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Religious Studies GCSE Cheat Sheet
Islam Practices
The Five Pillars of Islam
1. Shahadah is the Muslim declaration of faith:
I declare that there is no God but Allah
And Muhammad is His messenger
I bear witness that Ali is the beloved of Allah and the rightful trustee
Of the Prophet, and his immediate successor.
The third and fourth statements above are added by only the Shi’as.
They sum up the basic beliefs of Islam.
The first statement is the declaration that Muslims reject anything but Allah as their
focus of belief.
They totally surrender to the will of Allah as found in the Qur’an.
The second statement recognises the role of Muhammad and that his life was to be
an example of all to follow.
By following the Sunnah they also believe in risalah (prophethood) and akhirah (life
after death).
Every Muslim knows the words of the Shahadah in the Arabic, but not all can translate
a meaning.
The words are whispered into the ears of a newborn baby; they are a section of the
Adhan (call to prayer), heard five times every day; repeated each night before sleep
and Muhammad suggested they should be the last words a person utters before
They are words from the heart. Many people can pray or fast, for example, but still
fail as Muslims because these words do not come from their heart.
As the first of the pillars or the central one, many think it must be the most
All the pillars have to be equal or the roof would not fit.
At the same time without this belief, the other pillars would not happen, so Shahadah
has to be first or central pillar. However, it is important to treat all five as important
or else the metaphorical building would collapse.
With this belief as a start point, the practices then flow, as does a Muslim way of life.
Setting a good example encourages others to become Muslims.
Muslims must live in a way so as to be able to return to Allah and Shahadah is key to
this aim.
People who fully follow the Shahadah are called ‘Ibad Allah’ (servants of Allah).
Salah – the preparation for salah (prayer)
The call to prayer – the Adhan.
Allah is the Greatest (×4)
I declare that there is no God but Allah (×2)
I declare that Muhammad
is the Messenger of Allah (×2)
(I testify that Ali is the wali (close friend) of God – said by some Shi’a groups at this point)
Come to prayer (×2)
Come to success (×2)
(Come to the best of actions – said twice by Shi’a Muslims)
Allah is the Greatest (×2)
There is no God but Allah (said twice by Shi’a Muslims)
These words are spoken by the mu’adhin (caller to prayer) by loudspeakers so that
people will not miss prayer.
Once these words are heard men will make their way to the mosque.
Some women do as well, but they pray separately from the men.
Most women will pray at home.
Salah is a prescribed duty that has to be performed at the given time by the Qur’an
It is tradition in most Eastern countries that shoes are taken off before entering a
As the mosque is the House of Allah shoes are removed; symbolising respect, but also
practically, to keep the place clean.
Wuzu is the washing process designed to purify the mind and body for prayer.
Sins are said to be forgiven also.
The niyyah (intention) is made clearing the mind, then the wash begins: right hand/left
hand three times each; the mouth then nose three times each; water over the face;
said the key to salah is cleanliness.
right and left arm up to elbow three times; wet hands are run over the head to the
back of the neck; the ears follow; and finally both feet washed up to the ankle.
The body must be covered to retain modesty.
All must cover their heads; men with a topi or prayer hat, women with a hijab or scarf.
This shows that Allah only looks at the concerns of the heart, not appearance.
Muslims make their way to the prayer hall (or women to the women’s area) and stand
shoulder to shoulder facing the Ka’aba, the House of God, in Makkah.
Everyone is equal, no special place is reserved.
All Muslims throughout the world do the same so it unites them in brotherhood
The Iqamah (second call to prayer) signals the intention to start to pray.
Muslims should have now blocked worldly issues out, are purified physically and have
total focus on Allah.
All Muslims pray five times a day.
Each time of prayer involves a set sequence of movements and words known as rak’ah.
Each sequence has key actions that must be done.
Salah – rak’ah and recitations
Takbir – Muslims raise their hands to their ears and say: ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is supreme)
Qiyam – Standing, Muslims recite Surah Al-Fatiha (the first Surah):
‘In the name of Allah, the compassionate…’ (Surah 1:1–7)
then they choose a Surah, such as Surah Al-Ikhlas:
‘He is God, the One; He is eternal Absolute, none is born of Him,
And neither is He born. There is none like unto Him.’
