2   Essential Beliefs and Practice

2.1 Principle Beliefs

2.1.1 Imaan – Belief

2.1.2 Risaalah – Guidance

2.1.3 Akhirah – Afterlife

2.1.4 ‘Fundamentalism’

2.2 Principle Practices

2.2.1 Salaah – Ritual Prayer

2.2.2 Sawm (Arabic) or Roza (Urdu) – Fasting

2.2.3 Zakaah – Charity

2.2.4 Hajj – Pilgrimage

2.3 Ecumenicalism and Interfaith

2.1  Principle Beliefs

The following section describes the core beliefs of a Muslim as succinctly as possible – this section is intended simply to inform, neither to offend other beliefs nor to preach. While detailed beliefs may vary between sects, the core beliefs set down here are common to all Muslims. It is noteworthy that compared with most religions, especially in Western society, Muslims tend to know and can articulate their essential beliefs and practices reasonably well. Among Muslims, consciousness of religious beliefs and willingness to talk about them is generally taken for granted, whereas British social conventions make a taboo of discussing religious differences.

2.1.1  Imaan – Belief

The fundamental principle of Islam is that human beings and their universe are created by God, Allah; and the sole purpose of human life is to worship Allah, the Creator. The Muslim statement of faith is, “There is no god except Allah, and Muhammad Darood graphic is His servant and messenger.” Anyone who believes this, is a Muslim. Since worshipping God, worshipping Allah, is the means of showing gratitude for having been created (the reward for which is eternal paradise), anyone who refuses to believe this is a Kafir, literally ‘ungrateful’. To worship anything at all other than Allah Himself, such as idols, or created beings no matter how admirable, such as Jesus, or to bury oneself in worldly affairs, ‘pass-times’, distractions to avoid recognising one’s fundamental duty to worship none else but The Creator Himself, is the height of ingratitude, for which the penalty, unfortunately, is eternal damnation. However there are concessions towards Jews and Christians as ‘People of the Book’, Ahl-al-Kitab, because they were the recipients of essentially the same message from God, which some among them accepted. It is a moot point whether these include present day Jews and Christians since they both reject the revelation given to MuhammadDarood graphic, and most Christians consciously worship Jesus as God.

2.1.2  Risaalah – Guidance

Human beings are created with free will and therefore choose whether or not to fulfil their duty to Allah. However human beings will only be rewarded for worshipping Allah if they do so in the manner that He commanded. Thus He gave revelation of His commands to each of a succession of men, Nabis and Rasuls, from Adam to MuhammadDarood graphic, and including Jesus, Moses, Abraham and many others recognised in the Old Testament. Rasul translates to ‘Messenger’ and Nabi is usually translated as Prophet, but the English word ‘prophet’ fails to convey the extremely high status attributed to them in Islam, as impeccably faultless guides and absolutely the best of creation.

The nature of divine guidance is in two forms, the revealed book, the Qur’an, and the example of the way of life of MuhammadDarood graphic. The Qur’an was revealed by Gabriel (Jibreel) to MuhammadDarood graphic over the course of 23 years of his life from forty to shortly before his demise. The Qur’anic text in Arabic is considered to be the uncreated Word of God, an attribute of Allah Himself. Patently the printed and bound book is ‘created’, but the words themselves and as recited from it have that Divine status. Thus the Qur’an as a book is much more significant to Muslims than individual Bible books are to Christians, notwithstanding the importance of the Christian text, although that too has been translated and recompiled several times over. Respect for the Qur’an may more helpfully be compared with that for an undisputed relic of the True Cross or the Ark of the Covenant for example. This explains why mistreatment of the Qur’an is such a profound offence to Muslims. Indeed Islamic law does not permit the Arabic Qur’an to be handled by non-Muslims at all, even though it is easily obtained in bookshops and elsewhere. Taking an oath on the Qur’an is not a recognised Islamic practice, though there is no harm in it. A conscientious Muslim would be reluctant to pick up the Qur’an for this purpose if he or she did not have wudhu, the state of ritual cleanliness required for prayers, Salaah, and handling the Qur’an. A Muslim is expected to speak the truth anyway, so an affirmation in court rather than an oath on the Qur’an, should never be regarded as suspect.

