Rituals and Worship

Islamic Calendar

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.

Title: Eid al-fitr meal in Malaysia Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eidulfitr_meal.jpgThe 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.

Title: washing station on the Jerusalem temple mount Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chadica/2667078754/The fifth and final Pillar is the hajj, the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. All adult Muslims, both men and women, are expected to perform the hajj at least once during their lifetime unless they are sick or cannot afford the journey. The hajj falls during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, which is the last month of the Islamic calendar. During the hajj, Muslims perform special rites that are intended to commemorate important events in the life of Abraham, the founding patriarch of Islam as well as of Judaism and Christianity. Pilgrims typically arrive in Mecca by the seventh of the month. In the past, they came by boat and caravan in trips that would take months or even years. Some pilgrims died along the way. With the advent of air travel, pilgrims can make a short journey by plane to the airport in Jiddah, a port city on the west coast of Saudi Arabia. Air travel has allowed pilgrims to come in vastly larger numbers than before, with roughly two million pilgrims coming each year. In spite of the high numbers, those who return home from the pilgrimage enjoy great prestige, earning the honorific title of hajji (male pilgrim), or hajja (female pilgrim).

Study Questions:
1.     What are the essential duties of a Muslim?
2.     Describe the ritual of salat.
3.     What is zakat? Is it limited to economic wealth?
4.     What is Ramadan? How do Muslims participate in it?
5.     Has the convenience of contemporary times changed the importance of Hajj? Why or why not?

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