Learning Islam seeks to explain Muslim practice and behaviour in a practical sense, both for non-Muslims who want to know about Islam and also for those people who have become Muslim by converting to Islam.
We hope to provide new Muslims with a good basic understanding of the practice of Islam and to provide learning resources that will help them to learn the prayers and other things they will need to know as they begin living as a Muslim.
The Five Pillars of Islam
There are five main obligatory acts of worship which Muslims should perform – these are often known as the Five Pillars of Islam.
The first pillar of Islam is the Shahadah. This is the Muslim statement of faith :-
“There is no god except Allah, Muhammad is the servant and messenger of Allah”
Anyone who testifies to this and believes it in their heart is a Muslim.
Someone who wishes to become a Muslim and enter Islam must make this declaration with sincerity and understanding of the step they are taking. Muslims repeat this statement in each of the daily prayers they perform.
To find out more about taking the Shahadah and a guide on how to say the Shahadah, please click on Shahadah at the top of this page or click on this link shahadah
The second Pillar of Islam is salah or prayer.
Salah is the ritual five-times-a-day-prayer. It is a formalised act of praise and worship as distinct from a personal supplication to God or from asking God for His help.
Salah comprises a set combination of standing, reciting verses of the Qur’an, bowing, kneeling, prostrating and sitting – all done whilst facing the direction of the ka’aba in Makkah.
Before you can perform salah, you must have performed a ritual washing. This is called Wudu and involves washing the hands, mouth, face, arms, head, ears and feet. Please click on Wudu in the top menu bar of this page or click on this link wudu to see how to purify yourself for salah.
Each of the five daily prayers must be performed during a specific time period of the day. These periods of the day are fixed in relation to sunrise, noon and sunset.
- Fajr – from first light i.e. the crack of dawn, to sunrise
- Dhuhr – from shortly after noon to mid-afternoon
- Asr – from mid-afternoon to about 15 minutes before sunset
- Maghrib – from directly after sunset until the end of twilight – but should be prayed straight after sunset where possible
- Isha – from the end of twilight until the start of first light, before Fajr. It should be prayed before midnight where possible.
There are other prayers which can be performed in addition to these five obligatory daily salah. A more comprehensive description of the five daily prayers plus the other prayers you can perform, can be found on our prayers page. Click on the Prayers menu link at the top of the screen or click on this link Prayers.
If you want to learn how to pray the daily prayers in Islam, an instruction guide on how to pray can be found on our How to Pray page. Click on How to Pray at the top of this page or click on this link How to Pray.
At the bottom of the How to Pray page, you will find a number of instructional videos which will help you to learn how to perform Salah.
The third Pillar of Islam is fasting – it is an obligation on all Muslims who are able to fast in the month of Ramadan. The daily routine of fasting involves awaking before first light in order to have some breakfast, then fasting without taking food or water from dawn until immediately after sunset. At sunset you can break your fast and have some food and water.
Ramadan lasts for 30 days and you will fast on each of the days of Ramadan.
In addition to fasting, it is highly recommended that Muslims read and recite as much of the Qur’an as they can during Ramadan. They will also try to stay away from anything that is disliked in Islam e.g. swearing, gossiping, being unkind. They should also increase the performing of good works during Ramadan, such as being kind to people or giving to charity.
n.b. fasting during Ramadan does not apply to anyone who is unwell, women who are menstruating or pregnant or suckling, travellers, young children and those in old age. Those who are exempt from fasting due to temporary conditions must make up any missed fasts but those who have a long-term condition may give money to feed the poor instead of fasting.
Muslims also fast on other days of the year apart from Ramadan. Fasting is encouraged in Islam as a way of bringing you closer to God and because it helps you in controlling your own desires. Some Muslims will fast on Mondays and on Thursdays because this is something that the Prophet Muhammad used to do.
The fourth Pillar of Islam is the giving of zakat. Once every year, each Muslim who owns more than a certain amount of wealth above their routine needs, must pay 2.5 % of their excess wealth as zakat.
The money must be distributed to those in need, those who have insufficient means to be assured of their next meal or who have no water to drink.
This giving of money in charity is seen as a means of purifying your wealth.
The giving of zakat is purely a private matter between each believer and God. It is a matter of individual conscience and no-one else knows what you have given in charity or to whom you have given it to.
Many Muslims will pay their zakat during the month of Ramadan. This is because any good act in Ramadan is deemed to be many more times virtuous than at other times. Zakat can be given at any time of the year, however. It is the decision of each Muslim when they will pay their zakat.
The fifth Pillar of Islam is hajj, the pilgrimage to Makkah.
Each Muslim who has the financial means to do so, and who is physically capable to perform the journey, must perform hajj at least once in their lifetime.
Hajj is a traditional pilgrimage that goes back to the time of the Prophet Abraham. The Prophet Muhammad and his Companions performed hajj and all Muslims have been commanded to perform hajj if they can.
Hajj takes place during the Islamic month of Dhul-Hijjah, which comes two months after Ramadan.
Pilgrimages to Makkah can also be made at other times and these lesser pilgrimages are called Umrah.
Any visit to Makkah for hajj or umrah entails performing ancient rituals such as the wearing of ihram. For men this means wearing just two simple unstitched cloths to cover the body.
Another ritual that takes place during hajj and umrah is the circumambulating the ka’aba – walking seven times around the black cloth shrouded masjid, first built by the Prophet Abraham and his son.
Once men have completed hajj or umrah, they will have their heads shaved. Women will have a lock of their hair cut off.
May Allah – the Almighty, the Absolute, the Eternal – guide you always on the straight path to Him.