Islam's main practices, the means by which Muslims express their faith, are known as the Five Pillars of Islam. Muslims worship Allah, the Arabic term for God, by following these Five Pillars. Islam pervades the entire lives of Muslims, and the customs they practice, from birth rituals to holiday celebrations, reflect their devotion to the faith.
The first pillar of Islam is shahadah, which is a belief in the mantra "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his messenger." Shahadah calls people to prayer. Muslims recite shahadah in Arabic; they revere the language because it was the one the Prophet Muhammad spoke and used to write the Quran. The statement also appears in public places, currency and during the process when people convert to Islam.
Salat requires Muslims to pray at five specific times spaced throughout the day. They undergo ritual washing called wudhu before prayer, and while they are encouraged to pray in a mosque, they can pray anywhere. They pray directly to Allah, and use their entire body to unite their mind, body and spirit. Muslims believe God commanded them to pray; Friday prayers are the most revered for Muslims.
Sawm requires Muslims to fast during the holy month of Ramadan. The month is based on the Islamic calendar, and does not align with the Gregorian calendar. Muslims do not eat or drink anything and refrain from sex and smoking from sunrise until sunset for the entire day. Muslims typically eat before the sunrise, and then have a large meal after sunset. They fast because they believe God commanded them to do so, to remember the poor, to focus on spirituality and to be thankful for the gifts they do have.
Zakat requires donating a fixed amount of a Muslim's total property to charity. They may set up charity organizations, such as soup kitchens or libraries, and believe that in serving the poor, they are also serving Allah. In medieval Islam, Muslims would commonly install drinking wells for public use among the poor.
The final pillar, hajj, requires Muslims to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, once in their lives if they are able. Pilgrimages occur during the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar called Dhu'l-Hijja. They mark the end of the pilgrimage by slaughtering an animal, usually a goat or sheep, to symbolize the story of Abraham whom they believe God commanded to sacrifice his son. Those who make the trip are called hajji.
Muslims participate in the circumcision custom for male children, and believe it a mandate from God. When a child is born, the father whispers the call to prayer in the infant's ear, and the family places something sweet, typically dates, in the infant's mouth. They traditionally shave the baby on the seventh day, and donate the weight of the hair, in silver, to charity. Muslims mark the end of Ramadan with the feast of Eid al-Fitr. The feast celebrates Allah, and gives thanks for the strength they received during Ramadan. They gather with families and consume large meals after praying in a mosque.
- Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images