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My Encounter With A New Faith

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Michael Varghese

Philosophy 205


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Islam is one of the fastest rising monotheistic faiths and is currently the third major monotheistic religion in the world. Islam is defined as an eastern religion. Islam is further defined by the word submission, which in turn gives the definition of the word Muslim. It literally means "one who submits to the will of God". Muslims have many beliefs comparable to religions such as Christianity and Judaism in that they believe that there is a beginning and an end. They also share the belief of an afterlife. The Muslim god is referred to as Allah, and their place of worship is known as a Mosque. Muslims, not unlike Christians, believe that Adam was the first human followed by the creation of Eve. Islam is a unique religion that shares the roots of the most commonly practiced religions. In order for one to gain an understanding of the religion, we must look to its history. To further that understanding, it would be wise to witness something tangible such as a prayer at a Mosque, which I will go into detail after explaining some of the history involved with Islam.

Muhammad was believed to be the prophet that founded Islam. He was born in Mecca in the year 570 A.D. His maternal grandfather raised him, and he Muhammad grew up to be a merchant. In the year 610 A.D., when Muhammad was forty years old, he received a revelation from God through the angel Gabriel. He had memorized the words that he had received from God. Muhammad was an illiterate and thus this event was considered a miracle. The words of God that Muhammad received were made into the Quran. Quran is literally defined as recitation. Muhammad was the vessel that forwarded the holy Quran into existence. Without Muhammad, there would be no Quran. The Quran consists of 114 suras which is synonymous with the word chapter. The Quran represents the fullest representation of God through Muhammad. Muhammad was a transistor in revealing the Quran. Muslims do not believe that human beings wrote the Quran. The Quran was believed to be the literal words of God. It is believed that Muhammad was in a trance while he received the revelation. He did not speak a word to anyone about his experience. Muhammad preached in Mecca and nobody believed in his teachings. He was then persecuted to Medina in 622 A.D. where the first Islamic community was established. When Muhammad was persecuted to Medina, this was the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Muhammad died in the year 632 A.D and his death lead to the creation of the Hadith. The Hadith is a collection of stories about the prophet Muhammad and his wisdom. The Quran and the Hadith are the most important sources of knowledge for the religion of Islam.

Following the history of Islam, the basic beliefs are set in motion. There are five pillars of Islam. The role of the faith of their religion is like a house and the house is held up by the five pillars. If one pillar does not hold, then it is weak. The stronger the pillars are then the stronger the foundation of the faith will be. The first pillar is the shahadah, and it means that there is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger. A messenger is one who brings a message from God. In retrospect, everyone is considered a Muslim. If you are a small "m", then it means that that you submit yourself to God, but do not accept Muhammad as the prophet. If you are a Muslim capital "M", then you are a follower of the Islamic faith which in turns implies that you accept God and only God and Muhammad as the true prophet. The second pillar is prayer. Muslims pray five times a day: at sunrise, noon, mid-day, sunset, and evening. They pray facing what they call the Kaaba. They pray in lines and are expected to cleanse themselves before prayer. They also pray on a rug. This life of prayer is based on a mindset that everyday belongs to God, and prayer is a constant reminder of God's oneness and holiness. Praying five times a day is a way to have intimacy with God. The third pillar is fasting. Fasting is done during the holy month of Ramadan. It is the holiest month in the Muslim calendar, and it is usually the ninth month. The calendar is a lunar calendar because it relies on the idea that it takes the moon thirty days to revolve. Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Ramadan is twenty-eight days long and Muslims are to refrain from food and water. Muslims cannot have sex, smoke, bloodshed, etc. The fourth pillar is known as alms or charity. Muslims are obliged to give 1/40 or 2.5 percent of their income to charity. Muslims are expected to do this task on their own. Everyone is a part of the community and they are looked after even if they are poor. The homeless are cared for and given food.

The fifth pillar is more involved and goes beyond an idea. It is called the hajj. The fifth pillar is basically a pilgrimage to Mecca. The Kaaba was erected by Abraham and this was the first house of worship. Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son Ishmael, but instead he sacrificed the lamb. The Muslims believed that Abraham was the first Muslim. Muhammad fought and pushed for one God in Mecca instead of Idols, so he restored the Kaaba. Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lives. Pilgrimage happens once every year and it is the last month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims can only enter the sacred precincts of Mecca. The pilgrims are cleansed first to start the ceremony off. Women have to get written permission from a relative in order for them to travel. The women are usually dressed in a white outfit and with a head covering, but they get more of preference. The men are dressed the same; they are supposed to wear two pieces of unstitched white cloths. The white garment signifies that the Muslims are turning away from worldly concerns. On that day, everyone is an equal. On the first day, Muslims start their journey to Mecca, and they would be in prayer and meditation as they walk. The pilgrims reach Mecca for the tawaf, where they walk seven times counter- clockwise around the Kaaba. Then they walk seven times back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah. In Islamic history, it is believed that Hagar got water for Ishmael; she went through those hills. Then they would go to Mina where they would stay through the night. The pilgrims would reach Arafat and this is called the waqoof. They would stay at Arafat until sunset. Right after sunset, the pilgrims will travel to Muzdalifah. They will pray at Muzdalifah and collect pebbles, which are used later. When the



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