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Islam (Photo credit: rogiro)

The religion of Islam contains 5 pillars of fundamental belief and practice. Zakat (see below) is mentioned in the Koran and in Hadith literature. The practice was initiated by the prophet of Islam, Mohammed.

  1. Ash-Shahada – the belief in only one God.
  2. Salat – daily prayer, with body facing Mecca, taking place at sunrise, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nighttime.
  3. Sawm – fasting that is obligatory at puberty and also during the 9th month of the Islamic year (Ramadan), believed to be the period when the Koran was written. Eating and drinking is prohibited from dawn to sunset during Ramadan.
  4. Zakat –  giving alms to the less fortunate, the amount being 2.5% of one’s total income.
  5. Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Moslems are obliged to take at least once in a lifetime. Hajj ideally is taken on the eighth day of the twelfth month of the Islamic year.

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Ash-Shahada – In Islam, most Muslims see this is as the first of the 5 Pillars of fundamental belief and practice.

From Wikipedia:

The Five Pillars of Islam (arkān al-Islām أركان الإسلام; also arkān al-dīn أركان الدين “pillars of the religion“) are five basic acts in Islam, considered mandatory by believers and are the foundation of Muslim life. They are summarized in the famous hadith of Gabriel.[1][2][3][4]

They make up Muslim life, prayer, concern for the needy, self purification and the pilgrimage. They are:

  1. Shahadah: declaring there is no god except God, and Muhammad is God’s Messenger
  2. Salat: ritual prayer five times a day
  3. Sawm: fasting and self-control during the blessed month of Ramadan
  4. Zakat: giving 2.5% of one’s savings to the poor and needy
  5. Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime[5][6] if he/she is able to do[7]

The Shia and Sunni both agree on the essential details for the performance and practice of these acts,[8][9] but the Shia do not refer to them by the same name (see Ancillaries of the Faith, for the Twelvers, and Seven pillars of Ismailism).

The word Shahada has other meanings. From Wikipedia:

The word shahādah (شَهادة) is a noun stemming from the verb shahida (شَهِدَ), meaning “he observed, witnessed, or testified”; when used in legal terms, shahādah is a testimony to the occurrence of events, such as debt, adultery, or divorce.[2] The shahādah can also be expressed in the dual form shahādatān (شَهادَتانْ, lit. “two testimonials”), which refers to the dual act of observing or seeing and then the declaration of the observation. The person giving the testimony is called a shāhid (شاهِد), with the stress on the first syllable. The two acts in Islam are observing or perceiving that there is no god but God and testifying or witnessing that Muhammad is the messenger of God. In a third meaning, shahādah or more commonly istishhād (إسْتِشْهادْ), means “martyrdom”, the shahīd (شَهيد) pronounced with stress on the last syllable (“martyr”) demonstrating the ultimate expression of faith.[3] Shahīd can also be used in a non-Islamic religious context. Long before the advent of Islam, Christian Arabs of the Middle East used the word shahīd referencing to someone that was wrongly killed or someone that died for his family, his Christian faith or his country. The two words shāhid (شاهِد, “witness”) and shahīd (شَهيد, “martyr”) are pre-Islamic. Both are paradigms of the root verb (شَهَدَ, shahada, “he observed”).

This declaration, or statement of faith, is called the kalimah (كَلِمة, lit. “word”). Recitation of the shahādah, the “oath” or “testimony”, is the most important article of faith for Muslims. Non-Muslims wishing to convert to Islam do so by a public recitation of this creed.[4] Most Muslims count it as the first of the Five Pillars of Islam, while the Twelver and Ismaili Shi’a connect it to their respective lists of pillars of the faith.[5] The complete shahādah cannot be found in the Quran, but comes from hadiths.[6]



Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque by Mandana Fard via Flickr

Allah is the Arabic word for God.

After a revelation given to the prophet Mohammed on Mount Hira, the name Allah referred to a single God. Previously the Arabic term Allah designated a supreme God among other gods.

Wikipedia suggests:¹

The name was previously used by pagan Meccans as a reference to a creator deity, possibly the supreme deity in pre-Islamic Arabia.[12][13] The concepts associated with the term Allah (as a deity) differ among religious traditions. In pre-Islamic Arabia amongst pagan Arabs, Allah was not considered the sole divinity, having associates and companions, sons and daughters–a concept that was deleted under the process of Islamization. In Islam, the name Allah is the supreme and all-comprehensive divine name, and all other divine names are believed to refer back to Allah.[14] Allah is unique, the only Deity, creator of the universe and omnipotent.[5][6]

Muslims believe that Mohammed is the greatest among many prophets to have walked the earth. As a prophet, Muslims believe that Mohammed is not equal to God, but is Allah’s great messenger. Muslims also believe that the word Allah is not the same as the ninety-nine beautiful names of God mentioned in the Koran.² On this point ABU ABDILLAH comments:

the word ALLAH is a word or name of God that encompasses all the ninety-nine other names that he the beneficent has. all the names of god are unique ans signify his majestic being and existence and all of these attributes belong to one “ALLAH”³

Arabic Christians use the term Allah to refer to ‘God, the Father’ (Allah al-ab).


