon its constituents to travel to Mecca to experience the sacred space and “center of the Muslim universe and the place most in touch with heaven” (Shepard 110).The lesser pilgrimage, umra is often undergone by many Muslims before Hajj.

The view of Islam as an isolationist ideology that is incompatible with the secularism and modernism of evolving life is a broad misconception. As stated by Douglas, “Islam is a blueprint for life…it is a process” (Douglas 1). The idea that religion is an infringement of daily life, and the increased push towards separation of church and state neglect to understand the value and inherently intertwined nature of spirituality in daily life, thus leading to “the compartmentalization of religious belief” (Douglas 2). Because of modern, often Western views that religion is detrimental to individual freedoms, there has been a push against Islam, as Muslims tend to view Islam: the submission to God, as a part of daily life. We all exist and thrive in God’s worldly creations, thus we automatically submit to his grand creation. A God centered view, thus “reminds the believer of the central purpose of this life and places the demands of the external society in perspective by comparing its demands with the limitless power and presence of God” (Douglas 4). She asserts that the consciousness of God, especially amidst the political and social turmoil, worsened by challenges of daily life, “is a source of strength, not of weakness” (Douglas 4). The flexibility of Islam, coupled with the strength of the consciousness of God, allow Muslims to adapt to lifestyles paired with their values worldwide.

The idea of transcendence is ubiquitous in what we study as world religions. Transcendence functions in two perspectives: the first with recognition an ultimate truth or absolute value, and the second is “concerned with human aspiration to participation in ultimate reality” (Graham 73). The term islam itself suggests transcendence as one is submitting to the ultimate truth of the world, created by one God. The unicity of God, his majesty and attributes of infinitude are the main themes of transcendence in Islam. Tawhid, along with the understanding and acceptance of God’s omnipotence, affirm the idea of predestination under God’s will. However, this does not mean that Muslims are absolved from all responsibility towards transcendence, as, “the Muslim’s understanding of God’s omnipotence logically entails the acute awareness of human accountability” (Graham 76). God’s everlasting encompasses both these ideas, and the idea of God as akbar (great) are reinforced through practice and submission to God’s creations. Because of God’s merciful nature in Islamic understanding both historically and in local communities, the five aforementioned pillars of Islam (Shepard) are essential in achieving transcendence.

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