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Saturday, 28 May 2016

Understanding the Birth of Islam and its Five Pillars

Birth of Islam and story of Muhammad:

Before understanding Islam, we need to understand the society in which Islam was born. The Arabs at that time believed in polytheism. In fact, the Quraysh tribe in which Muhammad was born into practiced pilgrimage trade in Mecca where statues of many gods had been collected in a temple like structure called Kabaa.

Image Courtesy: Slideshare.net


Muhammad, the final prophet of God, was born in the year 570 CE in the city of Mecca. In his early youth, he became a camel driver, then a caravan leader and then a merchant. When he was around around 40 years of age, he was visited by an archangel, Gabriel, in his dream. The revelations that Muhammad received from Gabriel were subsequently collected and codified as the Quran. Since these revelations doesn't include the views of the people, Quran seen as the actual word of the God. Initially though there were many people claiming to have been visited by God in their dream, so Muhammad decided not to speak of these revelations to the public. It was his wife who encouraged him to spread the words of God, now as Islam was strict monotheistic, this didn't bode well with the leaders of Quraysh tribe as they practiced polytheism. If all the gods in the Kabaa were false as Muhammad was preaching, it would have been an economic disaster.

This made the Quraysh tribe people to force Muhammad and its follower out of Mecca in 622. They headed to Yithrab, also known as Medina. This journey , also called hijra, is so potent that it marks year 0 in the Islamic Calendar.In Medina, number of people who believed in these revelations, also known as Ummah, grew significantly. Muhammad, besides being a prophet, was also a good general. In the year 630, Muhammad along with the his follower conquered Mecca. After conquering Mecca,
the first decree of Muhammad was to cleanse the Kaaba of its idols and dedicate the shrine to Allah.One important thing to note here is that Allah is just an Arabic word for god irrespective of whether you are a Muslim or Christian or Jews.

By the end of 7th century, Islam was as powerful a political force as it was a religious one and for this very reason, there is no separate tradition of civic and religious laws like there is in Christianity, Judaism etc. Once Muhammad died in 632, there was a need for a political leader who will guide the Ummah. Muslims were then led by a series of four Caliph who continued to spread the message of Islam. The first Caliph was Abu Bakr, Muhammad's father-in-law and was commonly known as the The Truthful. Many people wanted Ali ,Muhammad's son-in-law, to lead the community, though eventually Ali did become the fourth Caliph, the initial disagreement sown the seeds of division between two major sects of Islam-Sunni and Shi'a.

Death of Muhammad and spread of Islam:

Abu Bakr started a series of successful military campaigns against the Byzantine and the Sassanian empire. All the Caliphs followed this tradition of conquest and sadly also assassination. Though Ali finally got his turn at Caliph, his ascension was very controversial and finally led to civil war.This eventually led to rise of Uthman's tribe, the Umayyads, as a dynasty that would rule over an ever expanding Islamic world for more than a hundred years. Many people believe that the words of Islam was spread based on swords. Although the truth is a little bit more complicated, Islam was not forced on the people but rather people who practiced different religion had to pay higher taxes. Now as higher tax on a product leads to reduction in consumption of that product similarly higher taxes for worshiping other gods led to a vast number of converts. Also, Islam gave many rights to women, orphans. There was no racism practiced in Islam and everyone was treated equally apart from the one with political stature. All these factors resulted in many people opting Islam without any military campaign.

Five Pillars of Islam:

1. Shahada: Faith
 
 It is declaration of faith. It reads as " There is no God but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God." It is important to recite these words to become a Muslim and to convert to Islam.

2. Salat: Prayer
 
 It is ritual prayers five times a day- at dawn, noon, afternoon, evening and night. All of these prayers are recited while facing in the direction of Kabaa in Mecca.These prayers are obligatory unless you haven't hit the puberty or are too sick or are menstruating.

3. Sawm: Fasting
 
Three types of fating is recognized in Quran. Ritual fasting, fasting as a compensation for repentance and ascetic fasting.

Ritual fasting is an obligatory act during the month of Ramadan in which Muslims don't eat or drink during daylight hours.Since Ramadan is a lunar calendar month, it moves around the year and is most fun during winter when days are small and obviously least fun in summer as days are both hot and longer.

4. Zakat: Charity
 
It is practice of charitable giving to the community from which the wealth was accumulated. A non-poor Muslim is required to give some percentage of their income to the poor. If a person doesn't have enough money, he should compensate for it by other means such as good deeds and good behavior towards other.

5.Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca

  The Hajj is a pilgrimage that occurs during the Islamic months of Dhu al-Hijjah to the holy city of Mecca. A muslim is obliged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lives provided they are healthy and have enough money.

References: 

1.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Pillars_of_Islam

2.http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/isla/hd_isla.htm

3.http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-rise-of-islam/

4.http://www.missionislam.com/knowledge/The%20Rightly-Guided%20Caliphs.htm

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