Archive for Worship in Islam

Urgent Help Needed for Famine Victims in East Africa

Assalamu Alaikum,

As we know, East Africa is currently experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. It has caused widespread famine that is severely affecting more than 11 million people, mainly women and children. With Ramadan coming up, it is our duty as Muslims to be more mindful of those in need. I invite you to use this holy month to participate in helping people in need in both East Africa and elsewhere. In addition to aiding people in desperate need, you will also be rewarded for “iftar sa’im” or providing the iftar meal for a fasting person. Ramadan is not only a time of massive iftars and celebration, but also a time of reflection and charity. Instead of spending time and resources on iftars in the US, we could use a large portion of that money to feed those starving in East Africa or elsewhere.

Our community has supported people in several other disasters and crises such as the earthquake and flooding in Pakistan, the tsunami disaster in South Asia, and other famines and crises. It is our job again to do our part and help our brothers and sisters in faith and humanity around the world.

There are many organizations that are actively seeking to alleviate the suffering in East Africa. The most prominent of which are Islamic Relief USA and Islamic Relief Worldwide. While these organizations are recommended because of their activism, I urge you to donate generously to any organization of your choice.

These donations can be from your annual zakat- ul-mal, regular sadaqa, or iftar sa’im.

Below are the links to organizations where you can get more information and donate online.

United Nations:  http://www.un.org/en/

Islamic Relief USA:  http://www.islamicreliefusa.org/east-africa-crisis

Islamic Relief Worldwide:  http://www.islamic-relief.com/Emergencies-And-Appeals/5-63-738-islamic-relief-launches-east-africa-crisis-appeal.aspx

 If you choose not to donate online, you can donate at your local Masjid or charity. Whatever  you do, may  Allah (SWT) accept it and reward you.

I encourage our Imams and community leaders to spread the word and raise awareness on this issue during Friday Khutbahs.

Please forward this information to anyone who can help the cause.

Wassalamu Alaikum

Da’wah in the Age of iPhones

by Jannah

“By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),
Verily Man is in loss, except such as have Faith,
and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching
of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.”
(Qur’an, Chapter 103)

In the 103rd chapter of the Qur’an, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (Glorified and Exalted is He) gives us a blueprint for our lives:  Have faith, do righteous deeds, and join together to teach people truth, patience and constancy. Our first priority then is to have this faith and to do good deeds as individuals, families and a collective community. Secondly, we need to teach others.

Everyday, people interact and learn from the internet. The world is now so wired that people sleep with their iPhones so that they don’t miss anything. (Yes admit it!) The statistics on how obsessed people are with things like Facebook are mind-boggling. The internet ‘cloud’ is now the living space of the world. Everyday, there are new and more sophisticated anti-Islamic websites, rants on Youtube and powerful bloggers that publish their latest Islamophobic tirades. Where are the Muslims?

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf once said, “Spend a little time on the Internet, and search for issues related to Islam, the way people who have little or no knowledge about Islam might do if they were curious about our religion. Try Google searches for terms like “jihad” or “women in Islam,” and see the top websites and links that appear. Compare some of the websites run by Muslims with the ones run by people attacking the Muslims, and note the difference.” Indeed, what we will find is that we still have a lot of work to do. Not just for non-Muslims but for Muslims as well. We need to do something to counter this disinformation about Islam.

“Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching;
and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious:
for thy Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path and who receive guidance.”
(Qur’an, 16:125)

My philosophy since the 90’s has not been that we need to convert people. That is not our job. Faith is something that is between a person and Allah (swt). Our job is to present the real, true, good Islam. It is up to people if they want to believe, understand, sympathize or hate. (There will always be people who won’t believe and we should accept that.) However, we should not accept when the Palin-Geller monsters of the world create a “terrorism-honor-killing-jeehad-shariah-izlam” and present that to the world as our faith. That is not fair, and it’s about time that each of us participates in taking back our own narrative. The Qur’an asks us to join together in this mutual teaching. We need to step up, participate, represent, and bring true Islam to the people.

You might ask at this point if one person/website/blog/video/tweet can make a difference. The way I look at it is, that if one person is affected positively by what you’ve created, it is well worth the effort. (It can even be beneficial to you.)