After repeating Allahu Akbar again, Muslims bow to the waist saying:
‘Glory be to my Great Lord, and praise be to Him.’
After declaring Allahu Akbar again, Muslims sink to their knees (sujud) saying:
‘Glory be to my Lord, the Most Supreme. Allah is Greater than all else.’ They kneel again and
then sujud is repeated saying: ‘All praise be to my Lord the Most High.’
Finally ‘Allahu Akbar’ is said and Muslims then stand. The next rak’ah begins. At the end of
the second rak’ah, after sujud, Muslims sit in a kneeling position and say the first part of the
Tashahhud prayer ‘All purity; prayer and goodness belong to Allah. Peace be upon you Prophet
, and Allah’s mercy and blessings. Peace be upon all righteous servants of Allah.’
If the prayer is longer than two rak’ahs, after the sujud the second part is said ‘I declare
that there is nothing more worthy of my allegiance than Allah. He is the One with no
partners, and I declare that Muhammad is His Messenger.’ Muslims then turn heads to the
right and left to acknowledge other worshippers and their guardian angels.
There are some differences.
Shi’a Muslims do not cross their hands whilst standing in qiyam, but have them by their
they touch their forehead to a wooden block or clay tablet from Karbala (a holy city
for Shi’a) rather than the floor when prostrating (sujud);
and they position their feet differently during salah (Shi’a Muslims fold both their
feet behind them in the sitting position, Sunni often bend the right foot and rest it on
their toes).
Why is it important for Muslims to pray?
Some people might think that having to pray five times a day and offer du’a (private)
prayers as well seems a little excessive.
Some may say it is repetitive.
Some might think it would lose its meaning.
Some would say surely there are better things to be doing to show faith, like helping
Some might ask ‘Does Allah need all these prayers?’
Why pray?
Surah 96:19 says to ‘Prostrate and draw near to Allah.’
Muslims believe a person is closest to Allah when praying.
Five prayers were instructed by Allah, so whoever does them will be admitted into
It is believed that prayer brings knowledge, because by praying sincerely a person’s
heart is opened to Allah and helps them become more aware of Allah, and so more
faithful. Muhammad considered anyone not praying five times a day to be not a good
Muslim or counted as an unbeliever.
People who pray properly will benefit on Judgement Day.
Why pray so often?
Prayer is spread throughout the day so that Allah is the focus of a Muslim’s mind all
the time.
From waking to the evening, a Muslim is either going to prayer or returning from it.
They should have said sorry for their actions, and be mindful of Allah, and their
dependency on Him.
Muslims are taught that this life is very hard, almost impossible without Allah and so
their prayer gives them support.
If they did not pray throughout the day their sins would build up, they could be
tempted by Shaytan (the Devil) and be overcome by bad emotions such as arrogance,
immodesty and pride.
If prayers are accepted, then all other actions will be too.
Prayer at the mosque is congregational (with others), and Muslims believe the rewards
are far (27 times) greater than from praying alone, so Muslims try to attend mosque
as often as possible.
What actual benefits do Muslims gain from prayer?
Prayer with others in the atmosphere of the mosque is a reminder of the greatness of
Allah (and the insignificance of humans).
It also reminds Muslims that everything comes from and belongs to Allah.
It encourages positive and respectful behaviour, as it reminds Muslims of good
qualities such as modesty, humility, kindness and peace.
The process to prepare for prayer reminds Muslims of cleanliness, purity and
Standing with others reminds Muslims of the need to work with others as a community
and the equality of all.
So the benefits are to the character of a person, and eventually to their judgement in
the afterlife.
Jumu’ah prayer (Friday prayer)
Salat al-Jumu’ah are the congregational prayers at the mosque on a Friday.
They are the most important prayer in the week and last the longest.
They take place just after noon when the first adhan is said.
Men are expected to go to the mosque.
To miss four Fridays would make a person like an unbeliever.
Muslims should first perform wuzu for purity. Many offer du’a and/or read the Qur’an
as they wait for the khatib to deliver the sermon (khutbah).
A second adhan is then spoken to bring silence when the khatib is seated in the minbar
(raised platform).
This is the only day that a sermon is delivered, so is the only day the congregation are
being given direct spiritual guidance in the mosque.
The khatib then stands and gives the khutbah in two parts.
