· Fasting is compulsory for those who are mentally and physically fit, past the age of puberty, in a settled situation (not traveling), and are sure fasting is unlikely to cause real physical or mental injury.
Exemptions from Fasting (some exemptions are optional)
· Children under the age of puberty (Young children are encouraged to fast as much as they are able.)
· People who are mentally incapacitated or not responsible for their actions
· The elderly
· The sick
· Travelers who are on journeys of more than about fifty miles
· Pregnant women and nursing mothers
· Women who are menstruating
· Those who are temporarily unable to fast must make up the missed days at another time or feed the poor.
· Special prayers, called taraweeh, are performed after the daily nighttime prayer.
· Lailat ul-Qadr ("Night of Power" or "Night of Destiny") marks the anniversary of the night on which the Prophet Muhammad first began receiving revelations from God, through the angel Gabriel. Muslims believe Lailat ul-Qadr is one of the last odd-numbered nights of Ramadan.
· Breaking the daily fast with a drink of water and dates
· Reading the entire Quran during Ramadan
· Social visits are encouraged.
Eid ul-Fitr ("Festival of Fast-Breaking") Prayers at the End of Ramadan
· Eid begins with special morning prayers on the first day of Shawwal, the month following Ramadan on the Islamic lunar calendar.
· It is forbidden to perform an optional fast during Eid because it is a time for relaxation.
· During Eid Muslims greet each other with the phrase "taqabbalallah ta'atakum," or "may God accept your deeds" and "Eid Mubarak" (eed-moo-bar-ak), meaning "blessed Eid."
Q: How did the fast during Ramadan become obligatory for Muslims?
A: The revelations from God to the Prophet Muhammad that would eventually be compiled as the Quran began during Ramadan in the year 610, but the fast of Ramadan did not become a religious obligation for Muslims until the year 624. The obligation to fast is explained in the second chapter of the Quran:
"O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint...Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Quran, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting..." (Chapter 2, verses 183 and 185)
Q: What do Muslims believe they gain from fasting?
A: One of the main benefits of Ramadan are an increased compassion for those in need of the necessities of life, a sense of self-purification and reflection and a renewed focus on spirituality. Muslims also appreciate the feeling of togetherness shared by family and friends throughout the month. Perhaps the greatest practical benefit is the yearly lesson in self-restraint and discipline that can carry forward to other aspects of a Muslim's life such as work and education.
Q: Why does Ramadan begin on a different day each year?
A: Because Ramadan is a lunar month, it begins about eleven days earlier each year. Throughout a Muslim's lifetime, Ramadan will fall both during winter months, when the days are short, and summer months, when the days are long and the fast is more difficult. In this way, the difficulty of the fast is evenly distributed between Muslims living in the northern and southern hemispheres.
Q: What is Lailat ul-Qadr?
A: Lailat ul-Qadr ("Night of Power") marks the anniversary of the night on which the Prophet Muhammad first began receiving revelations from God, through the angel Gabriel. An entire chapter in the Quran deals with this night: "We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power: and what will explain to thee what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by God's permission, on every errand. Peace!...This until the rise of morn." (Chapter 97) Muslims believe Lailat ul-Qadr is one of the last odd-numbered nights of Ramadan.
Q: Is it difficult to perform the fast in America?
A: In many ways, fasting in American society is easier than fasting in areas where the climate is extremely hot. This year at least, the number of daylight hours will be less than when Ramadan occurs during the spring or summer. In Muslim countries, most people are observing the fast, so there are fewer temptations such as luncheon meetings, daytime celebrations and offers of food from friends. Many American Muslims would prefer a daytime work shift during Ramadan so that they may break the fast with their families and attend evening prayers.
Q: How can non-Muslim co-workers and friends help someone who is fasting?