So the typical image of an Islamic website you might have is of an elderly scholarly Shaykh (with a big beard) posting long religious edicts! Or perhaps a programmer in big glasses typing feverishly away in complex programming languages. Yet, the websites of today are far more nuanced and don’t have to be in ‘traditional website’ form. Easy software, helpful guides and simple interfaces make everything accessible, even to those not technically inclined. You also do not have to be a scholar or “perfect” in religiosity to show different aspects and positive sides of Islam.

A few great examples of non-traditional ‘Islamic websites’ that have popped up recently:

  1. Muslim heroes/Muslims wearing things – blogs in response to Islamophobes showing the huge diversity of what Muslims are doing to serve the world and what Muslims actually look like and wear.
  2. iPhone Islamic apps – now you can do everything from finding a Halal restaurant in a new city to memorizing online with a Tajweed master.
  3. How-to-Hijab videos – Youtube videos showing girls how to pin their Hijabs.
  4. Twitter’s Hadith-a-day – tweets a reflective Hadith a day to thousands of followers.
  5. Muslim media & radio shows – broadcasting everything from Qur’an recitation to discussions on relevant topics for Muslims.
  6. Halal food blog – all about creating great Halal recipes, good substitute ingredients and traditional foods from the Muslim world.
  7. Muslim anime artists – creating anime and comics representing Muslims and their struggles.
  8. Flickr collections – showing Muslim architecture, art and life throughout the Muslim world through photos.
  9. Facebook fan pages – fan pages on such diverse topics as Salahuddin Ayyubi, Muslims & Science Fiction and Steampunk Shariah.
  10. Youtube Muslim skits & parodies – cartoons, skits and entertainment for all, by funny people and MSAs.
  11. Yahoo! comments – Muslims who comment on Islam related articles to counter all the hate. (Hey, we have to start somewhere!)

These are all just ordinary, individual Muslims using their talent to educate and spread Islam online. They’re not perfect and I’m sure their diverse opinions will differ, along with the way they went about things, but the point is they are regular, normal, struggling Muslims expressing their own faith, interests and daily lives to others.

So what about the rest of us? There are so many Muslims that have such great talents and skills. Each of us can contribute to this mutual teaching. So how do we get started in making something beneficial? And what are some steps in the process?

But oars alone can ne’er prevail to reach the distant coast;
The breath of Heaven must swell the sail, or all the toil is lost.

– William Cowper

Pre-Step 1: Purify your intention. Anything we do should be for Allah (swt), so it’s important to keep in mind our goals and original intentions.

Step 1: Find your niche. Do you have any special abilities or talents? Do you know how to program Islamic widgets, themes, apps, software? What are you interested in? Do you like politics? Art? Software? Poetry? History? Fashion? What kind of website do you want to create? Do you want to start a blog? Create some funny videos? Gather articles on a specific topic? Live stream local lectures and study circles? Start a forum for a certain hobby? Open a Yahoogroup for people similar to you or for your local community? Every Muslim can contribute in their own way, so think of the way you can best contribute, using your interests and skills.

Step 2: Do some research. See what’s out there in the areas you’re interested in. Who is the audience you are targeting? Muslims, non-Muslims – both or a specific group? Do you think your website will be useful to them? Does it add value to what is already out there? How is it different or needed? Analyze what works and what doesn’t. Seeing other things might spark some new ideas or help you find where you are most needed. If the idea is out there already, you could do something similar or a little different. If someone is already doing what you’re interested in, then you should join and strengthen them. You might even want to contribute something or help an established site out there already instead of starting something new.

Step 3: Get started. Create some content! You don’t have to buy your own domain and host your own site at this point, which can be expensive and technically complicated. You can use free services like WordPress, Blogspot, Tumblr, Youtube, Vimeo, Flickr, Deviantart, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Find things you can use for your site, write to publishers and authors for permission. Write articles, create videos, and start tweeting. Be smart, innovative, creative and fresh. There is so much potential for us out there with so many great ideas.

Step 4: Advertise and allow for feedback. Advertise in Google, post comments on other blogs, and list your site in Islam related search engines. Ask other website owners, friends and those who might be interested to take a look and give you suggestions. Tweak and change where needed. Keep your goal in mind and don’t mind negative criticism. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the response you wanted. The internet is a big place, but know that you have contributed positively, insha’Allah (God willing).

Step 5: Try to keep it up. This is actually the hardest step. There are so many outdated and orphaned Islamic sites out there. Or worse, good things that were completely deleted! Don’t destroy good work. Pass it on, delegate or encourage others to continue. Keep updating and posting, be current and in touch.

