Since my conversion to Islam four years ago, one of the most recurring comments I’ve received from non-Muslims is their concern that Islam is so “strict”. I’ve been asked how we keep track of so many rules, how we still enjoy ourselves when we can’t do anything “fun”, even how we have time to do ANYTHING else in our lives when we have to pray SO MUCH.
That last one especially makes me chuckle a bit inside, although I try not to be rude when confronted with it, because really: we were blessed with twenty four hours every day by Allah (God) so how can praying for maybe three of those (and that’s including Sunnah and Taraweeh prayers) be SO MUCH?
I can understand how others may feel Islam is especially strict in comparison to other religions. But to put it simply, we do not have any more rules than any other religion; we just still try our best to follow them as the original Muslims did insh’Allah (God-willing), instead of shifting or bending them to fit modern life more easily.
In my last diary entry I talked a bit about fasting and the reasoning behind it. I attempted to answer a couple of the most common questions I’ve been addressed with by non-Muslims, and tried to clear up a few misunderstandings that seem to persist. I thought it was only fair after covering one of our five basic “Pillars” or requirements of Muslims, that I should address the other four.
When we talk of faith, we don’t mean faith in a general sense. Faith when relating to Islam specifically indicates faith in only One God, and the knowledge that Muhammad was His messenger. When one chooses to revert/convert to Islam there is a statement that is made, usually in front of an imam (head of a Mosque or Masjid) along with another one or two witnesses. This statement is referred to as the Shahada and is said in Arabic.
Ashadu an la ilaha ila Llah, Muhammad ir Rasoolu’Llah.
There is no god except God (Allah) and Muhammad is His messenger.
To Muslims, especially converts, those simple words can bring tears to your eyes. Witnessing someone take their shahada is probably the single most uplifting, emotional experience that Muslims can have (other than taking their shahada themselves). This faith is the first pillar of Islam and is quite simple and straightforward. Muslims do not believe in a trinity, or the status of Jesus as God’s son. We believe in one god (Allah) and in the importance of Muhammad as His messenger, the one who received the revelations of the Qur’an.
The second of the five pillars is prayer. In Islam there are two different types of prayer, the required (fard) prayers that we must say throughout the day, and supplemental prayers (du’a) that we can make whenever we feel the need for support, guidance, or protection as we live our daily lives. Many non-Muslims have asked me why we pray SO MUCH. According to authentic (sahih) stories (hadith) that have been passed down by scholars throughout the generations, Allah (God) first commanded His followers to complete fifty prayers a day. Prophet Muhammad ascended with the angel Gabriel to the heavens to beg on the people’s behalf that we would not be able to complete this number of prayers a day. After much begging, Allah commanded that we complete only five prayers a day, and we would still receive the rewards as though we had completed all fifty. (Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 8, #345) The fact that we are given the reward for fifty prayers, by completing only five shows how merciful Allah is, and is an example of how although the guidelines in Islam may seem more strict, there is great reward in abiding by them. Five prayers a day may seem to non-Muslims to be a lot of time spent in prayer, but it is also time that prevents a person from falling idle, committing sins, or otherwise wasting time. It is much easier to spend this time praying than to spend it suffering from the effects of our behavior.
In Islam we are required to give charity to others. We refer to this charity as Zakaat The purpose of Zakaat is to spread wealth throughout the community, to prevent us from becoming greedy or miserly, and to help us to remember others during times of need. The importance of Zakaat is revealed in the Qur’an, as well as hadith. Although the giving of Zakaat may seem to others to be hard, especially in tough economical times, it is shown in many hadith that giving something even as small as a half of a date will be rewarded.
"Save yourself from Hell-fire even by giving half a date-fruit in charity." (Sahih Bukhari Volume 2, Book 24, #498)
The pilgrimage that Muslims are required to make is called Hajj. Hajj is a time of symbolically stripping away people’s social and economic standing, by wearing simple garments, traveling to Makkah and completing seven rotations around the Ka’ba, as well as seven trips between Mount Safa and Mount Marwa. At the end of this journey all the pilgrims join together in prayer, a time that is the most uplifting and spiritually moving experience in a Muslims’ life. After Hajj is over there is a huge celebration called Eid Al-Adha that includes prayer, and exchanging gifts. Although Hajj may seem to others to be demanding and difficult, it is only required of those physically and economically able to make the trip.
When asked if it is “hard” to be Muslim, or when confronted with skeptics who view it as too demanding I like to counter with this thought: Which is harder, to prostrate yourself in front of your Creator five times a day and beg for forgiveness, or to pull yourself out of a life of sin or despair that was caused by too much idle time and a lack of direction? Which is harder, to share your wealth a bit with others who are worse off than you, or to be one of the “worse off” with no one to turn to because you refused to help anyone when you had the chance? Which is harder: to stay strong in your imaan and avoid drinking alcohol, abstain from improper relationships with the opposite sex, and steer clear of gambling and cheating; or to lose the respect of your family, your relationships with your loved ones, and your potential for a good future due to alcoholism, pre-marital and extra-marital affairs and excessive debt?
This is exactly why when someone approaches me with their concerns over the “strictness” of Islam, and pity me that I don’t have any fun in my life I just smile. You can have your fun. I don’t need it, I have my faith…my prayer…my fasting…my charity…and my pilgrimage. And I am happy with that. Alhamdulillah.
Ma'Salaama and Happy Fasting.
The (yes, I still have fun) Mujahada in Prada