² See

³ From this entry’s comments.

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Baul playing “air guitar” in W. Bengal by earthpages via Flickr

The Bauls are the wandering devotional minstrels of West Bengal, India. They belong to a longstanding bardic tradition that poetically glorifies God while rebuking worldly hypocrisy. Many practice left hand tantra. And living off alms, they are the peace, love and freedom “hippies” of West Bengal.

Today their timeless songs may be heard on trains and at public fairs called melas. The Bauls’ poetry had a tremendous influence on the Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, the outstanding Bengali figure who founded the open air, asram-style Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan.

But perhaps most important about the Bauls, they manage to accept people from both Islam (Sufism) and Hinduism (Vaishnavas) in a country where the tension between these two religious groups is usually so thick you could cut with a knife.



Portugal Fatima

Portugal Fatima by Fr Antunes via Flickr

  1.  Fatimah is the daughter of Mohammed who, among certain Shi’ite Muslim groups, has become an object of veneration, arguably with some similarities to the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) in Catholicism.
  2. In Portugal Fatima is a town with a shrine of the BVM where it’s believed that Mary appeared to three young children in 1917, a claim apparently supported by countless miracle stories.

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Qur’ān. V49:11–13: "come to know each oth...

Image via Wikipedia

Islam [Arabic: surrender] is the religion of Muslims, based on the text of the Koran (or Qur’an).

The Koran was written in Arabic, and for orthodox believers it’s the uncreated word of God, dictated to the prophet Mohammed (ca. 570-632 CE) by the angel Jibra’il (Gabriel).

Islam contains 5 pillars of fundamental belief and practice:

  1. Ash-Shahada – the belief in only one God.
  2. Salat – daily prayer, with body facing Mecca, taking place at sunrise, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nighttime.
  3. Sawm – fasting that is obligatory at puberty and also during the 9th month of the Islamic year (Ramadan), believed to be the period when the Koran was written. Eating and drinking is prohibited from dawn to sunset during Ramadan.
  4. Zakat –  giving alms to the less fortunate, the amount being 2.5% of one’s total income.
  5. Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Moslems are obliged to take at least once in a lifetime. Hajj ideally is taken on the eighth day of the twelfth month of the Islamic year.

The Sunni branch of Islam is comprised of about 85% of contemporary Muslims and is often regarded as orthodox form of this religion.

The Shi’ite branch, mostly in Iran, Persia and partly in Iraq, represent about 10% of today’s Muslims.

Historically speaking, the Shi’ites and Sunnis split over a disagreement about the legitimacy of Mohammad’s successors (Caliphs)—not entirely unlike the Protestant refusal to recognize the authority of the Catholic Papacy.

The mystically based, unorthodox branch of Sufism arose partly as a reaction to the beliefs and standardized practices of orthodox Islam. In response, aspects of orthodox Islam have been critical of Sufism, especially in regard to the Sufi belief that a person can be  “one” with God.

Related Posts » Allah, Angels, Brahman, Evil, Fallen Angels, God, Heaven, Hell, Holy Rosary, Id, Imam, Jihad, Jin, Jinn, Just War, Malcolm X, Mythic Dissociation, Saint, Shi’ism, Sikhism, Sin

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Imam Ali Mosque - Shrine of: 1st Shia Imam - A...

Imam Ali Mosque - Shrine of: 1st Shia Imam - Ali ibn Abi Talib; Prophet Adam; Prophet Nuh via Wikipedia

In Islam, an Imam is the leader of a religious devotional ceremony held in a mosque. Unlike priests, Imams are not ordained. They may be any male from the community, providing they are of trustworthy character and high social status. Larger mosques, however, often retain a regular, paid Imam.

Historically, the Imam also refers to charismatic leaders of the Shi’ite group. The term can also signify a prominent community leader, equal in status to a caliph, and usually a theologian.

Related Posts » Shi’ism

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Qur’ān. V49:11–13: "come to know each oth...

Qur’ān. V49:11–13: "come to know each other..." via Wikipedia

Jihad [Arabic: struggle] is an Islamic term commonly interpreted as a Holy War waged against infidels, as taught in the Qur’an.

Gordon D. Newby, however, suggests that this definition is simplistic. The jihad, he says, can be divided into two types—the lesser and the greater jihad.

While the lesser jihad may involve armed conflict against evil†, it doesn’t always. Different Muslim groups have different views about the necessity of violence. And some see jihad more in terms of missionary activity.

The greater jihad, Newby says, involves a personal struggle against the evil influences within oneself. Just as in other religions we hear about “spiritual warfare,” this type of jihad is about combating evil within the self.

A third type of jihad, mentioned at Wikipedia, involves the struggle to make society better. And some say that any kind of righteous struggle can be a “jihad” of sorts. For instance, some called Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle against British colonialism a “jihad.”

