Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Islamic Museum

I have tons of ideas for posts about the quirky little things that I come across. Cultural oddities, little adventures, personal reflections. But it's actually kind of hard to bring myself to post about that stuff. Although entertaining it seems somehow too trivial. That's why I'm mostly posting about religious things I come across. It somehow seems more worth it, like there is an important message in it.

Today I went to the Islamic Museum (among other things). It's weird going to some historical museums. All you do is stand there and read text most of the time, which I could do more comfortably in a hammock at the hotel or at least sitting down :-). Instead I stand for a long time and drag my bag around as a direct substitute for turning the page. But I digress. The Islamic Museum was very interesting to read at, and I thought I would pass on some information to anyone out there who cares to follow my travels.

The Tenants of Islam

Fasting during Ramadhan
Fasting allows people to build patience and endurance in preparation for when they will be forced to endure hardship. I've fasted in the past and one of the reasons is in case I'm ever arrested, so that makes perfect sense to me. If I was arrested for a political protest it is not unlikely that the police would keep me for an extended period of time in a deliberately cold and isolated cell. They are required to provide minimal food but I have been told from a first hand experience that some police officers like to provide the requisite meal in contrast to the stated dietary requirements of the prisoner. That is, if they discovered I was vegan they would serve me only meat.

Solat (prayers) 5 times daily.
This is the "central pole of the tent" without which the "tent" would fall down. That being said, all five tenants are very important parts of the whole, and without a single one of them the system is not a real system. There are five times each day that people are expected to pray. Each section of the day has a different name. It is not meant to be arduous; people who are injured are sick pray in whatever way they can, sometimes moving only their eyes.

To become Muslim it is necessary to confirm that Allah is the only God. A sort of vow must be taken outwardly and also felt in the heart. If it ever ceases to be true then a person is not considered a true Muslim.

The Haj
If a person can afford it (that is, if they can pay for a return trip and people they leave behind will be taken care of) then each muslim must make one trip to Mecca in their life.

Zakat or Titha
I'm not clear quite on the amount but rich are required to give a certain amount of their wealth and/or possessions to the poor. The purpose is to reduce greed of the rich and reduce the envy and jealousy of the poor towards the rich.

There are four books in Islam. Each book was delivered by a Messenger. Messengers are charged with the duty of living a life to be emulated but also of delivering the message of Allah by spreading the word. This is in contrast to a prophet who only lives a life to be emulated and is not required to spread the word of Allah. A Prophet with a capital P seems to be synonymous with Messenger. According to religious scholars there have been about 124 000 prophets and 313 Messengers.

There are 4 Messengers (usually referred to as Prophets) who have delivered religious texts:
Musa (Moses) - The Taurat
Isa (Jesus) - The Injil
Daud (David) - The Zabar
Muhammad - The Al - Quran

The Al-Quran, delivered by Muhammad is considerd by Muslims to be the most recently delivered. It nullifies all previous books. An important part of being Muslim seems to be the the confirmation that all previous books are nullified by the latest. Previous books were meant for older societies which had different ways of being and they are no longer relevant.

That's it for the basics that I learned :-). I also came across an interesting distinction: two types of fate. Qadar Mubraw is considered fate that is unchangeable. It includes the place of birth, sex that someone has when they are born (I don't think this is meant to say it can't be changed later but rather that it is pre-determined what one is born with), where one dies among a few other things. Qadar Muallaq is "pending fate" which may be changed and people are expected to work towards changing. I thought that was interesting because Westerners usually have a fatalistic interpretation of the word "fate" which often only recognizes Qadar Mubraw.

One more thing:
"Faith is believing convincingly in the heart and recognizing it with in words and practicing it physically" - Muhammad
So faith requires practical action :-). Nuts to supposedly religious folks who think of religious is something that goes on in your head only.

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