It is one of the fastest growing religions in the West, with a 2. 6 million Muslim population in American and growing, expected to double by 2030 according to USAToday and with an estimated 1. 5 billion following worldwide, Islam is one of the three fastest and powerful growing religions in the west. No doubt about it that Islam is one of the most influential and authentic religions with a very illustrious and straight forward system of beliefs. The word “Islam” means submission or surrender – however, it was derived from the root word “salam” which means “peace” or “safety”.
Most Muslims will be familiar with the monotheistic creed “There is no God but God, and Muhammad was his Messenger”, which every practicing Muslim must acknowledge this belief known as Shahadah. With such allegiant credo towards The Almighty/The One, better known as Allah to the Muslim community, it is a very loyal and faith based religion, with utmost respect and indebtedness to Allah. Blogger Abu Ibrahim Ismail, founder of Islamic Learning Materials tries to explain the concept of oneness with God. “In short, this belief requires us to have the correct understanding and belief towards the oneness of Allah.
This concept is called Tawheed in Arabic. It’s much more than just believing Allah exists. It means believing that only He deserves to be worshipped, and believing in His Divine Attributes. ”(Ismail) Not only is Allah sacred in oral interpretation but in writing, devout Muslims after writing or speaking the name of God, they repeat the phrase “Subhana Wa Tala” in Arabic which means “The Sacred and The Mighty” in English. Allah is not the God of Muslims only; He is the God of all people and all creation.
Adherent Muslims believe that Islam incorporates all religions, in which Islam recognizes all prophets as messengers from the God. They believe that God sent prophets to set things straight when He felt society was shifting away from monotheism, and worshipping idols and/or other Gods. Muslims felt that God sent a new prophet with new teachings to accommodate a particular time and place. Muslims believe in and acknowledge all the prophets of old, from Adam to Jesus. Muslims believe that they brought the message of peace and submission to different peoples at different times.
Islam is very committed to Allah and His teachings interpreted in the Qur’an through the prophet Muhammad. Now it is very clear that Muslims that do not worship any other God and/or deities, but they do recognize the Prophet Muhammad as the last messenger of God. To the Islamic community, Muhammad is greatly glorified as the one man that spread the word of God to the masses. It is common during prayer services that the Muslim community refer back to Muhammad as the great prophet, who led people back to the true word of God and the one who dictated to a scribe the Qur’an.
Muhammad whose name means “the praised one” is treated as an exemplary model to the Muslim community as his life and teachings were filled with eventful and paramount events that led to the growth and expansion of Islam. This sacred scripture is regarded as the heart of Islam. Which the first messages affirm the unity of God and the despair of those who are not one with Allah, to later messages addressing the social structures/standards lives of the Muslim community.
The Qur’an was born from the revelations of Muhammad who received them from God during a retreat to Mecca on Mount Hira just outside of the city, when he was just forty years old. The Qur’an is considered fully authentic because of the tradition of keeping it unchanged and untranslated. It is one of the few scriptures in the world to be kept in its original language, which shows how the Muslim community venerates the word of God through their Prophet’s revelations.
In fact is the Qur’an is treated with so much respect one must wash his hands before handling the book, and it should be stored in a respectful manner as in no other book should be placed on top of it, it should be kept clean and free of writing, even as far as not allowing menstruating women to handle the book.. The Qur’an mentions figures from Jewish and Christian sacred history, all in which the Muslims considered to be parallel to Islamic teachings. In Islamic viewpoints the Qur’an was sent as a final and complete physical reminder of the words of Allah, and any human correction or add on is considered blasphemous.
In Islamic religious practice there is a set of rules, for lack of better words, to follow. Every dedicated Muslim should know and try to live by these rules to their best ability. Five Pillars of Islam are spiritual tenets followers of Islam should abide to because they are considered to be God’s commandments. The first and foremost pillar is the professing of unity and oneness of God and his messenger Muhammad, also known as the Shahadah previously mentioned before. The second pillar is the habitual practice of salaat, which are prayers performed five times a day at certain times.
Salaat prayers depend on the movement of the sun not the clock, just as it was observed in the early days of Islam. Prayer is thought to strengthen one’s belief in God and his goodness and develop the mind and the conscience and comfort the soul. This practice requires the individual to perform ablution before partaking in this ritual prayer, there are certain hygienic procedures to be followed depending on what the individual has partaken in. For example if the individual has had intercourse he/she must bathe, “if no water is available then clean soil will take its place” (Lutful) .
