The next pillar is that of prayer. Islam advocates prayer five times a day—at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and at night. Muslims often perform a ritual washing of their hands, mouth, nose, face, arms and feet before prayer, which is performed in a clean location. Muslims face toward Mecca—the birthplace of Islam—when they pray.

Next is charity. Muslims are commanded to give to the needy. Zakat, an obligatory charity, is prescribed by Islam, and equals to about two and a half percent of income. Islam, in general, encourages giving to charity as much as a possible.

Fasting is required of Muslims from morning to night during the month of Ramadan—a holy time that occurs on the month in which the revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad began, and is dedicated to the purification of the soul and coming closer to God. During this time, Muslims refrain from food, drink, and sexual activity, as well as any behaviors which carry negative connotations, such as lying, gossiping, arguing, and anger. The disabled or elderly are exempt from this requirement.

The pilgrimage to Mecca, known as Hajji, is a vital part of the Islamic faith. Every Muslim is required to make this pilgrimage to Mecca once in their life if they are physically and financially able. Located in Saudi Arabia, the city of Mecca is home to the Kaaba, the first house of worship of God, and is also the site of Muhammad’s birth and divine revelation. Within the city resides the Kaaba, considered to be the house of Allah, which holds a similar status to Judaism’s Tabernacle and Holy of Holies. Muslims, when praying, face in the direction of the Kaaba.

These tenants are the simplified core of the Islamic faith, and will hopefully shed some light upon the beliefs of your Muslim neighbors. The elephant in the room, however—religious extremism—should be addressed, as well.

The Qur’an, like other religious texts, is presented as the infallible word of God. It is, however, interpreted in varying ways by human minds. Sharia Law, the basic Islamic legal system derived from the religious texts of Islam, has been used as the framework for violence and the stripping away of basic human rights, and the conflict between Sharia and secular law remains a point of contention between the Muslim community and the rest of the world.

The truth, however, is that this violence is not inherent to Islam—it is the result of complex interactions between current society, the individual, and religious interpretation, just as it is in any other people group.

The key to rooting out this violence? Dialogue.

The Islamic world, at large, decries the violence we see constantly cropping up in the news—new which often emphasizes the Muslim nature of the attackers, rather than their violent nature. Terrorists should not be thought of Muslims first, and terrorists second when, in reality, their actions violate widely accepted Islamic law—their actions displease Allah. They are terrorists first, violent individuals who reshape Islam to suit their need to lash out at a society they do not try to understand.

Let us not sink to that level on the intellectual scale—if you find Islam to be frightening or mysterious, you now have a starting point upon which to find out more, and to engage with the Muslims in your community. Dialogue between the faiths—and non-faiths—is the only thing which can unite the peaceful world against the true threat of violence.

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