Islam is an Arabic word which means ‘surrender’. This means to accept the power of Allah, and follow His Commands. Happiness in this life and success in the life after death can only be obtained by obeying Allah.
Islam is not just a religion, but a complete way of life. This means that it shows us how to live all aspects of our lives in the best possible way.
There are five pillars on which Islam stands, they are:
- Shahadah: bearing witness that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is His messenger.
- Salah: performing the compulsory prayers.
- Zakah: paying a portion of wealth for the poor and needy.
- Sawm: fasting in the month of Ramadan.
- Hajj: undertaking the Pilgrimage to Makkah at the set time (if one has the means).
The first pillar is recognition that God alone is worthy of worship, that He is One, that He has no partner nor associate, that He was not born nor will He die, that Sovereignty belongs only to him, and that the way to worship him is by following the example of Muhammad (peace be upon him).
A person who accepts Islam is called a Muslim. It means ‘one who surrenders.’ A Muslim is required to do all that Allah and His Messenger (pbuh) have asked of them, and to keep away from doing things which Allah and His Messenger (pbuh) have told not to do.
Allah and His Messenger (pbuh) have told us to do good deeds, like being dutiful to our parents, helping others who are less fortunate and to be kind to animals.
(Truly, the religion with Allah, is Islam – Al-Imran, 3:19)
Salat is the obligatory Muslim prayers, performed five times each day by Muslims. It is the second Pillar of Islam, is a form of prayer which must be performed in a prescribed manner, and at particular times. It takes the form of standing, bowing, prostrating and sitting in a given sequence, whilst reciting the words of the prayer in Arabic. Muslims must normally prayer at five specific times each day, preceded by a ritual washing known as Wudu. All Muslims try to do this. Muslim children as young as seven are encouraged to pray
“Recite, what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do.”
The Qur’an, chapter 29, verse 45
The compulsory prayer at five set times of day:
Salat al-fajr: dawn, before sunrise
Salat al-zuhr: midday, after the sun passes its highest
Salat al-‘asr: the late part of the afternoon
Salat al-maghrib: just after sunset
Salat al-‘isha: between sunset and midnight
Praying in the mosque
People can prayer wherever is convenient, so long as it is clean. This can be at home, or where you work. For men, it is preferred they make the effort to pray in congregation at their local mosque. This is why most mosques are open for the five daily prayers – you can find out more about congregational prayers and facilities at the Essex Jamme Masjid here.
The midday prayer on Friday is special, and follows a sermon given by the Imam. It is compulsory for men to attend, but optional for women.
There are special prayers at other times, like on each of the two Eid mornings, when the whole family is encouraged to go to prayer.
Prayers more familiar to other religions are the supplications a Muslim makes to God – known as Dua. These can be your own words, or some of the beautiful supplications mentioned in the Qur’an or made by Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
There are so many benefits in performing regular prayers. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said, “If there was a river at your door and you took a bath in it five times a day, would you notice any dirt on you?” They said, “Not a trace of dirt would be left.” The Prophet said, “That is the parable of the five prayers by which Allah removes sins.”
Muslims must be clean before they pray. They make sure of this by performing ritual washing, called wudhu. Mosques have washing facilities.
Zakah (Charity) in Islam
Zakat is the compulsory giving of a set proportion of one’s wealth to charity. It is regarded as a type of worship and of self-purification. Zakat is the third Pillar of Islam
Zakah is not an option it is a compulsory act for all Muslims. It is a contribution paid once a year on savings of 2.5%. This giving is to “cleanse” your money and possessions from excessive desire for them or greed. The idea is, that by giving this money you learn not to place too much importance on material wealth (cash and possessions).
Zakah is a compulsory payment and is neither charity nor a tax. It is expected from every Muslim individual. It is paid on the net balance after a Muslim has spent on basic necessities, family expenses, due credits, donations and taxes.
Zakah provides Muslims with the opportunity of sharing their excess wealth with those less fortunate.
“The alms [Zakah] are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free the captives and the debtors, and for the cause of Allah, and (for) the wayfarer; a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is Knower, Wise.”
The Qur’an, chapter 9, verse 60
Fasting in Ramadan
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is the fourth pillars of Islam. It is obligatory upon every sane, healthy Muslim whose reached puberty and is not travelling during the time of fasting. As for women, they must not fast if they are menstruating or having post-childbirth bleeding. Fasting is optional at other times. Muslims fast by abstaining from food, drink and sexual relations from dawn to sunset.
