All religions have important requirements for their followers. In Islam, these requirements are called “Pillars.” Just as a pillar is used to support a building, the Five Pillars of Islam support our faith. They are:
There is no deity but God and Mohammed (peace be upon him) is the servant and the prophet of God. This testimony is called the Shahada.
Muslims pray five times a day – in the early morning, sometime around noon, in the afternoon, in the evening and at night. The timing of each prayer is based on the movement of the sun. Morning prayer must be before dawn, noon prayer around noon, afternoon prayer in the afternoon and before sunset, evening prayer after sunset and night prayer about one hour after the evening prayer. Noon prayers on Fridays are special for Muslims. Friday prayers must be observed in communion.
Prayers must be done on a clean surface. The direction (or qibla) one must face while praying one of the five daily prayers is very important. It is based on the location of the Kaaba, Islam's holiest structure in Mecca, which is located in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Those observing a Muslim in prayer should be mindful to avoid talking to the person who is praying and not cross in front of them. The prayer itself can take a few minutes or more depending on the individual.
The prayers do not have to be performed at an exact time. They can be done during a window of time. For instance, the period between some prayers may be as short as 1½ to two hours during the winter and can be as long as five hours during the summer. For this reason, Muslim students are advised to make plans ahead of time in order to accommodate their academic schedules and prayer obligations.
Before prayer, one engages in a ritualized cleansing. This includes washing of the face, hands and feet. So do not be surprised (or judgmental) if you see a person washing his/her feet in the bathroom. Muslims must keep their bodies clean at all times, necessitating minor bathing throughout the day after using the restroom.
According to the lunar calendar, Muslims must fast for one month during Ramadan, abstaining from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations. Because Ramadan and other Muslim holidays are based on the lunar calendar (which is 11 days shorter than the solar calendar) most holidays start 11 days earlier each year than the year before.
The fast starts before dawn and concludes at sunset. During the summer, fasting can be a challenge as the days are longer and hotter. Since the fast is rigorous, Muslim students or staff members may be tired. Thus, my advice for non-Muslims is to be patient and attempt to withhold eating and drinking in front of those who you know are fasting as a sign of respect. Iftar, which is the breaking of the fast, is a time for fellowship and is often done among a community of friends and family.
At the end of Ramadan, there is a three-day celebratory period called Eid ul-Fitr. During this time, Muslims are expected to visit their families, friends, elders and the sick. The first day is particularly important and is recommended for supervisors to give Muslims the day off work, as there is a special Eid prayer in the morning.
The second celebration is called Eid ul-Adha, the “sacrifice celebration” where adult Muslims of means are expected to “sacrifice” an animal (a sheep, a goat, a cow, a camel, etc.) for God and share the meat with the poor, as well as their neighbors. In the United States, the sacrificial observance is actually conducted at slaughterhouses by trained professionals. The first day of the Eid is again important for Muslims for they observe a special prayer in the morning and observe the sacrificial responsibility. If Muslims cannot take the full four-day holiday off, it is recommended supervisors allow at least one day off for the holiday.
Muslims are required to dedicate a portion of their wealth to serve the needy. This amount is 2.5 percent of their annual savings after deducting for necessities such as housing, food and transportation.
All Muslims who can afford to make Hajj (the Pilgrimage to Mecca) are obligated to do so once in their lifetime. They must visit Kaaba in Mecca, which is located in Saudi Arabia, and worship God by performing various rituals in different areas of Mecca. Hajj coincides with Eid ul-Adha. Considering the travel time and the voluntary parts of the worship, the trip takes about 10 days. Students are advised to plan for Hajj during the summer or winter break period to avoid any conflict with study obligations.