Firstly, he speaks in the language of the community, perhaps about local world issues,
giving the congregation guidance and Islamic teachings.
He is trying to show how Muslims should respond to these issues in a way true to the
In some countries these sermons are directed by governments; in some mosques they
are used to get across what are considered to be radicalist ideas.
There is then a brief pause before the second sermon starts, which is done in Arabic
and is a set speech.
Following this the Iqamah is read and then the imam (the khatib) leads the two rak’ahs
of compulsory prayer.
Many Muslims do Sunnah salah (these are extra prayers that Muhammad
did), four
rak’ahs by themselves before the two Fardh (compulsory behind the imam) and two
This prayer is the best attended of the week, and in Muslim countries it is common to
see Muslims praying outside the mosque which is actually full.
Prayer at home
Women mostly do their prayers at home.
They carry them out in the same way as men, using a prayer mat and facing Makkah.
Women are required to pray just as much as men and get just as much reward for
doing so.
Prayers are also said before mealtimes to thank Allah for the blessings of food, as a
family to break fasts on each day of Ramadan and on special occasions like Eid.
Personal prayers (du’as) are done at home to talk to Allah on a more personal level,
maybe to ask for mercy or help for others.
As these are not set they do not require rak’ahs.
Prophet Muhammad also prayed at night.
Prayers called Tahajjud are performed by some showing real discipline.
These are not a one-off, they are done regularly.
Sawm – fasting during Ramadan
‘Oh believers! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was for those before you that you may learn
self-restraint.’ (Qur’an 2:183)
‘Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was sent down as a guide to humanity; and to
provide clear guidance and judgement. So everyone who is present during that month should
spend it fasting.’ (Qur’an 2:185)
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar.
It was in this month that the Night of Power took place.
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims do not consume any food or drink between
sunrise and sunset.
Fasting links to the spiritual side of religion throughout history, as it symbolises that
craving and desires have to be overcome.
There is no bigger craving than food.
Prophets before Muhammad told their people to fast.
Successful fasting is about mind over matter; the spiritual over the material.
It is made more difficult because as soon as we say we are not going to have
something, the craving gets worse and we often want it more!
A month is a significant period of time and fasting for a month is a way of retraining
minds and bodies to focus on the important things in life.
In today’s world, proper practice of religion is often fitted in around busy lifestyles,
whereas Islam believes that religion should be at the forefront.
Ramadan gives Muslims a chance to redress their lives, be better Muslims in all
aspects of life and then hopefully continue this for the rest of the year.
However, humans are vulnerable and it is easy to slip off the correct path, so Muslims
are reminded every year in Ramadan.
It is as if sawm is designed to keep putting people back on the right path.
Muslims must also remember that some people in the world will never have any of the
things they can give up, so they should appreciate what Allah has given them.
Ramadan is hard for Muslims especially in hot weather and long daylight hours.
It falls eleven days earlier each year, as the Muslim calendar is based on a lunar
In summer a Muslim needs to be very determined so that they do not give in.
Allah sees all and knows our intentions.
Fasting is important for all Muslims because of the self-discipline they can gain, and it
is said to be a shield against the fires of hell, which is another good reason if you
believe in Islam.
Sawm – what are the duties of fasting?
Fasting for most people is simply about not eating; in Islam the idea is much more than
Yes, they give up eating and drinking from dawn to dusk so that they never forget that
some of the ummah in the world live like this all the time.
However, they should also refrain from sexual relations during these hours.
They should consider their behaviour towards others, making it always friendly and
They should spend time in the mosque praying and it is recommended that they read
the whole of the Qur’an.
Time should not be wasted on the material things in life; it should be purposely used.
Watching TV, playing video games and idle chat can all be considered wasted time as
they serve no real purpose in life and are often done thoughtlessly.
Days are lived as normal, so Ramadan should not be used as an excuse to avoid things
that Muslims know they should do but do not really want to.
This would in fact break the fast because the intention is incorrect.
Muslims get up early and eat before the fajr prayer and then at dusk they eat iftar,
which is usually something sweet like dates, before going to maghrib prayer.
After this Muslims will eat dinner before spending the evening reading the Qur’an or
praying du’as.
Often there are later prayers in the mosque called tarawih prayers with twenty
rak’ahs behind the imam.
On one of the last ten nights of Ramadan, Lailat-ul-Qadr happens.
