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Books Section > Introduction to Islam > Practices

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Chapter 4:
Practices:

"Your Lord says: Pray to Me, I will answer you." (40:60)

"Surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil." (29:45)

"And seek assistance through patience and prayer, and this is hard except for the humble ones." (2:45)

Links present on this page:
|| Prayer || Fasting || Hajj or Pilgrimage to Makka || Charity || Jihad ||

A. Prayer:

57. What is prayer?

It is to put ourselves in touch with God, remind ourselves of His greatness, goodness and beauty, think over how we can develop the qualities He has placed in us, remember the goal He has put before us, and ask for His help in enabling us to do good and refrain from evil. Prayer also makes us see our lives, with all the successes and disappointments, in their true perspective, and makes us pause for a moment to see what we are doing in the light of what God wants us to do.

58. Is prayer necessary?

Just as the body requires food, cleansing, and exercise to make it fit for everyday living, the spirit or soul has spiritual needs for its development, so that one's character and conduct remains good and healthy. The needs of the spirit are provided by acts of worship and devotion, the most important and frequent of which is prayer. Not supplying these needs weakens the highest part of man, damaging his ability to do good and refrain from evil, just as not having enough food makes his body unfit to work and prone to disease.

59. What are the most important points Islam teaches about prayer?

Among many other important points about prayer, the first is that a person should say his prayers "as if he is seeing God", or at least be conscious that he is in God's presence. This means that prayer should be said with full attention, concentration of mind, and feeling of heart, just as if we were talking to someone in front of us. Another very important point Islam teaches is that a main purpose of prayer is to lead one to do good, to refrain from evil, and to behave better towards others. If prayer does not have this effect on a person's daily life and conduct, it means that he or she is not performing prayers properly, in the way required by Islam.

60. How does one pray in Islam?

Prayer, of course, is a general turning towards God. Islam has prescribed a particular form of prayer in order to make it systematic and to enable the whole community to pray together. The details of the Islamic prayer are available separately in many books. Briefly, certain bodily postures are adopted (standing, bowing, prostrating, and sitting on the ground) in each of which some prescribed prayers and other words extolling and praising God are said. This is the regular prayer known as Salaat, and is said in congregation (if possible) at five fixed times of the day. Apart from Salaat, one can just address a prayer to God at any time, in any situation, using any words one chooses.

61. What is the significance of the various postures during Salaat?

It is to give greater force and feeling to the words of prayer that are being said, and in fact to address God with the whole of oneself and not just the tongue. This is just as when people talk to each other they move their hands, head, etc. to stress what they are saying. The standing posture is as if to say to God that we are ready and keen to obey Him. Bowing down and prostrating is to express the inner feeling that we want to bow to God's commands in our daily lives and submit to Him completely, with humility. The words that are said in these two positions mean that "God is flawless and the Most High", i.e. we, who are imperfect, humble ourselves before the Perfect Being so that, through contact with Him, our defects may be removed.

62. What prayers does one say during the Salaat?

First of all, there are a few short prayers and expressions that must be said in particular positions during the Salaat in Arabic. The main such prayer is the Fatiha, the first chapter of the Holy Quran consisting of seven short verses, which is really the heart of the whole Salaat. In addition to the compulsory words of prayer, we may say any prayer we like, in any language we prefer, at any stage in the Salaat. The Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet Muhammad's Sayings contain a large number of apt and beautiful prayers for various situations. We must, of course, know the full meaning of any prayer we say, Arabic or otherwise, and it must be said with the full presence of mind and sincerity of heart.

63. Please explain briefly the meanings of the Fatiha?

This is the fundamental Muslim prayer, which illustrates the basic aim of the worshipper:

1. All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds,

2. The Beneficent, the Merciful,

3. Master of the Day of Judgment.

4. You (O Allah) are the one we worship, and You are the One Whose help we seek.

5. Guide us on the right path,

6. The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favours,

7. Not those who incur wrath or those who go astray.

64. What are the important points to be noted about this prayer?

We pray to be guided on the right path all the time, so that we progress along it constantly and develop the good qualities that God has placed in every person. This "right path" is that on which the righteous persons of all times have walked, whose lives show that God graced them with His spiritual favours. While praying for this, we recall that we are weak, and so we also pray that we may avoid wrong­doing as well as wrong beliefs (no. 7). This makes one feel humble while walking on the right path, and prevents arrogance, self­righteousness, and complacency.

