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5 Pillars of Islam

The five pillars of Islam are:

Shahadah – to recite the declaration of faith
Salah – to pray five times a day
Zakat – to give in charity to the poor
Sawm – to fast during the month of Ramadhan
Hajj – to perform pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in a lifetime

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Shahadah (Declaration of Faith)

The declaration of faith is called the shahadah; a simple formula that all the faithful pronounce.

“There is none worthy of worship except God and Muhammad is His messenger”

The transliteration of the arabic is ‘la ilaha illa’Llah Muhammadun rasulu’Llah’

Sometimes the prefix ‘ashadu an’ – I bear witness that, is added.

This declaration recognises the fundamental belief in ONE God. The significance of this is the belief that the only purpose of life is to serve and obey God. This is achieved through following the guidance in the Qur’an sent down to Prophet Muhammad, His final messenger and the example the Prophet set in the way he followed that guidance and lived his life (the Sunnah).

Reciting this statement with the knowledge of what it means and with sincerity of belief is all that is needed to become a Muslim.

Salah (Prayer)

Salah is the name for the formal prayers that are performed by Muslims. These are a direct link between the worshipper and God. There is no hierarchical authority in Islam; there is no need for another person to intercede between the believer and God.

A Muslim must perform obligatory prayers five times a day. These five daily prayers are considered to be one of the most important pillars in Islam and every good Muslim strives to say their prayers regularly and on time. Children are encouraged to pray, although it is not obligatory until puberty is reached.

Purpose of Prayer

The reason we pray is quite simple – because God has asked us to!

The prayer plays a central role in a Muslim’s daily life. It is not a mere recitation of God’s words, rather it is a reflection within one’s self to reach out to the Creator. Every limb, every emotion, every element of the senses are focused on this journey towards God.

The preparation and performance of the prayer is physically, mentally and spiritually uplifting for a Muslim. It allows one to forget worldly concerns and focus on praising and worshipping God alone. It serves as a constant reminder to be good, refrain from wrong and moral deviancy In the Qur’an it is stated that:

“…Without a doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find contentment.” (Surah Ar Rad, Chapter 13, Verse 28)

Prayer Times

Prayers are set at certain times throughout the day:

Fajr: the dawn prayer, just before sunrise
Zuhr: the midday prayer
Asr: the late-afternoon prayer
Maghrib: the prayer just after sunset
Esha: the prayer at nightfall

The prayer consists of reading selected verses from the Qur’an, that are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation, but personal supplication (dua) can be offered in one’s own language.

Personal note:

For many in Britain trying to incorporate the five daily prayers in a normal working day is a jihad (struggle). It is not always easy to find a place to pray or a five minute break. Some also feel they will be discriminated against if they openly express their faith which is understandable in light of recent events. It is such a shame that a few individuals can cause repercussions for so many in such different ways. Britain has always been known for its ability and willingness to welcome and embrace people of different faiths and culture and to accommodate their needs. It will be a sad day when any group in British society feels marginalised due to the misguided actions of a few.

Adhan (The Call to Prayer)

Before the five required daily prayers, a person known as the muezzin calls the worshipers to prayer from the minaret – the highest part of the mosque. This call to prayer can be heard 5 times a day in Muslim countries; you will have experienced the unforgettable early morning call if you have visited countries with a Muslim majority such as Malaysia, Turkey or Egypt.

A translation of the Call to Prayer is:

God is most great. God is most great.
God is most great. God is most great.

I testify that there is no god except God.
I testify that there is no god except God.

I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.

Come to prayer! Come to prayer!

Come to success (in this life and the Hereafter)!
Come to success!

God is most great. God is most great.
There is no god except God.

Wudu (Ablution)

This is the Islamic act of washing certain parts of the body using water. Muslims are required to perform wudu in preparation for the daily prayers. Most mosques have washing facilities.

It is not only a physical act that cleanses the body but it is the very beginning stage of purifying one’s soul to commune with the Almighty.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said ‘cleanliness is half of faith’.

Performance of Prayer

The physical act of worship follows a set pattern along with specific supplications and verses from the Qur’an which are read in each position.

