One of the greatest hindrances to attaining peaceful relations in the Middle East comes from the fact that the Islamic religion is often misunderstood. In their book entitled, Islam: A Thousand Years of Faith and Power, authors Jonathan Bloom and Sheila Blair, discuss the origins of Islam by discussing various aspects of the religion and the cultural practices.
Literally, Islam means peace or the surrender of one’s self to God. Islam was born 1,400 years ago, when the message of the Qur’an was relayed to the prophet Muhammad by Allah through the angel Gabriel. The fundamental decree of Islam is monotheism, that there is only one Creator, that he alone should be worshipped by mankind and that Muhammad is God’s final prophet.
Aside from monotheism, there are also other five aspects of Islam: first, that the Qur’an is considered by Muslims as the undistorted message of God and is the central text of Islamic religion; second, that angels are the messengers of god, devoid of free will and dedicated only to the worship of God and the duties entrusted to them; third, belief in all of God’s prophets, from Adam to Jesus; fourth, that there will be a “Day of Judgment” or “Day of Resurrection” (yawm al-Qiyamah) where every human will account for all the deeds and sins he has committed during his lifetime at a time that is only known to God; lastly, the belief in the Divine Decree (al-qadaa wa’l-qadr ), that everything occurs according to the will of God. Islam also decrees five main duties that a Muslim must perform. Integral to the understanding of Islam are the Five Pillars. These five duties are otherwise also known as the Five Pillars of Islam: Shahadah, Salah, Zakat, Sawm and Hajj.
The Shahadah is the primary tenet of Islam which is found in the shahadatan or “twin testimonies” wherein a Muslim declares that there is only one God worthy of devotion and that Muhammad is the messenger of God. The Salah requires praying five times a day at different times while facing towards the Kaaba in Mecca. The Zakat is the alms-giving of capable Muslims to the poor and needy. The Sawm is the requirement of fasting during the month of Ramadan wherein a Muslim desists from eating, drinking and having sexual intercourse from dusk until dawn. The Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca a Muslim is required to make at least once in his or her lifetime. Aside from discussing these practices, they also discuss the cultural background of some of the most holy sites of the Islamic Religion.
Considered as perhaps one of the holiest cities in the whole world, Makkah or Mecca, is located in the historic Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia. With a population of nearly two million (1,700,000 to be exact), this region is deeply revered by Muslims because it contains the Grand Mosque of Mecca. From an etymological perspective, the word mecca means a location that is considered as the center of interest or a goal which religious adherents aspire for. This is synonymous with the religious devotion that is associated with the area. One of the major events that occur in this area is the annual pilgrimage to Makkah which happens during the season of the Hajj.
This is very important for every Muslim since it is covered under the Five Pillars of Islam. Given this relevance, every able bodied Muslim who has the means to must visit Mecca at least once in their lifetime. This is a very strict rule. During this time, nobody else is allowed to enter the holy city especially people belonging to other faiths. Historically, the Mecca has always been considered as one of the most important cities in the Arabian Peninsula. Since the 6th century, it has always been the wealthiest of all the settlements in the area. Due to the abundant water supply that it got from the Zamzam Well, Mecca soon grew in prosperity and became the site of the Kaaba, the holiest site in all of Islam.
Given this ideal location, it comes as no surprise then that this soon became one of the holiest areas in the world. The sacred mosque or the Al-Masjid al-Haram is the largest mosque in the entire world. Its location in the city of Mecca is only appropriate given the fact that it surrounds what is the holiest place in the entire Islam, the Kaaba. Also known as Haram or Haram Sharif, the mosque is capable of accommodating over four million (4,000,000) people during the great pilgrimage or the Hajj. It covers a floor area of approximately three hundred and fifty-six thousand eight hundred (356,800) square meters. References: Bloom, Jonathan and Blair, Sheila (2002). Islam: A Thousand Years of Faith and Power. New Haven, 2002