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  • Sunni Muslim One of the two major branches of Islam, constituting about 85% of the world's 950 million Muslims. Sunnis believe that the Prophet Muhammad died without designating a successor. The community of the faithful then chose a successor, known as the Caliph, as the political leader of the community. In this branch, political and religious authority rest in the community, who follow the moral example (sunna) of the Prophet. Leadership is vested in the scholars and leaders collectively known as the ulama.


  • Shiite Muslim This branch of Islam, constituting some 15% of Muslims, holds that the Prophet Muhammad designated his cousin Ali and his descendants as his successors. They thus differ from the majority Sunni branch, which holds that the Prophet did not name a successor. Shiites are close in doctrine to Sunni Muslims, but Shiites, because of their long-time minority status, tend to differentiate sacred from secular authority more than Sunnis do. They also regard Ali's successors, the Imams, to have been infallible transmitters of spiritual authority. Since the line of Imams ceased in 941 A.D., religious authority has been vested in jurists known as mujtahid. Shiites constitute a majority of Muslims in Iran and parts of Iraq.


  • Sufism is the mystical tradition of Islam. One of its principal motifs is an intense and ecstatic love of God. Among the Sufis have been some of the greatest poets of Islam, including Omar Khayyam, Rumi, and Hafiz. Like many other mystical traditions, Sufism today is practiced both by Muslims and non-Muslims.



  • The Five Pillars of Islam
    1. Faith
    2. Prayer
    3. The 'Zakat'
    4. The Fast
    5. Pilgrimage (Hajj)

    They are the framework of the Muslim life: faith, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca) for those who are able.

    1. Faith. There is no god worthy of worship except God and Muhammad is His messenger.
      This declaration of faith is called the Shahada, a simple formula which all the faithful pronounce. In Arabic, the first part is la ilaha illa Llah - 'there is no god except God'; ilaha (god) can refer to anything which we may be tempted to put in place of God - wealth, power, and the like. Then comes illa Llah: 'except God', the source of all Creation. The second part of the Shahada is Muhammadun rasulu'Llah: 'Muhammad is the messenger of God.' A message of guidance has come through a man like ourselves. Shahada inscribed at Ottoman Topkapi Palace, Istanbul.


    2. Prayer. Salat is the name for the obligatory prayers, which are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and God.
      There is no hierarchical authority in Islam, and no priests, so the prayers are led by a learned person who knows the Quran, chosen by the congregation. These five prayers contain verses from the Quran, and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation, but personal supplication can be offered in one's own language. Prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entire day. Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and universities. Visitors to the Muslim world are struck by the centrality of prayers in daily life. A translation of the Call to Prayer is: "God is most great. God is most great. God is most great. God is most great. I testify that there is no god except God. I testify that there is no god except God. I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God. I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God. Come to prayer! Come to prayer! Come to success (in this life and the Hereafter)! Come to success! God is most great. God is most great. There is no god except God."


    3. The 'Zakat' One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust.
      The word zakat means both 'purification' and 'growth'. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need, and, like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth. Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakat individually. For most purposes this involves the payment each year of two and a half percent of one's capital. Zakat keeps the money flowing within a society, Cairo. A pious person may also give as much as he or she pleases as sadaqa, and does so preferably in secret. Although this word can be translated as 'voluntary charity' it has a wider meaning. The Prophet said 'even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is charity.' The Prophet said: 'Charity is a necessity for every Muslim. ' He was asked: 'What if a person has nothing?' The Prophet replied: 'He should work with his own hands for his benefit and then give something out of such earnings in charity.' The Companions asked: 'What if he is not able to work?' The Prophet said: 'He should help poor and needy persons.' The Companions further asked 'What if he cannot do even that?' The Prophet said 'He should urge others to do good.' The Companions said 'What if he lacks that also?' The Prophet said 'He should check himself from doing evil. That is also charity.'


    4. THE Fast Every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast from first light until sundown, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations.
      Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are pregnant or nursing are permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of days later in the year. If they are physically unable to do this, they must feed a needy person for every day missed. Children begin to fast (and to observe the prayer) from puberty, although many start earlier. Although the fast is most beneficial to the health, it is regarded principally as a method of self-purification. By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person gains true sympathy with those who go hungry as well as growth in one's spiritual life.


    5. Pilgrimage (Hajj) The annual pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca) - the Hajj - is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to perform it.
      Nevertheless, about two million people go to Makkah each year from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet one another. Although Makkah is always filled with visitors, the annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar, not solar, so that Hajj and Ramadan fall sometimes in summer, sometimes in winter). Pilgrims wear special clothes: simple garments, which strip away distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God. The rites of the Hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin, include circling the Ka'ba seven times, and going seven times between the mountains of Safa and Marwa as did Hagar during her search for water. Then the pilgrims stand together on the wide plain of Arafa and join in prayers for God's forgiveness, in what is often thought of as a preview of the Last Judgment. In previous centuries the Hajj was an arduous undertaking. Today, however, Saudi Arabia provides millions of people with water, modern transport, and the most up-to-date health facilities.

      The close of the Hajj is marked by a festival, the Eid al-Adha, which is celebrated with prayers and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. These, and the Eid al-Fitr, a feast-day commemorating the end of Ramadan, are the main festivals of the Muslim calendar.

  • Etiquette and diet

    Many practices fall in the category of adab, or Islamic etiquette. This includes greeting others with "as-salamu `alaykum" ("peace be unto you"), saying bismillah ("in the name of God") before meals, and using only the right hand for eating and drinking. Islamic hygienic practices mainly fall into the category of personal cleanliness and health, such as the circumcision of male offspring. Islamic burial rituals include saying the Salat al-Janazah ("funeral prayer") over the bathed and enshrouded dead body, and burying it in a grave. Muslims, like Jews, are restricted in their diet, and prohibited foods include pig products, blood, carrion, and alcohol. All meat must come from an herbivorous animal slaughtered in the name of God by a Muslim, Jew, or Christian, with the exception of game that one has hunted or fished for oneself. Food permissible for Muslims is known as halal food.


  • Jihad

    Jihad means "to strive or struggle," and is considered the "sixth pillar of Islam" by a minority of Muslim authorities. Within Islamic jurisprudence, jihad is usually taken to mean military exertion against non-Muslim combatants in the defense or expansion of the Islamic state, the ultimate purpose of which is to establish the universal domination of Islam. Jihad, the only form of warfare permissible in Islamic law, may be declared against non-Muslims who refuse to convert to Islam or submit to Islamic rule. Jihad is perpetual in nature; in theory, there can be no permanent peace with non-Muslim states, only truces which can be repudiated when circumstances become favorable for the resumption of hostilities. It ceases only when Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians submit to the authority of Islam and agree to pay the jizya (a poll tax) and kharaj (a land tax), and when polytheists convert to Islam.

    Under most circumstances and for most Muslims, jihad is a collective duty (fard kifaya): its performance by some individuals exempts the others. Only for those vested with authority, especially the sovereign (imam), does jihad become an individual duty. For the rest of the populace, this happens only in the case of a general mobilization. For most Shias, jihad can only be declared by a divinely appointed leader of the Muslim community, and as such is suspended in his absence. Some Muslim authorities, especially between the Shi'a and Sufis, distinguish between the "greater jihad", which pertains to spiritual self-perfection, and the "lesser jihad", defined as warfare. Jihad also refers to one's striving to attain religious and moral perfection.

 
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