22 September 2003, 22:11

Muslim rituals

Muslim rituals are group or individual symbolic actions prescribed by the teaching of Islam, reflecting religious ideas and concepts, and rousing corresponding emotional experiences. They embrace believers' life from birth to death and serve as a basis for the Islamic cult.

The most important and absolutely obligatory for every Muslim is the five daily prayers (Arabic salah/salat; Persian namaz). The prayer ritual consists of a clearly determined series of postures and movements accompanied by pronouncing Arabic prayer formulae that follow each other in a strictly established order and are aimed at praising Allah. The daily prayers can be performed individually or in groups, but it is recommended that the prayer on Friday noon be performed together with one's coreligionists in the mosque.

Another obligatory prescription of Islam is the thirty-day fast during the month of Ramadan (Arabic sawm). It consists in the complete dawn-to-sunset abstention from food, drink, pleasant smells, smoking, bathing, and sexual intercourse. All this is allowed only at night. The fast ends with the obligatory giving of alms to the indigent. A hadith (hadiths are reports on Prophet Muhammad's sayings and deeds) has been preserved: "The fast of Ramadan hangs between the heaven and the earth until God's servant gives the due alms." One of the five basic requirements to all Muslims is the annual spending of a certain share of their property or its value to support the poor and indigent members of the Muslim community (Arabic zakat/zakah). Muslim theologians and lawyers define the zakat as "purifying," making the property and incomes on which it is paid sinless. The zakat amounts to 2.5% on assets exceeding a definite minimum; 10% on agricultural produce; and 20% on obtained gold, silver, jewels, and sea products. The pilgrimage to holy places in Mecca (hajj) and animal sacrifices on the occasion of Kurban-bayram (Arabic Eid al-Adha) are ranked among the absolutely obligatory Muslim rituals.

Widespread are rituals connected with the birth of a child, the giving of a name, religious marriage (nikah), circumcision of boys (Sunnah/Sunnat), and burial.

Before the prayer, a minor ablution (Arabic wudu/wudhu) is performed. It consists in washing in clean water of one's arms to the elbows, face, neck, ears and legs to the knees, as well as rinsing of one's mouth and throat. All this is combined with pronouncing definite prayer formulae. A full ritual ablution (Arabic ghusl) is performed before Muslim holidays, fasts, Friday prayers, and marriage. The overwhelming majority of Muslim rituals are accompanied by reciting the corresponding verses or chapters of the Koran.

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