taken from:

                                                                         Shomali, Mohamamd Ali, "Chapter Four: Practices," Discovering Shi'i Islam,


                                                                         (London: 2010, Centre for Cultural & Ethical Studies, 7th edition),

                                                                         ISBN 978-1-907917-01-1 (pbk)
                                                                         ISBN 978-1-907917-00-4 (hbk)


The main mandatory acts of worship accepted by both Sunni and Shi‘a Muslims are:


1. The Daily Prayers

Every Muslim from the time he or she attains puberty must perform five daily prayers ({alā}). To be able to begin the prayer one must first perform the ritual ablution (wu*?’) in the prescribed form. Then, one stands facing Mecca and makes an intention to perform the specific prayer of the time in order to attain proximity to God. This intention must be kept at all times during the prayer. If someone forgets what he is doing, or prays in order to show off, or for any other selfish motive, his prayer becomes void. The actual prayer starts when the person utters: Allāh-u Akbar (God is the Greatest). With this he enters the formal state of prayer in which he remains until the completion of his prayers.

Each prayer consists of two to four units (rak‘ah). Each unit consists of:

i.              reciting the opening chapter of the Qur’an and another chapter such as Taw1īd or Qadr;

ii.             bowing down (ruk?‘) and praising and glorifying God in that position;

iii.            performing two prostrations (sajdah) and then praising and glorifying God.

The prayers are ended by bearing witness that God is One and has no partners and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger with salutations upon him and his household (tashahhud) and offering peace to the Prophet, all the righteous people, and all who are engaged in prayers (tasl3m).

The daily prayer is the most important form of worship and remembrance of the Lord. The Qur’an says:

Surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil, and certainly the remembrance of God is greater, and God knows what you do. (29:45)

2. Fasting

The second act of worship is fasting ({awm) during the month of Ramadan (rama*ān), the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. In this month, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sexual activity with their spouses from dawn to sunset. Like any other acts of worship, fasting must be performed with pure intention, that is, solely for the sake of God and to attain proximity to Him. Along with closeness to God and achieving His pleasure, fasting has many other benefits, such as strengthening one’s determination, reminding people of God’s blessings which they may take for granted, such as the food that they enjoy everyday, remembering the hunger and thirst of the Day of Judgement, helping the rich to understand what the poor experience in order to awaken their sense of benevolence and sympathy, weakening one’s appetites and lower desires, and letting rational understanding and spiritual awareness flourish. The Qur’an says:

O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard (against evil). (2:183)

3. Pilgrimage to Mecca

Every Muslim who has attained puberty, and is financially and physically capable, must once perform pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj) in the month of Dhu’l-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar. The most important Mosque for Muslims all over the world is called Masjid al-2arām, which is the sanctuary of the Ka‘bah, and is located in Mecca.

All Muslims face towards the Ka‘bah in their prayers. The Ka‘bah is the cubical construction built by the Prophet Abraham and his son, Prophet Ishmael, on the foundations of what had originally been built by the Prophet Adam. Indeed, to a great extent, pilgrimage to Mecca is a symbolic reconstruction of what the Prophet Abraham, the arch monotheist went through in that very place about four thousand years ago. After a long journey, when Abraham arrived in Mecca he was asked by God to make preparations for pilgrims going to Mecca. The Qur’an says:

Do not associate with Me anything, and purify My house for those who circle around it and stand to pray and bow and prostrate themselves. And proclaim among the people the pilgrimage. They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel from every remote path so that they may witness the benefits for them; and mention the name of God during the appointed days over what He has given them (22:26-28).

Most surely the first house appointed for men is the one at Bekka (Mecca), blessed and a guidance for the nations. In it are clear signs, the standing place of Abraham, and whoever enters it shall be secure. Pilgrimage to the House is incumbent upon people for the sake of God, (upon) everyone who is able to undertake the journey to it; and whoever turns away, then surely God is Self-sufficient, above any need of the worlds (3:96 &97).

Pilgrimage to Mecca is full of unforgettable experiences. Among them, perhaps the most outstanding are selflessness, brotherhood, equality and simplicity. Every year millions of Muslims from different continents leave their home, family, business, and whatever else is dear to them, and set out on their journey towards Mecca, located in a desert. Everyone is asked to be present there in the same places at the same time all wearing the same clothes and performing the same rites. The rich and the poor, the king and the ordinary man, the elite and the layman all stand shoulder to shoulder and wear two pieces of white cloth. This is something that everyone must experience at least once in his lifetime, and should then try to implement lessons learnt from the experience in his day to day life.

4. Almsgiving

Giving charity is highly recommended in the Qur’an and Sunnah and the reward for charitable acts is great. Although everything including one’s financial possessions belongs to God in reality, the Qur’an presents giving charity as offering a loan to God:

Who is the one that lends to God a good lending so that God may give him double? (57:11)

In addition to voluntary charities, there are certain types of charity that are obligatory. For example, one type of almsgiving is zakāt, a wealth tax of a small percentage (usually 2.5%). Paying zakāt is not a gift for the poor but rather is their due right that must be observed:

And in their properties is the right of the beggar and the destitute (51:19).

Imam Ali also said:

God the Glorified has fixed the livelihood of the destitute in the wealth of the rich. Consequently, whenever the destitute remains hungry, it is because some rich persons have denied him his share.

Those whose possessions of certain amounts of wheat, barley, dates, raisins, gold, silver, camels, cows and sheep surpass certain quantities must pay zakāt on a yearly basis to the less fortunate amongst their relatives, the orphans, the needy, the wayfarers and etc. Zakāt may be spent for food, shelter, education, health care, orphanages and other public services.

