Learning about Islam during Ramadan

I have had the opportunity to interact with people of many faiths and I have been blessed to learn from each of them. My friends in the Muslim community are teaching me about the five pillars of Islam during this holy month of Ramadan.

 The first pillar is that there is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet.

The second pillar is prayer. There are five prayers daily — before sunrise, noon, midday, sunset and complete darkness — and they are said facing Mecca (great circle).

The third pillar is Zakat, similar to tithing or even fast offerings. Muslims donate 2.5 percent of the extra they have saved over the year. They can give their donations directly to the needy (widows, orphans, refugees, the poor, etc.) or they can use an approved receiver who will then distribute the funds.

The fourth pillar is fasting, which happens in the month of Ramadan. Ramadan is based on a lunar calendar, which annually is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. Since Ramadan is the ninth month of the year (the month when Muhammad received the Quran from Allah), the start date changes by 11 days every year. This year, Ramadan began last night, April 12. Participants go without food and water from sunup to sundown. Fasting is seen as a way to purify oneself spiritually as well as physically — a time to detach from material pleasures and be closer to God. 

The fifth pillar, and the only one that is optional, is a pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj. There are also specific dates for the pilgrimage that correspond with Eid al-Adha, or the “Sacrifice Feast,” and there is a specific process that adherents follow. The entire series of steps takes about 10 days. About 2.5 million visitors per year make the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

You don’t have to cross an ocean to learn more about Islam or to support your Muslim neighbors. There are an estimated 20,000 Muslims right here in Utah. Learning more about Islam and how it intersects with your own beliefs can give you much food for thought. Do you fast once a month? Is it sunup to sundown? Can you relate to our neighbors who fast every day for a month? 

I will be gaining a Muslim son-in-law this year. We look forward to learning more about his culture and beliefs as he and my daughter make a life together. I have not yet done a month of fasting, but perhaps one day I will. Ramadan Mubarak to all my Muslim friends.