Muslims stay all night in the mosques to remember the first revelation of the Qur’an.
Surah 97 indicates that keeping this night is greater than one thousand months of
Who is exempt from fasting and why?
• The young (under 12) and the elderly do not fast, as they need nourishment.
• The ill do not fast as they need medication and pregnant women, as both need food for
health reasons.
• Travellers do not fast (but days can be made up later) as can women who are menstruating.
Benefits of fasting
• It brings Muslims closer to Allah.
• They rediscover religion as the focus of their lives.
• It is the month of forgiveness. Muhammad
said all sins are forgiven for those who fast.
• It serves as a reminder of the plight of the poor; zakah (welfare tax) is given in Ramadan.
• It builds personal qualities like self-determination, piety, humility and courage.
What is zakah?
It is the giving of alms in order to cleanse or make pure.
‘Be steadfast in prayer and giving.’ (2:110)
From the Qur’an this is a directive to pay zakah and for those who do not it says:
‘And those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah – give them
tidings of a painful punishment. The Day when it will be heated in the fire of Hell and
seared therewith will be their foreheads, their flanks, and their backs, [it will be
said], this is what you hoarded for yourselves, so taste what you used to hoard’ (9:34–
Muslims are expected to be kind, compassionate and help others.
After all, their wealth is on loan from Allah.
Muslims are encouraged to give to charity as the need arises.
This is called sadaqah.
Whilst sadaqah is voluntary giving, zakah as one of the Five Pillars is compulsory giving.
It is a payment given once a year of 2.5 per cent paid on income and savings.
It is given by any adult Muslim who has paid all debts and expenses, and has over a
certain amount leftover (it differs depending on what valuables and cash are being
The actual percentage varies depending on what a person owns; their wealth may be in
animals, properties, businesses, and so on.
It is not a tax, as it is only paid by those who can afford it.
Dangers with zakah
Some people give reluctantly or give as little as they can; it is seen as ungrateful to
not want to pay as you have the benefit of these blessings.
However, since no one records what is given, and the giving is secret, only Allah knows
what a person gives, and only Allah can deal with that
How is it given?
In Islamic countries, zakah is paid to an Islamic government who distribute it to those
who need it.
In non-Muslim countries it is either collected by the mosques during Ramadan, or given
directly to specific organisations or individuals.
The first use should be locally to benefit the Islamic community.
It is given anonymously so that the money remains pure and so there is no pride or
arrogance or smugness in the amount given.
Those who receive zakah should not be made to feel embarrassed.
No one actually owns anything, so in fact people are receiving a blessing from what is
Allah’s anyway.
If a person is poor, that is the test that Allah has given them and so to receive from
the rich is the will of Allah.
Everyone has a different test.
The rich have a duty to help, and someone who accepts zakah is helping others fulfil
their duty of giving.
Zakah should be paid with good grace, not grudgingly.
To help one another is to help Allah.
Zakah – the benefits of giving
The purpose of giving zakah is to cleanse or to purify; giving zakah makes a person’s
remaining money clean and unsullied.
By paying it Muslims share their blessings from Allah with others and at the same time
reduce chances of their own greed.
Money is for the welfare of the people of the ummah (community of Muslims); giver
and receiver.
The Qur’an says that Muslims will be given back ‘a hundred fold’ rewards in the
afterlife and they do not need to fear Judgement Day.
Zakah is a test, but the benefits are great.
Muslims say that anyone who gives will feel love in their heart for others, get the
satisfaction which comes with helping others, and know that by helping others they
have strengthened the ummah.
For those individuals who receive zakah it can practically improve their lives, for
example, by providing decent food for a period of time.
Imam Ali said that if all people paid their zakah then there would be no more poor
On a community level it can support the community in its religious practice, but can
also be used to spread it further as well.
All Muslims are expected to pay zakah, but from the Shi’a perspective the kinds of
things that it is payable on are outdated, for example: wheat, barley, dates, raisins,
camels and sheep, none of which fits modern life in the developed world.
They recognise that lifestyles have changed and money is made differently, so use the
idea of khums.
This is tax set at 20 per cent of any yearly surplus (money after all expenses and bills
If sadaqah, zakah and khums were all paid in full, people’s lives would be more
This is probably true of the wider community across all religions; if we all gave what
we could, poverty and inequality could be solved.
