For Younger Readers: Basic Practices of Islam
by Nur Muhammad, PhD
The Islamic Guardian (UK), January to March 1981 Issue (Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 13–15)
Man needs to look after his body by, for example, eating, drinking, exercising, and keeping clean. If you neglect to do these properly and regularly, your body suffers and you may well fall ill. Islam teaches that, as well as having a body, each human being also has within him a spirit. It is through this spirit that we can come near God, for He is not a physical thing we can see, touch, or approach with our body.
The spirit, like the body, also needs looking after. God has taught man how to take care of his body through his instincts and through the medical knowledge he has acquired over the centuries. And it is through the Word of God, the Holy Quran, that He has taught man the rules for taking care of his spirit.
If man neglects his spirit, it is his character and behaviour that suffer. People, and even whole nations, become greedy and selfish. Different races and groups become jealous of, and start hating one another. Countries develop destructive weapons to fight among themselves. The strong oppress the weak, the weak fight back, and there is no peace or safety anywhere.
Islam teaches people how they can look after the spirit so that they come closer to God and learn to use their talents, energy and wealth to help others. There are four practices that Islam has made compulsory for us to perform. These are compulsory because they are as necessary for the spirit as eating, drinking or cleaning are for the body. You probably already know something about them:
- Prayer (Salah) five times a day.
- Fasting (Saum) everyday during the month of Ramadan.
- Charity (Zakat) regularly.
- Annual Pilgrimage to Makkah [Mecca] (Hajj) once in a lifetime if possible.
Remember that one important purpose of these practices is to make us feel that God is near us, and so to purify our hearts and minds. This means that when you perform any of these four duties, you must understand what you are saying and doing. Your mind and thoughts should be fully concentrated on God, and all your words and movements should be meant from the bottom of the heart.
Another important purpose of these four practices is to teach us certain lessons to put into action in our everyday lives. Remember that if we do not learn these lessons, and do not change our attitudes and behaviour in our daily lives for the better, then we do not gain anything at all from our prayers, fasting, charity, or Hajj.
The five times a day prayers remind us of God again and again in the middle of our daily activities, that we must remember Him and His Commands in whatever we do. In prayer, we must know the meaning of the Arabic words we utter. And we must say them as if we were talking to God face-to-face. Apart from the set Arabic words, we may also say anything we want to, in any language we like, at any stage in the prayer.
When praying, we address God not just with the words we say, but also with the body. When we bow down or prostrate (with the forehead on the ground) we are really saying that we want to bow down to the commands God has given us for our everyday life. Throughout the prayer, we must feel in our hearts what our words and our positions are telling us. And after the prayer when we return to our other activities, we should remember to put into action the lessons learnt in it.
The purpose of the daily fasting in Ramadan is to train us to stay away from our desires when it would be harmful to follow them. So, while fasting we should think that if we can keep away from food and drink for a few hours because God has told us to do it, then in our everyday life too we must keep away from the ways of evil He has forbidden.
Islam tells us to give a part of our possessions to those who are in need. We must not give worthless things but those which we like to have ourselves. Charity also means doing any kind of good to people, even speaking a kind word or showing someone the way.
In the great annual gathering at Makkah [Mecca] (Saudi Arabia) Muslims of all races, colours, and countries live and worship together for a few days, all wearing the same simple dress. The lesson to carry back home from Hajj is that the world is really one country, and the people, black and white, rich and poor, western and eastern, high and low, are all equal and should live together in love and peace, which they can only do by obeying Allah.