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Q: What is a fatwa?
A fatwa is an Islamic religious ruling, a scholarly opinion on a matter of Islamic law. It is not necessarily “binding” on the faithful. The people who pronounce these rulings are supposed to be knowledgeable, and base their rulings in knowledge and wisdom. They need to supply the evidence from Islamic sources for their opinions, and it is not uncommon for scholars to come to different conclusions regarding the same issue.
As Muslims, we look at the opinion, the reputation of the person giving it, the evidence given to support it, and then decide whether to follow it or not. When there are conflicting opinions issued by different scholars, we compare the evidence and then choose the opinion to which our God-given conscience guides us.
Q: Why do people not know exactly what day Eid is on?
To understand this you will need to know how the Islamic calendar works.
It is essentially a lunar calendar. It contains 12 months that are based on the motion of the moon, and because 12 lunar months is 12 x 29.53=354.36 days, the Islamic calendar is consistently shorter (11 Days) than a solar year. As a result it shifts with respect to the Gregorian calendar i.e. if the month of Ramadhan starts on the 13th September this year, it will start on the 2nd September next year.
The Islamic calendar is the official calendar in countries around the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia. However other Muslim countries use the Gregorian calendar for civil purposes and turn to the Islamic calendar for religious purposes.
How is an Islamic month determined?
Each month starts when the lunar crescent is first seen after a new moon.
Although new moons may be calculated quite precisely, the actual visibility of the crescent is difficult to predict. It depends on several factors including the weather and the location of the observer. Therefore in some cases it may be difficult to give accurate information in advance about when a new month will start.
Furthermore, in some areas Muslims depend on a local sighting of the moon, whereas in other areas a universal sighting is accepted (i.e. if a new crescent is seen anywhere in the world it is accepted for communities the world over). Both are valid Islamic practices, but they may lead to different starting days for the months. This is why there can be variations and uncertainty regarding the exact day of Eid al Fitr, which is celebrated after the month of Ramadhan on the first day of the next month, on sighting the new moon.
Q: What is the Ummah?
The linguistic meaning of the Arabic word Ummah (also spelt Umma in English) is community, group or nation, and can be applied to any community on any basis; in fact in the Qur’an animals and birds are also referred to as Umam (plural of ummah). The term is often used to refer to the world-wide community of Muslims. In Islamic history the concept of Ummah also included people of other faiths. At the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) a constitution was developed for the community in Medina; the first Islamic State which detailed the concept of belonging to an Ummah. This included the Jewish and pagan tribes of Medina as members of the Ummah in association with the Muslims. This established the concept of citizenship based on recognition of the new state and its authority.
Q: What is the Hijra?
This refers to the migration of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his followers from Makkah to Medina in the year 622 CE, after years of persecution at the hands of the leaders of Makkah. Since it marks the birth of a stable and secure society based on the values of Islam, it is the event from which the Islamic calendar starts.
Q: What is the Sunnah/Hadith?
This refers to the practice and example of the Prophet (pbuh), the second source of inspiration and instruction for Muslims. A few examples of the Prophet’s sayings (Hadith):
“God has no mercy on one who has no mercy for others.”
“None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
“He who eats his fill while his neighbour goes without food is not a believer.”
“God does not judge you according to your bodies and appearances but He looks into your hearts and observes your deeds.”
“A man walking along a path felt very thirsty. Reaching a well he descended into it, drank his fill and came up. Then he saw a dog with its tongue hanging out, trying to lick up mud to quench its thirst. The man saw that the dog was feeling the same thirst as he had felt, so he went down into the well again and filled his shoe with water and gave the dog a drink. God forgave his sins for this action. The Prophet was asked: ‘Messenger of God, are we rewarded for kindness towards animals?’ He said, ‘There is a reward for kindness to every living being.'”
Adhan – (also Azaan) – the call summoning Muslims for prayer.
Allah – Arabic name for the One God, similar to the word used by Jews in Hebrew and by early Christians in Aramaic. Allah is the same God worshipped by Christians and Jews.
Aqeeqah – the sacrificing of sheep on the birth of a child, as a token of gratitude to Allah for His favours and blessings.
Assalamu ‘Alaikum – Muslim greeting meaning ‘peace be on you’.
Awrah – denotes the parts of the body that are not meant to be exposed in public.
Ayah – (also Aya, or Aayah)- literally ‘a sign’ which directs one to something important, refers to the individual units (i.e. verses) of the Qur’an.
Bismillah – Commonly used expression, meaning ‘in the name of Allah’; it is said before starting any activity e.g. before eating.
Dua – (also Du’a, Du’aa, Duaa)- Literally calling, refers to invocations, supplications and prayers to God.
Eid – literally ‘festival’.
Eid ul Fitr – festival celebrating the end of the holy month of Ramadan during which Muslims fast.