In the bustling world of today and depending if Muslims live in a dar al sulh community, which means they are the minority but can practice freely, where salaat is not commonly observed, devout Muslims will retreat to a quieter location or will pray internally to satisfy this requirement of Islam. Almsgiving much like in Christianity, where charity is encouraged towards the church and underprivileged, is also the third pillar in Islam. Zakat is the what Muslims call it, which means “purity”, it is done at the end of the year (traditionally) it is required to donate a percentage of accumulated wealth to needy Muslims.
This is done to prevent the personal greed and keep the individual grounded. One of Muhammad’s major teachings was to help one another in times of need whether or not they were Muslim. Today it is still a major practice with mosques all over the country donating money for relief efforts to the people in their home countries. The fourth pillar is one commonly associated with Islam is fasting. One of the most important and obligatory fasts in the Islamic year is Ramadan where Muslims commemorate the first revelations of the Qur’an to Muhammad.
Ramadan begins with the sighting of the new moon, after which abstention from eating, drinking and other sensual pleasures is obligatory from dawn to sunset. Although fasting is beneficial to health, it is mainly a method of self-purification and self-restraint. By cutting oneself from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person focuses on his or her purpose in life by constantly being aware of the presence of God. Some believe fasting allows the body to burn up impurities. The final and most important rite in Muslim faith is the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Muslims are required to undergo this journey once in their lifetime. Once at Mecca the pilgrims will perform a series of symbolic rituals (most of Islam tradition is symbolical, refers back to Muhammad’s actions as Prophet). The point of Hajj is to visit the Ka’bah, a holy place to the Muslims, to be filled with the remembrance of God. It is said to be life changing and freeing, followers report that they feel a closer tie to God which in return helps them deal with the hustle and bustle of a secular society, for those who live in western or European countries.
Along with these sacred “rules” Muslims follow which somewhat mirrors the Ten Commandments of Christianity in a shorter more saturated devoted approach Much like the majority of major religions, Islam celebrates many religious holidays on certain days that have special symbolic meaning. In the Islamic calendar there are up nine “holidays” that are observed. Like mentioned above Ramadan commemorates the first revelations of the Qur’an to Muhammad. After Ramadan ends the first of the two Eids begins, which are two of the major holidays in Islam.
Eid which translates to “celebration”, which is basically what Eid al Fitr is all about-“The Feast of Breaking the Fast” this is where obviously Muslims celebrate the end of their fasting. In the Second Eid which starts after 70 days of the first Eid is known as Eid al Adha which translates to “The Feast of the Sacrifice”. Eid al Adha is a more substantial observance because it is the commemorations of the God’s intervention when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Ishmael, instead of Abraham’s son being sacrificed God provided a ram instead.
This particular Eid Muslims attend a large special prayer held in the morning that is followed by a sermon related to this special day and visit family and friends and exchange greetings and gifts. Eid al Adha is also where an animal (typically a sheep) is slaughtered ritually with detailed instructions and distributed in to thirds, one third to family members, one third to the needy, one third is given to close friends. The act symbolizes our willingness to give up things that are of benefit to us or close to our hearts, in order to follow God’s commands just like Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son.
This Eid is distinctive because it is a time when Muslims give up things that benefit us like meat to others and recognize that without God’s grace and generosity they would not have said animal to eat and enjoy. All blessings come from God and Muslims feel they should share and spread his blessings for all to benefit from. In broader terms; it is about acknowledging the blessing in an individual’s life. In the following pages will be a firsthand account experiencing the Muslim faith and ceremonial proceedings on the day of Eid al Adhar at Masjid Al Farouq Islamic Center, a northwest Houston Mosque.
Friday October 26, was the day Eid al Adha fell on on the year of 2012. My friend Auruba kindly accompanied my mom and I to the mosque she attends prayer services which was located near I-10, cozily hidden behind a warehouse, and in the middle of a neighborhood. When we met up at a CVS parking lot, she brought a colorful array of hijabs because the day prior she said to wear clothes that covered our arms and legs which then I asked her if she could provide us with the essentials we might not be able to provide or had at a reach. Once we picked out our hijabs we made our way to Masjid Al Farouq Islamic Center.
Since it was one of the biggest observance days in Islam the parking lot was full and we ended up parking at Sam and took a shuttle to the Mosque. As we made our made our way to the mosque I was asking Auruba questions about what we should expect and what was to be expected of us as observers, without extensive knowledge of Muslim culture. She said that it was going to be very crowded and that we would be going into a separate building from the men and that we also had to take off our shoes before we entered the building and finding a spot to sit would be tricky because everyone kind of tends to sit on you.