The salah must be performed with sincere devotion, otherwise it could be considered invalid. It is performed facing the direction of the Ka’bah in Makkah.

The Ka’bah is the place of worship which God commanded Prophet Abraham (pbuh) and his son Ishmael, to build over 4000 years ago. The structure itself has been re-built several times but it is the importance placed on the site, rather than the Ka’bah itself, which renders it as the holiest site for Muslims.

Don’t forget, there are over 1 billion Muslims all over the world, who will all be reciting the same prayer which has remained unchanged for 1400 years, in the same direction all through the day – can you imagine how incredible that is!

Praying in a Mosque

A mosque is any place specifically dedicated to the worship of God. The english word mosque is derived from its arabic equivalent, masjid, which means place of prostration.

The mosque provides a place to pray in congregation which is preferable although not obligatory (except for Friday Prayer). To be praying in unison, as one body, reminds us that we are all equal in the eyes of God and here to serve one purpose alone – that is to worship Him. It is only our actions that will be used to differentiate between us in the Hereafter; not our social standing or worldly belongings.

Although the main function of the mosque is as a place of prayer, it can also act as a local community centre where educational and charity events, youth activities, Qur’anic lessons and interfaith dialogues often take place.

Individuals who cannot pray at a mosque may pray individually or together with family/friends or colleagues at home or at work. The only requirement is that the surface on which one prays must be clean.

Jummah (Friday prayer)

Friday is observed as the day on which the major congregational sermon and prayer take place. It is the only prayer which is an obligation for men (and is recommended for women) to perform in congregation.

It was originally used as a time for interaction and consultation between the representatives of the Muslim state and the citizens. Now it is led by the Imam of the mosque – that is a person who is learned and knowledgeable about Islam.

The Khutbah (Sermon)

• Is used to talk about issues affecting the local community and recite sections of the Qur’an and the Hadith.
• It can be in any language. Most of the Imam’s in Britain are multilingual and they will often interchange between arabic, english and another language which usually reflects the type of people in the congregation.

After the Khutbah the Imam then leads everyone in prayer – this is offered in place of the Zuhr (midday) prayer

Architecture of Mosques

In Britain, mosques vary in size from tiny storefronts serving a handful of worshippers, to large Islamic centres that can accommodate thousands.

The basic requirement is that it is a clean area. There doesn’t even need to be a building, four stones defining the area would be enough.

Generally mosques are a place of elaborate decoration and architectural beauty. Instead of images, mosques will have intricate Arabic calligraphy, arabesque and verses from the Qur’an to assist worshippers in focusing on the beauty of Islam and the Qur’an, as well as for decoration. As in a saying of the Prophet (pbuh), “ Indeed, Allah is Beautiful, and He loves beauty”.

A mosque may have:
A prayer hall. This contains no images of people, animals or spiritual figures as Muslims in prayer are supposed to be focusing on Allah alone. This is also the reason why men and women have separate prayer areas – we are only human and it is best to avoid the possible distraction the opposite sex may cause!

A mihrab (niche). This indicates the direction of the Ka’bah and is where the imam stands to lead the congregation. It is often decorated with arabic calligraphy. Its curved shape helps reflect the voice of the imam back towards the congregation when he is leading them in prayer.

A minbar (pulpit). This is used during the Friday prayer to deliver the sermon from.

A minaret: This is a common feature in mosques. The minaret is a tall, slender tower that is usually situated at one of the corners of the mosque structure. The top of the minaret is always the highest point in mosques that have one and is therefore used for the call to prayer.
A dome: These are often placed directly above the main prayer hall and may signify the vaults of heaven and the sky. Some mosques will have multiple domes in addition to the main large dome that resides at the centre. The intricate design and proportions of the domes enhances the acoustics of the building such that in the large mosques of the Muslim world, such as those of Istanbul, Egypt, there was not a need for any loudspeakers to reach the tens of thousands of worshippers!

Most mosques will also have a library containing a selection of works on Islamic philosophy, theology and law, as well as collections of the traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and copies of the Qur’an translated in several different languages. Mosques in the Muslim world often had schools annexed to them, as well as sleeping quarters for the students, hospitals, and other services that formed part of the mosque complex.

Rules and Etiquette

Cleanliness – This is an essential part of the worshipper’s experience. Even those who enter the prayer hall of a mosque without the intention of praying, including visitors, must be clean and remove their shoes although they are not required to perform wudu.
Dress – Islam requires that its followers wear clothes that portray modesty. Men and women should always dress conservatively, covering their arms and legs. Women may be asked to cover their hair. Many mosques have scarves at hand for visitors to borrow, but it is better to bring a head covering in case none are available.
Quiet – As mosques are places of worship and meditation, loud talking within the prayer area is avoided.

Visiting a mosque Mosques in Britain welcome and encourage visitors.

Tours can be arranged at most facilities.

Why not visit::

Islamic Cultural Centre & London Central Mosque at 146 Park Road, London, NW8 7RG.
Tel: 020 7724 3363
www.iccuk.org

London Muslim Centre at 46-92 Whitechapel Rd London E1 1JX
Tel: 020 7650 3000
www.londonmuslimcenter.org.uk

Give them a call and arrange a visit with some friends!

Zakah (Charity)

The word zakah means both “purification” and “growth.” An important principle of Islam is that everything belongs to God and that wealth is therefore held by human beings as a trust. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for the poor and needy. Like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth.

Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakah individually. This involves the annual payment of 2.5% of their wealth to specified categories in society, when ones annual wealth exceeds a minimum level; this excludes items such as primary residence, car and professional tools.

The giving of 2.5 % of ones wealth as zakah is a financial obligation upon Muslims. It is the minimum required. Anyone wishing to donate outside of this amount is encouraged to do so.

Sadaqah is the Arabic term for voluntary charity. The Prophet said, “Even meeting your brother with a cheerful face is an act of charity.”

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Charity is prescribed for each descendant of Adam every day the sun rises.” He was then asked: “From what do we give charity every day?” The Prophet answered: “The doors of goodness are many…enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms-all of these are charity prescribed for you.”

Sawm (Fasting)

Every year in the month of Ramadhan Muslims all around the world refrain from food and drink during daylight hours.

God states in the Qur’an:

“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may achieve God consciousness.” (Surah Al Baqarah, Chapter 2 Verse 183)

Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are menstruating, pregnant or nursing, are permitted not to fast but are to make up an equal number of days later in the year if they are healthy and able. Children begin to fast (and to observe prayers) from puberty, although many start earlier.

Ramadhan is used as a time of:

Reflection – By cutting oneself from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person gains true empathy with those who go hungry. This helps us recognise everything good we have in this life and how blessed we are, making us closer to our Creator.

Devotion – It is a time used to re-focus one’s self on the worship of Allah and one’s purpose in life. Muslims are encouraged to read the Qur’an and perform special prayers, called Taraweh, which are held in the mosques every night of the month. Over Ramadhan the whole of the Qur’an can be recited in these prayers.

Generosity – Remembrance of those who are less fortunate makes Muslims more generous and charitable during Ramadhan. As well as giving the obligatory Zakah people will often help needy neighbours, orphans, the elderly and the sick. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once said “A man’s wealth is never diminished by charity.”

Unity – during the month of Ramadhan people make a special effort to come together and break their fast. Sharing food with neighbours and eating together is a unifying experience. Attending congregational prayers also encourages interaction with fellow Muslims and neighbours.

Suhur

Just before dawn Muslims will wake up and have a meal before the start of the fast, this is known as suhur. Yes, that’s right – we wake up in the middle of our deep sleep for about 40-60 minutes and have either a healthy, high energy meal like porridge or a small feast. Some people just have a glass of water. The Prophet (pbuh) gave much merit to this meal. The meal is then followed by the fajr prayer. Most of us will then try and catch a little sleep before getting ready for school, university or work but some stay awake and read the Qur’an or just get an early start to the day.

Iftar

At sunset the adhan (call to prayer) will be made and Muslims break their fast. This is traditionally with 3 dates and water, although if you’re in a rush a chocolate bar will do. Muslims break their fast with the prayer, “O God, for You I fasted, and in You I believe, with Your provision I broke your fast”. After eating, Muslims say ‘Alhamdulillah’ (thanks be to God).It is common practice to open the fast, or have Iftar, with family and friends. These gatherings serve to strengthen the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood and bring the community closer together. After opening the fast Muslims will then pray Maghrib, the obligatory sunset prayer.

Taraweh

The final of the five daily prayers is said as night falls. A special lengthy prayer called Taraweh is said only during the month of Ramadan, after the night prayer. It is optional and characterized by long recitations of the Qur’an.

Lailat ul Qadr

Lailat ul Qadr (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. An entire chapter in the Qur’an deals with this night:

“We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power: and what will explain to you what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by God’s permission, on every errand. Peace! This until the rise of the morning” (Surah Al Qadr, Chapter 97)

Muslims believe Lailat ul Qadr is one of the last odd-numbered nights of Ramadan. This is a very special night when Muslims spend a lot of time praying and reciting Qur’an, hoping for much reward.

As you can see fasting is therefore not merely physical, but is rather the total commitment of the person’s body and soul to the spirit of the fast and is seen as a method of self-purification as well as self-restraint. We all hope that the feelings and lessons we experience during this special month stay with us throughout the year.

Muslims also fast at other times of the year to maintain the spiritual closeness to God and re-focus their heart and minds.

Eid ul Fitr

The Islamic festival of Eid ul Fitr marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadhan. Everyone puts on their best clothes and communal prayers are held in the early morning, followed by feasting and visiting relatives and friends.

Personal note:

Fasting in Britain is easier than fasting in areas where the climate is extremely hot. This year at least the number of daylight hours will be less than when Ramadhan occurs during the spring or summer. As the Islamic calendar is based on a lunar calendar Ramadan begins about eleven days earlier each year. We will therefore be enjoying long summer fasts in a couple of years; who said Muslims weren’t worried about global warming! (On a serious note we are – see environment section in ethical issues).

It is probably important to mention the difficulties one faces whilst working during Ramadhan. Lunchtime meetings are a true test of one’s self restraint, especially when the fresh cream cakes arrive! Some work places are very understanding and allow short breaks when the fast is about to open and let people to say their prayers in a corner of the office. It is really appreciated when colleagues give special consideration to those fasting by accommodating requests for flexible starting and finishing times at work or holiday requests.

I think I speak for most British Muslims when I say one of the most frequently asked questions is whether or not we lose weight. The usual answer is unfortunately no. Whilst some do, the majority find that the large iftars with family and friends lead to an abundance of a variety of sweets which are too good to resist

Hajj (Pilgrimage)

The pilgrimage to Makkah is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to do so. Over two million people go to Makkah each year from every corner of the globe, providing a unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet one another.

It really is an incredible sight; people of every colour and creed prostrate to Allah as one body, asking for His forgiveness and praising Him. Each person present knows that millions of their Muslim counterparts are also prostrating towards the Ka’bah, five times, a day everyday; here you only need to look up to see it! It’s an exhilarating, humbling and emotional experience.

The annual hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar, not solar, so that Hajj and Ramadhan fall in different seasons).

Upon arrival in Makkah, the pilgrim performs a series of ritual acts over the next few days which are symbolic of the lives of the Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim), his wife Hagar (Hajar) and their son Ishmael (Ismail), peace be upon them. The close of Hajj is celebrated with a holiday known as the Eid ul Adha or the Festival of Sacrifice. This festival celebrates Prophet Abrahams (pbuh) willingness to sacrifice his son, as God had commanded, as a sign of his devotion. Once Prophet Abraham (pbuh) had demonstrated his devotion, God stopped him from sacrificing his son and told him to sacrifice a sheep instead. Muslims everywhere arrange for a sheep to be slaughtered (except those brave enough to do it themselves). The meat is then distributed to the poor and the celebrations begin!