The way of life of MuhammadDarood graphic is captured in many thousands of contemporaneous records, known as Hadith, covering all of what he did, approved of, disapproved of, and recommended. The Hadith also include similar records of his companions where their actions were also qualified by their knowledge of his teaching. The collected practice of Islam based on these sources is called the Sunnah, and Sunnis are those who claim to adhere to this whole. The religious law derived from the Qur’an and Hadith is called the Shari’ah. While much of the Qur’an is readable in its own right, it is nevertheless wrong to try to take translated statements from the Qur’an and assume they apply literally to a given circumstance. The Qur’an itself states that it is comprised of laws, guidance, reminders, allegories and esoteric parts, and every verse of the Qur’an was revealed in a context which is only understood from corresponding Hadith.

The way of life of MuhammadDarood graphic, the Sunnah, provides the model for every part of a Muslim’s daily life, including routines when awaking, manner of dress, manner of eating, relations and duties with family, friends and neighbours, through to governance of the country. Practising Muslims endeavour to absorb as much of the Sunnah into their daily life as they can, though individuals may differ in what part of the Sunnah they give priority to.

2.1.3  Akhirah – Afterlife

The entire purpose of life in the world is to earn reward for the next world by worshipping Allah alone in the manner which He commanded and which was demonstrated by MuhammadDarood graphic, the Messenger of Allah. Consequently all actions are brought forth on the Day of Judgement to be measured against this criterion. The fundamental, unforgivable sin is to worship something other than Allah, but for all other sins there is a fixed term in Jahannum, the Fire, followed by a cleansing and entry into Jannah, the Garden. For those whose balance of good outweighs sin, entry into Paradise immediately follows Judgement. The measure of a good deed is in its intention and in its closeness to the Sunnah, the examples of MuhammadDarood graphic. For those who lived before his time, the equivalent holds true for their respective Prophets.

For those who hold to the faith, suffering and calamities in this world are to be exchanged for greater reward in the next, or to be offset against sins. Submission to the hudood, the Islamic criminal code and its punishments, ensures that the recipient will be free from the punishment of the sin in the next world. Children are born sinless and remain so until they reach puberty. The insane are also sinless, and they and children are guaranteed Paradise if they die in these states.

2.1.4   ‘Fundamentalism’

The concept of Fundamentalism originated with Christians who were determined to stick to the literal text of the Bible or traditional religious opinion that contradicted the picture of the world emerging from natural sciences. It has since come to mean the concept of applying rigid religious doctrines to everyday life in any religion, so there are several aspects to fundamentalism to consider. These are: literalism in divine books, the relationship between religion and science in interpreting human experience, the impact of religious certainty on secular life, and the significance of religious moral absolutes in running society. The last one is only relevant to countries where religious political parties are influential, but the other three all impact on choices such as schools run on religious lines, community reactions to moral issues and inter-community tensions. Even the last one has significance when trying to tackle extremism. This booklet does not intend to tackle the deep philosophical questions these issues raise, but a few points may clarify issues in a Muslim context.   Literalism

Every Muslim by definition believes in the Qur’an in Arabic as the literal, unchangeable Word of God, so in this restricted sense every Muslim is a ‘fundamentalist’. But even the Qur’an itself includes text within it that makes clear that its interpretation must be done in context, that many passages are allegorical and many have mystical, not literal meaning. Compared with other sacred texts the Qur’an’s descriptions of the natural world do not contradict scientific conventions, e.g. “We made from water every living thing.” (22:30) or the description of creation that follows a sequence that is compatible with science. In Islamic belief, Allah is all-powerful and all-knowing, implying that every vibration of every sub-atomic particle is controlled by Allah; but everything has a wasilah, a material cause – illness is cured by Allah’s power, but medicine, the wasilah, must be applied. Ultimately one might argue that evolution is the theory that describes the wasilah that Allah uses to bring about creation of human beings in a rational way (leaving aside Darwinists’ randomness of genetic change). The differentiator, mankind’s attribute of intelligent free will, is a divine gift given first to Adam, the first Prophet. One might indeed argue that, but most Muslims prefer a much more traditional interpretation of creation of mankind and come down on the same side as less rational Christian fundamentalists.   Interpreting Human Experience

The essence of the Muslim concept of humanity is that humans are driven by desire for things that distract them from facing up to their ultimate fate which is to be confronted by Allah with their deeds. This innate desire may often appear positive and creative, but while directed away from its original purpose, namely desire to be reunited with the Creator, it is wasted on at best superficial, material things and at worst, lustful, destructive obsessions. The Islamic spiritual traditions, tassawwuf or Sufism, are intended to tune a human being back onto that original desire for the Divine. For the ‘fundamentalist’, any indulgence in worldly distractions has to be curtailed not by rekindling the original desire itself as the Sufis claim to do (and which is a long, tiresome process), but by enforcing restrictions on the behaviour that leads to immorality or self-indulgence. (For the real Sufi, these restrictions are self-imposed.)   Religious Certainty