Hajj – pilgrimage to Makkah
Hajj is pilgrimage to Makkah.
It takes place in the last month of the Muslim calendar (Dhu al-Hijjah).
All Muslims should go at least once in their lifetime, or every time they can afford it.
1 Ihram – Muslims dress in two pieces of white cloth (ihram), one around the waist, the
other over the shoulder. Women also wear white (though this is optional). All Muslims stand
equal before Allah and dressing so simply shows that. Muslims bathe, put on ihram clothing,
pray two rak’ahs and recite the Talbiyah Du’a: ‘Here I am O God, here I am…’
2 Muslims then go to the Great Mosque in Makkah to perform ‘Tawaf’ (seven times circling
of the Ka’aba anticlockwise). The Ka’aba is covered with a black cloth (Al-Kiswah). They say:
‘At your command Lord, at your command.’ Muslims raise their hands towards the black stone.
If close enough they touch it.
3 Muslims then drink water from the Zamzam well, take some home and dip their garments
in it to be used at their burial.
4 Al-Safa and Al-Marwa – two small hills joined by a walkway. Muslims walk between them
seven times, an activity called ‘sa’y’. There is a section in the walkway for those who are old
or disabled.
5 Mount Arafat is the Mount of Mercy. Muslims perform ‘Wuquf’ here. They stand from
noon to sunset meditating, praying and asking for forgiveness. In the evening they listen to a
sermon from the top of Arafat and spend the night in the open thankful for forgiveness
from Allah.
6 Muslims move to Muzdalifah (to camp with two million other Muslims). They collect pebbles
here for the next day; seven are needed to hit each of the three jamarat (stone pillars).
7 At Mina, Muslims throw pebbles at the three jamarat which represent Shaytan. A
sacrifice is also made here called Qurbani. Men also shave their heads and women cut a lock
of hair.
8 Eid ul Adha is celebrated here. It is a serious rather than celebratory festival. Sheep and
goats are sacrificed as Ibrahim did, the meat being distributed to the poor.
9 Some Muslims take the option to travel to Madinah at this point to visit the Prophet’s
Mosque and burial place.
10 The journey is completed by returning to Makkah, carrying out Tawaf and sa’y again.
After every Tawaf they perform two rak’ahs. There is then a farewell Tawaf before leaving.
For many Muslims this is a once in a lifetime journey.
Being in the House of Allah they believe they are as close to Allah as they can be
whilst still on Earth.
It is a very emotional time.
As Muslims get richer more can go, and many Muslims now book expensive hotels,
which are being built in Makkah for the duration of the hajj.
What is the significance of the places visited on the hajj journey?
The Ka’aba (1) is known as the Baitullah (the House of Allah). For Muslims it is the
oldest shrine to Allah on Earth. It was built by Prophet Adam, rebuilt by Nuh (Noah to
Christians) after the flood, and then again by Ibrahim and his son Ismail. Each year
this cube-shaped building is covered by a new black cloth, embroidered in gold. It
gives the direction and focus for salah for Muslims all over the world every day.
When Muhammad
captured Makkah he smashed the idols, setting it up as a place for
the worship of the One God – Allah. Muslims re-enact Muhammad circling the Ka’aba.
Many Muslims are overwhelmed when they experience the Ka’aba; they know it is a
once in a lifetime experience. The circling shows a Muslim’s devotion to Allah.
The black stone (2) existed before Muhammad , being referenced by the writer
Maximus in the second century BCE. Tradition varyingly suggests it was brought to
Adam from paradise by Jibril, or that it was given to Nuh after the flood, or that is
was dug out of the earth by Ismail on the instructions of Jibril. Whatever the source,
Muslims believe it came from heaven to Earth as a gift from Allah.
Zamzam (3) – Ibrahim escorted his second wife from Jerusalem to Arabia, so she
could settle there. After a while Hajar and their son Ismail ran out of water. She ran
frantically searching for water for her dying son. A spring came up out of the sand
where Ismail lay. Muslims believe this water has life-giving qualities. Muhammad said
it was a cure for whatever it was taken for. For Muslims today it demonstrates that
humans are dependent upon Allah. That water is vital for actual life, so Allah is vital to
spiritual life. Allah provides for all needs.
