In this chapter we propose to deal with the major exercises of Faith as laid down by Islam. They are Prayers (Salah), Fasting (Sawm), Alms-giving or “Charity” (Zakah) and Pilgrimage (Hajj). The way God has enjoined these exercises makes them serve all spiritual purposes and satisfy human needs. Some of them are daily; some weekly; some monthly; some bi-annually; some annually; and some are required as a minimum once in a lifetime. So they embrace all the days of the week, all the weeks of the month, all the months of the year, and all the years of life, and they, above all, mark the whole course of life with a Divine touch.
It has already been mentioned that Faith without action and practice is a dead end, as far as Islam is concerned. Faith by nature is very sensitive and can be most effective. When it is out of practice or out of use, it quickly loses its liveliness and motivating power. The only way to enliven Faith and make it serve its purpose is practice. Practice provides Faith with nourishment, survival and effectiveness. In return, Faith inspires man to be constant in his devotion and persistent in his practice. This is because the interrelationship between Faith and practice is very strong, and their interdependence is readily understandable. A person without Faith has no real source of inspiration and, consequently, has no worthy objectives to attain or even aspire to. The life of such a person is meaningless, and he lives from day to day, which is no life at all. On the other hand, the person who confesses Faith but does not practice it is self-deceiving person, and in fact has no Faith, in which case he is no more than a helpless straying wanderer.
The interrelationship between Faith and practice in Islam has vivid reflections on the entire setup of the religion and manifests the deep philosophy of its teachings. Islam does not recognize any kind of separation between soul and body, spirit and matter, religion and life. It accepts man the way God has created him and recognizes his nature as composed of soul and body. It does not neglect his spiritual nature; else he would be like any animal. Nor does it underestimate his physical needs; else he would be an angel, which he is not and cannot be. According to Islam, man stands in center of the stream of creation. He is not purely spiritual because the purely spiritual beings are the angels, nor is he beyond that, because the Only Being beyond that is God alone. He is not entirely material or physical, because the only beings of this class are the animals and other irrational creatures. So being of such a complementary nature, man has parallel demands and parallel needs: spiritual and material, moral and physical. The religion which can help man and bring him close to God is the religion which takes into consideration all these demands and needs, the religion which elevates the spiritual status and disciplines the physical desires. And this is the religion of Islam. To oppress either side of human nature, or upset the balance, or lean to one direction only, would be an abusive contradiction to human nature as well as an irresponsible defiance of the very nature in which God has created man.
Because Islam grants complete recognition of human nature as it is, and takes deep interest in the spiritual as well as the material well-being of man, it does not consider religion a personal affair or a separate entity from the current general course of life. In other words, religion has no value unless its teachings have effective imprints on the personal and public course of life. On the other hand, life is meaningless, if it is not organized and conducted according to the Divine Law. This explains why Islam extends its sense of organization to all walks of life: individual and social behavior, labor and industry, economics and politics, national and international relations, and so on. It also demonstrates why Islam does not recognize “secularism” or separation of religion from man’s daily transactions. The interaction between true religion and meaningful life is vital. And this is why Islam penetrates into all walks of life to conduct all human activities in a sound and wholesome manner, acceptable to God and benevolent to man.
As a result of this necessary correspondence between true religion and daily life, Islam does not attend to the doctrine of “six days for me or the world and one day for the Lord”. This doctrine amounts to nothing in the long run, and makes the liveliness of religion turn pale and faint. Besides, it shows serious injustice to God on man’s part and afflicts detrimental injuries on the latter’s soul. It is a serious negligence of the spiritual and moral needs which are as important as, if not greater than, the material desires. It is a dangerous disruption of the nature of man, and any such imbalance is a symptom of degeneration. Similarly, if man earmarks six days for monkery or exclusive meditation and one day for himself, he would be better in no way. The balance would still be upset. The natural and logical course, then, is the course which Islam has offered. Being of a complementary nature and standing in the center of the stream of creation, man will plunge into serious troubles, if he neglects either his soul or his body, or if he lets either one outweigh the other. To nourish both, to foster both in a well-balanced and sound manner is the hardest test of man’s sense of justice and integrity as well as of his willpower and truthfulness. And to help man to pass this test, Islam has come to his rescue with the regular exercises of faith.
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