The Three Tenets of Islam
We hear a lot about the ‘Five Pillars of Islam’ — the testimony, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage — and these are often used to give an introduction to the faith. But any understanding of Islam derived from them remains superficial, if not misleading, so long as it neglects its lived experience.
What is the subjective aspect of practicing Islam? What is the lifeworld of the Muslim? These questions cannot be answered by a description of outward acts alone. They require an examination of the Islamic faith in its most intimate and personal details —that is, in its existential dimension.
In contrast to the Five Pillars, I present three existential tenets which I believe are essential to Islamic faith. The reader is encouraged to consider them seriously, if not in service of self-reflection, then at least to gain a better understanding of what it truly means to be a Muslim.
Tenet #1: Embodiedness
To be human is to be embodied (1). This basic fact is among the most obvious and accessible to our immediate, everyday awareness. We experience ourselves as a body, as a substance extended in the world, subjected to its laws of causality and physical transformation.
The primacy of embodiedness as an existential tenet of Islam is reflected in the fact that the first verses of the Quran attest to it:
Read, in the name of your Lord who created / Created humankind out of a hanging-clot / Read, and your God is the most noble / Who taught with the pen / Taught humankind what they did not know [96:01–05]
The hanging-clot is a symbol of humankind’s embodiedness. Here, we are commanded to read in the name of: God, who created us from a hanging-clot; God, the most noble; God, who taught us what we don’t know. The references to God’s transcendence further emphasize the fact of our embodiedness.
The image of the hanging-clot encapsulates three aspects of embodiedness: our dependence, our finitude, and our contingency.