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Debating Islam ( 25 Feb 2022, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Essential Religious Practices in Islam

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam

26 February 2022

This article discusses what are the essential religious practices in Islam. I begin with an example of how to avoid the pitfalls of jumping to erroneous conclusions based on partial truths. Take the Supreme Court case on the Babri Masjid case.

Is A Mosque Integral To Islam?

The question regarding whether mosque is integral to Islam had come up as part of the Ayodhya land title case and dates back to 1994 when the Supreme Court had stated that “a mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and Namaz (prayer) by Muslims can be offered anywhere, even in open”

What the SC said is true but it is only a partial truth based on the observation that Muslims do pray in the open. It appears that the parties representing the Muslims failed to bring to the notice of the SC the relevant verses from the Quran that throw a different light. Consider what the Quran says about the sanctity of all the houses of God or places of worship.

(22:39) To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged;- and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid;-

(40) (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right,- (for no cause) except that they say, "our Lord is Allah". Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause);- for verily Allah is full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will).

The above-cited verses grant permission to fight to protect being driven out from place worship and/or to protect the pulling down of any place of worship, be it a monastery, church, synagogue, mosque or temple.

So, what this means is that when there is no masjid, Muslims can pray in the open, but when there is one, then they cannot be dispossessed of it nor can it be pulled down. They are commanded to put up appropriate resistance to prevent people from being driven out of their places of worship and to prevent their being pulled down. The command applies even if the place of worship happens to be not their own masjid, but the place of worship belonging to people of other faiths.

 Also, consider the following verses:

(24:35) Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth guide whom He will to His Light: Allah doth set forth Parables for men: and Allah doth know all things.

(36) (Lit is such a Light) in houses, which Allah hath permitted to be raised to honour; for the celebration, in them, of His name: In them is He glorified in the mornings and in the evenings, (again and again),-

Verse 24:36 refers to all the houses of Allah whether it is a monastery, church synagogue, temple or masjid. The Quran recognizes all the places of worship as integral to His worship since these are places where His name is celebrated the most and the place where His Light shines. A masjid is therefore very much integral to Islam. The SC case must be taken up for review to have this observation removed so that this does not determine how other cases are decided in the future.

 What Are The Essential Practices In Islam?

Consider the following verse:

(256) Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.

If you consider the first part of the verse, “Let there be no compulsion in religion”, you could be tempted to jump to the conclusion that nothing is an essential practice in Islam, since no person can be compelled in any matter of religion! But on closer scrutiny, it becomes clear that what it means is that no person may be compelled in any matter of religion, and everyone has the freedom to choose what they may practise or not practice.  However, the Quran has made clear Right from Wrong, and those who chose to do what is right and reject what is wrong will be successful. Those who follow what the Quran enjoins and refrain from what it prohibits, do so for their own good and those who are lax in practising Islam, wrong themselves.

Meanings of a few keywords which help understanding why doing everything that the Quran enjoins, and refraining from what it prohibits, is an essential practice in Islam.

Momin: It means a believer in the Quran. The Quranic verses address the Momin on what they need to practise and what they need to refrain from, to become a Muslim. There isn’t a single verse that addresses the Muslims, because, by definition, a Muslim is one who practises what the Quran enjoins and refrain from what it prohibits. 

Muslim: A Muslim is a Momin who practices the Quranic code of life. A Muslim is a practising Momin. There is no such thing as a non-practising Muslim. "Non-practising Muslim" is an oxymoron. You can have a non-practising Momin however.

Taqwa: Heedfulness. It is to do everything in the best possible manner or be heedful in every respect. In the context of what Allah has enjoined in the Quran, it is to do what is commanded in the best possible manner and strictly refrain from what is prohibited. One can be heedful from sheer curiosity, from the fear/reverence/love of Allah, from the desire to excel, to gain piety, or to gain nearness to Allah.

 For A More Detailed Explanation, Read What Does Taqwa Mean?

Muttaqi: A Muttaqi is a person, who is heedfulness personified, and does whatever he/she does, in the best possible manner or with Taqwa.

(2:2) This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to the Muttaqin.

 Guidance is guaranteed not to every reader but only to the Muttaqin (plural of Muttaqi). How do the Muttaqin read the Quran? With heedfulness. It is reading/listening in the best possible manner which means in a humble and receptive frame of mind, paying full attention to every word and its meaning. Even if the reader is a disbeliever in the Quran, but reads it like a Muttaqi, the reading will become guidance and the reader will become a believer.

 Not only is guidance only for the Muttaqin but success in the Hereafter or Heaven is also only for the Muttaqin.

(15:45) The Muttaqin (will be) amid gardens and fountains (of clear-flowing water).(46) (Their greeting will be): "Enter ye here in peace and security."

Heaven is not promised to the Momin or Muslim but only to the Muttaqin and one cannot be a Muttaqi, without following everything the Quran enjoins and refraining from everything it prohibits, in the best possible manner. Also see verse 3:133, 5:27, 7:128, 11:49, 16:30, 19:85, 26:90, 28:83, 38:49, 43:35, 44:51, 50:31, 51:15, 52:17, 54:54, 68:34, 77:41, 78:31 which reinforce that the Heaven is only for the Muttaqin.

(Note: A Muttaqin is not necessarily a Muslim and could be a person of any faith. He/she must be true to his/herself and conscientiously follow what they truly believe in, to the best of their knowledge. This must be apparent from the fact that the Quran mentions places of worship of other religions also.)

