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Pillars of Islam: fasting, charity, pilgrimage

Ever wonder what it feels like to starve? Or to go hungry for an entire day without food or drink? Ever wonder how people in other countries survive? Ever wonder what people who are less fortunate than us feel like? That is the purpose of fasting in Islam, to gain consciousness.

Like other major religions, Muslims fast as well. In the month of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, during which we can’t eat or drink. The purpose of this is for Muslims to be more conscious both of the plight of those less fortunate as well as to become closer to God.

There are five main tenants in Islam; faith, prayer, fasting, charity and pilgrimage. I’ve discussed the first two pillars in previous columns, and wanted to use this column to focus on the last three.

There is a great emphasis in Islam on helping others and the community. In Islam, helping those who are less fortunate is one of the greatest good deeds one can do. Whether it is with a smile or helping someone accomplish something, Islam has always looked favorably on those who help others.

One of the ways Muslims have the ability to help and raise awareness about those who are less fortunate and in need is through fasting. Often, Muslims will donate their meals and help raise money and awareness about those in need. By putting oneself in the same feeling as those who are hungry, Muslims have the ability to relate better and ultimately have the ability to help others more efficiently.

Zakah, or the giving of charity, is the fourth pillar of Islam. It is important to note that of the five pillars of Islam, two of them are about helping others and giving back to the community. Zakah is something that Muslims have to give every year. It is essentially Muslims giving 2.5 percent of their total wealth every year to those who need it the most.

If everyone helped out by donating 2.5 percent of their total wealth (including investments, gold, land, anything), the world as we know it would be different. It would be 2.5 percent that would go directly to the poor and therefore would have the ability to help those who are in need the most. We would be able to help those in need the most if we all just put a small amount in.

Lastly, is the concept of community that is incredibly important in Islam. The hajj (pilgrimage) is the fifth pillar of Islam. It is required for every able Muslim who can afford it and has the means to go to Mekkah for Hajj. It is the culmination of the ritual that Abraham took part in on his way to sacrifice his son. The trip takes Muslims upon a spiritual journey to the two holiest mosques in Islam. Hajj takes place in the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Dhu-al-Hijjah, which is the next month on the lunar calendar.

It is important to note that during Hajj, everyone is equal. Doctors, lawyers, peasants, the poor, everyone is the same. Whether you are black or white, Asian or Latino, everyone puts on the white garments and does the same rituals that go along with Hajj. At Hajj, just as in daily prayers, class or race doesn’t have an impact on who prays where or next to whom. It is the single largest gathering of humans in the world; some three to four million people turn out for the annual event. With current plans for renovations and the expansion of the holy sites in Mekkah, that number could double or triple in the next few years.

The building of community can be seen beyond just that at Hajj. In Islam, all males are required to attend Friday congregational prayers, which include a sermon as well as a prayer. It is highly recommended for women to attend the congregational prayers but it is not obligatory for them. It is at these Friday sermons and prayers, that people build a sense of community with their mosque as well as with other Muslims. It is recommended for Muslims to pray at the Mosque at other times to build a community but it is required on Fridays during Friday prayers.

It is important to learn about the culture and religions of others. In an increasingly globalized world, we interact with people of different cultures all the time, sometimes without even realizing it. Go ahead, ask questions and learn about the cultures and religions of others. Who knows? You might learn something about yourself as well.

Subhan Tariq is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at stariq@student.umass.edu.

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