“The World is three days:
As for yesterday, it has vanished, along with all that was in it.
As for tomorrow, you may never see it.
As for today, it is yours, so work in it.”
- Hasan al-Basri

Some guidelines that can help keep your website da’wah (call to Islam) friendly:

  1. Keep sites small, simple, clear and organized. With more and more people accessing the web using their mobile and hand-held devices, a complex and maze-like site is near impossible to navigate.  Include what the site is about, who it’s for, who’s behind it, what we can find and why. There’s no point to androgynous, nameless, anonymous Islamic sites. People crave a personal connection, so why not share who you are and what you’re about as a Muslim.
  2. Share, collaborate and work with others that have the same goals and interests. What’s better? Having 10 tiny sites with a few articles here and there on ‘Women in Islam’ or having one collaborative site by ten people on women in Islam? Obviously, synergy is better. Let’s strengthen and grow what we have already. Then, strive to expand your site, recruit contributors and moderators, and make your website a collective effort. We can also work with non-Muslims in our shared goals as well. It’s of interest to note that in Surah al-Asr, Allah (swt) mentioned universal principals that we all share. So a site on Hijab (head covering) can collaborate with those of other religions that talk about their covering traditions. A site on a Muslim soup kitchen should link with other charitable groups.
  3. Avoid controversial Islamic issues and Fatwas; let’s leave those to the real scholars. Some sites can easily degrade into fighting over five issues: Shia/Sunni, moonsighting, meat, music and Mawlid. It can get ugly. People also ask difficult complex Fiqh (understanding of Islamic laws) questions because they really need help. It’s easy to give them an answer, but we may not have the wisdom or knowledge to give them the best answer. For example, we could give them a very strict, difficult opinion we know of, while there is an easier and just as Islamic way out there. We’re also unable to know all the details and conditions of a person’s problems or follow up with them. Leave it to the professionals.
  4. Use wisdom and kindness when speaking to other Muslims and to non-Muslims. Follow the general Islamic guidelines of Adab (proper conduct relating to each other and with the opposite gender). It’s amazing what some people say online. I’m reminded of an old Dawud Wharnsby song, ‘We use so many words but have so little to relay/ as angels scribble down every letter that we say/ All the viral attachments sent and passionate insults we vent/ It’s easy to be arrogant behind user passwords we invent/ But on the day the scrolls are laid, with every word and deed displayed/ when we read our accounts, I know, for one, I’ll be afraid.’ People may think they’re anonymous, but guaranteed you are not. Remember that literally thousands of people are reading your words, including many many non-Muslims (and government agencies). We forget that words have a powerful effect even through a computer screen. Arguing with your Muslim brother/sister to such an extent where hate starts to bloom is just wrong. A Golden Rule: Never post when you’re angry. Wait a day or two, and then respond calmly.
  5. While ‘counter’ websites are needed, such as those dispelling myths, countering religious dogmas and refuting certain anti-Islamic sites, it’s better to create positive websites about Islam. We can talk all day about how X is wrong but it will not bring a person to Z. Any form of negativity also can keep people from learning more. Again, we’re not trying to forcibly convert anyone. We just want to show the truth about Islam and Muslims so people can understand it and us.
  6. Allow some room for interactivity, so you’re not just sticking static pages out there. Imagine a very long lecture without any Q&A at the end! You can enable comments or have some kind of guestbook or even have an email address available. Rather than sending a one way dissemination of knowledge, you end up with ‘relationships’ and ‘conversations’. This brings a website to life. Don’t mind the haters. Feel free to censor them and keep your comments moderated. (There are so many Islamic videos/sites with disgusting comments. There’s no need to have them there.)
  7. Stick mostly to English (or your main language) and explain concepts and words where possible. Too much of Arabic or a different language may cause people not to understand what you’re saying. It may even make Islam seem like a ‘foreign religion only for foreigners’. Even if your site is for Muslims only, not everyone knows complex Islamic terminology, Arabic or Arabic script. It’s very difficult to learn about Islam when you also have to learn Arabic and learn all about Arab and Desi (Indian and Pakistani) cultures! Also, keep things relatable to your audience. Using examples like going to the Souk is probably going to be foreign to westerners, just like ordering a pizza would be inexplicable to someone in Damascus.
  8. Balance design versus content, form versus function. There are many beautifully designed and technically advanced sites with little value content wise, and there are some sites that are so rich with information and resources but have no infrastructure. People don’t know how to access the information available or even that it’s there. Try to keep both in mind, as both are important.
  9. Attribute, get permission and follow internet protocols and copyrights. It’s not cool to steal. This is because people spend time and energy to create something, just like you, and they want it to be out there a certain way. Most authors/artists have no problem with sharing as long as you ask their permission. To recreate or copy someone’s entire site is redundant. Why not join others or contribute something new instead?
  10. Lastly, this may seem strange, but the most important concept for Islamic webmasters/app designers/admins to remember, is to be fair. Be fair to your users, to your ‘competitors’, to other Muslims, to non-Muslims and to the greater internet sphere. Be open-minded and just in how you present things, how you attribute things, and how you handle things. You might be the creator and administrator, but you’re more like a diplomat at the UN. Everyone has their rights and everything should be balanced. Give people your time and help. Respond to all those who email you, write to you and even criticize you. Stick to what you know and can do. There’s an Arabic proverb that says ‘one cannot give what they do not have’. If we are not educated in an Islamic topic we should not talk about it, if we do not know the politics of a region we should not enter into a debate over it. In the same way, whatever we create should be something we have knowledge of, and a love for.

