The First Pillar is the believers’ confession of faith, reduced to a few words that every member of the faithful from every continent and background can understand, from the illiterate nomadic herdsman in the deserts of Northern Kenya to the sophisticated trilingual businessman of Paris or Riyadh. The Second Pillar is the central act of righteous in Islam, the very essence of the life of a Muslim. The Third Pillar Islam is a significant presence in one hundred or more countries all around the world, and the majority religion in over forty. There are almost a billion believers.
By the year of 2020, if present trends continue, half the world would be Muslim. Islam is an Arabic word meaning submission or commitment to the God. Islam is the humble recognition of the relationship between man and his divine creator and resonates with the familiar words from Judaism and Christianity. The fourth Pillar is the fasting. A Muslim must fast for the month of Ramadan. During the fasting month, one must refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual intercourse from dawn until sunset. The fifth and final Pillar is where a Muslim must make a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Every adult Muslim who is physically and financially able to do so must make this pilgrimage at least once in his or her lifetime. The history of Islam begins with Muhammad and the Quran. The low level of importance given by Muslims to the events before Muhammad is illustrated by the Arabic term for the preceding century, the Time of Ignorance. Muhammad never claimed to be anything but mortal. For a non-Muslim with no knowledge of Arabic, is an exasperating, punishing read, apparently without order, narrative or conclusion. The magic of classical Arabic, in a modern example, was a strong element in the extraordinary power.
In the Commonwealth of Medina, Muhammad was prophet, lawgiver, and prayer leader, commander of the army and head of state. So when he died, leaving only one surviving child, his daughter Fatima, and without providing for a successor or clarifying beyond doubt the method by which successor should be appointed, the ummah fell into dissention. The unity of Islam would never recover from the events that were to follow over the next two decades and no satisfactory answer would ever be found to the question of the legitimacy of subsequent Muslim rulers.
There is no mystical ritual in mainstream Islam; there are no human intermediaries of divine interceders between man and God. There are no sacraments to be administered by the ordained few to the supplicant many. If God in the Muslim version forgave Adam for his transgression at the time, then man cannot be inherently evil, or born in original sin. So, like Adam, all men can be forgiven their sins directly by God without the need for intervention by any third party, whether a Redeemer on a cross, a virgin with child, or a priestly delegate operating through the medium of a confession box.
The early history of Shia has moulded the character and faith of the sect into a form substantially different from Sunni Islam, even though the two branches both practise the Five Pillas and shares a common belief in the divine nature of the Quran. In order to penetrate the differences between the two, there is a rough parallel to be explored between Shia and Catholicism on the one hand and Sunni and Protestantism on the other. The comparison may be superficial and not always a perfect fit, but for an observer from a post Christian culture, the analysis is revealing nevertheless.
Even though America is probably the most religious country in the Western world, with about 85 percent of the population professing belief in a god, religion was not considered a forming part in American culture. Religion in America is considered to be entirely contained within the word freedom the basis of the United States Constitution which does not once mention the word god. Faith for Americans is a free personal choice and therefore, in theory, has no place in the group activities of national politics and culture.
Even school prayer is banned by a long-standing Supreme Court interpretation of the Constitution. In practice, of course, US elections are won and lost through religious support, as if the President’s job description included Chaplain-in-Chief. And a low-level battle rages constantly in US courts and legislatures between secularists attempting to uphold the strict separation of church and state, and religious groups intent on government funding for religious schools and faith-based initiatives.
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