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What a Muslim believes: "Action is essence of faith"

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  • Five Pillars of Islam: How a Muslim should behave   

    By Gholam Rahman, Special to The Palm Beach Post, October 2, 2001

    The fundamental premise of Islam is peace:

    It is wrong to describe the terrorists and their Taliban hosts as "fundamentalists." That word implies that these people are going back to the "fundamental" premise of Islam. Nothing, but nothing, could be further from the truth. The error may be innocently rooted in the Christian understanding of fundamentalism. But the fundamental premise of Islam — based on the teachings of the Koran and the life of the Prophet — is the opposite of these diabolical acts of hate and bigotry.

    The root meaning of Islam is peace,

    peace within one's soul and peace in society, that comes through one's conscious, willing submission to the laws of God. The process began, Muslims believe, with Adam and culminated in the mission of Mohammed, with Moses, David, Jesus and thousands of others in between, peace be upon them all. As a fundamental article of faith, we Muslims must acknowledge all of them.

    Islam is not just a religion but a way of life.

    In fact, it does not see itself as a religion in the Western sense, where the sacred and the secular are considered separate entities. It calls itself a deen, a way of life, embracing the whole of life, mundane and spiritual, social and individual, national and international. It is the natural consequence that arises out of the absolute belief in one God.

    For a Muslim to be a Muslim, profession is not enough.

    Action is the essence of faith, what we call Iman. The Koran always links Iman with "good deeds." A chapter named "Neighborly Needs" mocks those who perform their ritual prayers while neglecting the needs of their neighbors and the needs of the poor and orphans. The prophet told Muslims that the 72nd part of their Iman (faith) is removing a stone from the public path — a simple statement but one that has profound implications for the Muslims and for the world.

    Islam is a religion based on knowledge.

    Ignorance — the mother of bigotry and intolerance — is anathema to Islam. The very first word God revealed in the Koran was "read." Just two sentences down in the same chapter, God glorifies the pen used to teach mankind; and God never mentions man alone, unless in the universal sense, without mentioning women, too. The prophet commanded Muslims to go to the farthest part of the world, to China, to gather knowledge — religion, science and mathematics, history and philosophy.

    Oh, the flowering of knowledge that took place in those early, open-minded days of Islam! Baghdad had an entire street lined with booksellers and libraries and paper merchants. Universities were translating and debating the works of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato. The zero had been imported from India to form the basis of the Arabic decimal system. Chemistry and algebra were invented, geometry and trigonometry were perfected. A woman scholar and mystic, Rabia Basri was establishing the Sufi order that carried the banner of Islamic love of the Divine and His creation to far corners of the world. What a far cry from the hate and bigotry that today are destroying the proud land of Afghanistan.

    Five Pillars of Islam: How a Muslim should behave

    Islam is both a philosophy and a code of conduct. It is based on what are known as the Five Pillars of Islam, as exemplified in the conduct and character of Prophet Mohammed, Islam's last prophet. The five pillars are:
    1. Iman, the confession

      by the lips and by the heart that "there is no god but God, and Mohammed is His messenger." The belief in the absolute unity of God has profound implications for a Muslim. This unitarian concept extends to the whole of life: Everything belongs to God; life, whether secular or sacred, and all humanity is one. The second part stands for the acceptance of active piety, modeled on the prophet's life, who was the only historic prophet who left behind a working model of his ideals.
    2. Salah, the five daily prayers that every Muslim is required to say.

      In all they take less than 45 minutes a day. They are to be performed with pure body and pure mind with the understanding that even if we cannot see God, God is seeing us.
    3. Saum, the obligatory dawn-to-dusk fasting during the lunar month of Ramadan

      that is unique among all the religions that recommend fasting. No food, drink, sex or smoking are allowed. It toughens the moral and physical fibers and raises social consciousness. During this month of mercy, purification of one's conscience is equally important.
    4. Zakat, an obligatory tax paid annually by every Muslim of means,

      amounting to 2½ percent of his wealth. Zakat is to be paid to one's relatives, the orphans (our prophet was an orphan) and the needy. It can be paid individually or through the treasury system of an Islamic state. It should be paid in lump sums with the hope that the recipient can turn his or her life around and be able to pay zakat one day. Long before socialism or communism, Islam had enjoined an equitable redistribution of wealth, while ensuring the rights of private ownership.
    5. Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca,

      the focal point of the five daily prayers, that every able-bodied Muslim of means must make once in his or her lifetime.

    What a Muslim believes: "Action is essence of faith"

    Books, Web sites

    To learn more, here are some books and Web sites that might help.
    Islam: The Straight Path, by John L. Esposito (Oxford University Press)
    The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?, by John L. Esposito (Oxford University Press)
    A Muslim Primer: Beginner's Guide to Islam, by Ira Zepp (Arkansas University Press)
    Understanding Islam, by Frithjof Schuon (World Wisdom Books)
    Islam: A Short History, by Karen Armstrong (Modern Library)
    Oxford History of Islam, edited by John L. Esposito
    Oxford Encyclopedia of Modern Islamic World, edited by John L. Esposito (this website takes control of your "back" button) (for books) (for books)

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