Once we got to the Mosque entrance it indeed was very crowded, little kids running around, adults greeting each other, families taking pictures, all kinds of ethnicities coming together. As we made our way through the crowd and into the “Sister’s Entrance” we did just what Auruba had told us before; take of our shoes and put our hijabs on. As soon got a peek of the inside I was taken back because I was expecting chairs or to be honest I was expecting church style pews, it was a very different layout as to what I am used to.
The room had white bare walls, square green carpet mats laid across the white linoleum floor, at the front of the room was a screen which was live feed from the other building were the men were worshipping. There was a prayer leader who was reciting something in Arabic, “Allah is great” was heard over and over through the speaker system in the room along with the chatter of the women and screaming kids. Of course it was very crowded because Auruba mentioned that this was the last prayer service of the day so people were rushing in to for the last service.
After my initial surprise we made our way to the right side of the room where it was less crowded, I then was able to get a good look at everyone in the room. All the women were had their heads/upper body covered whether it was with expensive embellished traditional abayas or just a regular head scarf and regular clothes that covered them modestly. There were women of all ages there, from Grandmothers to 20 something’s, again something I did not expect to see young women who looked like “regular” girls and use the term “regular” loosely, mixed in with the older generation, to me it showed that tradition is very ingrained in their culture.
As we were sitting down waiting for prayer to start I could hear the intensity and concentration of the prayer leaders voice, on the screen you could see the an older man with a beard clutching the microphone as he spoke into it, eyes closed as if it was only him and fifty plus men in the room were not there. This went on for another fifteen minutes until a younger looking man in his late twenties it seemed, came on the podium and did the “call for prayer” everyone stood up, they hushed their kids and everything went quiet.
The prayer leader recited something and they raised their hands to their heads; fingertips to temple sort of deal and then back down, and then again he recited something and they did the same hand gesture, the prayer leader then said something else that sounded like a longer verse (which was all in Arabic) and the women all got on their knees, bent at their waist and put forehead to floor for a minute, Auruba told me while they are bent all the way down they are praying/glorifying God.
They stood up once more did the same hand motion which was done before and the whole process was repeated at least five or eight times, no one talked or did anything else besides pray and worship Allah, the only being that matters at this point in time. The prayer part of the service lasted 20 -25 minutes after it was over most of the attendants started to leave and the room returned to its busy chatter and the overlapping of different languages. I then asked Auruba what would happened next and she said that there was going to be a quick “lesson” to which I amiliarized it to be somewhat like a sermon. After 10 minutes, the same young man who did the “call for prayer” came up on the podium and to my surprise started off in English (Auruba said it was due to the fact that not everyone spoke Arabic) he started with the recognizing the importance of this day, Eid al Adha that we must be thankful of the blessing Allah has given us and the blessings he has not because Allah is great and all knowing, he is the only one that knows our faith and we should not try to change it in any way.
He also spoke about how this Eid is about celebrating abundance of the life, food, family or whatever it may be and that is why the sacrifice of animals is practiced. He urged the assembly to go and sacrifice or pay someone to sacrifice in your family’s name, he explained the proper way to sacrifice the animal; Do not use a serrated knife, it should be sharp and straight edge. If sacrificing goat or sheep it has to be less than one year old; a cow should be at least two years old.
It should not have to birth defects or have any diseases or be missing any limbs, the animal should be in good health and condition because you are slaughtering this animal in the name of Allah and his name is sacred. Once the animal has been deemed in good condition, the slaughterer, in one motion, cuts the animals neck and utters Islamic prayer “in the name of God” then the blood is left to drain out of the animal. He then spoke of how the meat of the sacrificed animal should be distributed among family, friends and the needy.
The young man then went on to talk about Allah and that we are here to praise Allah and as worshippers of Allah we need to submit ourselves fully and willingly to Allah, just like Muhammad did, we should realize that the material world we live in should not makes us into unaware individuals that we should give up what is in our hearts to Allah and Allah alone. Once we fully submit we will return to Allah and that the difficulties in this physical world do not matter.
He also spoke of the tradition of Islam, how it should be passed down to the next generation, he then said something in Arabic, that we need to remember that “God is great, God is great”. At this point the crowd was getting to rowdy and loud and it was hard to hear him (Auruba said it was unusually loud today, lucky me) also the kids were pulling on the screen throughout his lesson, which made it hard to concentrate on what he was saying. But after referencing chapters and stories from the Qur’an and Muhammad’s actions he ended with encouraging all
Muslims to embrace their religion and culture and to not let anyone deter them from their path to serving Allah, that Muslims have their uniqueness to them, in his words they have that “swag”, he then said something in Arabic again which Auruba said it was something along the lines of “peace be with you” and “blessings to all” (Auruba is not fully fluent in Arabic). The service was now over, it lasted a little over 45 minutes now that it was over everyone started to leave to meet their friends and family outside the mosque.
