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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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad