Charity or almsgiving (zakat) is required of every Muslim who possesses the means for the relief of the poor, and for other social and charitable causes. The preferred amount is usually two-and-a-half percent of the annual income.
In the Islamic lunar calendar, the 9th month is known as Ramadan, the month of fasting. For the whole month, Muslims do not eat, drink or engage in sexual intercourse during the hours of daylight. The aim is to demonstrate the physical will-power involved in the service of God and to share the suffering of the world’s many hungry people. Towards the end of the month of Ramadan, the most sacred night (Kadir, Laylat al-Qadr), when the Koran was first revealed to Mohammed, is commemorated. Ramadan ends with a feast called “Id al-Fitr”.
The 12th month of the Islamic calendar is the month of pilgrimage (Hajj), which involves a visit to Ka’ba, the sacred place in Mecca. A visit made in any other month is called “umra”, the Lesser Pilgrimage. At least one pilgrimage is expected of every Muslim who is capable of undertaking it. The Prophet himself only once undertook the Hajj, and that was in the last year of his life. Men wear two seamless pieces of white cloth (ihram), one round the waist and the other draped over the left shoulder. Women wear garments which show only their face and hands. This apparel is usually put aside to be used later as a shroud. Almost two million people go on a pilgrimage each year. Ka’ba is the most holy shrine, perhaps the first sanctuary, on a site many believe to have been first consecrated by Adam; and then by Abraham, who rebuilt it at God’s command with Ishmael, his son by Hagar. Muslims believe that God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, at a site near Mecca, and the three pillars that stand at Mina are said to represent the three times that Satan attempted to dissuade Abraham and was repulsed. The Ka’ba was once a shrine to 360 Arabian deities in pre-Islamic times, but all its religious images were removed by Mohammed. He purified it and rededicated it to the one true God. A pilgrimage involves many ceremonies, the first being the seven anti-clockwise circuits (tawaf) of the Ka’ba, on each of which the pilgrim tries to touch the Black Stone (al-Hajar al-Aswad), or at least point in its direction. Muslims believe that this stone was given by the angel Gabriel to Adam and later to Abraham. Then pilgrims process seven times between the two hills of al-Safa and al-Marwa. This reminds them of the mother of Ishmael, Hagar’s (Hajar) search for water for her son. It was at this point, that holy water, known as Zam-Zam gushed out from the ground. The pilgrim visits the well and takes holy water from it. On the eighth day, the pilgrim must stand on Mount Arafat and ask for enlightenment and salvation. This is the most sublime act of worship. After this, stones are thrown at Satan, representing his punishment for trying to dissuade Abraham from sacrificing his son. Then the pilgrimage ends with the slaughter of a sacrificial animal, in remembrance of Ishmael, the meat of which is shared out among the poor. Pilgrimage forms a strong bond between all members of the whole Muslim world.