Primary History

British History: Muslim Prayer Compass

  • Muslim Prayer Compass

    This prayer compass is a contemporary object exhibited at the Museum of Welsh Life in St Fagans, and it is one of the first Muslim objects the museum collected.

    Members of different faith communities across Wales were invited to donate objects to St Fagans and to share stories to represent their religion.

    This prayer compass was chosen by Najma Ali, a young girl from Swansea. She believed that it was a very important object in her everyday life as a Muslim in Wales.

    In the past, the collections at St Fagans did not reflect the diverse religions that exist in Wales today, and it was decided that more diverse objects needed to be collected, which represented many different religions.

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  • Towards Mecca...

    Praying is an extremely important act for Muslims, and is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which is the framework that all Muslims must follow in order to live a good and responsible life according to their faith.

    In completing the Salah (the 'prayer' part of the Five Pillars of Islam), every Muslim must pray to Allah (God) at specific times five times a day. They can pray anywhere, as long as the place is clean. If they do not pray in the mosque (the Muslim's place of worship), they use a special prayer mat to create a temporary place to pray.

    When they pray Muslims must face the direction of the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and especially the Ka'bah, the holy shrine in the city centre. This direction is called quibla. To help them to face in the right direction when praying in the mosque, there is a type of alcove called mirab in one of the walls of the prayer hall, showing the direction of Mecca.

    If a Muslim prays on a prayer mat outside the walls of the mosque, a special little compass is kept in a small pocket on the back of the mat, to help the Muslim to find the direction of Mecca before praying. The compass is specially programmed to find the direction of Mecca. A mobile compass is also available and a small booklet giving the direction of Mecca from different parts of the world in a small wallet - similar to the one that can be seen in the Museum of Welsh Life in St Fagans.

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  • Islam

    Muslims follow the religion of Islam. The word 'Islam' means 'peace'. Islam began in Saudi Arabia and this is the main religion of countries in the Middle East, North Africa and large parts of Asia today. In those countries, it is said that more than half the population follow Islam.

    The country with the highest percentage of Muslims is Indonesia, but a large number of Muslims also live in other countries across the world - around 3 million in the USA, around 1.5 million in Britain and around 220,000 in Australia. It is said that more than 1.2 billion of the world's population is now Muslim. Islam is the second largest religion in the world after Christianity, and it is thought that it is the fastest growing religion in terms of its popularity.

    Muslims believe that there is only one God. In Arabic, he is called Allah. Allah had messengers, or prophets - among them were Abraham, Moses, Noah, Jesus and Muhammad. Their work was to teach people how to live by giving them messages from Allah.

    The holy book of Islam is called the Qur'an. It contains Allah's word as it was spoken to the prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel. The Qur'an is written in Arabic, and to Muslims, it is the most important book in the world.

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  • Muslims in Britain and Wales

    Muslim communities have lived in Wales for over 150 years, and it is thought that the first mosque in Britain was established in 2, Glynrhondda Street, Cardiff in 1860.

    As the busy international trading ports of south Wales grew during the 19th century a large number of Muslim sailors from Yemen, Somalia and Bangladesh came into the country and settled in the dockland areas of Cardiff, Newport and Swansea.

    Because of the role of the port of Cardiff as the largest coal export port in the world at one time, it is no surprise that many Muslims settled in the capital during the 19th and 20th century, and naturally they needed places to worship.

    By 1947 the Peel Street Mosque, Wales and Cardiff’s first purpose built mosque, was opened. Following this period there was an influx of Muslim immigrants into Wales from Commonwealth countries that had fought for Britain during the Second World War.

    Today, there are almost 40 mosques and Islamic centres across Wales and it is thought that 30,000 Muslims now live here. The majority are Muslims from Pakistan who have settled mainly in Cardiff and Newport. Islam is now the second most popular religion in Britain and Wales after Christianity.

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