Al-Safa and Al-Marwa (4) – this is associated with the same story. As Ismail lay dying,
Hajar’s solution was not just to give up on her son; she searched and searched for
water. As a reward Allah produced the Zamzam well. In life today Muslims are
presented with many difficulties, it is their test. By re-enacting the search with the
run between the two hills Muslims are saying that they will not give up when their lives
are difficult.
If Muslims complete just these stages it is known as Umrah (the lesser pilgrimage).
For those completing hajj, there is a short break at this point.
The significance of the other places visited to complete hajj
Mount Arafat (5) – the Mount of Mercy, believed to be the place where Adam and
Hawwa were reunited after being sent to Earth from paradise. Also Muhammad gave
his final sermon there. Muslims spend time here praying for mercy, as it is here where
their own sins can be forgiven, and they believe that with sincere requests, Allah will
forgive. They offer prayers and are often moved to tears when they realise the
amount of sin they have to admit to. They walk away feeling they have been given a
second chance and many change their lives completely.
Muzdalifah (6) is where Muslims collect pebbles for the next day. How many does vary.
Seven pebbles are needed to hit one Jamarat the next day. For the next two days
they hit each of the three pillars with seven pebbles again (totalling 49). Some Shi’a
texts say 70 are needed. They also need to prepare their minds for their own battle
with Shaytan. Muslims often gather together here to read the Qur’an, and pray
together with Muslims from all different places, which helps them to appreciate the
unity of Islam.
The three pillars (Jamarat) (7) at Mina represent three places were Shaytan tried to
persuade Ibrahim not to sacrifice his son. At all three Jamarat, Jibril told Ibrahim to
‘Pelt him’, so Ibrahim threw seven pebbles and Shaytan left. The three Jamarat
represent Ibrahim rejecting Shaytan and also Hajar refusing to stop searching for
water, and Ismail volunteering to be sacrificed (thus also rejecting Shaytan). Muslims
reflect on their own lives, hoping that whatever Allah asks of them they will be able to
do. They pray the test will never be as hard as Ibrahim’s.
Madinah (8) is the sacred city that was the first to welcome Muhammad . It had the
first mosque and the first structured Islamic community. Muhammad loved Madinah
and returned there to die after conquering Makkah. The Prophet’s Mosque is there
today over his original burial site along with the burial sites of the first two caliphs,
Abu Bakr and Umar. In its south-east corner is incorporated the original house of
Aisha, Prophet Muhammad’s wife. In the mosque there is an area which stretches
from his burial tomb to his minbar called the ‘Gardens of Paradise’. Muslims believe
that no prayer said there will ever be rejected. There is also a grave for Isa (Jesus)
with the idea that he will come again to Earth and be buried here.
Eid ul-Fitr
Imam Ali said:
‘Verily it is only a festival for he whose fast Allah has accepted and whose prayers he has
The Eid festival is celebrated at the end of Ramadan.
It is the start of the new month, Shawwal, brought in by the sighting of the new
As Ramadan has focused on spirituality and the aim to renew faith, it has also been a
In contrast, Eid is welcomed by all Muslims.
1 Preparations are made for the day; cards are sent, houses decorated, food bought, gifts and
sweets for children organised.
2 Mosques in Britain wait for the sighting of the new Moon in places like Saudi Arabia, Syria
and Pakistan, so this accounts for the variances in when it is announced and celebrated.
3 Joyous greetings of Eid Mubarak are made though the fast is broken by the simple eating of
4 The Eid morning, men attend Eid prayers at the mosque including two sermons explaining the
rules for paying zakah.
5 The day is a family day, visiting friends and relatives, visiting cemeteries to remember the
dead, exchanging gifts for the children, new clothes and a special meal in the evening.
6 Muslims in Britain are allowed the day off work and school and in Muslim countries it is a
public holiday.
Islamic Festivals – Eid ul-Adha
Eid ul-Adha takes place on the 10th day of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah each year.
This day is within the period for hajj, and anyone on hajj will celebrate the festival as
part of that Pillar.
Eid ul-Adha is the Festival of the Sacrifice, so is also called Bakr-Eid (Sacrifice
Why is this festival celebrated?
It dates back to the time of Prophet Ibrahim, who dreamt he was told by Allah to
sacrifice his own son, Ishmael.
