As I wrote previously, Islam is one of the major religions in Africa and every minister of the gospel should study and understand Islam. In these articles I explored the different faces of Islam in Africa and some of the basic beliefs of Islam. In this article, I am writing about the basic practices of Islam. It is one thing to believe. It is another thing to do or act. There are five practices in Islam which are also known as the Five Pillars or Five Duties of Islam. These pillars are not to merely be believed but are to be acted out or practiced. I’ve added Jihad as a sixth or additional pillar, due to its importance in Islam.

An African Christian who ignores Islam is like a driver who ignores traffic lights.

It is important for Christians to understand Islam so they know how to best relate and minister to Muslims. Just as missionaries are encouraged to understand the culture of the communities they work in, I encourage African Christians to understand the practices of Islam. So that they can better relate to and love their Muslim neighbours. An African Christian who ignores Islam is like a driver who ignores traffic lights or a farmer who ignores signs of rain.

1. Shahada (Creed)

This creed is so important that Muslims are required to recite it daily, especially as prayers. The wording of the creed is: “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” Every non-Muslim who converts to Islam must publicly and sincerely recite the creed in Arabic as a sign of entrance into the Islamic faith.

2. Salat (Prayer)

The concept of prayer in Islam is different from that of Christianity. Prayer is one of the commands to all Muslims (Surah 73:20). In Islam, prayer is based on prescribed prostrations repeated five times daily. Prayers can be done individually and anywhere. But the major ones are done on Friday afternoons, and should preferably be done in a mosque together with other Muslims.

3. Zakat (Almsgiving)

Muslims are commanded to give alms or charity (Surah 73:20). They’re required to donate 2% annually of their income to the poor. This can also go to the awkaf (religious foundations) supporting Islamic works and missions. Most of the donations given by prominent Muslims or Islamic organisations that we witness in Africa and elsewhere are done in obedience to this command. There are many other reasons Muslims give, including good will and philanthropy.

4. Sawm (Fasting)

The Quran commands Muslims to fast (Surah 2:183) for one month every year. The fasting is called Ramadan because it is done in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, water and sex during daylight hours. Muslims fast as an act of worship to God. They strive to become more pious and passionate about Allah and compassionate to those in need. The month of Ramadan ends in a festival know as Eid al-Fitr. During this festival, Muslims thank Allah for having sustained them and celebrate their brotherhood as they feast together.

5. Hajj (Pilgrimage)

Surah 22 is the chapter of pilgrimage or Hajj (in Arabic). Muslims with sufficient funds and physical ability are enjoined to go for pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at least once in their lifetime. The Hajj is the most spiritual event for all Muslims through which Muslims observe specific rituals in the worship of Allah together with myriads of other Muslims across the globe. The pilgrimage is done in specific periods and has got its own unique rituals.

6. Jihad

Jihad is not one of the five pillars of Islam, but it is an important practice within Islam. This is mainly the command to struggle in the path of Allah (Surah 9:41, 44, 81, 86). It refers to the act of striving against evil or sin. The word has also come to refer to holy war, where Muslims fight against enemies. Through Jihad, Muslims struggle by all possible means to advance their agenda and achieve whatever favours the Islamic faith and Muslim people.

Seek to Understand the Muslims Around You

I have briefly discussed the basic practices of Islam. These practices are fundamental to the Islamic faith. Actions are important in Islam. Just as action stressed in “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22), is important for Christians.

Knowing and understanding the basics of Islam is a bridge to reach out to Muslims.

I advise all ministers of the gospel in Africa to acquaint themselves with these practices. In fact, all Christians should. For you cannot reach out to or relate to Muslims around you if you do not know and understand the reason they act the way they do. Knowing and understanding the basics of Islam is a bridge to reach out to Muslims. Endeavour to inform yourself about Islam and find ways to minister to Muslims in your community.