Tenets of Islam
The shahada (testimony) states the central belief of
Islam: "There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his Prophet."
This simple profession of faith is repeated on many ritual occasions,
and recital in full and unquestioning sincerity designates one
a Muslim. The God preached by Muhammad was not one previously
unknown to his countrymen because Allah, rather than a particular
name, is the Arabic for God. Muhammad denied the existence of
the many minor gods and spirits worshiped before his ministry
and declared the omnipotence of the unique creator, God. "Islam"
means submission, and the one who submits to God is a Muslim.
Muhammad is the "seal of the Prophets"; his revelation is said
to complete for all time the series of biblical revelations received
by Jews and Christians. God is believed to have remained one and
the same throughout time, but humans strayed from God's true teachings
until set right by Muhammad. Muslims recognize the prophets and
sages of the biblical tradition, such as Abraham and Moses, and
consider Jesus to be another prophet. Islam accepts the concepts
of guardian angels, the Day of Judgment, general resurrection,
heaven and hell, and an eternal life for the soul.
The duties of the Muslim form the "five pillars" of faith. These
are shahada, testimony and recitation of the creed; salat,
daily prayer; zakat, almsgiving; sawm, fasting;
and hajj, pilgrimage. The believer is to pray in a prescribed
manner after purification through ritual ablutions at dawn, midday,
midafternoon, sunset, and nightfall. Prescribed genuflections
and prostrations are to accompany the prayers, which the worshiper
recites while facing Mecca.
Whenever possible, men pray in congregation at the mosque under
an imam, or prayer leader, and on Friday they are obliged to do
so. Women may also attend public worship at the mosque, where
they are segregated from the men, although most frequently those
who pray do so in seclusion at home. A special functionary, the
muezzin, intones a call to prayer to the entire community at the
appropriate hours; people out of earshot determine the proper
hour by other means.
In the early days of Islam, the authorities imposed a tax on
personal property proportionate to the individual's wealth, which
was distributed to the mosques and to the needy. In the modern
era, zakat, or almsgiving, while still a duty of the
believer, has become a more private matter. Properties contributed
to support religious activities have usually been administered
as religious foundations, or habus in North Africa.
The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is Ramadan, a period of
obligatory fasting in commemoration of Muhammad's receipt of God's
revelation, the Quran. During this month, all but the sick and
certain others are enjoined from eating, drinking, smoking, or
sexual intercourse during the daylight hours.
Finally, all Muslims at least once in their lifetime should,
if possible, make the hajj to the holy city of Mecca. There they
participate in special rites held at several locations during
the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar.
Data as of December 1993