It is noteworthy that in many verses, paying zakāt is enjoined immediately after the command to perform one’s prayers ({alāt), and as a sign of faith and belief in God. Paying zakāt is an act of worship, so it must be performed for the sake of God. Therefore, not only does it help the needy and contribute to the establishment of social justice and development, but it also purifies the soul of those who pay it. The Qur’an says:

Take alms from their wealth in order to purify and sanctify them (9:103).

Khums: Shi‘a Muslims also believe in another obligatory tax, called khums. In Arabic Khums literally means one fifth. It is a 20% tax on the excess profit that a person annually makes. At the end of one’s financial year, one pays 20% of all one’s earnings after deducting house-hold and commercial expenses. The obligation to pay khums has been mentioned in the Qur’an:

And know that whatever profit you may attain, one fifth of it is assigned to God and the Messenger, and to the near relatives [of the Messenger] and the orphans, the destitute, and the wayfarer, if you have believed in God and that which We sent down to our servant [Muhammad] (8:41).

Sunni Muslims usually believe that the verse only refers to what Muslims earn when they win a battle (booty) and consider it to be a type of zakāt.

According to Shi‘i jurisprudence, half of the khums belongs to the twelfth Imam, the remaining member of the household of the Prophet and his successor, and the other half to the poor descendants of the Prophet, called “sayyids”. Khums must be spent under the supervision of a Shi‘a religious authority (marji‘ al-taqlīd), i.e. the grand jurist (Ayatollah) that one follows in practical issues. This is to make sure that it is spent in a way with which Imam Mahdi is pleased. The portion belonging to the Imam is usually spent on Islamic seminaries and other educational projects such as publishing useful books, or building Mosques, Islamic centres, and schools.

5. Struggle for the sake of God

Every Muslim has to struggle hard and strive for the sake of God in different ways to make improvements to human life in general and his individual life in particular. The Qur’an says:

He has created you upon the Earth and has asked you to develop it (11:61).

To be indifferent to human catastrophes or to be lazy in one’s personal life is greatly condemned. On the contrary, the one who works hard to earn some money to spend on his family and improve their living conditions is considered as a hero in the struggle for the sake of God, a mujāhid. A very outstanding and vital case of this struggle (jihād) is to defend human rights such as liberty, freedom, and Islamic and human values such as justice, dignity, and a Muslim nation’s integrity. The Qur’an says:

Permission [to fight] is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully and offensively waged, and surely God is able to give them victory. Those who have been expelled from their homes unjustly, only because they said, “Our Lord is God…” (22:39-40).

And why do you not fight for the sake of God and the utterly oppressed men, women, and children who are crying out, “O Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors, and raise for us from You one who will protect, and raise for us from You one who will help” (4:75).

Of course, jihād also includes more personal cases in which one’s family, property or reputation is endangered, usurped or damaged. According to Islamic traditions, one who is killed while defending his family or land achieves the same position as the soldier who is martyred in the warfront.

Jihād must continue until the just cause is achieved. The Qur’an says: “Fight against aggressors until oppression is stopped” (2:193). Of course, on a larger scale, a real jihād has always existed from the dawn of creation of mankind, between good and evil, truth and falsehood, and between the party of God and the party of Satan. This battle will more or less continue till the end of the time when the earth will be filled with justice under the government of al-Mahdi.

Jihād, whether it be with the pen, the tongue, a weapon, or any other means is an act of worship, and must be performed with pure intention, that is, only for the sake of God and for just causes. No one is allowed to fight or struggle for materialistic purposes, for personal glory or the glory of any tribe, race, nation, or any other oppressive cause such as occupying others’ land to become richer or more powerful. Indeed, jihād first of all starts within the inner self of a mujāhid (one who struggles). To make sure that one can win the external battle against evil, one has to fight first against his own lower desires and lusts, liberate his own heart from any satanic occupation, and regain the dignity and honour that God the Almighty has given human beings. The Qur’an says:

O the soul at peace, return to your Lord, well-pleased (with Him), well-pleasing (Him). So enter among My true servants and enter into My Paradise! (89:27-30)

According to a well-known tradition, once, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) said to a group of his companions who had won a battle: “Well-done! Welcome to those people who have completed the minor jihād (al- jihād al-a{ghar) and on whom the major jihād (al- jihād al-akbar) is still incumbent.” Astonished, the companions who had defeated their enemies and were prepared to give up the dearest thing to them, i.e. their life to defend Islam asked, “What is the major jihād?” The Prophet Muhammad replied: “The major jihād is to fight against your own selves [or your souls]”. Thus, to resist one’s temptations, and restrain one’s soul from evil, and to purify one’s self is the greatest and the most difficult jihād.

At the end, let us refer to some of the merits of those who struggle for the sake of God as explained by God Himself:

Those who believe, and have left their homes and strive hard with their wealth and their lives in God's way, are much higher in rank with God. These are they who are triumphant. Their Lord gives them good tidings of mercy from Him, and acceptance, and Gardens where enduring pleasures will be theirs. There they will abide forever. Surely with God there is a Mighty reward (9:20-22).

6. Enjoining good and forbidding evil

Enjoining good (al-amr bi al-ma‘rūf) and forbidding evil (al-nahy ‘an al-munkar) are two acts of worship that every mature Muslim has to perform whenever applicable. No Muslim can be indifferent to what happens in the world around him. Part of the social responsibilities of each individual Muslim is to observe human and religious values, and whenever any of these values is deliberately overlooked or violated, he must advise and direct those responsible towards performing good and against committing bad and sinful acts (3:103, 109 & 113; 7:199; 9:71 & 112; 22:41).


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