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”
– Rumi

I hope one day to find such diverse sites as a comprehensive commentary on all those ‘controversial verses’ in the Qur’an, academic and interesting responses to current Islamic issues in the media, a detailing of the Muslim response to 9/11, Muslim bloggers and tweeters with thousands of dedicated inter-faith followers,  interactive live streaming of every Muslim-related event in North America, and of course, a site on how to make the perfect Ramadan cupcakes!

Jazakamullahu khairan. May Allah reward you all.

Jannah is the founder of Jannah.org, one of the first Islamic websites ever, and is also the founder and administrator of two discussion-board sites, themadina.com and halfmydeen.org. Jannah can be reached at jannahorg@yahoo.com.

This article was originally posted on www.suhaibwebb.com.

The Essence of Islam: Are We missing the Point?

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To some, a Monet is only a collection of dots. To others, it is a perfect masterpiece. To some, Islam is nothing but a code of rules and regulations. But, to those who understand, it is a perfect vision of life.

As Muslims, we often focus so much on Islam’s dos and don’ts that we miss the bigger picture. Islam came to perfect our manners, and yet we are willing to scream and shout to win an argument about zabiha meat. Islam came to build our bond with our Creator, and while we wear our hijabs and kufis, we delay our prayers.

Islam came to establish a community of believers, but while we decorate our masjids with gold and silver, our prayer rows remain empty. Islam came to teach us about God, and despite wearing His words on our necklaces and decorating our houses with them, when those verses are recited to us, our hearts remain unmoved and our lives unchanged.

And Islam came to make us one brotherhood, yet we divide ourselves and alienate one another over issues like moon sighting and voting.

This is not to say, of course, that the dos and don’ts in Islam are not important. They are crucial. The problem is that we have forgotten what they stand for. For example, the wearing of Islamic dress should never be minimized. But we have forgotten that that hijab and that beard are only symbols of our greater devotion to God. For us to wear that hijab and that beard while it has no bearing on our character means we have missed the point.

If we spend thousands of dollars decorating our masjids but then use that masjid only to display status and win arguments, we have lost its intended purpose. And if we have memorized every haram and halal ingredient of facial soap, but we own businesses that are based on interest and sell alcohol, have we not made a mockery of Allah’s deen?

That deen is what transforms humanity from the lowest of the low to the representatives of God on earth. The Qur’an tells us: “Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: ‘I will create a vicegerent on earth…’” (Qur’an, 2:30)

As a representative of God on earth, we are given a very great responsibility. It is a trust so heavy that even the mountains rejected it. Allah tells us in the Qur’an: “We did indeed offer the trust to the Heavens and the Earth and the mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof: but man undertook it; he was indeed unjust and foolish.” (Qur’an, 33:72)

As believers, we should never lose sight of this responsibility. It is the fulfillment of that mission that transforms us from ‘asfala safileen’ - the lowest of the low (Qur’an, 95:5), into ‘khaira ummatin ukhrijat linnaas’ – the best of people arisen for mankind. (Qur’an, 3:110)

But how can we be that “best of people”? Allah describes how in His book: “Ye are the best of peoples, risen up for mankind, commanding what is right, forbidding what is evil, and believing in Allah…”  (Qur’an, 3:110).

