- Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith.
- Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day.
- Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy.
- Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan.
- Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca.
Personally I am an atheist, although I am not necessarily anti-religion, but I want to acknowledge that my ruminations on religion are about as valid as someone who is colorblind commenting on art. And I'm certainly not an expert on Islam, but I do have some reflections on my limited experiences in Morocco.
Wherever you are in Morocco you are probably within sight of a mosque. The tall minarets punctuate the landscape, and the call to prayer, or azan, is the first sound of dawn. Islam permeates the daily life of a muslim and is inseparable from Moroccan culture. If I had to delineate the most apparent manifestations of this culture I would site humility, compassion and piety. In addition to the mosques, Muslims pray out in the open, or in a small room of their home. The simple act of getting down on all fours and touching one's head to the ground has a salutary effect that is as much physical as spiritual. Try it, and see if it doesn't pull you out of an egocentric orbit.
The Five Pillars of Islam are:
This video was created by the Moroccan students who hosted our Ithaca students and was shared prior to the trip.
Islam is a ubiquitous presence in Morocco. Wherever you are, the skyline is dotted with the minarets of mosques and the day is punctuated by the call to prayer, Azan. For many Americans “Islam” is a loaded word, one that carries many connotations and emotions. One of the reasons I was excited to come to Morocco was that I would have an opportunity to experience a Muslim culture. I have to say that the experience has been entirely positive.
Islam is the glue that binds Moroccan culture. It is a common thread that ties 95% of the population. We don’t really have anything like that in America, something of which we can say, “we are all …” In America we value our differences, but they are often divisive.
As an example consider poverty. There are many places in America where the people living in an impoverished area predominantly belong to a minority ethnicity or language group. This is a perfect breeding ground for stereotyping. However in Morocco, while there is definitely poverty, it is not distinguished by ethnicity or language and, “we are all Muslims.” Islam turns the “them” into the “us” thereby changing the social dynamic.
There are also many components of Islam that have a positive social influence. One example is a strong emphasis on the family. You are much more likely to hear a Moroccan say, “we” than our favorite American pronoun, “I.” More generally, Moroccans seem to have a stronger sense of community. Of course there is the other edge of the sword: you don’t see as much individuality or cultural independence.
Muslim’s do not proselytize, I had a lot of good conversations about Islam with students and teachers, and while people would often ask me about my faith, they never expressed the sort of religious superiority for which some other religions are infamous. No one wanted to convert me, but they were eager to counter what they perceived as a negative American bias. I think I heard the phrase, “Islam is a peaceful religion,” about 20 times.
"Direction of Mecca" sticker in my hotel.
One of my most memorable conversations was with, Himmi, the head teacher at the school I visited. I remarked on the sort of stark beauty of the dawn Azan . He said, “Picture the earth as it is turning. It is always dawn somewhere, and there are Muslims in every country of the world. As the rays of the sun travel across the earth there is always someone singing the call to prayer, and it has been so for hundreds of years.” That’s a pretty powerful image.
Click on the link to listen to a call to prayer.