Shahadah

The Shahadah is the declaration of faith or the key statement of belief of Muslims. Muslims are expected to know the declaration of faith.

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For Sunni Muslims the Shahadah is: "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah." Shi’a Muslims add an extra phrase to the Shahadah: "And Ali is the friend of God." This shows their belief that Ali, Muhammad’s cousin, was the true successor of Muhammad.

The Shahadah is usually said a few times each day. It is said at birth as the first words a baby hears, and Muslims aim for these to be the last words they say before death. The Shahadah forms the foundation of the other four pillars.

A non-Muslim can convert to Islam by saying the Shahadah and meaning it sincerely.

Salah

Infographic showing the names of the Salah, the five different daily prayers, and at which time of day they should be performed.

The Salah are the five daily prayers, which can be done anywhere. Each of the prayers is performed at a specific time of day:

  • Fajr - just before sunrise
  • Zuhr - just after midday
  • Asr - late afternoon
  • Maghrib - just after sunset
  • Isha - between sunset and midnight
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Each prayer cycle or rak’ah includes saying “Allahu akbar”, which means “God is great”, multiple times as well as reciting the first surah of the Qur’an.
Infographic depicting the different stages of prayer in the rak'ah.

At the mosque, men and women pray in separate rooms while performing a series of movements in a sequence. This involves bowing and kneeling as well as prostration and reciting praises to God.

Salah encourages self-discipline and keeps Muslims in close contact with Allah. It is a sign of solidarity with all other Muslims and it shows that everyone is equal in their worship of God.

Preparing for prayer

A compass may be used on a prayer mat to help Muslims face the direction of Makkah (Mecca)

Before praying, Muslims prepare by performing an important set of actions so that all of their focus can be on God:

  1. They perform a washing ritual (Wudu) so that they are spiritually clean. Mosques have washrooms where this washing can be performed. The ritual involves washing faces, hands and feet under running water. If water is not available, sand or dust can be used. This is seen as a sign of spiritual washing.
  2. They face the city of Makkah. In a mosque, the mihrab marks the direction of prayer. If a person is praying outside a mosque, a compass on a prayer mat can be used.
  3. Niyyah - a conscious intention to pray. Prayer starts with a declaration of niyyah, showing that the worshipper is making an intentional effort to set time aside to communicate with God.

Differences between Sunni and Shi’a practices

Sunni Muslims only combine the five daily prayers if they have a good reason to, for example if they are travelling.

Shi'a Muslims have more freedom to combine certain prayers, such as the midday and afternoon prayers. Therefore they may only pray three times a day.

Shi’a Muslims also often use natural elements when praying. For example, some place a piece of clay at the spot where their head will rest.

The movements that Sunni and Shi’a Muslims make during prayer can also differ.

Jummah

Jummah refers to communal prayers held on a Friday just after noon at a mosque. Getting together is meant to develop the feeling of unity among the Muslim community.

The imam gives two sermons and a series of rak’ahs is performed. Men are obliged to go to Jummah unless they are ill or too old to attend. Women do not have to go to Jummah and instead may choose to pray at home.

Question

If no water is available, what can Muslims use to perform ritual washing before they pray?

Sand or dust.