Sawm – Fasting
Fasting in Ramadan is one of the pillars of Islam, fasting is an obligatory act during the month of Ramadan. Almighty Allah says:
O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was for those before you, that you may attain piety. (Al-Baqarah2:183)
Muslims must abstain from food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk, and are to be especially mindful of other sins. Fasting is both a spiritual and physical exercise which allows Muslims to seek nearness to Allah, to express their gratitude to Allah and dependence on Him, to atone for their past sins, and to remind them of the needy.
During Ramadan, Muslims are also expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam by refraining from violence, anger, envy, greed, lust, harsh language and gossip, and to try to get along with each other better than normal. In addition, all obscene and irreligious sights and sounds are to be avoided. If he does not control himself and avoid evil deeds, his fast will not bring him any benefit nor reward from Allah. Fasting throughout Ramadan trains one to control their desires and strengthen their will-power.
For those whom fasting is dangerous and excessively problematic, fasting during Ramadan is not obligatory and is even forbidden in some cases. These include pre-pubescent children, those with a medical condition such as diabetes, elderly people and pregnant or breastfeeding women. Observing fasts is not permitted for menstruating women. Other individuals, for whom it is considered acceptable to break the fast, are those who are ill or on a travel. Missing fasts usually must be made up soon afterwards, although the exact requirements vary according to circumstance.
5. Hajj – Pilgrimage
Hajj or pilgrimage is a pillar of Islam that every capable Muslim must perform once in a lifetime. The annual pilgrimage to blessed Makkah is obligatory at least once in a lifetime on every Muslim who is financially and physically able. Almighty Allah says:
And Hajj to the House (Ka`bah) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, those who can afford the expenses. (Aal `Imran 3:97)
No annual event on the face of the globe, religious or non-religious, compares to Hajj in terms of the sheer number of participants from all parts of the world, duration of the event and the breadth of agenda. In spite of this fact, it has always remained equally fascinating and mysterious to not only non-Muslims, who are barred from entering the holy city, but also to millions of Muslims, who had not performed Hajj.
At Hajj a number of rituals are carried out which reflect the efforts of Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim, peace be upon him) who had left his second wife Hajar and her young son Ishmael (Isma`il) there in the arid desert. Allah rewarded Hajar’s struggle to find water with the well of Zamzam, a spring which made the region prosperous and a religious focal point after Ibrahim and Isma`il built the Ka`abah. There is also the gathering at the plain of `Arafat, reminiscent of the even larger gathering to come on the Day of Judgment.
Hajj is more than a get together of Muslims from all over the globe; it is akin to a virtual reality training camp. Pilgrims leave behind their busy world, dress in simple white sheets of cloth not unlike the ones they will later be buried in, and concentrate on the concept of sacrifice –recalling Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his only son Isma`il for Allah. Properly conducted, this simulated journey from this world to the next prepares the pilgrims for the remaining life ahead of them, assisting them in making the right choices and judging their worldly affairs against the standard of the Hereafter.
All over the Muslim world, the conclusion of Hajj is celebrated with the festival of Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, where the meat of a sacrificed animal is shared out between family, friends and the needy, celebrating the fact, that Allah only tested Ibrahim’s willingness, but did not demand of him to give up his son, letting him slaughter a ram instead. Islam thereby categorically rejects the concept of human sacrifice but also emphasizes that nothing should be so dear to us that we are not willing to give it up for the sake of Allah.
Almighty Allah says:
And proclaim unto mankind the Hajj that they may witness things that are of benefit to them. (Al-Hajj 22:27-8)
Do Muslims Worship the Ka`abah or the Black Stone?
Islam teaches to worship One and Only God. Unlike all other religions, which tend to revere their founders excessively often to the point of worshiping them, Allah makes the Prophet Muhammad to declare:
I am only a human being like you. (Al-Kahaf 18:110)
Therefore, nothing is farther from the truth than stating that Muslims worship the Ka’bah or the black stone, or that they undertake the Pilgrimage (Hajj) to touch the black stone or the Ka`bah. They are going to undertake the Hajj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.
While it is true that while going around the Ka`bah, some pilgrims may touch the black stone, doing so is not an integral rite of Hajj. It is therefore totally absurd and incorrect to say that Muslims go to Makkah to touch the stone.
Touching the stone is a mere symbolic act; it is merely intended to symbolize the beginning of the ritual of circumambulation around the Sacred House. In this context, it is worth remembering what the Caliph `Umar said while touching the black stone: “I know for a certain fact that you are simply a stone; you have no power to benefit or harm anyone; if I hadn’t seen the Prophet kissing you I wouldn’t have even bothered to kiss you.”
We do not attach any importance to this stone other than the fact that it was placed there by Prophet Ibrahim by the order of Allah. So, we are merely renewing our memory of the great Prophet, whose faith and sacrifice is celebrated in the rituals of Hajj.
Do Muslims Turn to “The East” in Prayer?
This is a common misconception. In reality, it is not correct to say that Muslims always turn to the East; rather they always turn towards the Ka`bah while performing their prayers, and its precise direction may be different, depending on where we are located in the world.
The Unity of Humankind
The Ka`bah is the first and the most ancient house of worship ever built for all of humankind and dedicated to the worship of One God. So, by facing toward the Ka`bah in our prayers, we are stressing the unity of humankind under the Lordship of the One and Only God. Moreover, by facing toward the Ka`bah, we are stressing the idea of centrality of Allah in our life.
Source: Taken from www.islamislife.org with modifications.