Five Pillars of Islam and the Sacred Month of Ramadan
For any Muslim there are five important practices linked to his faith. These five practices are called five pillars of Islam. These are important obligations that a Muslim must fulfill in order to lead a sacred and responsible life as per the rules of Islam. Every religious Muslim must lead his life within this prescribed framework and carry out the obligations. This is how a religious Muslim must live his life and bring his faith into action. For any devout Muslim, faith comes first and these five pillars demonstrate that he keeps faith before everything else. These five pillars are:
- Shahadah: Shahadah is the sincere recital of the Muslim profession of faith. “La Ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadur rasoolu Allah”. It means there is but one true God who has the right to be worshiped. Shahadah is considered the most important pillar of Islam. Apart from being recited during prayers and other special occasions, it is recited during conversion.
- Salat: Salat means prayer. Muslims are required to perform five prayers a day, each one of which lasts a few minutes. Prayer links a Muslim with God directly and is performed for inner peace and joy. These prayers are performed five times at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night. Muslims can perform their prayer anywhere even in their offices.
- Zakat – Zakat simply means charity. Its original meaning however is purification. The wealth you keep is not your own but belongs to God. You must pay a certain part of the wealth you have accumulated to the poor and the needy. This also means the purification of your wealth. However, a Muslim can willingly pay more than the specified percentage as charity. Zakat is to be done with a kind spirit and must not be exaggerated.
- Sawm: This is the fourth pillar of Islam which is related to Ramadan. The Muslims practice abstinence during the month of Ramadan. They fast from dawn till dusk and abstain from food, dining or intercourse during this period. Ramadan is the month of spiritual purification. Fasting during this period is both for physical and spiritual purification. Muslims are also required to abstain from bad feelings and seek forgiveness for their wrongdoings from Allah during this period. Certain people are exempt from fasting include sick people, travelers, pregnant women, young children and elderly people.
- Hajj: The fifth pillar of Islam is pilgrimage to Mecca. Those who are physically and financially able must perform it at least once in their lifetime. Millions of Muslims visit Mecca every year to perform Hajj. Mecca remains filled with visitors throughout the year. However, the annual Hajj is performed in the twelfth month as per the Islamic calendar. The pilgrims wear simple cloths to remove the distinctions of class as all are equal in the eyes of God and so they must stand before Him. Pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times and go seven times between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa. Afterwards they stand in Arafa to ask for His forgiveness. Eid Al Adha is a festival that marks the end of Hajj. People returning from Hajj are called Hajis and treated with respect. However, rather than being a means of earning social respect, Hajj is a means of showing one’s devotion to Allah.
Ramadan is the most sacred month in the Islamic calendar and for a large part of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslim population, a period of fasting and abstinence. For most of the adult Muslims throughout the world, Ramazan is a holy month; a period of prayer, thought and introspection. It is a month of spiritual refinement and one of the five central pillars of Islam. As per Prophet Mohammad in this month, the gates of Heavens remain open and people can connect with Allah. As per Muslim belief, it was on the 27hth day of Ramadan that God revealed the Holy Quran to Prophet Mohammad.
The Arabic word ‘Sawm’ means fasting and in the month of Ramadan all the Muslims are required to practice it excepting the pregnant women, lactating mothers, the sick, the elderly and the young kids. However, the kids as they grow up start training themselves by starting with fasting for half a day. The period of fasting lasts from dawn toll dusk and during this period the Muslims will abstain from food, liquids and sex. The Muslims wake up early during the month of Ramadan and perform their prayers and eat before dawn. In the evening they arrange a communal meal called Iftar to break their fasts. Around the world Muslims throw Iftar parties for their friends and relatives and include variety of dishes in the meal.
The Muslim calendar is based on the movements of the moon and is different from the standard Gregorian calendar. It is around 11 days shorter. It is why the dates of Ramadan keep changing every year. Ramadan ends with Eid Al-Fitr often known as just Eid. It is an auspicious and very important day in the Islamic calendar when the Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan and fasting.