Important Sites: The Kaba

Mecca, the sacred city in Saudi Arabia, houses the holiest site in Islam. The Kaba, the ancient house of God, is the geographical and historical center of the Muslim worldview. Five times a day, Muslims around the world face this holy site, called the qibla, in prayer. Once a year, pilgrims from all over the world, travel to the Kaba to perform the hajj. The focus of this post, the first in a series on important sites, is the Kaba.

The Kaba is a cubical structure  about 60 feet high and 60 feet wide. It is surrounded now by Al-Masjid Al-Haram, the Sacred Mosque, the largest mosque in the world. Near the Kaba is the Well of Zamzam and the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwa. Both the well and the hills are significant because they are part of the story of Hagar’s search for water for her son Ishmael. Continue reading

Salah for the Mind, Body, and Soul


For most practicing Muslims, salah, or prayer, serves as the foundation for their faith. Nearly all Muslims agree that five daily prayers are prescribed by God, representing the second pillar of Islam. The cleansing of the soul through one’s submission to God is the underlying concept embodied through salah, but there are a number of aspects of the practice that facilitate this love for God (and subsequent reflection of that love that allows Muslims to love those around them) that are rarely discussed. Salah can provide physical, emotional, and other benefits that assist Muslims to become balanced in their lives and allow them to more readily embrace their true selves.

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Pillars of Islam: Hajj

The Kaba during Hajj

In previous posts, I wrote about the first four pillars of Islam: shahadah (the proclamation of faith), salah (prayer), saum Ramadan (fasting during the month of Ramadan), and zakat (almsgiving). Hajj, the fifth and final pillar of Islam, is the pilgrimage to Mecca. Every able-bodied Muslim who is financially ready is required to perform the pilgrimage.

The pilgrimage to Mecca predates Islam. Mecca was on a major trade route and also home to Kaba, the holy sanctuary in the middle of the city that many people would visit for pilgrimage. For Muslims, the Kaba is the center of the Islamic worldview. During prayer, Muslims face the Kaba. Muslims also believe that Abraham and his son Ishmael built the Kaba for the worship of one God and by the time of the Prophet Muhammad it had been filled with idols. Many of the rituals of the hajj stem from the Abrahamic story. Continue reading

Pillars of Islam: Prayer

Muslims Praying in Jerusalem

The second pillar of Islam after the shahadah, or the proclamation of faith, is salah, prayer. This ritual is probably the most well known to non-Muslims. Stories on Islam and Muslims many times include a picture of Muslims praying. Salah is so conspicuous because it includes many physical motions, the culmination of which is complete prostration with the face touching the ground.

Muslims are required to pray 5 times daily. The prayers are spread out throughout the day at dawn, around noon, afternoon, sunset, and in the evening. The daily prayers are suppose to establish the believer’s direct relationship with God. When a Muslim prays, even if the prayer is done in congregation, they are standing in front of God as an individual without any intercession. Continue reading

What Do People Ask about Islam?

Two weeks ago, I went to a sociology class to give a presentation on Islam. I have gone to this same class for at least the last four years. The experience is always interesting and challenging. Over the years, I have found that many of the questions remain the same, but become more nuanced, although sometimes the questions are new and force me to stop and think. In this post, I wanted to talk about the experience and the questions that students often ask about Islam. Continue reading

Islamic Civilization in Crisis?

"Light" in Arabic

"Light" in Arabic

I have often thought about the reasons for what seems to be unending turmoil in some Muslim communities. I can’t say that I have reached a clear answer–I doubt anyone has–but I do know that this is a question that occupies many, especially Muslims. Several possibilities are offered as explanations: the effects of colonization, the secularization of societies, conflict between tradition and modernity, and so on. However, Ali Allawi suggests in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that these factors only affect the outer world and that the real crisis lies in Islam’s inner world. Allawi’s article got my attention because he doesn’t discuss what he calls the outer world to the exclusion of the inner world; rather, he finds a way to show how both are intertwined. The fact that he is able to bring the two together is for me especially insightful because most discussions on this topic focus on one or the other, but never show the interplay between the two. Continue reading

Islam on Capitol Hill

islam-on-the-capitolOn September 25th, 2009, the first ever Jummah (Friday) Prayer service was held outside the US Capitol building in Washington, DC. The prayer event — called “Jummah Prayer: a Day of Islamic Unity”  — drew about 3,000 Muslims from around the country. Hassan Abdullah, the head of the Dar-ul-Salaam mosque and one of the main organizers of the event, said that he got the idea for  “Islam on Capitol Hill” after watching President Obama’s speech in Cairo this past June. Abdullah believed that the best way to counter continuing negative perceptions of Islam was to join together in a peaceful act that would show the spirituality and diversity of the Muslim communities. Although the event fell far short of its targeted size, the thousands who attended did follow the organizers’ hopes that the Day of Prayer would focus on spirituality and not politics or protest. Continue reading