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5 Pillars of Islam refer to the basic mandates expected of Islamic believers. The first is the profession of faith; believers accept as fundamental that “there is no almighty god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.” The second pillar is the formal act of worship (in words and action) which they practice five times daily. The third pillar is the requirement that they give away ten percent of their wealth towards the cause of helping the disadvantaged and the needy. The fourth refers to the month-long annual fast of Ramadan, when Muslims (to demonstrate their willingness to sacrifice for their faith) practice abstinence from eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse during the daylight hours. The final pillar is the ultimate individual goal of all Muslims, to make at least one pilgrimage (haj) to the city of Mecca. The opportunity to visit the holy city is the opportunity to worship their god among believers from all over the world, from all walks of life.
Upon the murder of Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, the nation of Islam was divided into two main branches after disputes arose over the nature of the umma and the interpretations of Muhammad’s revelations. The more populated branch, Sunni, accepted “the tradition” or the practices of the Prophet as well as his succession of caliphs. Presently, about 85% of all Muslims (this includes the majority of Arabs, and those in North Africa, Turkey, the Balkans, and parts of Asia) are Sunni. Sunni encompasses a broad assortment of practices and viewpoints; it follows one of the four fundamental schools of Islamic law and has a rather broad view of who may qualify for political power. Their particular opinion is that the religious or political leader does not have to descend from Muhammad; they should simply be the best Muslim.
In stark contrast, the Shi’a (the other main Islamic branch) upheld that the true and rightfully ordained successors to the Prophet were only those religious leaders to have descended from Muhammad through Ali. Over time the alternative religious outlook of the Shi’ites would branch out into a new visionary direction, and the cities of Karbala and Najaf would be converted into sacred Shi’ite pilgrimage centers. The central concentrations of Shi’ites live today in what is modern Iran. Quite similar to some in the Christian, Jewish, or Hindu faiths, Shi’ites were inclined to follow strong religious leaders and model their religious practices and understanding of Islamic law after them. Due to Sunni majorities participating in persecution of Shi’ite minorities, there has been a sustained tradition of Shi’ites publically disagreeing with Sunni leaders and consequently being martyred.
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