Q: What’s the point of all the religious rituals?

Syed E. Hasan, Ph.D. Midland Islamic Council, Kansas City., Mo.

Rituals are part of faith observance; many are personal; others are offered in groups. Rituals are important in Islam because they lay the foundation for a moral, god-fearing and wholesome society. Many of the Islamic acts of worship involve rituals. For example, offering prayers five times a day, fasting from dawn to sunset during the month of Ramadan, and once in a lifetime, making a pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca.

One may look at the rituals accompanying these acts of worship as mere physical acts, but there are deeper meanings to them. It is a sustained process of self-training to gain control over basic human needs.

The morning prayer must be offered between morning’s first light and when the sun rises, which is an average of 75 minutes. It happens to be most valuable for sound sleep.

In addition, controlling one’s natural urge for food, drink and sex for one month during Ramadan allows the person to gain self-control and help him practice compassion by experiencing firsthand how it feels to be without food or drink for the whole day. Hajj is a universal equalizer where presidents, kings and common folks stand shoulder to shoulder, dressed in the same white cloth and performing the same rituals without any distinction of color, social status or nationality. It is a profound reminder that all human beings are equal and what matters is not our position in life, but everlasting acts of goodness done for the benefit of fellow human beings.

A.M. Bhattacharyya, an active member of the Hindu community

A religion has several components, namely philosophy, mythology, symbol and ritual. Philosophy contains the essential principles of a religion.

Mythology tells the stories and illustrations to support and explain the spiritual wisdom contained in the religious philosophy. Symbol is the sacred representation of a religion. Rituals are practices performed by the devotees as prescribed in holy books. Hinduism has all these constituents in rich proportions.

A Hindu worship service has many rituals. Rituals are meaningful and symbolic. For example, in a worship service the worshipers offer flowers, fragrance, fruits, sweets and other food articles to the deity. The significance of this offering is to show gratitude to the Lord for giving us all the wonderful things for enriching our lives and nourishing our bodies by giving back a portion of what we have received by his grace. The food offered to God, called Prasad, becomes holy, which is distributed to the worshipers after the service.

Usually, spiritual life begins with rituals. Eminent Vedantist Swami Brahmananda said: “It is of vital importance that a man begins his spiritual journey from where he is. If an average man is instructed to meditate on his union with the absolute Brahman (God), he will not understand. ... If the same man is asked to worship God with flowers, incense and other accessories of the ritualistic worship, his mind will gradually become concentrated on God.”