Why These 5 Experiences Are Key To The Muslim Identity

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From a very early age, Muslim people learn that their faith is built upon five demonstrations of devotion. Through the "five pillars of Islam," Muslims explore, accept, and commit themselves to their religion.
Of course, each practice that the pillars represent is very different — some are a part of daily life, while others appear less frequently — but they are equally essential to the Muslim experience. To better understand why these rituals provide the foundation for an observant and pious Muslim life, we spoke with Faryal M. Khatri of the Islamic Society of North America.
More specifically known as the "testimony of faith," this pillar is a call to Muslims to commit themselves to a core belief in God, and state openly that "there is no God except God alone and Muhammad is his final messenger," Khatri explains. "Although not required, it is encouraged to repeat the phrase regularly as a way to remind ourselves and renew our faith," she adds.
This pillar has the most impact on the Muslim lifestyle, as it requires Muslims to pray five times a day: in the morning, at midday, in the afternoon, at sunset, and at night. It may sound like a lot of additional work, but the regularity of this practice makes worshipping and communing with God simply a fixture of everyday life.
Also known as almsgiving, this pillar can take many different forms in Muslims' lives. On one hand, wealthier Muslims are expected to give a certain percentage of their means to those in need. This donation, known as zakat, is calculated on an individual level and is normally given during Ramadan. At the same time, Khatri explains, "smiling at someone or picking up litter is considered to be a form of charity." Much like prayer, this practice is deeply meaningful but can, too, be a part of one's regular routine.
The holy month of Ramadan calls on practicing Muslims to attend nightly readings of the Quran, engage in community-wide celebrations, and, of course, fast. Not only are they expected to avoid eating and drinking from sunrise to sundown, but people must abstain from sex, gossip, swearing, and other habits deemed immoral. The foods eaten to break the daily fast may vary by region, but the intent behind the fasting remains the same: to dedicate the days of Ramadan to worship without any earthly distractions.
Unlike the other pillars, this annual pilgrimage to Mecca is only required of each Muslim once. The Hajj, which this year begins next Wednesday, August 30, lasts nearly a week and sees pilgrims visiting several religious sites around the city. For many, it's a one-time visit, but performing the Hajj is a lifelong reminder of the larger community each Muslim is a part of through their faith.

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