Every religion claims ultimate truth for itself, even when it fogs the issue by supposing even ultimate truth to be relative. Islam is a continuation of the absolute religions of the Jews and original Christians, and is completely immersed in the same certainties. Mercy, restraint and humanity are enjoined at every step of the Shari’ah and in the implementing of the Hudood, the penal code. For the fundamentalist, ultimately every error or excess of zeal in its application is warranted not only by its effect of purifying the community by example, but by increasing the degree of forgiveness and divine reward of the recipient – even more so if a judicial error is committed. But for most Muslims, passionate faith is tempered by survival in a hostile world.   Moral Absolutes in Running Society

‘Fundamentalist’ governments rarely exist for long, because all government requires continual adjustment and compromise between different interest groups. However running a country according to Shari’ah is a very attractive principle for dissident groups opposing authoritarian secularist regimes in many Muslim countries, because it provides a populist rallying call without challenging the integrity of the dissidents themselves. In practice it is exactly that integrity which is found wanting, especially among the bandwagon followers that join in any initial success. Most Muslims in Britain are acutely aware of repression that accompanies both the secularist and the fundamentalist regime that follows it, but many are inclined to romanticise about the possibilities for Islamic utopia.

The intense debate around these kinds of processes is a significant feature of London’s Muslim sub-culture. This is incidentally a very lively and valued forum for debating every angle of politics of practically every Muslim country, and as such is a valuable and internationally influential resource that should be cultivated.

2.2  Principle Practices

There are four obligatory acts of worship as well as numerous supererogatory practices. These are the five daily prayers, fasting in Ramadhaan, the pilgrimage to Makkah (‘Mecca’), and the poor-tax.

According to the Shari’ah (Islamic Law) all legal and religious obligations in Islam commence from the age of puberty. Before this age, children are exempt from any obligations. Those who are sick or infirm, pregnant or suckling women, and women in menstruation have fewer obligations in different ways according to the activity. People below specific levels of poverty also have dispensations from some costly acts, and travellers have dispensations from some time-consuming acts.

2.2.1   Salaah – Ritual Prayer

2.2.2   Sawm (Arabic) or Roza (Urdu) – Fasting

2.2.3   Zakaah – Charity

2.2.4   Hajj – Pilgrimage

2.2.1   Salaah – Ritual Prayer

Salaah (in Arabic) or Namaaz (the Turkish and Urdu word) is the ritual five times a day prayers. Actually it is a formalised act of praise, as distinct from prayer in the sense of supplication or invocation, which latter has its equivalence in du’ah. Salaah comprises of a specific combination of standing, reciting verses of the Qur’an, bowing, prostrating and sitting, all facing the Kaabah in Makkah . This direction. is called the Qiblah.

Salaah is obligatory on every Muslim man and on every Muslim woman except when menstruating. The only valid reason for missing a Salaah in its proper time period is to save a life or when life is in danger. (There are even special forms of Salaah for the battlefield.)

The direction of Makkah ranges between 120 degrees 31 minutes from Grid North in Lowestoft, and 110 degrees 41 minutes at Lizard Point, and is 117 degrees 43 minutes from Grid North in Central London. Few people have instruments accurate enough to establish such precise bearings and therefore will settle for roughly East-South-East. (A common accessory is a ‘Qiblah Compass’, which points north of course, but a table of locations is used to identify the Qiblah bearing. By convention it is divided into 40 or 400 units and the Qiblah in London is about 264 units.)   Five Daily Prayers

The five daily salaah must be performed each during its allotted period. The periods are fixed in relation to sunrise, noon and sunset, and so in the UK vary enormously between summer and winter.

  1. Fajr – From first light, i.e. the crack of dawn, to sunrise.
  2. Dhuhar – From shortly after local noon, i.e. the true zenith, to a mid-afternoon time determined by a simple formula.
  3. Asr – From the mid-afternoon time to about 15 minutes before sunset.
  4. Maghrieb – From directly after sunset to the end of twilight but with strong preference for the time straight after sunset.
  5. ’Esha – From the end of twilight to first light, but with strong preference for a time before local midnight.

There is also extra salaah, Tahajjud, between midnight and first light that is strongly emphasised for the specially pious, and in Ramadhaan there is a long collective salaah, Tarawih, every evening after ’Esha. There are also many optional salaahs that some observe.

