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Saudi Arabia

Sunni Islam

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The shahada (testimony) succinctly states the central belief of Islam: "There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is his Prophet." This simple profession of faith is repeated on many ritual occasions, and its recital in full and unquestioning sincerity designates one a Muslim. The God of Muhammad's preaching was not a new deity; Allah is the Arabic term for God, not a particular name. Muhammad denied the existence of the many minor gods and spirits worshiped before his prophecy, and he declared the omnipotence of the unique creator, God. Islam means submission to God, and one who submits is a Muslim. Being a Muslim also involves a commitment to realize the will of God on earth and to obey God's law.

Muhammad is the "seal of the Prophets"; his revelation is said to complete for all time the series of biblical revelations received by Jews and Christians. Muslims believe God to have remained the same throughout time, but that men strayed from his true teaching until set right by Muhammad. Prophets and sages of the biblical tradition, such as Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Musa), and Jesus (Isa), are recognized as inspired vehicles of God's will. Islam, however, reveres as sacred only the message, rejecting Christianity's deification of Christ. It accepts the concepts of guardian angels, the Day of Judgment, general resurrection, heaven and hell, and eternal life of the soul.

The duties of the Muslim - corporate acts of worship - form the five pillars of Islamic faith. These are shahada, affirmation of the faith; salat, daily prayer; zakat, almsgiving; sawm, fasting during the month of Ramadan; and hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca. These acts of worship must be performed with a conscious intent, not out of habit. Shahada is uttered daily by practicing Muslims, affirming their membership in the faith and expressing an acceptance of the monotheism of Islam and the divinity of Muhammad's message.

The believer is to pray in a prescribed manner after purification through ritual ablutions at dawn, midday, midafternoon, sunset, and nightfall. Prescribed genuflections and prostrations accompany the prayers, which the worshiper recites facing Mecca. Prayers imbue daily life with worship, and the day is structured around an Islamic conception of time. Whenever possible, men pray in congregation at the mosque under a prayer leader. On Fridays, the practice is obligatory. Women may attend public worship at the mosque, where they are segregated from the men, but woman most frequently pray at home. A special functionary, the muezzin, intones a call to prayer to the entire community at the appropriate hours; those out of earshot determine the proper time from the position of the sun.

In the early days of Islam, the authorities imposed a tax on personal property proportionate to one's wealth; this tax was distributed to the mosques and to the needy. In addition, freewill gifts were made. Although still a duty of the believer, almsgiving in the twentieth century has become a more private matter. Properties contributed by pious individuals to support religious activities are usually administered as a religious foundation, or waqf.

The ninth month of the Muslim calendar is Ramadan, a period of obligatory fasting that commemorates Muhammad's receipt of God's revelation, the Quran. Fasting is an act of self-discipline that leads to piety and expresses submission and commitment to God. Fasting underscores the equality of all Muslims, strengthening sentiments of community. During Ramadan all but the sick, weak, pregnant or nursing women, soldiers on duty, travelers on necessary journeys, and young children are enjoined from eating, drinking, or smoking during the day. Official work hours often are shortened during this period, and some businesses close for all or part of the day.

Because the lunar calendar is eleven days shorter than the solar calendar, Ramadan revolves through the seasons over the years. When Ramadan falls in the summertime, a fast imposes considerable hardship on those who must do physical work. Each day's fast ends with a signal that light is insufficient to distinguish a black thread from a white one. Id al Fitr, a three-day feast and holiday, ends the month of Ramadan and is the occasion of much visiting.

Finally, Muslims at least once in their lifetime should, if possible, make the hajj to the holy city of Mecca to participate in special rites held during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. The Prophet instituted this requirement, modifying preIslamic custom to emphasize sites associated with Allah and Abraham, father of the Arabs through his son Ismail (also known as Ishmael). The pilgrim, dressed in two white, seamless pieces of cloth (ihram) performs various traditional rites.

These rites affirm the Muslim's obedience to God and express intent to renounce the past and begin a new righteous life in the path of God. The returning male pilgrim is entitled to the honorific "hajj" before his name and a woman the honorific "hajji." Id al Adha, the feast of sacrifice, marks the end of the hajj month.

The permanent struggle for the triumph of the word of God on earth, jihad, represents an additional duty of all Muslims. This concept is often taken to mean holy war, but most Muslims see it in a broader context of civil and personal action. Besides regulating relations between the individual and God, Islam regulates the relations of one individual to another. Aside from specific duties, Islam imposes a code of ethical conduct encouraging generosity, fairness, honesty, and respect. It also explicitly propounds guidance as to what constitutes proper family relations and it forbids adultery, gambling, usury, and the consumption of carrion, blood, pork, and alcohol.

A Muslim stands in a personal relationship to God; there is neither intermediary nor clergy in orthodox Islam. Men who lead prayers, preach sermons, and interpret the law do so by virtue of their superior knowledge and scholarship rather than because of any special powers or prerogatives conferred by ordination. Any adult male versed in the prayer form is entitled to lead prayers - a role referred to as imam.

During the formative period of Islamic law, four separate Sunni schools developed and survived. These schools differ in the extent to which they admit usage of each of the four sources of law: the Quran, the sunna or custom of the Prophet, reasoning by analogy, and the consensus of religious scholars. The Hanafi school, named after Imam Abu Hanifa, predominates in the territories formerly under the Ottoman Empire and in Muslim India and Pakistan; it relies heavily on consensus and analogical reasoning in addition to the Quran and sunna. The Maliki school, named after Malik ibn Anas, is dominant in upper Egypt and West Africa; developed in Medina, it emphasizes use of hadith that were current in the Prophet's city. The school of Muhammad ibn Idris ash Shafii, prevailing in Indonesia, stresses reasoning by analogy.

The fourth legal school is that of Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855), which is the school adhered to in Saudi Arabia. The Hanbali school has attracted the smallest following because it rejects the use of analogy as well as the consensus of judicial opinion except as recorded by the jurists of the first three centuries of Islam. However, an important principle in Hanbali thought is that things are assumed to be pure or allowable unless first proved otherwise.

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