Question: What Are The Main Practices And Rituals Of Islam?
One misunderstanding that some people have about Islam is that they believe that Islam is simply about practicing a set of rituals. It is common to see and hear about the outwardly expressions of Islam such as prayers, fasting and the pilgrimage. It is also common to hear about the various restrictions Islam imposes such as prohibition of alcohol and pork, and the requirement for women to dress modestly. It is less common to hear about other aspects, so it may seem as if Islam is solely focused on rituals and restrictions. However, the reality is that Islam is meant to be a complete way of life for its followers. It includes a complete and logical set of beliefs, rituals, and a moral code that covers every action that a Muslim takes in their life. Since this question specifically asks about practices and rituals, only the physical, outwardly expressions of Islam will be discussed in this answer.
You have probably seen pictures on TV or on the Internet of Muslims bowing and prostrating in prayers. You might have also seen pictures of the black, cube shaped structure that millions of Muslims visit and walk around during the annual pilgrimage. You probably also heard about how Muslims fast from dawn to sunset for one month a year, during Ramadan. Surely, you have seen women wearing the Hijab, or the veil covering their hair. You have probably wondered what are these people doing? Well, if you devote enough time to learn more about Islam, you will find that all these things are a small part of a complete way of life. There is a very logical explanation for everything that Muslims do. Islam does not require Muslims to blindly perform actions or rituals for no reason and with no explanation. Muslims believe that all requirements that God asks them to do or refrain from doing are for their own good. Muslims believe that following the complete way of life taught by Islam is the only way to attain real happiness in this life and afterwards as well.
So after this long introduction, what are the practices and rituals of Islam? The following is a summary of some of the most important practices.
- Prayers: The Muslim prayer is a combination of physical actions, verbal sayings, and an internal feeling in the heart. Muslims are required to be in a state of calmness, serenity and humbleness while performing their prayers. Once the prayer is started, a series of sayings and actions are performed. The sayings include reciting parts of the holy Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, as well as other sayings glorifying God and thanking Him for all of His blessings upon us. It also gives Muslims the opportunity to ask God for anything they desire. This could include asking for help in getting a job, passing an exam, having a child, asking God for forgiveness of sins or anything else. Muslims are required to pray at least five times every day, and are encouraged to pray extra prayers if they can. The required prayers have specific times that they are to be performed at. These are dawn, noon, mid afternoon, sunset and at night.
- Fasting: Fasting means to refrain from having all kinds of food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn to sunset. Muslims are required to fast during the month of Ramadan every year. Ramadan is a month based on the lunar cycle, as opposed to the solar calendar used today by most people. Therefore, the start and end of the month of Ramadan change each year according to the lunar cycles. Ramadan can be either 29 or 30 days. Muslims are also encouraged to fast on other optional days. It is viewed as a way to cleanse the soul of all worldly desires and devout oneself completely to the obedience of God. It is also an opportunity for wealthy Muslims to experience life without food and drink for a day, which is meant to remind them of the poor and encourage them to have sympathy and to be generous in donating to help the poor and the needy.
- Pilgrimage: Also known as the Hajj, the pilgrimage is a physical and spiritual journey that every financially and physically able Muslim is expected to make at least once in their lifetime. Muslims travel to the holy city of Makkah, located in what is known today as Saudi Arabia, to perform the required rites of the pilgrimage. There, they are expected to spend their days in complete devotion to worship and to asking God for forgiveness and for anything else they wish to ask for. They also perform specific rituals, such as walking around the Kaaba, the black cube-shaped building located in Makkah.
- Charity: A very important aspect of Islam is giving charity to the poor. Muslims are required to give certain percentages of any type of wealth that they have accumulated. For example, Muslims must give 2.5% of the money they have saved each year. It is important to note that this is not based on income, it is based on savings. A small portion of the money that is sitting in the bank accounts of wealthy people and not helping anyone is used every year to help the poor. This ensures some re-distribution of wealth among Muslims. Also, Muslims are strongly encouraged to make charitable giving a habit. Most Muslims donate to charity on a weekly basis when they attend Friday prayer services at the Masjid, the Islamic place of worship.
- Purification: Before performing certain rituals, most importantly before prayers, Muslims are expected to perform a form of purification, known as ablution or "wudu" in Arabic. This involves washing the hands, face, arms and feet with water. Since Muslims are required to pray at least five times every day at various times throughout the day from dawn until the night, this ensures that Muslims maintain a high level of hygiene.
- Animal Sacrifice: The term "Animal Sacrifice" may sound weird, unusual or shocking to some people when they first hear or read it. But the reality is that the majority of people in the world do eat the meat of many different kinds of animals. Muslims believe that it is God whom has given us the right to kill these animals and eat them. Therefore, Muslims are required to mention God at the time the animal is killed. This reminds us that these animals were created by God and that God gave us the permission to benefit from them. This is why it is called a "sacrifice", and this is why it is considered a religious practice. Muslims are encouraged to perform animal sacrifice at special occasions in the Islamic calendar. In these special occasions, it is expected that part of the meat of the animal would be donated to the poor.
This was just a quick overview of some of the main rituals and religious practices of Muslims. Although many people have heard about at least some of these practices, this is usually everything they have ever heard or learned about Islam. These practices are just a very superficial and physical aspect of Islam. A deeper study of the beliefs of Muslims would reveal the true beauty of Islam. It is hoped that the reader will continue to study this great religion, the fastest growing religion in the world today. With understanding comes tolerance, and with tolerance comes love and peace, all of which we need more of in our world today.