Eid ul Adha – festival celebrated near the end of Hajj, to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s (pbuh) willingness to sacrifice his son for God.
Hadith – literally speech, refers to the record of what Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, did, or tacitly approved.
Hajj – The pilgrimage to Makkah which a Muslim must undertake once in their lifetime; one of the five pillars of Islam.
Halal – anything permissible under Islamic law, this includes behaviour, speech, dress, conduct, manner, and dietary laws, in contrast to haraam.
Haraam – that which is forbidden. This includes behaviour, speech, dress, conduct, manner, and dietary laws, in contrast to halaal.
Hijaab – literally ‘to cover.’ Often refers to the head scarf worn by Muslim women but actually encompasses the principle of modesty – including dress and behaviour.
Hijra – The migration of the Prophet from Makkah to Medina in 622 CE. This marks the start of the Islamic calendar.
Ibrahim – Arabic name of Prophet Abraham (pbuh).
Iftar – literally ‘breakfast’. Meal served at the end of the day during the holy month of Ramadan, to break the day’s fast.
Ihram – a sacred state in which Muslims must enter into when performing Hajj or Umrah.
Imam – literally leader, refers to the political leader of the state, historically, or a religious leader, or the leader of congregational prayers.
Insha’Allah – Commonly used expression, meaning ‘God willing’
‘Isa – Arabic name of Prophet Jesus (pbuh).
Jihad – literally ‘exerting’ or ‘striving’ refers to exerting oneself in striving towards perfection in control of oneself, doing good deeds and abstaining from evil ones. Also used to refer to sacrifice of one’s wealth, physical effort, and life in defence of one’s life, family, property or faith.
Jummah – obligatory congregational prayers performed on Friday, preceded by a sermon.
Ka’bah – The holiest and most sacred building in Islam located in in Makkah. Muslims line up in prayer facing towards this direction.
Khutbah – Friday congregational sermon
Lailat ul Qadr – literally ‘Night of Power’. Marks the anniversary of the night on which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) first began receiving revelations from God through the Angel Gabriel. Occurs during the month of Ramadhan.
Mahr – (also Mehr, Meher) – is a mandatory gift in Islam, given by the groom to the bride upon marriage.
Makkah – (also Mecca) home to the Ka’bah built by Prophet Abraham (pbuh) and birth city of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Masjid – literally ‘place of prostration,’ the Arabic word for mosque.
Medina – A city in Saudi Arabia containing the Prophet’s Mosque and tomb.
Mihrab – is a niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the direction of Ka’bah that Muslims should face when praying.
Minbar – (also mimbar) is a pulpit in the mosque where the Imam (leader of prayer) stands to deliver sermons
Muezzin – is the person who performs the call to prayer (adhan).
Muhammad – Alternative spelling for Mohamed (also Mahomet in medieval writings), name of the final prophet sent by God.
Musa – Arabic name of Prophet Moses (pbuh).
Niqab – is a veil which covers the face, worn by some Muslim women as a part of the hijāb.
Qiblah – Direction of prayer which is always facing the Ka’bah.
Qur’an – (also Quran, Koran, Qur’aan)- literally ‘recitation,’ the sacred text of Islam revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Pbuh – peace be upon him. Expression usually following the names of prophets and messengers in Muslim literature.
Ramadan – The month of fasting, ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
Sawm – is an Arabic word for fasting. Its observance by Muslims is obligatory, but not confined, to the the holy month of Ramadan.
Salah – is the ritual prayer practised by Muslims in supplication to God.
Shahadah – from the verb “to testify”. It is the Muslim declaration of faith in the oneness of God and in Muhammad (pbuh) as his final prophet. Recitation of the Shahadah is one of the Five Pillars of Islam for Muslims and is said daily.
Shariah – (also Shari’ah or Shariah)- literally ‘path’, Shariah. The code of law derived from the Qur’an and from the teachings and example of the Prophet Mohammed. Note that Shariah is only applicable to Muslims.
Suhur – A small meal traditionally eaten before dawn during Ramadan; the final meal before the day’s fast begins.
Sunnah – (also Sunna)- literally ‘way’, refers to narrations of the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) Surah- (also Sura or Surat)- Chapter of the Qur’an.
Taraweh – Special evening prayers performed during Ramadan.
Ummah – (also Umma)- literally a group, community, or nation. The term is used in the Qur’an to refer to different groups or nation, but also specifically to refer to the universal Muslim community or brotherhood.
Umrah – (also Umra) – optional Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah that can be performed any time of the year.
Wudu – is the Islamic act of washing parts of the body using water. Muslims are required to perform wudu in preparation for the 5 daily prayers.
Zakât – 2.5% of wealth given yearly; one of the five pillars of Islam.