For more on this controversial concept, see Newby’s entry for jihad in A Concise Encyclopedia of Islam (pdf).


† Newby doesn’t qualify this idea. But most would say that the understanding of “evil” is something that can be influenced by human bias.

Related Posts » Arjuna, Evil, Just War




Image by KLuwak via Flickr

In Islamic folklore and religion Jinn (or genies) are supernatural beings sharing with human beings the agency of free will. They live in a world parallel to ours, and may help or hinder humanity.

coolguymuslim bashes the negative Judeo-Christian (and Hollywood) stereotypes about the Jinn by adding that

They are not necessarily bad or evil. They are another of God’s creatures who are being tested as humans are. They are made of smokeless fire as humans are of clay. There are ethnicities, religions, and other divisions amongst jinn just as there are amongst humans.¹

Although they can be disruptive to human affairs, Jinn may be harnessed for heavy labor. Solomon, for instance, used them as helpers (Qur’an 27.17). And a person at the point of dying may be converted into a Jinn.

Gordon D. Newby says that Jinn are unlike angels because of their capacity to sin. In some folkloric tales they sit on the walls of heaven to try to hear what the angels and God are talking about. And shooting stars result from angels throwing things at them, trying to drive the Jinn away.²

In the Qur’an Iblis (i.e. the devil) is said to be both a Jinn and an angel. This has lead to much commentary about  the nature of Jinn and angels among Muslim scholars.²

From a traditional Judeo-Christian point of view Jinn are often regarded as familiar spirits or demons. However, the Arabic word Jinn doesn’t appear in the Hebrew old Testament—it only appears in translations from the original Hebrew.

In Judeo-Christian tradition, the word or concept of jinn as such does not occur in the original Hebrew text of the Bible, but the Arabic word jinn is often used in several old Persian and Arabic translations.

In several verses in those Arabic and Persian translations, the words: Jinn (جن) Jann (الجان) Majnoon (مجنون) and Iblis (ابلیس) are mentioned as translations of familiar spirit or אוב (obe) for Jann and the devil or δαιμόνιον (dahee-mon’-ee-on) for Iblis.

In Van Dyck‘s Arabic translation of the Bible, these words are mentioned in Lev 19:31, Lev 20:6, 1Sa 28:3, 1Sa 28:9, 1Sa 28:7, 1Ch 10:13, Mat 4:1, Mat 12:22, Luk 4:5, Luk 8:12, Joh 8:44 and other verses as well. Also, in the apocryphal book Testament of Solomon, Solomon describes particular demons whom he enslaved to help build the temple, the questions he put to them about their deeds and how they could be thwarted, and their answers, which provide a kind of self-help manual against demonic activity.³

From a Jungian standpoint, the morally ambiguous Jinn might be comparable to the idea that the power of the archetypes is neither negative nor positive in itself. It’s the relationship to the ego that’s key.


¹ See

² See Gordon D. Newby, A Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, Oxford: 2002, pp. 86-87, 116-117 (pdf online book).

³ See

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Muhammad advancing on Mecca, with the angels G...

Muhammad advancing on Mecca, with the angels Gabriel, Michael, Israfil and Azrail via Wikipedia

Mohammed (570-632) was born in Mecca, and he’s the prophet and founder of Islam.

Not unlike characters from the mythic hero cycle, he was orphaned at a young age and raised by his grandfather. When his grandfather passed away, his uncle became a surrogate father and raised him as a merchant.

At 24 years Mohammed served a wealthy widow, whom later became his wife. Mohammed, however, was developing into a contemplative person and believed he was being called to introduce a new faith, one which would build upon and perfect the earlier religions of Judaism and Christianity.

After 600 CE he believed he had received divine revelations from the angel Gabriel, commanding him to preach this new religion, and the Koran was revealed to him.

Different Islamic traditions variously elaborate on the belief that he had received divine revelations. Some say that he was initially upset but his wife and Christian cousin consoled him.

Shia Muslims believe, however, that he was not distressed but rather, anticipated and welcomed the revelations from Gabriel.

Wikipedia adds:

According to Welch these revelations were accompanied by mysterious seizures, and the reports are unlikely to have been forged by later Muslims. Muhammad was confident that he could distinguish his own thoughts from these messages.¹

When the Meccans opposed him, Mohammed fled to Medina in 622 CE and became supreme arbitrator and ruler. He then instigated war against his opponents–that is, against enemies of the new religion.

He conquered Mecca in 630, where he was seen as prophet-ruler of all Arabia. In 632 CE he made a final pilgrimage to Mecca. On Mount Arafat he articulated the ritual surrounding such pilgrimages (Hajj).

Back at home, he fell ill and died in the company of Ayeshah, one of his nine wives, and the daughter of an early disciple, Abu Bekr.

¹ See:

Search Think Free » Allah, Ethical Prophet, Fatima

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