A: Employers, co-workers and teachers can help by understanding the significance of Ramadan and by showing a willingness to make minor allowances for its physical demands. Special consideration can be given to such things as requests for vacation time, the need for flexible early morning or evening work schedules and lighter homework assignments. It is also very important that Muslim workers and students be given time to attend Eid prayers at the end of Ramadan. Eid is as important to Muslims as Christmas and Yom Kippur are to Christians and Jews. A small token such as a card (there are Eid cards available from Muslim bookstores) or baked goods given to a Muslim co-worker during Eid ul-Fitr would also be greatly appreciated. Hospital workers should be aware that injections and oral medications might break the fast. Patients should be given the opportunity to decide whether or not their condition exempts them from fasting.
Q: Do people normally lose weight during Ramadan?
A: Some people do lose weight, but others may not. It is recommended that meals eaten during Ramadan be light, but most people can't resist sampling special sweets and foods associated with Ramadan.
Q&A ABOUT ISLAM AND AMERICAN MUSLIMS
Q: What is Islam?
A: Islam is not a new religion. It is the same truth that God revealed to all His prophets (Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus, etc.) throughout history. Islam is both a religion and a complete way of life. Muslims follow a religion of peace, mercy and forgiveness.
Q: Who are Muslims and what do they believe?
A: Muslims believe in One, Unique, and Incomparable God, creator of the universe. They believe in the Day of Judgement and individual accountability for actions. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets beginning with Adam and including Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Job, Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus. God's eternal message was reaffirmed and finalized by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on them all). One becomes a Muslim by saying, "There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God." By this declaration, the person announces faith in all of God's messengers. There are an estimated 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide. No more than 20 percent of Muslims live in the Arabic-speaking world. The country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia.
Q: What is the Quran?
A: The Quran is the record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabic. It was memorized by Muhammad and then dictated to his companions. The text of the Quran was cross-checked during the life of the Prophet. The 114 chapters of the Quran have remained unchanged through the centuries. Translations of the meaning of the Quran exist in almost all languages.
Q: What are the "Five Pillars" of Islam?
1) The Declaration of Faith - This consists of the two sentence declaration described above.
2) Prayer - Muslims perform five obligatory prayers each day. Islamic prayers are a direct link between the worshiper and God. Islam has no hierarchical authority or priesthood. A learned Muslim chosen by each congregation leads the prayers.
3) Zakat - One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God and that wealth is held in trust by human beings. Zakat, or charitable giving, "purifies" wealth by setting aside a portion for those in need. This payment is usually two and a half percent of one's capital.
4) Fasting - Every year in the Islamic lunar month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from first light until sunset. The fast is another method of self-purification.
5) Pilgrimage - A pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj, is an obligation for those who are physically or financially able.
Q: What about the American Muslim community?
A: There are an estimated 7 million Muslims in America. The Muslim community in America is made up of people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and national origins. There are almost 2,000 mosques, Islamic schools and Islamic centers in America. Muslims are active in all walks of life. Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in this country and around the world.
Q: What about Muslim women?
A: Under Islamic law, women have always had the right to own
property, receive an education and otherwise take part in community life. Men and women are to be respected equally. The Islamic rules for modest dress apply to both women and men equally. (Men cannot expose certain parts of their bodies, wear gold or silk, etc.) If a particular society oppresses women, it does so in spite of Islam, not because of it.
Q: What is Jihad?
A: "Jihad" does not mean "holy war." Literally, jihad means to strive, struggle and exert effort. It is a central and broad Islamic concept that includes struggle against evil inclinations within oneself, struggle to improve the quality of life in society, struggle in the battlefield for self-defense (e.g., - having a standing army for national defense), or fighting against tyranny or oppression.
ISLAM IN AMERICA --- THE FACTS
There are an estimated 7 million Muslims in America. The Muslim community in America is made up of people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and national origins.
The worldwide population of Muslims is 1.2 billion.
Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in this country and around the world.
Demographers say that Islam will soon be the number two religion in America. (This may have already occurred.)
Demographers also say that by the year 2025, one in four people on earth will be a Muslim.
There are more than 2,000 mosques, Islamic schools and Islamic centers in America. Muslims are active in all walks of life.
