In Islam, humility (Tad’a and/or Khasha’a) is the virtue that informs most of the religious practices. Several Islamic writings dedicate their contents to discussing the importance of humility in great depth including the Qur’an in Al-Anaam 6: 42-43, Al-Araf 7: 55-56, Al-Muminoon 23: 1-2, and Al-Hadid 57: 16 among other scriptures. Before the advent of Islam, the Jahliyya Arabs were very prideful people. They put a lot of value on personal status and personal dignity. Muslims believe that pride and arrogance are the original sins of Satan (Iblis) (Barron, p. 60). However, humility is not the only virtue that Muslims uphold. They also believe in submitting to Allah, practicing self-restraint, self-discipline, sacrifice, patience, goodwill, and generosity among other values (Dent, p. 34). The world and the religions in it have transformed the observation of strict pious traditions into more relaxed procedures of worship. Secularism seems to dictate what is or is not acceptable in churches and contemporary societies today, and the world is shunning most of the strict religious practices that secularism deems conservative, or sexist. An example of this is the Mormons of the United States who abandoned polygamy and allowed men from other races to bear the priesthood after extensive public outcry. However, Islam stands out as one of the few religions that do not conform to society. There are several possible explanations for this. The most probable is that Muslims all over the world believe in and use the Qur’an as their guide for all their daily undertakings. The Qur’an is in Arabic and even though translations to English and other indigenous languages occur, Muslims continue to learn and use the Arabic version in their readings and recitations (Barron, p. 54). Consequently, their scriptures remain in their original form.
Muslims conduct their prayers (salah) in mosques (masjid) which are the designated place for worship. However, more often than not, they conduct personal prayer (du’a) in the privacy of their homes and only go to the mosque for congregational prayers on Fridays and other holidays. Mosques all over the world are almost similar in their architectural design with the slight differences only reflecting in the absence or presence of some decorative features and size. Features that are common to all mosques include minarets, which are slim towers that are either round, square, or octagonal and they have a pointed tip. These are just for decorative purposes. Another common feature is the prayer hall, otherwise known as musalla in Arabic and it is where worshippers prostrate themselves in prayer while in the mosque. It is a very bare room carpeted with a prayer rug and void of chairs to allow the maximum number of believers the room for praying (Barron, p. 56). However, there are a few benches at the periphery to cater to the elderly or physically challenged who cannot kneel during prayers. There is also a bookshelf (rihal) for the storage of Qurans and other Islamic literature. This shelf also accommodates extra prayer rugs. Muslims use prayer rugs during prayers for several reasons including for their cushioning effect when one kneels on them and for upholding cleanliness as they have just administered ablutions and it would be unreasonable to pray in an unclean spot.
Prayer is a sacred ordinance that requires the sanctity of a person offering it before he/she utters a prayer. To achieve this sanctity, Muslims conduct ablutions (wudu: Arabic for clean and pure) to remove dirt and impurities from their bodies, and to get into the right frame of mind for worship. Ablutions simply refer to the act of physically cleansing one’s body in reflection of cleansing the spirit or soul in preparation for prayer. It, therefore, requires water so that the person conducting the ablutions washes off the dirt on their bodies. In the absence of water, the Muslims are at liberty to administer a dry ablution (tayamoon) using clean sand or dust to rub their hands and faces only. This (tayamoon) is also usable in the case of a person who should not touch water for medical or any other reasons (Barron, p. 61). The parts that Muslims clean when conducting ablutions include the hands, the mouth, the nose, the face, the arms (to elbows), the head (ears too), and the feet. However, the mere fact that a person has conducted ablutions before praying does not automatically qualify them as ‘pure’ during the prayer. If, for instance, after administering the ablutions a person either uses the bathroom breaks wind, sleeps, vomits, or bleeds, they will have broken the ablution, and they need to redo it before the next prayer. Sometimes, a person may need to take a full shower (ghusl) (sometimes up to three times) especially after sexual intercourse or intimate sexual contact, and after menstruation. This often applies to the more serious imperfections. After the shower, the person then performs the normal ablutions that are necessary before prayer.
