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 He works as a forensic accountant.
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Q&A: What are tax credits and how do they work?

All you need to know about the government's plan to cut tax credits.

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are payments made regularly by the state into bank accounts to support families with children, or those who are in low-paid jobs. There are two types of tax credit: the working tax credit and the child tax credit.

What are they for?

To redistribute income to those less able to get by, or to provide for their children, on what they earn.

Are they similar to tax relief?

No. They don’t have much to do with tax. They’re more of a welfare thing. You don’t need to be a taxpayer to receive tax credits. It’s just that, unlike other benefits, they are based on the tax year and paid via the tax office.

Who is eligible?

Anyone aged over 16 (for child tax credits) and over 25 (for working tax credits) who normally lives in the UK can apply for them, depending on their income, the hours they work, whether they have a disability, and whether they pay for childcare.

What are their circumstances?

The more you earn, the less you are likely to receive. Single claimants must work at least 16 hours a week. Let’s take a full-time worker: if you work at least 30 hours a week, you are generally eligible for working tax credits if you earn less than £13,253 a year (if you’re single and don’t have children), or less than £18,023 (jointly as part of a couple without children but working at least 30 hours a week).

And for families?

A family with children and an income below about £32,200 can claim child tax credit. It used to be that the more children you have, the more you are eligible to receive – but George Osborne in his most recent Budget has limited child tax credit to two children.

How much money do you receive?

Again, this depends on your circumstances. The basic payment for a single claimant, or a joint claim by a couple, of working tax credits is £1,940 for the tax year. You can then receive extra, depending on your circumstances. For example, single parents can receive up to an additional £2,010, on top of the basic £1,940 payment; people who work more than 30 hours a week can receive up to an extra £810; and disabled workers up to £2,970. The average award of tax credit is £6,340 per year. Child tax credit claimants get £545 per year as a flat payment, plus £2,780 per child.

How many people claim tax credits?

About 4.5m people – the vast majority of these people (around 4m) have children.

How much does it cost the taxpayer?

The estimation is that they will cost the government £30bn in April 2015/16. That’s around 14 per cent of the £220bn welfare budget, which the Tories have pledged to cut by £12bn.

Who introduced this system?

New Labour. Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, developed tax credits in his first term. The system as we know it was established in April 2003.

Why did they do this?

To lift working people out of poverty, and to remove the disincentives to work believed to have been inculcated by welfare. The tax credit system made it more attractive for people depending on benefits to work, and gave those in low-paid jobs a helping hand.

Did it work?

Yes. Tax credits’ biggest achievement was lifting a record number of children out of poverty since the war. The proportion of children living below the poverty line fell from 35 per cent in 1998/9 to 19 per cent in 2012/13.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a bit of a weird system in that it lets companies pay wages that are too low to live on without the state supplementing them. Many also criticise tax credits for allowing the minimum wage – also brought in by New Labour – to stagnate (ie. not keep up with the rate of inflation). David Cameron has called the system of taxing low earners and then handing them some money back via tax credits a “ridiculous merry-go-round”.

Then it’s a good thing to scrap them?

It would be fine if all those low earners and families struggling to get by would be given support in place of tax credits – a living wage, for example.

And that’s why the Tories are introducing a living wage...

That’s what they call it. But it’s not. The Chancellor announced in his most recent Budget a new minimum wage of £7.20 an hour for over-25s, rising to £9 by 2020. He called this the “national living wage” – it’s not, because the current living wage (which is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, and currently non-compulsory) is already £9.15 in London and £7.85 in the rest of the country.

Will people be better off?

No. Quite the reverse. The IFS has said this slightly higher national minimum wage will not compensate working families who will be subjected to tax credit cuts; it is arithmetically impossible. The IFS director, Paul Johnson, commented: “Unequivocally, tax credit recipients in work will be made worse off by the measures in the Budget on average.” It has been calculated that 3.2m low-paid workers will have their pay packets cut by an average of £1,350 a year.

Could the government change its policy to avoid this?

The Prime Minister and his frontbenchers have been pretty stubborn about pushing on with the plan. In spite of criticism from all angles – the IFS, campaigners, Labour, The Sun – Cameron has ruled out a review of the policy in the Autumn Statement, which is on 25 November. But there is an alternative. The chair of parliament’s Work & Pensions Select Committee and Labour MP Frank Field has proposed what he calls a “cost neutral” tweak to the tax credit cuts.

How would this alternative work?

Currently, if your income is less than £6,420, you will receive the maximum amount of tax credits. That threshold is called the gross income threshold. Field wants to introduce a second gross income threshold of £13,100 (what you earn if you work 35 hours a week on minimum wage). Those earning a salary between those two thresholds would have their tax credits reduced at a slower rate on whatever they earn above £6,420 up to £13,100. The percentage of what you earn above the basic threshold that is deducted from your tax credits is called the taper rate, and it is currently at 41 per cent. In contrast to this plan, the Tories want to halve the income threshold to £3,850 a year and increase the taper rate to 48 per cent once you hit that threshold, which basically means you lose more tax credits, faster, the more you earn.

When will the tax credit cuts come in?

They will be imposed from April next year, barring a u-turn.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.