Pilgrims can also go to Makkah to perform some of the rituals at other times of the year. This is called the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage). However, even if they perform the Umrah, they are still obligated to perform the Hajj at some other point in their lifetime.

Preparation

During the Hajj, male pilgrims are required to dress only in a garment consisting of two sheets of white unhemmed cloth. Women are simply required to maintain their hijab and normal modest dress, which does not cover the hands or face. These simple garments, known as the Ihram clothing, strip away distinctions of class and culture, symbolising the fact that all stand equal before Allah whether prince or pauper. They also symbolise leaving away worldly possessions and concerns and remembering human fragility and their return to God. Pilgrims generally travel to Hajj in groups.

While the pilgrim is wearing the Ihram, they cannot shave, cut their nails, or wear perfume. They may not swear or quarrel, kill any living thing (even an insect) or engage in sexual intercourse.

Rites

Day 1
Tawaf
This consists of walking counter-clockwise around the Ka’bah seven times. The Ka’bah is the holiest place for Muslims and it is the direction in which all Muslims turn towards when praying, no matter where in the world they are. It is believed to be have been first built by Prophet Adam as a place to worship Allah and then re-built by Prophet Abraham and his son Ismail peace be upon them.

Sa’y

The next step of the pilgrimage involves running or walking seven times back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah.

This is a re-enactment of Hajar’s frantic search for water when she was left in the valley of Makkah, a dry and inhabited place, with her son Ismail by Prophet Ibrahim peace be upon them. He was commanded to do so by God and he left them there with a heavy heart and with some supplies of food and water. The supplies did not last very long and soon ran out leaving Hajar and Ismail hungry and dehydrated.

In her desperation Hajar ran up and down two hills called Safa and Marwa – looking for help. Finally she collapsed beside Ismail and prayed to Allah.

Ismail struck his foot on the ground and this caused a spring of water to gush forth from the earth. Hajar and Ismail were saved! Now they had a secure water supply in the middle of this arid land which they were then able to trade with passing nomads.

The well is still flowing with the same Zamzam water and pilgrims will drink from it after completing taqaf. It is this very water that turned the desolate area into a thriving city where millions now go on pilgrimage. Pilgrims now make their way to Mina, where they perform some prayers.

Day 2
Arafat

On the second day pilgrims make their way from Mina to Mount Arafat. No specific rituals or prayers are said here (apart from the usual midday and afternoon prayer); the pilgrims just stand together on the wide plains of Arafat in the dry heat, praying and contemplating until sunset. This day is considered the greatest day of the Hajj, and pilgrims pray earnestly for acceptance of their Hajj, forgiveness of their past sins and God’s mercy and guidance. Other Muslims around the world who are not taking part in Hajj commemorate this day through fasting and supplication.

Muzdalifah

As soon as the sun sets, the pilgrims leave Arafat for Muzdalifah, a valley between Arafat and Mina, where pebbles are gathered for the next day’s ritual, Ramy al-Jamarat, in a place called Mina. Pilgrims pray the sunset and night prayers here and spend the night sleeping on the ground, in the open.

Day 3
Ramy al Jamarat

Back at Mina, the pilgrims perform Ramy al Jamarat or casting of the stones.

Throwing small pebbles at stone pillars symbolises Prophet Abraham’s (pbuh) rejection of Satan’s whispers and temptations when he tried to dissuade him from sacrificing his son as God had commanded, and marks the pilgrims’ own determination to obey God’s commands and resist temptation.

Eid ul Adha

The close of the hajj is marked by a festival, Eid al Adha, with the traditional sacrifice of a sheep (the meat being distributed to the poor) and prayers said. Pilgrims are then free to leave their state of ihram, cut or shave their hair and change back into normal clothes. They perform Tawaf around the Kabah and Sa’y again on this day. They then spend 2 to 3 days back at Mina, where they spend the days in meditation and supplication, performing the casting of the stones ritual on each day. Finally the pilgrims perform a final “farewell tawaf” earnestly praying that God has accepted their Hajj, for the reward of an accepted pilgrimage is to return free of all past wrongdoing, and Paradise in the Hereafter.