Monday, April 16, 2007

Basic Doctrines and Practices of Sunni Islam

The Five Pillars

Sunnis normally describe the basic practices of Islam in terms of five requirements (şartlar in Turkish):

Shahada = Confession:
“There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah”. This simple creed contains the basic formula of Islamic doctrine and it is by sincerely pronouncing this sentence that one is initiated into the faith of Islam. The shahada denies the existence of other gods, thus rejecting paganism or polytheism but it also implies a strict Islamic monotheism which denies the possibility of the Trinity or the deity of Christ. Of course it also affirms Muhammad’s prophethood, and implies that Muhammad is the final prophet.

Salat = Ritual Prayer (Namaz in Turkish):
Muhammad is said to have received this tradition from Allah during his “Night Journey”. Muslims believe that shortly after the Hijra (the emigration from Mecca to Medina) Muhammad was taken to heaven on a winged horse called Buraq where he negotiated with Allah about how often Muslims should have to pray, eventually settling on the number five.

The day is divided into five prayer times based on sunrise and sunset and Muslims are expected to honor this schedule. A ceremony of ritual cleansing with water is required before the prayer takes place. The prayer itself consists of a series of recitations, differing according to the time of day, and it involves a ritual of standing, bending over, kneeling, and prostrating face down on the ground. Muslims (especially men) are expected to perform prayer in the mosque if possible, although they may perform it other places as well. Prayers are normally led by an Imam and on Fridays a sermon (hütbe in Turkish) is usually given after the noon prayer.

There are two kinds of prayer in Islam, salat, the required prayer is simply a recitation of memorized passages. Dua is the more personalized, voluntary, individual prayer which normally occurs after performing salat.

Zakat = Alms for the poor (Zekat in Turkish):
Muslims are expected to give the equivalent of about 2.5% of their annual income to the poor (although the actual calculation can be more complicated according to some traditions). Some seek to give this donation to any of a variety of charitable funds or organizations while some prefer to give it individually to families or people whom they know to be in need. There is no universally recognized authority for supervising or collecting Zakat, however the donations must be used for the poor in order to be valid.

Sawm = Fasting during Ramadan (Oruç in Turkish):
Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day during the Islamic month of Ramadan, abstaining from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual relationships. After sunset Muslims break the fast with a meal and at the end of the month, a feast commemorates the conclusion of the fast. This feast, Eid al-fitr (iftar in Turkish), is often celebrated together with extended families or friends and many communities offer a public meal for anyone who wishes to attend.

During the nights of the fast in Turkey a davulcu, or drummer, walks around the neighborhood banging a deep drum in order to wake people up in the middle of the night to give them a chance to wake up and eat something before sunrise. The drummer then collects money from the people within earshot of his drum.

One night during the last week of the fast is considered to be the Laylat al-Qadr (Kader Gecesi in Turkish), or “Night of Power”. This night commemorates the day on which the entire Qur’an was literally lowered from the highest heaven to earth by the angel Gabriel, as well as the event of Muhammad’s receiving the first Sura of the Qur’an in 610. According to the Qur’an, prayers performed on this night are worth 1,000 months of prayer during any other time. For this reason many Muslims pray all night on this night and may recite the Qur’an or have it recited all night as well.

Hajj = Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hac in Turkish):
Every Muslim who is financially and physically able is required, once in his or her lifetime, to make a pilgrimage to Mecca during the month of Hajj. While a Muslim may visit Mecca at any time of year, the Hajj is only recognized if it is performed during the assigned days on the Muslim calendar, that is during the second week of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah.

The rituals of the pilgrimage center around reenacting important episodes from the life of Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael. It begins with “tawaf”, circumambulating the Ka’ba seven times. The Ka’ba is said to have been rebuilt by Abraham and consecrated to Allah as a center of pilgrimage. Pilgrims pray for the cleansing of their sins and often try to kiss or touch the Black Stone which is lodged into one corner of the Ka’ba.

Pilgrims then perform “say” a ceremonial running back and forth between two hills in a reenactment of Hagar’s desperate search for water for her son Ishmael after she was shunned by Sarah, Abraham’s wife. The well of Zamzam is said to have appeared under Ishmael’s feet to save them from death. Pilgrims bathe in and drink this water during this ceremony.

Then the actual “pilgrimage” takes place as pilgrims make the trip to Arafat to gather in tents for prayer and conversation from noon until sunset. Prayers are said to be especially effective during this time.

After spending the night under stars at Muzdalifa pilgrims proceed to Mina where the ritual “stoning of Satan” occurs. Pilgrims throw seven rocks at large stone pillars said to represent Satan. This ceremony reenacts Abraham’s stern rejection of the temptation by Satan to refuse to obey God’s command to sacrifice Ishmael.

This ritual is followed by the offering of an animal sacrifice by each pilgrim, identifying with Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael and God’s provision of a sheep as a reward for Abraham’s complete faithfulness in Allah. It is on this same day that Kurban Bayramı begins and many Muslims around the world participate vicariously in this Hajj ritual by sacrificing an animal themselves.

