As a child, I grew up in the coastal town of Pondicherry, India. Though I still live there in Pondicherry, I don’t live downtown, like I did in my childhood. The southern part of downtown Pondicherry is a predominantly Muslim. My first Muslim friend lived right below me in the ground floor. Then when we changed our house, we rented another house a few streets nearby owned by another Muslim, Mr.Cader. During my childhood I had a dozen Muslim friends, all of whom gave not just good company but also shared their lives. Through these encounters and experiences, I came to understand Muslims and also got introduced to Islamic religious practices.
When I went to work in Male, Maldives as a medical officer in 2008, I shared my free accommodation with a Pakistani Muslim, Dr. Samad, who was from Karachi. Also when I went to Ukraine to do my post-graduate studies in the city of Dnepropetrovsk, I stayed with an Algerian Muslim for a few months, followed by a Somali Muslim for about six or seven months. My neighbors were also Muslims from Jordan and Egypt.
In spite of all the differences, discussions and debates we had I must admit that these were very hospitable and friendly people who understood certain aspects of life which I have seen missing among Christians, especially Western Christians. The sense of unity was evident in the meals – which they never had alone. Every mealtime was a time of fellowship for them and they would cook and eat together. The sense of fellowship was very strong and real even with the difference in nationalities.
Five Pillars of Islam
The Core Religious Practices of Muslims are called “The Five Pillars of Islam”.
The first pillar of Islam is the recitation of the creed.
Everyone who recites the creed is considered a Muslim. The creed is called ‘Shahada’. In Arabic it reads “La ilaha illa Allah wa-Muhammad rasul Allah”, which in English reads, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the prophet of God”. It is recited during the call to prayer, during prayer, before death and in the contemplative prayers of Sufis. Many Muslims even believe that confession of shahada is just enough to enter heaven.
The Qutbah mosque still stands a couple of streets perpendicular to where my house was located in Shaji street. From that mosque everyday of every year, I heard the call to prayer, recited by the mullah of the mosque, resounding from the loud speakers. Since I heard it atleast 2 -3 times everyday, I learnt it subconsciously. This call of prayer also became sort of an alarm making me aware of the time of the day. Whenever I heard it I knew what time of the day it was. If it was in the early morning, it was usually 5 am, in the afternoon it was at 1 pm, and in the evening it would again be 5 pm (I missed the other two times the call to prayer sounded because I was at school). So I still remember the shahada as the mullah from Qutbah mosque sang it. It is sung with an Arabic tune during the call to prayer and recited during prayer.
Muslims pray five times a day. Not all may follow it strictly but they do follow it to different degrees. The Arabic word for prayer used in Islam is “Salat”.
When I started to work in Male, Maldives as a doctor, I saw that there was a separate prayer hall where the muslim doctors left in the middle of the work for their prayer whenever the call was sounded. Prayer is so important that they would stop everything, the whole system woud come to a halt and everyone would go for prayer.
The five prayers in Islam are
1. Fajr – dawn
2.Zuhr – immediately after noon
3.Asr – mid-afternoon
4. Maghrib – sunset
5. Isha – night
The prayers are prayed strictly facing Mecca. The person may be anywhere in the world, but he must face Mecca when he prays. Click here or more detail on the poitions with details of what is recited in each position, please click .
Personal supplication in Islam is called “dua”:
“In the Qur’an, Allah says: “When My servants ask about Me, I am indeed close to them. I listen to the prayer of every supplicant, when he calls on Me. Let them also, with a will, listen to My call, and believe in Me, so that they may walk in the right way” (Qur’an 2:186).The word du’a in Arabic means “calling” – the act of remembering Allah and calling upon Him.Aside from the daily prayers, Muslims are encouraged to call upon Allah for forgiveness, guidance, and strength throughout the day. Muslims can make these personal supplications or prayers (du’a) in their own words, in any language, but there are also recommended examples from the Qur’an and Sunnah.” (1)
The month of Ramadan is the month of fasting for muslims. Muslims would fast the whole month, between sunrise and sunset. This is a very strict form of fasting, where it is forbidden to swallow even their own saliva. This fasting ended with a feast on the first day of the next month which is the festival of ‘Ramzan’, as we called it in my childhood. The actual name is Ed – ul – Fitr. One strange phenomenon which still vividly remember from my childhood is the red sewage. The open sewage in our street became red, literally with blood, as goats were killed in every muslim house . Of course, I enjoyed the foodwhich sometimes arrived in my house from one of my friends during the festival.
“Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed. The Quran clearly says “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you many learn piety and rightousness” – Al Baqarah, 2:183. Fasting is to be done by all able bodied men and women and children who have reached puberty. If a person is sick or has some medical reason or if a women is pregnant then they are waived from fasting.During Ramadan the people who fast are not allowed to eat or drink anything (including water) from dawn to after sunset. Also one has to restrain other body parts, which may render the fast worthless despite the main factor of hunger and thirst; so the tongue,for instance, must avoid backbiting, slander, and lies; the eyes should avoid looking into things considered by the Lawgiver as unlawful; the ears must stop from listening to conversation, words, songs, and lyrics that spoil the spirit of fasting; and finally restraining of the heart, and mind from indulging, themselves in other things besides zikr or Allah (remembrance of Allah).Also when one is fasting and feels hunger and thirst he has to remember other people in the world who do not have food and water. Charity is one of the extremely recommended acts during fasting. Muslims are required to give minimum of 2.5% of their annual savings as charity to poor and needy people. Also there are various sayings of the prophet (pbuh) where he has said that any charity made in Ramadan is multiplied upto 70 times. If some people are poor and cannot afford to give money then even a smile is an act of charity.” (2)
1: —- about.islam.com [ www.islam.about.com/cs/prayer/a/dua.htm ]
2: ——- Islamic awareness website http://www.islamawareness.net/Calendar/Ramadan/whatisramzan.html