Tenets of Islam
The shahada (testimony) states the central belief of Islam: "There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his Prophet." This simple profession of faith is repeated on many ritual occasions, and recital in full and unquestioning sincerity designates one a Muslim. The God preached by Muhammad was not one previously unknown to his countrymen because Allah, rather than a particular name, is the Arabic for God. Muhammad denied the existence of the many minor gods and spirits worshiped before his ministry and declared the omnipotence of the unique creator, God. "Islam" means submission, and the one who submits to God is a Muslim. Muhammad is the "seal of the Prophets"; his revelation is said to complete for all time the series of biblical revelations received by Jews and Christians. God is believed to have remained one and the same throughout time, but humans strayed from God's true teachings until set right by Muhammad. Muslims recognize the prophets and sages of the biblical tradition, such as Abraham and Moses, and consider Jesus to be another prophet. Islam accepts the concepts of guardian angels, the Day of Judgment, general resurrection, heaven and hell, and an eternal life for the soul.
The duties of the Muslim form the "five pillars" of faith. These are shahada, testimony and recitation of the creed; salat, daily prayer; zakat, almsgiving; sawm, fasting; and hajj, pilgrimage. The believer is to pray in a prescribed manner after purification through ritual ablutions at dawn, midday, midafternoon, sunset, and nightfall. Prescribed genuflections and prostrations are to accompany the prayers, which the worshiper recites while facing Mecca.
Whenever possible, men pray in congregation at the mosque under an imam, or prayer leader, and on Friday they are obliged to do so. Women may also attend public worship at the mosque, where they are segregated from the men, although most frequently those who pray do so in seclusion at home. A special functionary, the muezzin, intones a call to prayer to the entire community at the appropriate hours; people out of earshot determine the proper hour by other means.
In the early days of Islam, the authorities imposed a tax on personal property proportionate to the individual's wealth, which was distributed to the mosques and to the needy. In the modern era, zakat, or almsgiving, while still a duty of the believer, has become a more private matter. Properties contributed to support religious activities have usually been administered as religious foundations, or habus in North Africa.
The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is Ramadan, a period of obligatory fasting in commemoration of Muhammad's receipt of God's revelation, the Quran. During this month, all but the sick and certain others are enjoined from eating, drinking, smoking, or sexual intercourse during the daylight hours.
Finally, all Muslims at least once in their lifetime should, if possible, make the hajj to the holy city of Mecca. There they participate in special rites held at several locations during the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar.
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