Monday, May 30, 2011
Volunteering abroad in a Muslim community
“All people hope Islam helps everything in life. Islam will make jobs. Islam will make freedom. Islam will make everything”- Ahmed Ali. Islam, it is the second largest religion in the world at the moment, boasting around 1.5 billion followers. Muslims are known to be very strict followers of their doctrines, so it is important for any volunteer to know what acceptable or unacceptable behavior is.
Islam was founded in 622 CE by Muhammad the Prophet, in Makkah (also spelled Mecca). Though it is one the youngest of the world's great religions, Muslims do not view it as a new religion. They believe that it is the same faith taught by the prophets, Abraham, David, Moses and Jesus. The role of Muhammad as the last prophet was to formalize and clarify the faith and purify it by removing ideas which they believe were added in error. The two sacred texts of Islam are the Qur'an, which are the words of Allah as given to Muhammad, and the Hadith, which is a collection of Muhammad's sayings.
Muslims follow a strict monotheism with one Creator who is just, omnipotent and merciful. They also believe in Satan who drives people to sin, and that all unbelievers and sinners will spend eternity in Hell. Muslims who sincerely repent and submit to God will return to a state of sinless and go to Paradise after death. Alcohol, drugs, and gambling should be avoided and they reject racism. They respect the earlier prophets, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, but regard the concept of the divinity of Jesus as blasphemous and do not believe that he was executed on the cross.
First thing and most simple but closely watched is the dressing and relationship between men and women. For men dressing is a bit more flexible, one can put on a kanzu (full dressing gown) or just any plain male clothing. For the women it’s a bit more complicated. Female volunteers need to remember not to wear their hair out in the open, it is advisable therefore to cover your hair with a piece of cloth. You can be free though, in front of other women. Also remember that men and women are not permitted to eat in the same room, especially if they are not married. They are also not allowed to worship in the same room, so they go to different mosques or they use different entrances to a mosque, and worship in different rooms. They also consider the menstrual days of a woman as unclean, therefore they are not allowed to fast during such days.
Eating is a matter of faith in Islam. Muslims eat for good health and overindulgence is discouraged. Fasting is considered an opportunity to earn the approval of Allah, to wipe out previous sins, and to understand the suffering of the poor.
The Islamic dietary laws are called halal. This is also the term for all permitted foods. Prohibited foods as described in the Koran are called haram; those in question are mashbooh. Pork and birds of prey are haram; meats must be slaughtered properly, which means that it has to have been slaughtered by a Muslim man. The dates of feast days vary according to the lunar calendar; they include Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Azha, Shah-i-Barat, Nau-Roz, and Maulud n'Nabi. Fasting includes abstaining from all food and drink from dawn to sunset. Muslims are required to fast during the entire month of Ramadan, and are encouraged to fast 6 days during the month of Shawwal, on the 10th day of Muhurram, and on the 9th day of Zul Hijjah.