65. Why are parts of the prayer said in Arabic?

The main reason is that, when the Salaat is performed in congregation, some words and passages are recited aloud by the man leading it, so that the assembly is praying in concert and harmony, as a single body. Since Islam is an international religion and Muslims praying in a congregation may well come from different countries (as often happens in prayer-meetings in the West), using Arabic, the original language of the Holy Quran, means that they can pray together. The Arabic prayers and expressions necessary for a Muslim to learn are very short and easy, and can be learnt by a child in a few days. Using Arabic also enables the people gathered for Hajj (in Makka, Arabia), from every part of the world, to worship together in step.

66. Does this mean that a purpose of Salaat is to bring people closer together?

Yes. Besides taking man closer to God, the other main purpose of Salaat is to bring people together and teach them equality and brotherhood. The worshippers stand in rows, shoulder to shoulder, without any distinction of race, nation, colour, wealth, family, status, etc., and all pray together as one body. They feel humble before God and brotherly among themselves. The Salaat ends with the worshippers turning their faces to the right, and then left, and in each direction wishing peace and God's mercy upon those in that direction. They are really wishing peace and the mercy of God upon the whole world. The purpose of the prayer, therefore, is to train people to acquire such qualities and character that they bring peace to the world.


B. Fasting:

"O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you (in earlier religions), so that you may guard against evil.. . . And when My servants ask thee (O Muhammad) about Me, surely I am near. I answer the call of the supplicant when he calls on Me." (The Holy Quran 2:183,186)

67. What is fasting as prescribed by Islam?

Fasting is a form of training to refrain from all wrong-doing by learning to control one's desires. It consists of giving up, for a fixed period of time, the most basic urges which human beings have, i.e. the urge to satisfy hunger, thirst and sexual desire, and devoting oneself to serving and helping others while disregarding one's own needs.

68. How is fasting done in Islam?

During the month known as Ramadaan in the Islamic calendar, every day from the start of daylight in the early morning till sunset, one must not eat or drink (or have sexual relations). You take a meal while it is still dark just before dawn breaks, and then do not eat or drink anything at all until sunset when the fast ends. During the hours of fasting, extra effort must be made to be kind, generous and helping to others, and to avoid doing anything bad or harmful to other people.

69. Does every Muslim have to fast in Ramadaan?

Every healthy adult Muslim man or woman must fast during Ramadaan. Those who happen to fall ill or be on a journey during any part of this month do not have to fast on those days and should complete the missed fasts after Ramadaan. People who are permanently unable to fast, or those whose reasons for not fasting are prolonged, such as the very old, the long­term ill, and women who are pregnant or feeding babies, etc., can give in charity instead of fasting. This charity consists, at the least, of giving a day's food to one poor person for every fast missed.

70. How does fasting enable us to give up the bad desires which lead to wrong-doing?

During the fast, a person feels the urge to have something to eat or drink, but he withstands this strongest of all desires, in obedience to God. This daily training, for a month, exercises and strengthens his ability to control bad desires in everyday life which lead to wrong-doing. This is just as physical exercise strengthens the body, and enables it to fight off illness more easily.

71. Are there any other moral benefits of fasting?

Yes. Firstly, man is drawn closer to God because when he feels hungry or thirsty during the fast it is the thought of the nearness of God which stops him from satisfying his desires. This makes him feel that God is always near at hand. Secondly, fasting teaches one to be patient and resolute in difficulties, for that is what one does during the fast. Thirdly, it makes us realize the great blessings of food and drink which are so easily available, but which we normally take for granted. Fourthly, it curbs the feelings of greed that develop in people when they have all that they need, and even more.

72. And what does fasting teach us about how to treat other people?

It makes us realize the suffering and the feelings of those who are deprived and destitute. A very important purpose of fasting is to learn to care about the needs of other people by being less concerned with oneself. This is why charitable acts of all kinds are especially encouraged during the month of fasting. By giving up your right to consume your own food and drink during the fast, you train yourself to be able to give up something that is rightfully yours, voluntarily and cheerfully, in order to help and serve others.


