Worship and Devotion in Daily Life
Written by: Beth Davies-Stofka
Charity, or zakat, involves setting aside a portion of one's personal wealth for the poor. This purifies one's wealth. Islam discourages begging, and zakat allows poor people to find help without feeling disgraced. The practice also prompts us to confront our all-too-human tendencies toward greed, selfishness, and materialism. All Muslims who are able are expected to donate roughly 2.5 percent of their net gain annually. This includes total income, but also the value of livestock, produce, jewelry, real estate, and investments such as stocks and bonds. Initially, the collection and distribution of zakat was done by the state, which is why it is commonly called a tax. With the introduction of secular political systems, and especially the advent of the colonial state, zakat became an individual practice. In some countries, such as Pakistan and Sudan, the state has resumed collecting and distributing zakat, while Muslims in other areas can contribute to organized charities that collect and distribute donations to mosques, schools, libraries, and hospitals. In addition to the practice of zakat, Muslims are expected to respond with charity and generosity when called to do so in daily life.
Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, is the month during which Muhammad first received revelations from God. Muslims commemorate this central event by fasting during Ramadan (sawm) and by prayer rituals that cleanse the soul and unify the community. For the duration of the month, devout Muslims abstain from food, liquids (even water), tobacco, and sex from dawn until dusk. This self-denial is believed to focus the devout on God's presence and increase their sense of the abundance of God's blessings. Travelers, the elderly, pregnant women, and the sick are exempted, but are expected to make up the days of fasting at some other time or feed the poor for all the days that one missed. The Night of Power is celebrated during the last ten days of Ramadan. This night is considered the holiest night of the year, the time when all sins are forgiven.
The month of fasting concludes with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, a festival of parties and celebrations that can last up to three days. Some people also take this occasion to visit the graves of ancestors. The Islamic calendar follows a lunar cycle, which has 354 days in twelve months, as opposed to the 365 days of the solar calendar. As a result, Ramadan occurs at a slightly different time each year. When it falls during the winter months, the short days and long nights are less challenging than when Ramadan falls during the summer months. The summer days are long and hot, and water and food are most welcome at the end of a day of fasting.