Anyone who compromises for any worldly consideration what (s)he must follow of their faith, is a sure loser in the Hereafter

(3:76) Nay.- Those who fulfil their covenants of faith with Taqwa,-verily Allah loves the Muttaqin.

(77) As for those who sell the faith they owe to Allah and their own plighted word for a small price, they shall have no portion in the Hereafter: Nor will Allah (Deign to) speak to them or look at them on the Day of Judgment, nor will He cleans them (of sin): They shall have a grievous penalty.

(3:115) Of the good that they do, nothing will be rejected of them; for Allah knoweth well the Muttaqin.

(116) Those who reject Our Commands,- neither their possessions nor their (numerous) progeny will avail them aught against Allah: They will be companions of the Fire,-dwelling therein (for ever).

(117) What they spend in the life of this (material) world May be likened to a wind which brings a nipping frost: It strikes and destroys the harvest of men who have wronged themselves: it is not Allah that hath wronged them, but they wrong themselves.

Conclusion About What Is An Essential Practice In Islam

 Only the Muttaqin, or the conscientious Muslims who follow in the best possible manner, all that Allah has enjoined, and refrain from all that He has prohibited, will be successful in the Hereafter. Everything that the Quran enjoins and prohibits is therefore essential practice in Islam. None of the Islamic practices is in conflict with what is in the national interest. Those who ask “what comes first, nation or religion?”, are asking the wrong question. There is no need to choose. A person can be both a Muttaqi or a conscientious follower of his/her religion and also a Deshbhakt.

 Is Hijab Enjoined In The Quran?

The relevant verses are reproduced below and explained. The part of the verse that covers head covering for Muslim women is verse 24:31.

 وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَىٰ جُيُوبِهِنَّ

This means: do not display their adornment (Zeenat) except what is apparent and let them draw their head cover (Bikhumurihinna) over their bosoms ……

The word Khumuri to mean a part of the dress is used only once in the Quran. The Khimara according to the Arabic-English Lexicon by Edward William Lane, is “A woman’s muffler, or veil, with which she covers her head and the lower part of her face, leaving exposed only the eyes and part or whole of the nose: Such is the Khimara worn in the present day.

The word used in the Quran is not Khimara but Khumuri which means a head covering and could also mean a man’s turban according to Lane’s lexicon. The word used in the Quran therefore certainly means a head covering but not necessarily what has come to be known as Khimara today. The head covering or Khumuri of the woman is required to not only cover her head but also the جُيُوبِهِنَّ or the bosom according to verse 24:31. The Khumuri is undoubtedly a head covering. This verse is binding on Muslim women. There is no element of discretion here.

We are aware of the phrase "A woman's hair is her crowning glory" and the number of verses on a woman's hair/Zulf in poetry. So, besides the Khumuri being a head cover that is required to be long enough to cover the bosom also, the requirement of covering her Zeenat doubly reinforces the need to cover the head also.

 Let us now consider whether the hijab is essential Islamic practice:

What About The Burqa, Niqab Or The Full Covering?

The word hijab has been used in the Quran in several verses to mean a screen that hides completely the object that is required to be screened. In the context of women, it is used only once in verse 33:53.

ۚ وَإِذَا سَأَلْتُمُوهُنَّ مَتَاعًا فَاسْأَلُوهُنَّ مِن وَرَاءِ حِجَابٍ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ أَطْهَرُ لِقُلُوبِكُمْ وَقُلُوبِهِنَّ ۚ

 And when ye ask (the Prophet’s wives) for anything ye want, ask them from before a screen: that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs.

Why has it been used only for the Prophet’s wives? That is because the Prophet was a public figure and many men visited his home to clarify their doubts and consult him on issues. The Prophet was not always at home and his wives, therefore, had to necessarily interact with the strangers. Why is the Quran prescribing a screen in such a situation and what does it mean by saying that the screen makes for greater purity for “your hearts and theirs”? This is because of human nature. "Both men and women show signs of being programmed to be monogamous in a certain way and promiscuous in a certain way.  We don't say men and women always opt for short-term strategies, what we are talking about is that when they go for infidelity or promiscuity, men focus on large numbers and women focus on quality." (David P. Schmitt, PhD, Bradley University, team leader of the International Sexuality Description Project. The project's findings appear in the July 2003 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.)

The common man does not have the same problem as a public figure. By analogy, this verse would apply equally to others who are public figures whose women have to necessarily interact with strangers on a regular basis. So, if a woman chooses to cover herself fully when she goes out in public, that is her choice and in the spirit of this verse. Who can deny that a woman fully covered is likely to feel safer in situations she is exposed to many strangers?  The full covering is a matter of discretion and optional. It cannot be made mandatory and should be left fully to the woman’s choice. There are situations in which a woman feels more comfortable with the full covering and there are situations when she is comfortable with only the Khumuri.

 The Head covering which is large enough to cover the bosom is mandatory for a Muslim woman as per verse 24:31. However, there is no compulsion in religion as per verse 2:256. A believing woman (Momina) may or may not choose to be a practising woman (Muslima), but for a believing woman who also wants to become a Muttaqi or a conscientious Muslim, it is a mandatory and essential practice.


A frequent contributor to, Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He has spent years studying Quran in-depth and made seminal contributions to its interpretation.


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