Being a Muslim

A man came to Prophet Muhammad (p) and said, “Messenger of God, direct me to a deed by which I may be entitled to enter Paradise.”  He said, “Worship God and never associate anything with Him, perform the obligatory prayer, and pay the prescribed charity, and observe the fast of Ramadan.”  He replied,  “By Him in Whose Hand is my life, I will never add anything to it, nor will I decrease anything from it.”  When he turned his back (to leave), the Prophet (p) said,  “He who would like to see a man from the dwellers of Paradise should catch a glimpse of this man” (related by Muslim).

This tradition shows how to live as a Muslim,  the first step being your declaration that you believe in a single, exclusive God and that Muhammad is one of His messengers.  Just believing in something isn’t enough — the Quran couples belief and deeds together, the latter being proof of the former.  As for beliefs, see my post below (What Do Muslims Believe In?).  As for being a Muslim, here is how:

REGULAR PRAYER:  The Quran says, “I am God!  There is no god but Me, so worship Me and perform prayer to remember Me” (20:14).  The five daily prayers in Islam are preceded with ablutions, and involve the body, mind, voice and heart with various postures that reflect submission, humility, love and glorification.  Prayers are performed before sunrise, at noon, in the afternoon, after sunset and after dark, and require a degree of focus, tranquility and poise.  There are concessions and exemptions for people who may be ill, travelling or incapacitated in any way, but a Muslim strives to perform every prayer to his best ability because it helps him keep a strong connection with God.  Praying the five daily prayers is the minimum that someone should pray; however, supererogatory prayers or spontaneous prayers from the heart are advisable at any moment during one’s life– in times of need, in moments of joy, during reflection or strenuous effort.   In addition to ritual prayers, remembering, asking and thanking God informally are also prayers of great merit.

FASTING IN RAMADAN:  The Quran says, “Fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may learn God-consciousness” (2:183).  Fasting the month of Ramadan is required of adults, who refrain from food, drink, conjugal relations, smoking, and all hurtful speech and actions from before sunrise until sunset.  There are many benefits of the month-long fast, such as increased self-discipline, patience, God- consciousness, sincerity, compassion, gratitude, and brotherhood, as well as documented medical benefits.  With reference to fasting, the Quran says that “God wills that you shall have ease, and does not will you to suffer hardship…” (2:185) and for that reason, people who are ill or travelling can make up missed days at a later time.  If one cannot fast due to chronic ill health, feeding a poor person for every day missed is sufficient compensation.  Fasting Ramadan is the minimum that a Muslim should fast; however, optional fasting is meritorious.  Prophet Muhammad regularly fasted on Mondays and Thursdays, and frequently on other days.  He said that the fast of Prophet David, which was on alternate days, was the fast most loved by God.

ZAKAT:   Neither charity nor a tax, zakat is a compulsory annual payment of cash or materials for the benefit of the poor, preferably person-to-person.  The word zakat literally means “purification” as it purifies people from greed and selfishness.  It prevents one from hoarding and promotes a more fair distribution of wealth that narrows the gap between the wealthy and the destitute.  The zakat reminds us that we are merely trustees of our wealth whose source is God, and its distribution promotes brotherhood and goodwill in the community.  The rate of zakat is 2.5% of savings that have accumulated for one year, 5% of agricultural produce, a portion of cattle (1-3%) and 20% of mined materials (except gold and silver, which are treated as cash).  The Quran says that zakat is “a legal obligation from God – and God is Knowing, Wise” (9:60).   If someone does not have savings that have accumulated for a year, he is exempt from paying zakat.   While zakat is the minimum amount that a person should give per year, charity and generosity are encouraged at all times.  The Quran repeatedly refers to good believers as those who “spend out of what God has provided for them” and instructs Muhammad to tell those who ask what they should spend in charity to say, “The excess (ie, what is beyond your needs)” (2:219).  Prophet Muhammad said that spending on your family is considered the best kind of charity.

PILGRIMAGE TO MECCA (HAJJ):  The Quran says, “Indeed, the first house of worship established for mankind was that at Bacca – a blessing and guidance for the worlds…. And due to God from the people is pilgrimage to the House, for whoever is able to find a way to it” (3:96-97).  A Muslim has an obligation to visit Mecca (formerly known as Bacca) during the first ten days of the month of Thul-Hijja once in his life, providing he has the financial and physical ability to do so.  During the pilgrimage, a Muslim performs rites that commemorate the faith and acts of Abraham and his family, including circumambulating the Kaaba, which Abraham and his son once built, jogging between two hills as Hagar did in search of water, and slaughtering an animal, which commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael (the meat of the sacrifice is distributed to the poor).  During the pilgrimage a Muslim connects with other Muslims through space and time, particularly Abraham and his family and the current Muslim ummah with representatives from virtually every country on earth.  The pilgrimage removes all outward signs of wealth or status to remind us of our equality and brotherhood, enables one to put worldly interests aside for a spiritual retreat and a chance to refocus, and reminds us of the inevitability of death, resurrection and gathering in front of God.  The pilgrimage season is the most important of the year, during which Muslims who do not attend often fast, offer extra prayers, increase charity and good works, and slaughter an animal to distribute its meat to the poor.

Conclusion:  The main acts of worship in Islam are the testimony of faith, which is a pledge and a commitment to God to submit to His will and follow Muhammad’s example; prayer, which is worship at regular intervals with the body, mind, voice and heart; fasting in Ramadan, which is an annual month-long course to develop God-consciousness, fostering self-discipline, compassion and gratitude; zakat, which is compulsory and trains us to share; and pilgrimage, which is an answer to God’s eternal call to worship Him.  These acts have many tangible and spiritual benefits, but the Muslim does each one as an act of worship, an act of obedience, and an act of gratitude for being in the fold of Islam.

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