Birth to Death

The ceremony that follows the birth of a child takes numerous forms in Muslim cultures around the world, yet all are informed by the idea of a life of prayerPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not. and submission to God—from birth to death. The words of the shahadahShahadah means “witness” and refers to the Muslim declaration of faith: “I bear witness that there is no God but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” The shahadah is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. are whispered to the newborn child at the beginning of life. These same words are declared by a new Muslim when choosing to embrace IslamIslam in Arabic literally means “submitting” or “submission.” One who submits or surrenders his or her will to God is called a Muslim. While the whole of God’s creation is described as being inherently Muslim, human beings must choose whether to..., repeated in the adhanThe adhan, also called azan or the call to prayer, is called out by the muezzin five times each day to all Muslims within hearing distance. Contained in this call is the shahadah, the "witness" to the two fundamental convictions of Muslim religious belie... five times each day, and, ideally, are the last words said or heard by a Muslim before death.

In an Atlanta hospital room, a young African-American couple has just given birth to their first child. The shahadah will be the first words newborn Khadijah will hear. Khadijah’s father washes his hands, gently cradles the child in his arms, and whispers the shahadah into his tiny daughter’s ear. The entire family is gathered together in the small room to usher young Khadijah into the lifetime path of Islam. The path begins with the simple testimony of faith: “There is no GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality. but GodThe term god with a small “g” is used to refer to a deity or class of deities whose power is understood to be circumscribed or localized rather than universal, or to refer to a plurality of deities. and MuhammadThe Prophet Muhammad, known as “the Seal of the Prophets,” was born in the city of Makkah on the Arabian peninsula in 570 C.E. At 40, he began to receive a series of revelations from God through the angel Gabriel. His small group of followers met with... is the MessengerCalled “Rasul” in Arabic, the messenger is a special type of prophet commissioned to lead a community and often entrusted with a major revelation from God. Moses, Jesus and Muhammad are examples of messengers in Islam. Other prophets (called nabi) int... of God.”

An imamImam means “leader,” particularly the person who leads the daily ritual prayer or, more broadly, to the one who serves as a leader of the community because of his religious learning. In Shi’i Islam, it refers to one of a succession of direct descend... from New England explains, “In Islam people come into the world naked, without anything, and they leave the same way.” Muslim funeral practices follow the sunnahSunnah, meaning “custom,” refers to the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, remembered by the early Muslim community and preserved in narrative accounts (hadith). Because Muhammad is considered to be the best example of how to live, his Sunnah ... of the ProphetA prophet is one who communicates a divine message or vision, sometimes calling people to repentance or awakening, sometimes predicting future events. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all look to Hebrew prophets, including Abraham and Moses. Muslims believe ... Muhammad: the deceased must be washed, wrapped in a white cloth, and buried facing MakkahMakkah (also spelled Mecca) is the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad, the hub of the caravan trade in the Arabian Peninsula, and the site of the holy Ka’bah. After receiving the first revelations of the Qur’an on a mountain outside Makkah, Muhammad d.... While the accompanying rituals are sometimes complex, the burial itself is simple: an inexpensive casket, or no casket at all, is used; a simple plaque is preferred to a large headstone.

Early American Muslims faced great difficulties in arranging for proper burial, including the washing and wrapping of the body, the use of a simple casket, and the direction of burial. Today, the Islamic CenterAn Islamic center will typically include a mosque, school, and area for social and cultural activities. When a new Islamic center is being organized in the United States, attention is paid to community needs, including a weekend or full-time school, indic... of Southern California, like many others in the United States, actively assists community members in these arrangements. The center publishes the detailed brochure “Burial: Preparing this final religious obligation,” which advises, “Even though a casket is not required by Islam, it is required in California.”

In many areas, there are Muslim cemeteries, including the National Muslim cemetery in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, established in 1949. Increasingly, funeral homes and cemeteries now accommodate the religious needs of Muslims, many with special sections oriented in the qiblahThe qiblah is the direction of prayer, always toward the Ka’bah in Makkah. In mosques, the qiblah is indicated by a small niche called the mihrab. direction. California’s Rose Hills Memorial Park and Massachusetts’ Knollwood Memorial Park have sections for Muslims; the United Memorial Gardens in Plymouth, Michigan has two “Islamic Gardens” in addition to their “Korean Garden,” the “Wonders of Michigan,” and “Garden of ApostlesThe apostles are the disciples of Jesus recognized as leaders of the early church; Paul, although not a disciple, came to be considered an apostle as well..”

Between birth and death, Muslims live out their faith daily through prayer and charity, in deeds and in words. Muslims around the world greet one another with the phrase “assalamu alaykum,” meaning “peace be upon you.” When speaking of the Prophet, Muslims will often follow his name with “Peace Be Upon Him” (abbreviated PBUH) to show reverence; in ArabicClassical Arabic is the language of revelation in Islam as recorded in the Qur’an. Muslims consider every word of the Qur’an to be a direct utterance of God. The Arabic language itself is regarded as perfectly suited as the instrument for God’s comm..., the phrase is “Sallallahu ‘Alaihi Wa Sallam,” (abbreviated SAWS). Other common phrases include “alhamdulillah,” expressing thanks to God, or “bismillahThe words “Bismillahir rahmanir rahim,” “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compasssionate,” begins all but one of the surahs (chapters) of the Qur’an. The entire phrase or simply “Bismillah” is frequently used to invoke divine blessing b...,” which indicates that an act is being performed in the name of God. Many Muslims, when speaking of the future, use the phrase “insha’AllahAllah is the word for God in Arabic, used by Arabic-speaking Christians, Jews, and Muslims. According to Islam, Allah is the creator and ruler of the entire universe, the ultimate judge of all human beings, characterized by mercy and compassion. By means ...,” as a reminder that the act will only happen if God wills it. While these phrases are not used universally, they demonstrate one of the ways in which Muslims live out their faith through a life of active submission to God.

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