Muslims believe that if the Hajj has been performed properly, without violating the important regulations regarding ceremonial purity, and with the right intention of approaching God, then all previous sins are absolved. However, a Muslim cannot ever be certain that his Hajj has been accepted in this way.

Six Articles of Faith

Similarly, Muslims often describe the basic doctrines of Islam in terms of six articles of faith:

Allah:
As we have seen, the doctrine of God in Islam consists of a strict monotheism which denies other Gods and also denies any type of plurality associated with God. For this reason, the doctrine of the Trinity and the deity of Christ are seen as incompatible with Islam. In fact, the most serious sin in Islam is to “associate partners with God,” called shirk. In Islam Allah is divine unicity, while in Christianity, the Trinity is a divine community. Islam expresses the oneness of God with the word Tawhid.

The doctrine of God also includes his complete transcendence. For most Muslims Islam’s view of transcendence excludes the possibility of knowing God personally or calling God, “Father”, for example.

Angels, Jinn, Satan:
Islam affirms the existence of angels, some of which are named in the Qur’an, the most prominent being Gabriel, the angel which delivers revelation from God to the prophets. In Islam angels are always good and they serve as intermediaries between God and man.

Satan, or Iblis, was an angel who was cast out of heaven when he refused to bow in reverence to Allah’s newly created Adam. He then became the enemy of Allah and humanity whose abode is in hell. Similar to Christianity, his role is as tempter and antagonist.

On the other hand, Jinn have no real counterpart in Christianity. They are an invisible race of shadowy creatures which live on earth with humanity. The Qur’an says that some jinn are Muslims, while others are Christians or pagans. Solomon is said to have had jinn in his army, for example. In practice, however, jinn are normally associated with mischief and ill-fortune.

Sacred Books:
Islam teaches that Allah has sent four major revelations to humanity: The Tawrat (Tevrat in Turkish) which was revealed to Moses, the Zabur (Zebur in Turkish) which was revealed to David, the Injil which was revealed to Jesus, and the Qur’an which was revealed to Muhammad. The Qur’an is understood to be the final and most complete revelation. Muslims believe that the Qur’an confirms what was originally revealed in the previous books, but that the other books have been corrupted over time (called tahrif). According to Muslims, however, the Qur’an has been perfectly preserved and is protected by God against any kind of corruption.

Muslims believe that the Qur’an was literally lowered from heaven and that the text as it exists today is an exact replica of the text which has always existed in heaven from eternity. Therefore the Qur’an is eternal and uncreated. It is the direct speech of God without any human contribution to its content.

Alongside the Qur’an, and completely apart from the doctrine of Sacred Books is the Hadith, the body of Islamic tradition which is the source for most of what is known today as orthodox Islam. The Hadith is the series of collections of the sayings and deeds of Muhammad as recorded by his companions and early followers.

Prophets:
While only 27 or 28 prophets are mentioned in the Qur’an by name (there is some controversy as to the status of some of the ‘prophets’), Islamic tradition teaches that Allah has sent 124,000 prophets to humanity. Most of these are “mere” prophets while some are called rasul, which connotes something like “super-prophets”. The rasul are those prophets which received major revelations in the form of books: Moses, David, Jesus, Muhammad. Muslims believe that the essential content of the message given to each of the prophets was the same, and the Qur’an serves as the standard for knowing what was revealed to the previous prophets. It is on this basis that the previous books are said to be corrupt: their messages do not conform to the message of the Qur’an. Prophets in Islam are warners, teachers, perfect examples, and their message is entirely divine in origin. They have no contribution to the content of revelation.

Predestination:
This doctrine is sometimes left off of lists describing the articles of faith. However, Islam includes a very strong doctrine of predestination. It is Allah who has completely and comprehensively written the future. Allah is attributed with guiding people toward Islam and leading others astray according to his sovereignty. Muslims often describe their fate as completely out of their control, and for many people future plans are only made with the qualification Inshallah, “If God wills”. A consequence of this doctrine is that Allah’s will is always ultimately unknowable to humans so that one cannot be certain that he or she will go to heaven after the judgment. Only Allah can know such things.

Judgment:
Islam teaches that all of humanity will be judged by Allah and that after a bodily resurrection everyone will proceed to either heaven or hell. Traditions teach that every person’s deeds are recorded by angels which accompany throughout their lives. At the judgment good deeds will be weighed against bad deeds, thus determining a person’s destiny. While the Qur’an is ambiguous about this, most Muslims believe that many Muslims will have to spend some time in Hell paying for their sins after which they will be taken to Heaven. This opportunity is not available to those who have commited shirk, however, excluding the possibility that Christians can ever make it to heaven.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wanted to say this artical helped out alot with a paper I had to write for a World Religions class. Thank you.

Yousuf Hussain said...

thanx alot bro it helped me alot

Yousuf Hussain said...

Thanks alot brother it helped me alot