Middle Eastern culture is heavily influenced by the religion of Islam. It is imperative to understand Islam in order to understand both the languages and the ways of living of the majority people groups in the Middle East.
The religion of Islam is a works-based religion, relying on 5 main tenets or pillars of the faith.
- A person must confess there is no god but Allah, and Mohammad is his prophet.
- A Muslim prays five times per day, facing Mecca.
- The giving of alms (gifts to the poor).
- Fasting one month per year, the month called Ramadan (Ramazan).
- Making the pilgrimage once in a life time to Mecca (Haj).
A Muslim is someone who adheres to the Islamic faith. Muslim means one who submits to the will of God.
Islam was founded by the prophet Mohammed. As a young boy, he was orphaned, and his uncle took care of him. He learned how to ride and drive camel caravans. It was when a wealthy young widow, Khadija, hired him to handle her camels, that Mohammed fell in love with Khadija.
They married, and not long after, he went to a cave to pray and meditate. When he returned from his time of solitude, he claimed that the Angel Gabriel had appeared to him and delivered a message from Allah. Allah, the god of the Arabians, wanted him to begin a new religion, Islam, and gave him the words to the Quoran (Koran).
Khadija was his first convert, and after that he went preaching to his friends, family, and neighbors. Some laughed at him, others accepted his words. Islam grew, and it was when Arabs moved all over the Middle East that Islam was carried from Arabia to other areas east and west.
One of the keys to understanding Muslims is to understand that they do not adhere to the value of separation of state and "church" or state and "mosque." all of life is intertwined, sacred and secular.
In Afghanistan, their identity as an Afghan is synonymous with Muslim. To be Afghan, is to be Muslim. There is no middle ground. This understanding is the same in almost any ethnic group predominantly Muslim - their nationality and religion are almost impossible to separate. That is why it is hard for any Muslim to change their religion if they desired, because it would mean the loss of their family, community, their very identity.
It is always the best practice to not shame any part of your Muslim friend's religion, but to ask questions and learn more what their understanding is of their own religion.