Birth, naming, circumcision, marriage and death constitute the major rites of passage in Islamic societies.
Pregnancy and birth viewed as far more than mere biological activities. Pregnancy viewed as a time of delicacy because of activities of malevolent beings. The first cry of a newborn baby considered as a sign that Satan has just touched it – only Mary and Jesus escaped this touch of Satan at birth. It is important, therefore, that a child be born into this world with the sound of the adhan (call to prayer) breathed into its right ear. Sometimes, the Fatiha whispered in its left ear. Both mother and newborn baby seen as in danger of attack from malevolent forces and there is much care to protect them. Many taboos established about who may or may not see mother or child during the first period of vulnerability. Such a period usually lasts at least forty days. All kinds of magical activities associated with various diseases of infancy. Infancy as a whole seen as a transitional period in which there is much vulnerability.
Naming ceremonies occur as a distinguished rite in many parts of the Muslim world. Often, the name selected after astrological consideration. Sometimes the child called by a derogatory name, such as Dog or Ugly, to discourage attention of the jinn. Similarly boys could dress like girls and called by female names for a while, to mislead the jinn. Alternatively, a name such as Mashallah (what God wills) selected to protect from the evil eye. No one can admire, or address, a child named Mashallah without invoking protection of God upon it. Ceremonies of naming are traditionally accompanied by the aqiqa sacrifice. The idea behind the sacrifice seems that of substitution, so that malevolent forces satisfied with an animal victim in place of the child concerned. The folk-Islamic worldview enters into the realm of the formal ritual of circumcision mainly in the questions of the time and site of circumcision.
Marriage in itself viewed as a means of fulfilling religious duty. The religious rite that validates the marriage, the nikah, performed by an imam. In many situations, this rite accomplished in secret, in order to prevent enemies of the couple from tying magic knots – which might make the groom impotent or the bride infertile – at that delicate moment. Performance of weddings at saints’ shrines, and the timing of such events on mawlids, designed to bring as much baraka as possible into the new union. Some tinsel from the bride’s headdress is left at the shrine, as a prayer for fertility. Divorce permitted in Islam, although considered the worst of all actions allowed by law. Wives under threat may make vows to saints or appeals to angelic mediators – they may try all kinds of magic to repair an unstable marriage.
Beliefs and activities involved in death rites lean heavily on the folk-Islamic view of the world. Taboos prevent a person in a state of pollution from coming near a dying person. After preparation of the body, the corpse buried facing Mecca. On the seventh and fortieth nights, the dead person returns in spirit to his own home to see what activities accomplished for the peace of his soul. After the death period is over, disembodied souls may visit their human relatives, often incognito.
The cutting of a first tooth, the starting of school, completion of reading or memorizing of the Quran, the end of an apprenticeship or the acceptance into a craft guild, the entry into or return from military service, and other such transitional activities – all offer occasions for ritual in which fold-Islamic beliefs and practices find expression.