Tenets of Islam

Afghanistan Table of Contents

Islam means surrender or submission to the will of God; one who submits is a MuslimThe basic creed or profession of faith, the shahadah, succinctly states: "There is no god but Allah (God), and Mohammad is His Prophet/Messenger." Mohammad is the "seal of the prophets"; his revelation is believed to complete for all time the series of revelations received by Jews and Christians.

After the Prophet's death, his followers compiled those of his words regarded as coming directly and literally from God. This became the Quran, the holy scripture of Islam. The precedent of the Prophet's personal deeds and behavior were set forth in the Sunna as a supplement extending the Quran. Other sayings and teachings recalled by those who had known him during his lifetime are known as Hadith. Together, the Quran, the Sunnah and the Hadith form a comprehensive guide to the spiritual, ethical, and social conduct of life. Islamic jurisprudence, the Shariah, which is based on these sources, is a system of ethics regulating conduct.

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

The Shariah, along with commentaries (tafsir) on the Quran and Hadith, developed primarily through the accretion of precedent and interpretations 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 legal opinions had hardened into rigid authoritative doctrine, and the right to exercise independent reasoned interpretation (ijtihad) was effectively denied. 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 a personal relationship to God needing no intermediary. Any adult versed in the form of prayer is entitled to lead prayers. Men who lead prayers, preach sermons, and interpret the law do so by virtue of their superior knowledge and scholarship rather than because of any special powers or prerogatives conferred by ordination. Among the Shia, on the other hand, a highly structured hierarchy of divinely inspired religio-political leaders exists. The Imam who must be directly descended from the Prophet Mohammad and Ali is invested as the final authoritative interpreter of God's will as formulated by Islamic law.

Every individual is responsible for carrying out the duties and rituals commonly referred to as the Five Pillars of Islam. These include the recitation of the creed (shahadah), daily prayer (salat, namaz in Afghanistan), almsgiving (zakat), fasting (sawm, ruzah in Afghanistan), and pilgrimage (hajj).

The muezzin intones the call to prayer to the entire community five times a day, at day-break, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall. Ritual ablutions of purification proceed prayers. Prescribed body movements, including genuflections and prostrations, accompany the prayers, which the worshiper recites while facing toward Mecca, the holy center of Islam where the Kaaba has remained sacred since the polytheistic idols were destroyed following the conquest of Mecca in AD 630. Prayers may be performed wherever a person may be at the required time, but congregational prayers in the central mosque on Friday are usual. Friday noon prayers provide the occasion for weekly sermons by religious leaders. In numbers of Muslim societies, women may also worship at mosques where they are provided segregated areas, although most prefer to pray at home.

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

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

The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is Ramadan (in Arabic) a period of obligatory fasting that commemorates the Prophet Mohammad's receipt of God's revelation, the Quran. Fasting is an act of self-discipline that leads to piety and expresses submission and commitment to God. By underscoring the equality of all Muslims, fasting strengthens a sense of community. During Ramadan, all but the sick, weak, pregnant or nursing women, soldiers on duty, travelers on necessary journeys, and young children are enjoined from eating, drinking, sexual activity, or smoking from sunrise to sunset. Official work hours often are 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 the summertime, a fast imposes considerable hardship on those who must do physical work. Id al Fitr, a three-day feast and holiday, ends the month of Ramadan and is the occasion for new clothes and much visiting between family members.

Ramadan is followed by the beginning of the hajj pilgrimage season during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. At least once in their lifetime both men and women should, if economically able, make the hajj to the holy city of Mecca where special rites are focused on the Kaaba and nearby sites associated with the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismail. Pilgrims, dressed in two white, seamless pieces of cloth (ihram), perform various traditional rites expressing unity and harmony with the worldwide Muslim community (ummah) by affirming obedience to God and their intent to lead a righteous life following the path directed by God. Returning pilgrims are entitled to use the honorific "hajji" and enjoy a respected status in their communities. Id al Adha, the feast of sacrifice, marks the end of the hajj month. 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, but in its basic sense it encompasses the efforts made by individuals to live a virtuous life overcoming all forms of evil so as to follow Islam.

Aside from specific duties, Islam imposes a code of ethical conduct encouraging generosity, fairness, honesty, tolerance, respect and service for the benefit of the common welfare of the ummah. It forbids the shedding of human blood, thieving and lying. It also gives explicit guidance on proper family relations and forbids adultery, gambling, usury, and the consumption of carrion, blood, pork, and alcohol.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress