Tenets of Islam

Tenets of Islam

Islam means surrender or submission to the will of God; one who submits is aMuslimThe basic creed or profession of faith, the shahadah, succinctlystates: "There is no god but Allah (God), and Mohammad is HisProphet/Messenger." Mohammad is the "seal of the prophets"; hisrevelation is believed to complete for all time the series of revelationsreceived by Jews and Christians.

After the Prophet's death, his followers compiled those of his words regardedas coming directly and literally from God. This became the Quran, the holyscripture of Islam. The precedent of the Prophet's personal deeds and behaviorwere set forth in the Sunna as a supplement extending the Quran. Othersayings and teachings recalled by those who had known him during his lifetimeare known as Hadith. Together, the Quran, the Sunnah and the Hadithform a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical, and social conduct oflife. Islamic jurisprudence, the Shariah, which is based on thesesources, is a system of ethics regulating conduct.

Thus Islam is a legalistic religion with sets of God-given laws that areapplied to all aspects of everyday life. Historically, Islam recognizes nodistinction between religious and temporal spheres of life for all humanbehavior is expected to comply with God's will. It draws no distinction betweenthe religious and the secular nor differentiates between religious and secularlaw. Therefore there is no concept of the separation of church and state.

The Shariah, along with commentaries (tafsir) on the Quranand Hadith, developed primarily through the accretion of precedent andinterpretations by various learned judges and scholars (ulama)attempting to divine the will of Allah through juristic analogical reasoning (qiyas)and consensus (ijma). By the tenth and eleventh centuries, these legalopinions had hardened into rigid authoritative doctrine, and the right toexercise independent reasoned interpretation (ijtihad) was effectivelydenied. This severely limited flexibility in Sunni Islamic law. In contrast,Shia Islam tended not to curb the use of ijtihad to such an extent.

Sunni communities have no clerical hierarchy: each individual stands in apersonal relationship to God needing no intermediary. Any adult versed in theform of prayer is entitled to lead prayers. Men who lead prayers, preachsermons, and interpret the law do so by virtue of their superior knowledge andscholarship rather than because of any special powers or prerogatives conferredby ordination. Among the Shia, on the other hand, a highly structured hierarchyof divinely inspired religio-political leaders exists. The Imam who must bedirectly descended from the Prophet Mohammad and Ali is invested as the finalauthoritative interpreter of God's will as formulated by Islamic law.

Every individual is responsible for carrying out the duties and ritualscommonly referred to as the Five Pillars of Islam. These include the recitationof the creed (shahadah), daily prayer (salat, namazin Afghanistan), almsgiving (zakat), fasting (sawm, ruzahin Afghanistan), and pilgrimage (hajj).

The muezzin intones the call to prayer to the entire community fivetimes a day, at day-break, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall. Ritualablutions of purification proceed prayers. Prescribed body movements, includinggenuflections and prostrations, accompany the prayers, which the worshiperrecites while facing toward Mecca, the holy center of Islam where the Kaaba hasremained sacred since the polytheistic idols were destroyed following theconquest of Mecca in AD 630. Prayers may be performed wherever a person may beat the required time, but congregational prayers in the central mosque on Fridayare usual. Friday noon prayers provide the occasion for weekly sermons byreligious leaders. In numbers of Muslim societies, women may also worship atmosques where they are provided segregated areas, although most prefer to prayat home.

Daily prayers consist of specified prayers, including the opening verse andother passages from the Quran. At the end, the shahadah is recited.Prayers seeking aid or guidance in personal difficulties must be offeredseparately.

Zakat or almsgiving fulfills the individual's obligation towards hisshared responsibility for the welfare of the community. Alms may be givenindividually; in some cases zakat is collected for distribution by governments.

The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is Ramadan (in Arabic) a period ofobligatory fasting that commemorates the Prophet Mohammad's receipt of God'srevelation, the Quran. Fasting is an act of self-discipline that leads to pietyand expresses submission and commitment to God. By underscoring the equality ofall Muslims, fasting strengthens a sense of community. During Ramadan, all butthe sick, weak, pregnant or nursing women, soldiers on duty, travelers onnecessary journeys, and young children are enjoined from eating, drinking,sexual activity, or smoking from sunrise to sunset. Official work hours oftenare shortened during this period.

Because the lunar calendar is eleven days shorter than the solar calendar,Ramadan revolves through the seasons over the years. When Ramadan falls in thesummertime, a fast imposes considerable hardship on those who must do physicalwork. Id al Fitr, a three-day feast and holiday, ends the month of Ramadan andis the occasion for new clothes and much visiting between family members.

Ramadan is followed by the beginning of the hajj pilgrimage seasonduring the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. At least once in their lifetimeboth men and women should, if economically able, make the hajj to the holy cityof Mecca where special rites are focused on the Kaaba and nearby sitesassociated with the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismail. Pilgrims,dressed in two white, seamless pieces of cloth (ihram), perform varioustraditional rites expressing unity and harmony with the worldwide Muslimcommunity (ummah) by affirming obedience to God and their intent tolead a righteous life following the path directed by God. Returning pilgrims areentitled to use the honorific "hajji" and enjoy a respected status intheir communities. Id al Adha, the feast of sacrifice, marks the end of the hajjmonth. The sacrificial meat is often shared with neighbors and the needy.

The permanent struggle for the triumph of God's word on earth, jihad,represents an additional duty. This concept is often taken to mean holy war, butin its basic sense it encompasses the efforts made by individuals to live avirtuous life overcoming all forms of evil so as to follow Islam.

Aside from specific duties, Islam imposes a code of ethical conductencouraging generosity, fairness, honesty, tolerance, respect and service forthe benefit of the common welfare of the ummah. It forbids the sheddingof human blood, thieving and lying. It also gives explicit guidance on properfamily relations and forbids adultery, gambling, usury, and the consumption ofcarrion, blood, pork, and alcohol.


Country Studies main page | Afghanistan Country Studies main page