Muslims pray five times a day and a common feature of all these prayers is their remembrance of God (dhikr), which they do to obey the teachings of the Qur’an (Dent, p. 78). The different prayers include Fajr (pre-dawn / before sunrise), Dhuhr (at noon-seeking guidance), Asr (in the late afternoon when businesses are winding down), Maghrib (at sunset), and Isha (in the evening before they retire during which they remember God’s presence, mercy, guidance and seek forgiveness). Special prayers include salaat-l-jumu’ah, which replaces Dhuhr on Fridays at the mosque. Men must attend this Friday session for them to receive the special blessings that Muslims associate with Friday. After that prayer, a short sermon (khutbah) follows where the imam relates some verses from the Qur’an and discusses them in application to the contemporary affairs going on in that specific community. It is important to note here that women can attend this prayer, but it is not permissible for them to worship at the same place as the men. They do not intermingle with the men to avoid distractions during prayers. In some mosques, they have a separate balcony that is out of the men’s line of vision. Another special prayer is the salaat-l-Eid, which Muslims say on the first day of the holiday when they gather to celebrate the different blessings that have accumulated in their lives (Abdel-Fattah, p. 43). This prayer occurs during the onset of the Ramadan season and Muslims of all ages, races, and sexes gather in different mosques throughout the world to celebrate the passing of Ramadan.
Another interesting feature of Islamic prayer involves the public calls to prayer. Where there is a mosque, Muslims have a public call to prayer by a mu’adhin every morning and evening (adhin). Prophet Muhammad instituted this practice by appointing a certain black freed slave and Muslim convert to shoulder the responsibility of announcing prayer times to Muslim followers. Prophet Muhammad also appointed him (Bilal) because he had the gift of beautiful vocal cords. Today, the tradition continues and the mu’adhin normally has powerful vocal cords. However, it is important to note that women cannot perform this duty largely because it is immoral for a Muslim woman to raise her voice in public. During the morning call, the mu’adhin adds a phrase reminding Muslims “prayer is better than sleep”. When praying, Muslims face the direction of Ka’aba Mecca (Qiblah) and in a mosque; the mihrab (an ornamental indentation on the wall) indicates where this is. Initially, the designated direction was Jerusalem, but Muhammad through divine revelation changed this to Mecca, (Qur’an 2:pp. 142-144). They also have prayer beads (musbaha / tasbeeh) that are the equivalent of catholic rosaries and they assist a believer in keeping track f the number of prayers he/she has said. This is important because the vain repetition of prayers can easily invalidate the prayer.
Muslims say their prayers in Arabic regardless of their location in the world. This is a major unifying factor for Muslims all over the world because no matter where any Muslim travels, he/she will always say the same prayers in Arabic. During prayers, they recite the first chapter of the Qur’an severally (Al-Fatihah), and at the end of their prayers; they close with a salutation of peace (tasleem). Islamic prayer is very strict and any form of a lack of seriousness can invalidate a prayer. While praying at the mosque, what a believer wears is of great importance. Women need to cover all the parts of their bodies except their hands and faces (Abdel-Fattah, p. 45). It is not enough that they just cover either; the material of their clothing should be completely opaque so that the color of the wearer’s skin is not visible from without. Women wear cloaks over their clothing to “hide their curves.” The thickness of the material of the clothing also matters because it should be opaque. Muhammad reprimands that some people are “dressed yet naked.” The required thickness is so that one cannot tell the shape beneath the clothing. A person’s overall appearance should be modest and decent. Men also need to cover the parts of their bodies spanning from the navel to the knees and the specifications governing opaqueness apply to them. Muslims can fortify their prayers with fasting, which is the complete abstinence from foods, drinks, intimate intercourse (including kissing and petting), and smoking for the duration that spans before dawn break to after sunset (Dent, p. 67). Most Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic year. However, Muslims can also fast on any Monday or Thursdays, for a bunch of days in each of the two months preceding Ramadan, and during the six days after Eid-ul-Fitr. It is wrong to fast on Eid days and Fridays. Fasting is an important practice in Islam human beings sincere love because one can only do it if they have a genuine love for God and a person who loves God has a true understanding of what love is. It also nurtures hope and a positive outlook towards life because people do it in the hope that God will acknowledge their sacrifice and bless them for it, as well as avail His Grace to them.
Islam is a unique religion. One that is very strict in its requirements of the followers and that does not condone disobedience. However, in being strict, it has remained a pure and respected faith that other faiths can emulate.
- Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Does My Head Look Big in This? Washington: Scholastic Paperbacks, 2008.
- Barron, Robert. The Stranges Way: Walking the Christian Path. Chicago: Orbis Books, 2002.
- Dent, Martis. Islam: The Religion with a Difference. Quebeck: Religious Works Press, 1998.