C. Hajj or Pilgrimage to Makka:

"Certainly the first house (of worship) appointed for mankind is the one at Bakka (Makka), blessed and a guidance for the nations. . . . whoever enters it is safe; and pilgrimage to the House is a duty which people owe to Allah, whoever is able to find a way to it." (The Holy Quran 3:96-97)

73. What is Hajj?

Every year, in the beginning of the month of Zil­Hijja in the Muslim calendar, a great international gathering of Muslims is held at Makka in Arabia, where they pledge that there is only One God for the whole of humanity and that all persons are equal, regardless of race, nation, wealth or status. This occasion is known as the Hajj (pronounced rather like the word judge, with h being read in place of j) or the Pilgrimage to Makka. The pilgrim goes to Makka at great personal sacrifice, and gives up many comforts of life while there. From his hardship, he learns the lesson that man has to sacrifice his desires if he is to attain nearness to God and to establish a world­wide brotherhood of equality and love.

74. Please outline the chief features of Hajj?

All pilgrims, at the commencement of the three days of the Pilgrimage, put on the same simple dress of two sheets of cloth. Thus all distinctions of wealth, position and family are removed during the Hajj by making every person appear the same outwardly. The Hajj itself consists of a number of acts of worship and remembrance of God, which are performed by the individual in the company of the vast congregation. Two of the most important of these devotions are the tawaaf (making circuits around the Ka`ba, the simple four­walled building which Muslims all over the world face in prayer), and the gathering of the pilgrims in a plain called Arafa to glorify God.

75. What is the significance of these acts?

These acts of worship are the highest spiritual experience. By going around the Ka`ba, the pilgrim expresses the greatest love for the One God because this building is the greatest and oldest memorial to the purest form of belief in One God. Going around the Ka`ba is as if to say that one's life should revolve around belief in One God. In the gathering at Arafa, there is a vast ocean of humanity, people of all colours, races, nations, languages, walks of life, the rich and the poor, the 'high' and the 'low', but all are exactly alike, wearing the same simple clothes, remembering God in the same way. From this, the pilgrims carry back home the lesson of the equality and brotherhood of mankind, which can only come through belief in One God.

76. Do Muslims worship the Ka`ba, or believe that God lives there?

No, definitely not. How can they worship the Ka`ba when, in fact, they go there to remember that God is One? And, according to Muslim belief, God is everywhere in this universe of ours, so He cannot live in any one place or building. The Ka`ba is an ancient memorial to the belief in One God, being associated with the Prophets Abraham and Muhammad (peace be upon them) who taught this belief most vigorously. It is a venue for the gathering of all nations, at which they come together and remember that only this belief can unite them. Though God is everywhere, yet when hundreds of thousands of people make the greatest sacrifice to gather in one place just to worship Him, that place rightly deserves the title of the 'House of God', as the Ka`ba is called.


D. Charity:

"You cannot attain to righteousness unless you spend (in charity) out of what you love." (The Holy Quran 3:92)

77. What is meant by charity in Islam?

Charity, for which the expression used in the Holy Quran is "spending out of what God has given you", means using your energy, talent, resources, money, possessions, or whatever else, to help and do good to those in need. In Islam charity is very often mentioned alongside prayer because just as the latter is man's relation with God, or man's duty towards God, the former (charity) represents his relation with his fellow-beings, and indeed with all the creation of God. Prayer expresses love for God, submission to Him, and a desire to bring out the Divine qualities that lie hidden in every person. Charity is an expression of sympathy and benevolence towards God's creation, putting into actual practice the lessons you learn in prayer.

78. Please give some examples of what are acts of charity in Islam.

Innumerable examples can be given because doing any kind of good to anyone, even to yourself to make you more capable of benefitting others, by using what God has given you, is an act of charity. Feeding the hungry, helping the poor, taking care of the destitute such as orphans, lending a hand to the disabled, helping an unemployed person to find a job, etc., are the more obvious examples of charity taught by Islam. But it also teaches that there are other, smaller acts of charity which one has the opportunity to do everyday. Helping someone in any way, showing the way to a stranger, speaking a kind word to cheer someone up, giving useful advice or imparting knowledge to someone, removing from the road something that could cause an accident, even simply refraining from hurting anyone, are all acts of charity in Islam.