TERMS AND CONCEPTS
Allah - Allah is the Arabic word for "God." It is the same word Arabic-speaking Christians use when referring to God. Allah is not the "Muslim God," but is the same God worshipped by Christians and Jews. Fundamentalist - Muslims view the label "fundamentalist" as stereotypical and ill defined. Muslims also object to the use of terms such as "radical" and "extremist." These terms lack definition and are seen as pejorative. More neutral and objective terms include "Islamist" or "Islamic activist." If the person in question is involved in a criminal act, name that act, not the faith of the person who commits the crime. Jihad - "Jihad" does not mean "holy war." Literally, jihad means to strive, struggle and exert effort. It is a central and broad Islamic concept that includes struggle against evil inclinations within oneself, struggle to improve the quality of life in society, struggle in the battlefield for self-defense (e.g., - having a standing army for national defense), or fighting against tyranny or oppression. The equivalent of the term "holy war" in Arabic is "harb muqaddasah," a term that cannot be found in the Quran or the Prophet's sayings (hadith). There is no such thing as "holy war" in Islam, as some careless translators may imply.
It is rather a loaded medieval concept that did not arise from within the Muslim community. Because of this myth's frequent repetition, most people in the West accept it as if it were a fact. Black Muslims - This term, first used to describe the followers of the late Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, is no longer accurate when used to describe African-American Muslims. Minister Louis Farrakhan does not represent the Muslim community in America.
Muslim/Arab - Not all Muslims are Arab, just as not all Arabs are Muslim. In fact, Arabs are a minority within the Islamic world. According to modern usage, "Arab" is a linguistic, not an ethnic, designation. An Arab can be Christian or Jewish.
Women's Rights - Under Islamic law, women have always had the right to own property, receive an education and otherwise take part in community life. The Islamic rules for modest dress apply to women and men equally. (Men cannot expose certain parts of their bodies, wear gold or silk, etc.) If a particular society oppresses women, it does so in spite of Islam, not because of it. Arabic Names - Compound Arabic last names, such as "Abd Al-Wahid," which often refer to attributes of God, should be used in full on second reference. If the second reference referred to "Al-Wahid," that person would be taking on an attribute of God ("the One"), something a Muslim would abhor.
Q: WHAT IS A MOSQUE?
A: A mosque is a place of worship used by Muslims. The English word "mosque" is derived from its Arabic equivalent, masjid, which means "place of prostration." It is in the mosque that Muslims perform their prayers, a part of which includes placing the forehead on the floor.
Q: HOW IS A MOSQUE USED?
A: Mosques play a vital role in the lives of Muslims in North America. The primary function of the mosque is to provide a place where Muslims may perform Islam's obligatory five daily prayers as a congregation. A mosque also provides sufficient space in which to hold prayers on Fridays, the Muslim day of communal prayer, and on the two Muslim holidays, called Eids, or "festivals."
Q: IS A MOSQUE A HOLY PLACE?
A: A mosque is a place that is specifically dedicated as a place of prayer. However, there is nothing sacred about the building or the place itself. There is no equivalent of an altar in a mosque. A Muslim may pray on any clean surface. Muslims often pray in public places.
Q: HOW BIG ARE MOSQUES?
A: In North America, mosques vary in size from tiny storefronts serving a handful of worshippers, to large Islamic centers that can accommodate thousands.
Q: DO MOSQUES WELCOME VISITORS?
A: Mosques in North America welcome visitors. Tours can be arranged at most facilities. It is always best to call mosque administrators before arrival. They will want to make sure your visit is enjoyable.
Q: WHAT ARE THE DISTINCTIVE FEATURES OF A MOSQUE?
A: The musalla, or prayer hall, in each mosque is oriented in the direction of Mecca, toward which Muslims face during prayers. In North America, Muslim worshippers face northeast. Prayer halls are open and uncluttered to accommodate lines of worshippers who stand and bow in unison. There are no pews or chairs. Members of the congregation sit on the floor.
Because Muslim men and women form separate lines when they stand in prayers, some mosques will have a balcony reserved for the use of women. Other mosques will accommodate men and women in the same musalla, or they may have two separate areas for men and women.
Q: WHAT ELSE IS IN THE PRAYER AREA?