Allah ﷻ says in the Qur’an what may be interpreted as, “O’ you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may achieve Taqwaa (righteousness, God-fearing).” [Surat Al-Baqarah, verse 183]
The prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Whoever observes the fast during the month of Ramadan, (while) believing in Allaah and seeking His rewards, will have his past sins forgiven.” [Reported by Imaams Bukhaari, Muslim and others]
There are many benefits to fasting, as it also requires us to make the effort to give up bad habits, such as harsh speech, and to think about the food we eat. It is a time to become more conscious of our Creator, and to try and become a better person.
Hajj in Islam
Hajj, the fifth of the pillars of Islam, is compulsory for those able to undertake this pilgrimage to Makkah. It is at a set time each year, in the Islamic month of Hajj, and brings together about 3 million Muslims to this holy sanctuary.
It is a ritual that is designed to promote the bonds of Islamic brotherhood and sisterhood by showing that everyone is equal in the eyes of Allah.
The Hajj makes Muslims feel real importance of life here on earth, and the afterlife, by stripping away all markers of social status, wealth, and pride. In the Hajj all are truly equal.
The Hajjis or pilgrims wear simple white clothes called Ihram. During the Hajj the Pilgrims perform acts of worship and they renew their sense of purpose in the world.
History of the Hajj
Four thousand years ago the valley of Mecca was a dry and uninhabited place.
Muslims believe the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) was instructed to bring his wife, Hajira (Hagar) and their child Is’mail to Arabia from Palestine to protect them from the jealousy of Ibrahim’s first wife Sarah.
Allah told the Prophet Ibrahim to leave them on their own, and he did so, with some supplies of food and water. However the supplies quickly ran out and within a few days Hajira and Is’mail were suffering from hunger and dehydration.
In her desperation Hajira ran up and down two hills called Safa and Marwa trying to see if she could spot any help in the distance. Finally she collapsed beside Is’mail and prayed to Allah for deliverance.
Is’mail struck his foot on the ground and this caused a spring of water to gush forth from the earth. Hajira and Is’mail were saved. Now they had a secure water supply they were able to trade water with passing nomads for food and supplies.
After a while the Prophet Ibrahim returned from Palestine to check on his family and was amazed to see them running a profitable well.
The Prophet Ibrahim was told by Allah to build a shrine dedicated to him. Ibrahim and Is’mail constructed a small stone structure – the Kaaba or Cube – which was to be the gathering place for all who wished to strengthen their faith in Allah.
As the years passed Is’mail was blessed with Prophethood and he gave the nomads of the desert the message of surrender to Allah.
After many centuries, Mecca became a thriving city thanks to its reliable water source, the well of Zam Zam.
Gradually, the people began to adopt polytheistic ideas, and worship spirits and many different gods. The shrine of the Prophet Ibrahim was used to store idols.
After many years, Allah told the Prophet Muhammed that he should restore the Kaaba to the worship of Allah only.
In the year 628 the Prophet Muhammed set out on a journey with 1400 of his followers. This was the first pilgrimage in Islam, and would re-establish the religious traditions of the Prophet Ibrahim.
Who is Muhammad?
Islam teaches that Muhammad’s role as the final and last prophet and messenger of God was to confirm the authentic teachings of previous prophets and to rectify mistakes or innovations that followers of previous monotheistic faith traditions had introduced into the original religion of humankind. Muhammad is also viewed as the conduit for the completion of God’s guidance to humanity; the scope of his mission is seen as encompassing all people, rather than a specific region, group or community. Furthermore, his life serves as a perfect model of how to practice Islam fully.
“And We have not sent thee (O Muhammad) save as a bringer of good tidings and a warner unto all mankind; but most of mankind know not” (Quran 34:28) –
Essentially, Muslims view Islam not as a “new” religion, since it embodies the same message and guidance that God revealed to all His messengers, but rather a reestablishment of the “primordial” religion of humankind, centred around recognising God’s Oneness and adhering to His commands. The view of Islam as having achieved its final form through the scripture given to Muhammad and his own teachings is an important aspect of faith. Consequently, Muhammad is considered the final messenger of God, the “Seal” of the Prophets. Any claimants to prophet hood after Muhammad, who died in 632 C.E., are not accepted by Muslims.
“Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets; and Allah is Aware of all things” (Quran 33:40)