79. Charity is usually thought to be giving money or alms to the begging poor, and is said to degrade them and make them feel inferior. This is not so in Islam, then?

Most certainly not. Firstly, charity in Islam is much broader than giving money to the poor, and can be exercised just as well even where there is no poverty, as shown above. Secondly, giving charity, or the doing of any good to someone, must be done as a duty, not to degrade them or to ask for thanks. The Holy Quran tells us:

"A kind word with forgiveness is better than charity followed by injury.. . . O you who believe, make not your charity worthless by reproach and injury, like him who spends his wealth to be seen by people. . ." (2:263-264)

Thirdly, charity should be given solely out of love for God, out of the desire to do good to His creation, as the Quran says about the righteous:

"They give food, out of love for Him (Allah), to the poor, the orphan, and the slave, saying: We feed you only for Allah's pleasure - we desire from you neither reward nor thanks." (76:8,9)

80. How important is charity?

Being charitable is very strongly urged upon the Muslims, so much so that the Holy Prophet Muhammad has said that on every limb of the body, doing a charitable deed is due every day, whether it is with the hands, feet, or tongue. There is no person at all who cannot do a deed of charity to others. According to the Holy Prophet, if someone has nothing to give, he should work and earn, and give out of that; if he still does not have anything to give, he should help someone in distress; and if he is unable, for some reason, to do even that, he should try to do any good he can and refrain from doing any harm to anyone.

Apart from general charity, Islam has made compulsory a sort of tax on one's possessions, known as Zakaat, to be spent on the welfare of the disadvantaged. This is explained further in no. 83.

81. To whom can a Muslim give in charity?

Just as acts of charity have the broadest possible significance in Islam, similarly the circle of those towards whom charity is to be exercised is the broadest that can be conceived. Starting with the people around us - our relations, friends, and neighbours - it extends to all Muslims, and to followers of other religions. In fact, a Muslim's charity covers even animals. The Holy Quran emphasizes that one should keep a special look-out for those who may be in need but who do not ask for help (2:273).

82. What kind of things should be given in charity?

In case of those acts of charity when we give something away, the Holy Quran teaches that we should only give good and useful things, not useless and worthless ones, and they should be the kind of things we like to have ourselves (2:267). Moreover, things given in charity must have been earned or acquired lawfully by the person giving them away.

83. Please explain what is Zakaat?

Just as Islam has prescribed a set form for prayer, to enable us to keep it up regularly, similarly it has given an outward form for charity and made it compulsory, in order to make it a regular duty. That outward form of charity is known as Zakaat, and consists of giving a specified fraction of one's wealth every year into a fund. This fund is administered by the Muslim community or Muslim government, and is used to help the poor, the disabled, the unemployed, and others in need.

84. Is Zakaat just like a tax?

In the sense of being collected and spent by the Muslim government Zakaat is like a tax. However, the great difference is that paying Zakaat is a religious duty to be done out of obedience to God and sympathy for people. So giving Zakaat is morally beneficial to the payer because it develops the spirit of self-sacrifice in him and curbs feelings of greed. Notice that the word 'tax' means a burden, but zakaat means something which purifies you.

85. Why is general charity and Zakaat a basic duty in Islam?

Because it brings out the best and highest qualities in a person, which is really the object of existence according to Islam. God has given to each person various capabilities and resources, such as knowledge, money, strength, some talent or skill, etc. Every individual must use whatever he or she has been given to benefit other people as well as the rest of God's creation, and not for selfish ends. If this principle is neglected, then not only is there no relief for the distress and the suffering of the needy, but man's increased selfishness makes him his fellow-man's deadly enemy; and society as well as mankind become divided into factions and groups all trying to grab things from one another.


E. Jihad:

86. What is Jihad?

Jihad is an Arabic word meaning "striving hard" or exerting yourself to the best of your power and ability. The Holy Quran frequently urges Muslims to strive hard, using the word jihad to mean striving.

87. What kind of striving does the Holy Quran talk about?

The Holy Quran mentions the following purposes for which a Muslim should strive hard:

1. to attain nearness to God, by struggling to overcome your bad desires;

2. to stick to Islam under difficult circumstances, such as when facing persecution and other problems;

3. to take part in the defence of the Muslim community when it is attacked by an enemy who wishes to destroy Islam.