A: All mosques have some sort of mihrab, or niche, that indicates which wall of the mosque faces Mecca. The mihrab is often decorated with Arabic calligraphy. Its curved shape helps reflect the voice of the imam, or prayer leader, back toward the congregation. Many mosques also have a minbar, or pulpit, to the right of the mihrab. During the Friday prayer service, the imam delivers a sermon from the minbar.
Q: WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN IN THE PRAYER AREA?
A: Children will often be present during prayers, whether
participating, watching or imitating the movements of their elders. Their presence continues the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, who behaved tenderly toward children. The Prophet sometimes carried one of his grandchildren on his shoulder while leading the prayer and was also known to shorten the prayer if he heard a baby cry.
Q: WHAT MIGHT I HEAR DURING MY VISIT?
A: You might hear Muslims exchanging the Islamic greeting, the Arabic phrase "as-salaam alaykum" ("peace be with you"). Muslims return this greeting by saying, "wa alaykum as-salaam" ("and with you be peace").
You might also hear the call to prayer. The call, or adhan, contains the following phrases (in Arabic):
God is most great, God is most great.
God is most great, God is most great.
I bear witness that there is no god but God.
I bear witness that there is no god but God.
I bear witness that Muhammad is a messenger of God.
I bear witness that Muhammad is a messenger of God.
Hasten to prayer, Hasten to prayer.
Hasten to success, Hasten to success.
God is most great, God is most great.
There is no god but [the One] God.
All Muslim prayers begin with recitation of Al-Fatihah, the opening chapter of the Qur'an:
In the name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful.
Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds.
The Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful.
Ruler of the Day of Judgment.
Only You do we worship, Only You we ask for help.
Show us the straight path.
The path of those whom You have favored,
not that of those who earn Your anger, nor those who go astray.
Q: WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE BUILDING?
A: Many mosques have a minaret, the large tower used to issue the call to prayer five times each day. In North America, the minaret is largely decorative. Facilities to perform wudu, or ablutions, can be found in all mosques. Muslims wash their hands, faces and feet before prayers as a way to purify and prepare themselves to stand before God. Wudu facilities range from wash basins to specially designed areas with built-in benches, floor drains and faucets.
Bookshelves are found in most mosques. They contain works of Islamic philosophy, theology and law, as well as collections of the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. Copies of the Quran, Islam's revealed text, are always available to worshippers.
Calligraphy is used to decorate nearly every mosque. Arabic
quotations from the Quran invite contemplation of the revealed Word of God. Other common features found in the mosque are clocks or schedules displaying the times of the five daily prayers and large rugs or carpets covering the musalla floor. Many American mosques also have administrative offices.
Q: IS A MOSQUE USED EXCLUSIVELY FOR PRAYER?
A: Though its main function is as a place of prayer, the mosque plays a variety of roles, especially in North America. Many mosques are associated with Islamic schools and day care centers. Mosques also provide diverse services such as Sunday schools, Arabic classes, Quranic instruction, and youth activities.
Marriages and funerals, potluck dinners during the fasting month of Ramadan, and Eid prayers and carnivals are all to be found in North American mosques. They are also sites for interfaith dialogues and community activism.
Many mosques serve as recreational centers for the Muslim community and may have a gymnasium, game room and weight equipment, as well as a library and classrooms.
Q: DO MOSQUES HAVE SPECIAL RULES?
A: Men and women should always dress conservatively when visiting a mosque, covering their arms and legs. Examples of inappropriate clothing would be shorts for men and short skirts for women.
Shoes are always left at the entrance to the prayer area so as not to soil the rugs or carpets. Shelves are usually provided to hold shoes. Women may be asked to cover their hair when visiting a mosque. Many mosques have scarves on hand for visitors to borrow, but it is better to bring a head covering in case none are available.
Visitors to mosques should behave as they would when visiting any religious institution, but they should feel free to ask questions about the mosque, its architecture, furnishings, and activities. Muslims are happy to answer questions about their religion.
Special thanks to The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and Greg Noakes for permission to use the article, "Mosque a Vital Part of Islamic Life," in the preparation of this material.