Question: What Are The Main Practices And Rituals Of Islam?
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?
Before we talk about some of these religious practices, it is important to note that while it is common to see and hear about the outwardly expressions of Islam such as prayers, fasting and the pilgrimage, the reality is that Islam is meant to be a complete way of life for its followers. The goal of Islam is not to practice certain rituals or to prohibit Muslims from eating pork or drinking alcohol. Islam includes a complete and logical set of beliefs, rituals, and a moral code that covers every action that a Muslim takes in their life. Muslims believe that all requirements that God asks them to do or refrain from doing are for their own good, and that following the complete way of life taught by Islam is the only way to attain real happiness in this life and beyond. The rituals prescribed by Islam are meant to help Muslims be the best version of themselves, and to achieve a state of happiness and fulfillment. However, this question specifically asks about practices and rituals, and so we will discuss the seven main practices of Islam in this answer.
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.
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 Quran, the holy book of Islam, as well as thanking God for all of the blessings we enjoy. The prayer 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 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. Fasting is a way to cleanse the soul of all worldly desires and devote oneself completely to 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.
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 to perform the required rites of the pilgrimage. There, they are expected to spend their days in complete devotion and 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.
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 their saved money 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 that wealth is shared among all members of the society. 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.
Before performing certain rituals, such as the daily 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.
The term "Animal Sacrifice" may sound strange, 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 permission to slaughter these animals and eat them. Otherwise, it is not permitted to harm animals. Therefore, Muslims are required to mention God at the time the animal is slaughtered as a reminder that these animals were created by God and that it is only with God's permission that we are allowed 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.
Reading the Quran
The Quran is the holy book of Islam. Muslims believe that the Quran contains the literal word of God as revealed to Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. The Quran contains 114 chapters of varying lengths, and most copies of the Quran are just over 600 pages. During prayers, it is required to read some short portions of the Quran. Muslims are also encouraged to read and memorize the Quran as much as possible, and to learn from the wisdom it teaches us. The Quran encourages the reader to think and ponder its teachings and meanings, and to observe the universe in order to appreciate God’s creation. Islam does not encourage blind faith - rather we are taught to think deeply to fully accept and internalize our faith, and reading the Quran regularly can help us to accomplish this goal.
So, what is the purpose of these rituals?
As mentioned at the start of this answer, performing these rituals is not the goal, but rather they are meant to help Muslims to be the best version of themselves. For example, praying five times a day prevents us from committing evil actions by constantly reminding us of our faith. Fasting teaches us to control our desires and encourages us to share our wealth. The pilgrimage is a congregation of the faithful from around the world that reminds us of our unity and shared fate as human beings. Charity builds a more equitable society by sharing wealth with the less fortunate. Purification trains us to take care of our bodies and maintain our health. Animal sacrifice reminds us that we must take permission from God to benefit from his other creations. And reading the Quran keeps us connected to the word of God and trains us to uphold ourselves to the highest standards of moral character as revealed in the Quran.