Ibrahim spoke to Ishmael about the dream, and they both agreed that they had to do
as Allah commanded.
Ibrahim showed his faithfulness to Allah by being prepared to carry out this terrible
Even when Shaytan (the devil) tried to persuade Ibrahim to protect not sacrifice his
son, Ibrahim kept to his orders. Ibrahim threw stones at Shaytan to make him leave
(which is why pilgrims throw pebbles during hajj).
Muslims believe that Ibrahim did attempt to cut his son’s throat, in the manner of
ritual slaughter.
However, when he looked down at what he had done, it was a ram which had been
slaughtered, and his son was safe. He had passed the test.
How is the festival celebrated?
The central element of the festival is the sacrifice of a lamb, called adhiya or qurbani.
The meat from the lamb is split three ways – one third for the family who have paid
for the sacrifice, one third to relatives, friends and neighbours, and the remaining
third to the poor.
Many families pay charity money in place of having a lamb sacrificed.
The Sunnah of Eid
The Sunnah are the practices of Muhammad, which Muslims are encouraged to follow
as he is the perfect example. Muslims are encouraged to prepare themselves for Eid
by completing the pre-sunrise prayer (Fajr), and dressing up in new clothes.
Eid prayers have to be offered at the mosque with other Muslims – congregational
prayer is important.
There will always be a sermon at the mosque for this festival, and the theme will be
focused around Ibrahim, commitment, the poor and a Muslim’s responsibilities.
After the service is completed, people exchange greetings and gifts. Many Muslims will
visit relatives, and have special meals.
The importance of Eid ul-Fitr
The importance of the Eid festival is the same for Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, but the
Eid prayers vary slightly.
In the Sunni tradition there are two rak’ahs – the prayer starts with niyyah or
intention to pray, followed by ‘Allahu Akbar’. The next is to recite ‘Takbir Al- Ihram’
and ‘Allahu Akbar’ seven times, with the raising of hands to the ears each time. The
Shi’a have five raising of the hands in Takbir with a small du’a being recited.
Then the imam reads the Surah Al-Fatiha and Surah Al-’A’lá and the congregation
performs ruku and sujud.
For Sunni, in the next rak’ah five Takbirs are said, whereas the Shi’a just repeat what
they did in the first rak’ah.
In both traditions the prayer ends with a sermon.
Muslims have gone without food for the fast and glimpsed how hard life is for fellow
Muslims who regularly go hungry. Therefore their zakah has to be given by the day of
Often today, Mosques have boards up in the mosque of the families that attend and
names are crossed off when it is given, though what they give is not written.
There is a pressure therefore to make sure zakah is paid.
When Prophet Muhammad was in Medina, he saw Jews fasting on the tenth of the
month Muharram
He asked them why and they replied that it was to remember when they were free
from the Pharaoh (it also marks the day that Nuh [Noah] left the ark)
They said that Musa fasted on this day
He replied that ‘we are closer to Musa than you’ so he fasted and told Muslims to do
There are no hadiths to support this, but many Muslims accept this to be true
When Ramadan was established, this later replaced fasting on Ashura
Many Muslims remember this day as a Day of Atonement – when sins are forgiven
Many fast on the 8th-10th days of Muharram, however it is not compulsory
Sunnis do not whip the body as they believe the body should not be harmed
For Shia Muslims this ia a significant festival which remembers the martyrdom of
Hussein, the prophet’s grandson who was killed in the battle of Karbala on 10 th
He was killed by Yazid, a ruler who demanded he give him his allegiance.
He refused because of the corruption, use of slavery and injustices used by Mu’awiyah
and his son Yazid who he saw as illegitimate rulers
Hussein had taken his family to Makkah hoping they would be safe
On his way to Kufa in Iraq he was intercepted and driven to Karbakala
They were held without water – Hussein realised it was him that they wanted and told
the others to leave but they refused and they were attacked
Hussein was beheaded, the camp set on fire and everyone murdered, mutilated and
left unburied
They were later buried in Damascus
How is Ashura observed by Shia?
Many wear black as a sign of grief
Mosques are covered in black cloths
After afternoon prayers, poems about the tragedy are read out and people cry
Some beat themselves with whips and chains in sorrow especially in Karbala. This is
becoming less common
This teaches them to remember Hussein’s suffering and that Muslims should stand up
for injustice
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