A believer is a clean person. First of all faith cleanses his soul. Consequently his appearance becomes pure as well. His religious thinking makes him a person who loves cleanliness. A believer performs his ablutions before praying five times a day by washing his face, hands and feet. He takes a bath daily to purify his body. His clothes may be simple, but he always likes to wear well laundered clothes. Along with this he likes to keep his home clean. Therefore, he cleans his home daily and keeps all his things in their proper places. All these duties become part of his daily life.
A believer does not rest content until he has set all things right, from his body to his home. This taste for cleanliness is not limited only to his home and body. It also extends outside his home to his neighbours. He begins to want his whole environment to be clean, wherever he stays. So he takes special care to see that he and his family members do not defile their surroundings. This training he gives to others as well. Thus he is not satisfied until and unless he has succeeded in bringing into existence a clean atmosphere all around. For a common person cleanliness is only cleanliness. But for a believer, cleanliness, besides being simply cleanliness is also an act of worship, for he knows that Allah likes clean and pure persons.
Furthermore, the faith of the believer is a guarantee that when he has cleaned his body his soul is likewise cleaned. That is why at the moment of washing himself clean, he utters these words in prayer, “Oh Allah, purify my inner self along with my outer body.” In this way, the earnest prayer makes his soul clean too, like his body.
Side by side with looking after his bodily needs, man has the need to keep his Iman (faith) alive and to strengthen it. He must strive to preserve and develop his innate goodness. Quite clearly, it is not enough for you to say, “I believe” and expect that your moral sense will remain sharp. It is easy to be forgetful and become engrossed in the business and cares of life. Through neglect or even deliberate disobedience, the moral sense can also become so blunt that the ugliness of vice may seem beautiful and attractive. There is need then for a code or pattern of behaviour that is a natural outcome of your beliefs, a code or pattern that will not leave you to grope or wander about aimlessly. Throughout the day and throughout the year, Islam provides such a pattern of behaviour and the institutions of control and dynamism to strengthen the innate goodness of the human being and keep him on the straight way. The most important institution in this regard is the Salah. There is no word in English to translate Salah. It is not merely ‘prayer in the limited sense of the random turning to Allah in invocation and supplication. The Arabic word for supplication is du’a.
Salah may only be performed in a prescribed form and under certain conditions as assigned to it by the Blessed Prophet Muhammad [s]. Any change in its form nullifies it. The compulsory Salah is connected to definite times of day. It should not be delayed or abandoned deliberately. The abandoning of Salah threatens to put a person outside the pale of Islam. It is also connected to a fixed geographical direction – the Ka’bah in Makkah. Salah is thus bound to nature and its movements, to space and time. It creates a natural rhythm in one’s lifestyle. We may note that the development of astronomy among Muslims was conditioned by the need for accurate definition of space and time. Again you can see in this the truth that it is impossible to be a Muslim and live in a state of ignorance and barbarity.
Salah consists of precise bodily postures – standing, bowing, prostrating and sitting – which are a vivid indication of man’s relation to his Creator – a relation of uprightness, reverence, submission and gratitude. In the midst of your daily activities and preoccupations, Salah comes as a regular reminder of your relationship with Allah, your place in the scheme of things, your responsibilities and your ultimate goal. Through the prescribed reading of the Qur’an in Salah, you link yourself constantly with the Source of all creation and you stand firmly within the worldview of Islam.
Salah keeps your moral sense sharp and prevents it from being blunted and corrupted. It is a protection or an insulation from obnoxious and destructive acts and practices. Salah is a regular means of purifying both body and soul. The ablutions before the Prayer with fresh water act as a refresher and cleanser. The Salah itself, properly performed, purifies the soul of arrogance and hypocrisy, disbelief and blasphemy. Salah leads to success or felicity in this world and the next.
Despite all these possible benefits, there is a risk of Salah becoming merely repetitive, a series of motions and the uttering of set phrases in which the heart and mind are not present. This is a risk which you should guard against by spending some more time in preparing for Salah, for example by sitting quietly before the Salah reading the Qur’an. One way of focusing the mind on Salah is to perform each Salah, in the words of the Holy Prophet [s], as if it is your last Prayer, your farewell Prayer on this earth.
The Adhan prescribed by Allah for summoning the faithful to prayer is not only expressive of its aim and purpose but also so richly, melodiously and eloquently imbued with the spirit and high ideals of Islam and the concept of Divine Oneness that it has attained the position of a standing invitation to faith. This public proclamation of Salah has opened the heart of many a nonMuslim to Islam. It is entirely different from the methods prevalent in other religions and communities for summoning the devotees to prayer. This is the only call to prayer which is altogether free from the use of a material aid or implement like a horn or a bell, and includes also the marrow and substance of faith.
Allah in His Infinite Wisdom, wanted the Adhan not to be a mere proclamation and warning but also to form a part of the fundamental practice of Islam and that its position in respect of the negligent should not only be that of an alarm or signal but also of preaching and exhortation, and compliance to it should be regarded as a symbol of loyalty and devotion.
‘Id al-Fitr and ‘Id al-Adha
Like all other religions, Islam has a number of special occasions of celebration. These occasions are observed with devotion to seek the pleasure of Allah. There is no concept of a festival only for pleasure. The festivals are occasions of thanksgiving, joy and happiness. The two major occasions in Islam in each year are ‘Id al-Fitr and ‘Id al-Adha.
‘Id al-Fitr is observed at the end of the month of Ramadan. On this day, after a month of fasting, Muslims express their joy and happiness by offering a congregational prayer. They express their gratitude to Almighty Allah for enabling them to observe fasting which is a very useful rigorous training programme. The day is generally observed as a holiday in Muslim countries. Special dishes are prepared and it is customary to visit friends and relatives and to give presents to children. Muslims generally wear their best clothes on this day.
‘Id al-Adha begins on the 10th of Dhul-Hijjah and continues until the 12th day of the month. It is celebrated to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s (Abraham) [a] readiness to sacrifice his son Isma’il (Ishmael) [a] on the command of Allah. Allah accepted Ibrahim’s devotion and obedience and asked him to sacrifice a lamb instead. This occasion of great importance comes every year during the days of Hajj (Pilgrimage to Makkah) and is observed by offering congregational prayer, as in ‘Id al-Fitr. After the prayer, Muslims who can afford it sacrifice animals like goats, sheep, cows or camels to seek Allah’s pleasure. The meat of the sacrificed animal is eaten and shared among relatives, neighbours and the poor.
This sacrifice expresses the inner feeling of a Muslim that, if need be, he will sacrifice his most loved possession for Allah. This is the lesson of the occasion. We must remember here that what Allah wants is not the animal nor its meat or blood, rather He wants our devotion and submission to His command.