Imam Zijad’s Corner: Muslim Religious Commitment or Commitment in Islam by Pew Research Center

The vast majority of Muslims surveyed subscribe to the basic tenets of Islam – that there is only one God and that Muhammad is His Prophet. Acceptance of these central articles of the Islamic faith forms the foundation of a global ummah, or community of believers. But it does not necessarily follow that religion plays an equally prominent role in the lives of all Muslims.

Indeed, the survey finds that religion’s importance in Muslims’ daily lives varies greatly across the six major geographic regions included in the study. In sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South Asia, at least eight-in-ten Muslims in every country surveyed say that religion is very important in their lives, while in the Middle East and North Africa the comparable percentages range from 59% in Lebanon to 89% in Morocco. In Central Asia and across Southern and Eastern Europe (Russia and the Balkans), no more than half of Muslims describe religion as central to their lives in any country surveyed except Turkey, where 67% say religion is very important to them.

Other measures of religious commitment follow a similar pattern. In four of the six regions included in the study – the Middle East and North Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa – a majority of Muslims in most countries surveyed pray several times a day, including three-quarters or more in 12 countries who say they perform all five salat daily. By contrast, across Central Asia and in the four countries with substantial Muslim populations surveyed in Southern and Eastern Europe, only in Azerbaijan do a majority of Muslims (70%) report praying several times a day (including 21% who say they perform all five salat). In the other countries in these two regions, far fewer Muslims, including 7% in Albania and 4% in Kazakhstan, say they pray several times a day.

Because having the opportunity to pray is generally unrelated to gender, income or literacy, it is perhaps the most universal measure of religious commitment among Muslims. The survey also explored other forms of religious engagement, including mosque attendance and reading or listening to the Quran, which may not be equally available to all Muslims. In both instances, the same pattern holds: levels of commitment tend to be significantly lower among Muslims in Central Asia and across Southern and Eastern Europe.

It is only when it comes to almsgiving and fasting during Ramadan that there are less pronounced differences between Muslims in Central Asia and in Southern and Eastern Europe and those in other regions. For example, the percentage of Muslims who say they give zakat, or annual donations to benefit the poor and less fortunate, is as high in countries such as Bosnia-Herzegovina (81%), Kyrgyzstan (77%), Uzbekistan (73%) and Turkey (72%) as it is in many other nations surveyed.

Five Pillars of Islam

All Muslims, regardless of sect, trace their religious heritage to the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century C.E., when the Prophet Muhammad lived and Islam was born. Since that time, the Quran and traditions associated with Muhammad have defined five core rituals through which individuals can profess and confirm their adherence to the Islamic faith. Collectively, these practices are known as the Five Pillars:

         Profession of faith, or shahadah. By testifying that there is one God, and Muhammad is His Prophet, an individual distinguishes himself or herself as a Muslim.

         Praying, or salat. Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day – at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and evening. The shahadah is repeated at each call to prayer and closes each prayer, as well.

         Giving of alms, or zakat. All adult Muslims who are able to do so are required to make an annual donation to assist the poor or less fortunate. The amount is typically 2.5% of a person’s total wealth, not just annual income.

         Fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, or sawm. Throughout the month of Ramadan, when the Quran was first revealed, all physically fit Muslim adults are to abstain from food, drink, smoking and sexual activity from dawn to dusk.

         Pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj. At least once in a lifetime, Muslims who are physically and financially capable of making the journey are expected to visit Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, and perform rituals associated with the hajj.

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