The essence of that struggle is to believe, to fight for Truth and to strive against evil. And as soon as we give up that noble struggle, we will become among those people who Allah describes in surat Al-Asr as being in an utter state of loss. Allah also describes the ones who will be saved from that state: “Except such as have faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of truth, and of patience and constancy.” (Qur’an, 103:3)

And, so, if we continue to abandon this greater mission and purpose, we will have transformed the perfect vision of existence into nothing more than a collection of dots.

 

 Originally published by InFocus

The Five Pillars of Islam

Five Pillars of Islam

In Islam, the term ‘worship’ covers any action that one does in accordance with the will of Allah. It can be mental, physical, spoken or otherwise. All such actions will be rewarded. There are five acts of worship that are so fundamental that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) grouped them together as the Five Pillars of Islam. Every muslim is expected to fulfill these obligations. They are:

The first pillar of Islam, the Shahadah

The first pillar of Islam, the Shahadah, written in Arabic script in the shape of a man praying.

1. Shahadah

Recognising and acknowledging the monotheistic nature of Allah stands at the core of Islam. This is to firmly believe in the heart and declare:

“Ashhadu allaa ilahha, wa ashhadu anna Muhammadar-rasulullah.”

{” I bear witness that there is no God except Allah, and I bear witness that Mohammad is Allah’s Messenger.”}

This is known as the Shahadah. Once a person declares it, he becomes a Muslim.

The Shahadah has two parts. Firstly, its a declaration that Allah is the only Lord and Ruler, and He Alone is worthy of worship. He has no partner, and He cannot be compared with any other thing. Everything which is in this universe is under His control and wors according to His Command. Mankkind is also required to live according to the C ommands of Allah. Allah loves those who follow His command and He dislikes those who disobey Him.

The second part of the Shahadah is the declaration that Muhammad (PBUH) is the Messenger of Allah. He was the one who b, and ask Allah to give him brought the Qur’an to us. Muslims are required to obey the Prophet (PBHUH) and follow his example without hesitation. Muslims are also required to honour and respect him blessings and salutations. Whenever his name is mentioned we must say: Sallallaahu ulayhi wa sallum meaning “Allah’s peace and blessings upon him.”

2. Salah – Prayer

The second pillar of Islam, the salat or prayer

The word "salat" or prayer, written in Arabic calligraphic script

Prayer or Salah is obliguitary on every muslim and they must pray five times a day. “Verily, the prayer is enjoined on the belivers at fixed hours.” [The Holy Qur'an 4:103] It is the distinguishing feature of Islam and the most obvious act which a muslim does to shows his obedience to Allah. A person abandons prayer at the risk of going out of Islam.

When Allah made us, He made us for a purpose and that was to Worship Him and Him alone. “I have only created jinns and men, that they may worship Me.” [The Holy Qur'an 51:56] Praying regularly reminds us of this prupose and bring us closer to Allah thereby preventing us from straying off the right path. “O all you who believe, bow down and prostrate yourselves and worship your Lord, and do good deeds, so that you may be successful.” [The Holy Qur'an 22:77] Theoretical recognition of Allah and saying you believe in your heart is not sufficient. Many people say that they worship God in their ‘own way’ but by taking this view we make ourselves gods and decide how Allah should be worshipped, rather than follow His command.

The five daily prayers have a physical and spiritual nature. They consist of a series of bowings and prostrations together with recitations of the Holy Qur’an and praises of Allah, complemented by personal requests. They are a fusion of body, soul and mind. We start the day with Fajr which is prayed at morning twilight before sunrise; the second prayer is Zuhr, prayed after the sun has passed its zenith or highest point at noon; then at mid-afternoon Asr is payed; Maghrib is prayedafter sunset, and the final prayer of the day is Isha, which is prayer after the onset of night. The five daily prayers reaffirm again and again that we are in the service of Allah. “Verily, in the rememberance of Allah do hearts find rest.” [The Holy Qur'an 13:28]

The Zakat, third pillar of Islam

The word Zakat or charity, one of the pillars of Islam, in Arabic script

3. Zakat – Alms giving

Zakat means purification and growth. Once a year every Muslim above the poverty threshold must give 2.5 % of all his belongings which are not in regular use and wealth which has been allowed to accumulate for a whole year to set categories of recipients, those who are needy or without support. It is way of doing our duty to other Muslims less fortunate to us. Giving zakat reminds a person that his wealth is not his own, but its real owner is Allah. This should make a person ready to spend in accordance with Allah’s Command. “Truly, those who belive and do deeds of righteousness, and perform Salat, and give Zakat, they will have their reward with their Lord, On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” [The Holy qur'an 2:277]