Before attending a Muslim prayer service or any other religious service for that matter, I had no idea what to expect, well actually I did, I thought it might resemble a church setting or the service would have the “structure” of a Christian mass. Like I stated before whenever I walked into the women’s building I was surprised, there were no pews or benches set up like I was used to seeing them, I guess in my mind that was what I was expecting.
After everything was sinking in and I was making observations of everything around me, I noticed that there were different ethnicities, I don’t mean to sound ignorant but you know I had this general idea that certain types of people were Muslim, but to me it was somewhat rare to see a black Muslim, it was nice though how everyone from different backgrounds came together for one purpose. When we were in the shuttle bus I had discussed with Auruba that me and my mom were going to be observing and not participating because we were not familiar with their practices.
But as soon as everyone stood up my mom had decided to participate, even though she did not speak Arabic she tried to observe everyone else’s movements and tried to mimic them without trying to look so much out of place, so that encourage me to try the same. When my forehead was about to touch floor I realized that this is the most “devotion” I had displayed to God, you know in Christian church or in my case a Catholic church, we do the standing and kneeling on those padded kneelers, and you know half the time you do the half sit/half kneel trick.
At that point was when I saw the difference between my religion and Islam followers, I noticed they were more dedicated, they are not afraid to show their weakness to God, when you “fall” face first in to the ground that means that you are showing God that you respect him, wait no MORE than respect that you are so dumbfounded by his presence, by his spirit that by surrendering your body onto the floor you are showing deep reverence towards God.
One of the other things I found interesting was the hand movement that was done at the beginning I’m not so sure how describe it other than it was a fingertips to temples sort of gesture, to me it seemed like their version of the “Cross” maneuver us Catholic do at the beginning of Mass, but to me the “Muslim” version seemed more pious and untainted, for lack of a better word, it was one swift, simple movement rather than touching on the five points ( the father, the holy spirit, etc).
Other than the difference in bodily positions I noticed that Muslims start off with prayers and all the serious stuff first and then move onto the lesson or “sermon” which brings me to my next observation; the sermon, I was not expecting it to be in English and sound so much like a sermon being given in a Catholic church.
Of course they didn’t talk about Jesus as much and Mary but they did have the moral lessons that one should try to learn from. The man given the “lesson” tried to relate the Qur’an teachings to today’s lifestyle. Before the “lesson” started I was going around taking pictures while at the same trying not to be so obvious about it because I didn’t want to make it seem like it was freak show or something and I was taking pictures for my amusement.
I tried my best to document the environment but it was cut short when a young girl told me that some of the ladies don’t appreciate being photographed, I tried to explain that it was for research and I wasn’t taking direct pictures of anyone but I stopped myself and realized that I was a guest in their place of worship and I should have been more respectful, so I complied and opted to just recording most of the “lesson”; which didn’t turn out the way I wanted, it was mostly noisy, screaming kids.
One similarity I noticed was that the noise level of the kids was around the same if not more disruptive than a Hispanic catholic mass, I was expecting a more quiet atmosphere, you know everyone listening to the lesson being given. But like mentioned before Auruba said it was unusually loud. At the end of the ceremony the young man departed with the phrase “Peace and blessing be upon you” I thought it was somewhat similar to the catholic send off and it would also fall under the “sign of peace” part of mass, instead of taking the time to “give peace” to everyone, it is wished to everyone attending.
Overall it was a very fascinating and enlightening experience for me and my mom, in her words it was “bien bonito”. As for me this experience broadened my respect for Islam. To be a part of this religion takes commitment and utmost humility and devotion.
Al-Zibdeh, Auruba. Personal Interview. 26 October 2012 Mir, Anjum, Khaled Abou El Fadl and Shams Inati, eds.
Introducing Islam; The American Encounter with Islam. Broomal; Mason Crest, 2004. Print. Grossman, Cathy L. “Number of U. S. Muslims to Double. ” Usatoday. com, 27 Jan. 2011. Web. 30 Oct. 2012 Ismail, Ibrahim . Islamic Learning Materials. Muttaqi Ismail, 2011. Web. 30 Oct. 2012 Lutful, Kazi. “Salaat/Namaz or Islamic Prayer”. Islam-muslim. net. 3 May 2012. Web. 10 Nov 2012