4. to take the message of Islam to others, by devoting your time and money for this work.

88. Can you quote passages from the Holy Quran to illustrate this?

Referring to the four points numbered in the last answer, we give below some verses of the Quran which mention those kinds of striving. The word translated as "striving" in all these verses is jihad.

1. "Those who strive hard towards Us, We certainly guide them in Our ways." (29:69)

In this verse, God says that He guides to the right ways those who strive hard to reach Him. This is the jihad to improve yourself by doing good and restraining bad desires.

2. "To those who flee after they are persecuted, then strive hard and are patient, surely your Lord after that is protecting, merciful." (16:110)

This speaks of Muslims who were persecuted in Makka, and had to flee their homes. Their jihad was to remain patient and steadfast while facing severe difficulties.

3. "Allah has made those who strive, with their property and their lives, to excel by a high degree those who hold back." (4:95)

This verse refers to the war being fought by the Muslims, and says that those who strived by giving their wealth and their lives for this cause hold a higher rank than those who held back.

4. "Strive against them (the non-believers) a mighty striving with it (i.e. with the Quran)." (25:52)

Here Muslims are told to undertake a "mighty" jihad against the non-believers by taking the Quran to them so that its evidence, arguments and beauty may convince them of the truth of Islam.

89. So Jihad then doesn't mean war waged by Muslims against non-Muslims?

No, most certainly not. Neither does the word jihad itself mean war, nor is it used in the Holy Quran to mean war. Even when Muslims were still living in Makka, during the first half of the Holy Prophet's mission, before there was a Muslim state or army in existence, God commanded them to do jihad, saying:

"Strive hard for Allah with due striving." (22:78)

This could not possibly mean fighting anyone. It just meant striving to attain nearness to God and to help the cause of Islam.

90. Why is the word jihad applied to the battles of the early Muslims?

Because these battles had to be fought for the very existence of the religion of Islam, and because the Muslims had to strive hard by risking their lives and by sacrificing their possessions. Taking part in these battles was a great struggle, done only to save Islam from destruction and no other reason.

Before their emigration (hijra) to Madina, while living in Makka, the converts to Islam had to face terrible persecution and torture. But they bore it all with patience. In the Quran this was also called a jihad on their part. After the Muslims had been forced to emigrate to Madina, the opponents of Islam in Makka decided to wage war upon them. So the Muslims then had to fight battles in self-defence. As they had no proper army or equipment, each member of the Muslim community had to do, and to give, all that he or she could. They volunteered to fight in the battles, and gave their money and possessions for the war. Therefore this was called a jihad by means of one's life and property.

91. Does this mean that Islam only allows Muslims to fight wars for certain justified reasons?

Yes, and the reasons are clearly laid down in the Holy Quran. It says:

"Permission to fight is given to those on whom war is made, because they are oppressed . . . those who are driven from their homes without a just cause except that they say: Our Lord is Allah." (22:39-40)

"Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight you, but be not aggressive. Surely Allah loves not the aggressors." (2:190)

It is only for self-defence that fighting is allowed by Islam, and not to conquer land or enslave other people. The Holy Prophet Muhammad only fought battles under these conditions. In fact, Muslims at that time did not want to fight, as the Quran says addressing them:

"Fighting is enjoined on you, though it is disliked by you." (2:216)

92. If jihad does not mean fighting a war, can every Muslim take part in some kind of jihad at all times?

Not only can they do so, but taking part in jihad (or striving hard) is essential, as the Quran says:

"Only those are believers who believe in Allah and His Messenger, then doubt not, and strive hard with their wealth and their lives (or selves) in the way of Allah." (49:15)

The two kinds of jihad, which can be undertaken all the time, are: firstly, striving hard for personal improvement, and secondly, striving to take the message of Islam to others. The meaning of striving with your wealth, in case of the first kind of jihad, is to spend it to help others, and in case of the second jihad to spend it on the propagation of Islam. The meaning of striving with your lives, in case of the first kind of jihad, is to struggle against the lower and wrong desires of one's self, and in case of the second kind of jihad it means giving your time, talents, and energies to help in the work of the propagation of Islam.

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