Zakat is not tax imposed by Islam, but a due fixed by Allah so that the wealth of a person may be purified. It is an act of worship and purifies the heart from selfishness and greed for wealth. In return, it purifies the heart of the recipient from envy and jealousy, from hatred and uneasiness; and it fosters in his heart, instead, good will and warm wishes for the contributor. It is a way of showing sympthay to those who are less fortunate. It is also to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. As a result, the society at large; will purify and free itself from class warfare and suspicion, from ill feelings and distrust, from corruption and disintegration, and from all such evils.

4. Sawm – Fasting

Ramadan kareem, or blessed Ramadan, in Arabic script

Fasting in Ramadan is one of the pillars of Islam

Fasting is an obligatory act during the month of Ramadan. “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was for those before you, that you may attain piety.” [The Holy qur'an 2:183] 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 exersice which allows Muslims to seek nearness to Allah, to express their gratitude to 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, 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. Fastiong throughout ramdan 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 not to 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

The Hajj or pilgrimage to Makkah, one of the pillars of Islam

Hajj or pilgrimage is a pillar of Islam that every capable Muslim must perform once in a lifetime

Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Makkah is obligatory in every muslim who is finicially and physically able to, once in a lifetime. “And Hajj to the House (Ka’bah) is a duty that mankind owes to Allah, those who can afford the expenses.” [The Holy Qur'an 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, 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 Abraham (Ibrahim), peace be with him, who had left his second wife Hajar and her young son Ishmael (Ismail) there in the arid desert, and 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 Ismail built the Kaabah. 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 Ismail 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 emphasises that nothing should be so dear to us that we are not willing to give it up for the sake of Allah. “And proclaim unto mankind the Hajj. … That they may witness things that are of benefit to them.” [The Holy Qur'an 22:27-8]

Adapted from Islam A Brief Guide & Basic Principles of Islam

Images of the Ka’bah, and the Significance of the Ka’bah in Islam

The Ka’bah: the First House of Worship Ever Built, and Dedicated to one God

A Blessed Place

The Ka`bah is the first and the most ancient house of worship ever built for all humankind and it was dedicated to the worship of one God. It is found in the city of Makkah in Arabia, and is surrounded by a mosque known as “Masjid Al-Haram” or The Sacred Mosque, and by a sacred precinct in which no animal may be killed, no plant cut, no weapons borne, and no lost object may be picked up by anyone except with the intention of locating the owner.

Muslims all over the world face toward the Ka’bah in prayer at least five times every day. Also, every capable Muslim is required once in his lifetime to make a pilgrimage known as Hajj to Makkah, and to perform ancient rites of worship to God along with other Muslims from all over the world.

By facing toward the Ka`bah in our prayers, Muslims are stressing the unity of mankind under the Lordship of the One and only God. Moreover, by facing toward the Ka`bah, we are stressing the concept of Allah, the Almighty being the center of our lives.

Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and an Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:

Allah says in the Qur’an;

“The first sanctuary ever built for mankind was that at Bakkah (Makkah), a blessed place, a guidance to the peoples.” (Aal `Imran 3: 96).

Thus, by ordering us to face towards the Ka`bah, we are taken back to our Adamic roots. One of the most essential messages of Islam is to break the barriers such as race, language and ethnicity, etc. that separate human beings from one another by stressing their common origin in Adam and Eve. We need not emphasize the fact that racism is the scourge of humanity in all times. Thus, through its entire teachings, Islam cuts at the root of this menace. It is no wonder then that all of the Islamic rituals of worship stress equality and egalitarianism rather than division and distinction based on caste, clan or status. One of the last messages delivered by the Prophet during his farewell pilgrimage was, “O people, (through Islam) Allah has abolished from your hearts your boasting on your ancestors. Remember all of you are descended from Adam and Adam is created from the dust of the ground.”

Do Muslims Worship the Kabah or the Black Stone?

Islam teaches us 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 …”

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 touching you I wouldn’t have even bothered to touch 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 God in our life.

Excerpted, with slight modifications, from: www.islam.ca

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