Islam: the five pillars

This week the faith column is devoted to Islam beginning with a brief overview of the religion

Islam is one of the great Abrahamic religions of the world with over 1.3 billion followers. Islam - whilst the culmination and clarification of the divine message that came before it - historically begins in 610 CE with the revelation of God’s words to the Prophet Muhammed over a 23 year period. The revealed words form the sacred book, the Qur’an. Taken alongside the life example (sirah) of the Prophet they form the fundamental sources of Islam.

The Qur’an describes itself as a guidance and a message for all of mankind, urging its readers to observe, ponder and ask questions of life and universe. The Qur’an stresses knowledge and reason as the valid ways to attain closeness to God. Interestingly, it contains very few legal injunctions.

To become a Muslim is extremely straight forward. It consists of making the following two-part declaration (shahadah) freely and sincerely: "There is no god but God; and Muhammed is the messenger of God". A rejection of false deities and affirming belief in the One God; and that the Prophet Muhammed is the great exemplar of how to attain God-consciousness.

The Qur’an specifically names 25 other Prophets including Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. It states that all nations have been sent a messenger. Muslims are required to give equal respect to all of God’s Prophets.

There are five "pillars" or fundamentals of Islam. The first is the declaration or shahadah (described above).

The second is prayer (salat), adult Muslims are required to pray at five different times during the day, and wherever possible in congregation led by an imam, as a way to remember God during one’s busy daily routine. Anyone can be an imam and lead the congregational prayers subject to some basic knowledge of Islam. Prayers can be performed anywhere that is clean. Prayers consist of reciting verses from the Qur’an and a pattern of movements established by the Prophet.

The mid-day prayer on Friday is compulsory to do in congregation, bringing the entire Muslim community together for worship and social interaction. Prayers are performed in the direction of the Sacred Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, which houses the Ka’aba, the large cubed stone structure covered with black cloth. Originally established by God through Adam as the first place of worship for mankind, it was lost through the passage of time. The Ka'aba was re-built under Divine instructions by Abraham, and later cleansed of false gods by Muhammed. The Ka’aba symbolises the simplicity, unity and common sense of purpose of all Muslims.

The third pillar is fasting (sawm) for healthy adults during the hours of daylight during Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Fasting is a spiritual and physical discipline teaching self-control and empathy with those less fortunate in the world. Muslims are required to make greater efforts in charity, worship and spreading of peace during the month. Ramadan ends with the celebratory day of Eid al-Fitr.

The fourth pillar is the religious alms (zakat) which is the giving of 2.5% of one’s annual savings. Zakah means to purify; to purify one’s wealth by giving a proportion to the poor and for general welfare of the community. Zakat instils a sense of concern and welfare.

The fifth and final pillar is the pilgrimage (hajj) to Makkah, an obligatory once in a lifetime journey for those who are physically and financially able to do so. (People are free to go more than once). Considered the supreme spiritual experience of a Muslim’s life where God has promised the cleansing of all sins for the sincere repentant. With the availability of cheap flights, travelling to Makkah is no longer as arduous as it once was. Millions flock there every year making it the largest gathering of people anywhere in the world. Hajj ends with the celebratory day of Eid al-Adha.

Described as the five “pillars”, they provide the support structure upon which the Muslim character and society is based.

Asim Siddiqui is Chairman of the City Circle, which provides a place for British Muslim and non-Muslim communities to engage. More details can be found on www.thecitycircle.com. He works as a forensic accountant.
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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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