The five times a day salaah is the only essential Muslim daily routine. Salaah times vary considerably between summer and winter. Men are expected to perform salaah in the masjid (‘mosque’), so it is quite normal to find numbers of men hurrying to the masjid at perhaps 4.00am in summer. The rest of the day is unremarkable, except in the month of Ramadhaan when there are many more people attending the masjid through the day and long periods of salaah in the evening. Salaah Period Timing

The Salaah periods are based on “true” local time, so they vary not only from GMT or BST clock time, but also are about 1 minute later for every 10 miles westwards and spread over a longer day further north in summer and over a shorter day further north in winter. Nearly all masjids print and distribute local timetables with the Islamic calendar, and some Islamic organisations raise funds by publishing similar information. Timetables are also available on the web, e.g.
www.muslimdirectory.co.uk/prayer_times.php and
Unfortunately, in spite of the BBC's reputation, this calculator is defective (i) in setting the start of Dhuhar at noon instead of 7 minutes after noon, and (ii) over-compensating for the end of twilight and start of daybreak in midsummer, with some ludicrous results.

There are slight variations in the definition of salaah periods arising from differences among Islamic sources in the first few centuries of Islam. These differences impact in other subtle ways and the different practices are known as madhabs, or “schools of thought” . The majority of Muslims in Britain are South Asian and the majority of Asians observe Hanafi practice. (Other madhabs’ practices vary from Hanafi practice e.g. with an earlier start for Asr and Esha, and different rules for combining of Dhuhar with Asr, and Maghrieb with Esha.) The following table illustrates the variation in times in summer and winter that mark the salaah periods. Times are approximate and apply to London.


















Midsummer's day (BST)











Spring and Autumn Equinoxes (GMT)











Midwinter's day (GMT)











During summer time only the Dhuhar salaah falls inside normal working hours in Britain, but in winter time, Dhuhar, Asr and Maghrieb all fall due in the working day afternoon. Facilities for Salaah

  1. Wudhu - ritual washing
  2. Prior to making salaah, one must have performed ritual washing, known as Wudhu. This involves washing the face, arms and feet as described in the section on Hygiene below .

  3. Musalaah or Jai-namaaz – prayer mat
  4. The place to pray must be clean in accordance with religious definitions, and this is usually achieved by use of a prayer mat. There is no other ceremonial significance to the prayer mat, which may be richly decorated or just a plain rush mat (or even a clean, big sheet of paper for want of anything better).

  5. Sutra – a barrier
  6. It is preferable to be able make one’s salaah standing behind an arbitrary object that forms a symbolic barrier between the one praying and those walking around. It is considered reprehensible to pass in front of someone performing salaah, and the Sutra barrier resolves difficulty this might cause.

  7. Salaah performance
  8. Salaah is broken down into units, called Rakaah. Each complete Salaah comprises of two, three or four Rakaah and may last from two to five minutes. Each of the five daily periods includes an obligatory and some supererogatory salaahs, so the actual overall time required is approximately as follows, but individuals will have their own preferred habits. Wudhu, ablution, may also require another five minutes prior to this time.




    5 mins


    15 mins


    10 mins


    10 mins


    25 mins

    While performing a salaah, the person praying is supposed to be wholly absorbed, oblivious of his surroundings. To acknowledge a greeting, for example, breaks the salaah. Thus for the two to five minutes duration of each salaah part, an individual will studiously ignore any attempts to catch his attention, no matter how blatant the attempts are, not out of obtuseness but out of religious duty.

    Friday prayers, Jumu’ah salaah, are by definition performed at the masjid, and may take 20 minutes in their own right, plus anything from 2 to 20 minutes for the mandatory khutbah or sermon. Furthermore many inner city masjids are small and extremely full for Friday prayers, so worshippers may need to arrive early to secure a place. Those who miss Jumu'ah in the masjid will make Dhuhar salaah instead. Some masjids provide two "sittings" of Jumu’ah salaahs, but this is not usually considered correct practice.

  9. Jama’at – Collective Salaah
  10. Whenever two or more Muslims need to perform salaah they would normally expect to make a jama'at, with one as imam and the others lined up close together behind him. When performed in Jama'at, part of Maghrieb salaah must be recited aloud, as are ’Esha and Fajr. This needs to be considered if shared and occupied space such as an office is proposed as a place for salaah.

  11. Location
  12. Whenever they possibly can, men are expected to perform salaah in the masjid, whereas although women are provided with facilities in two-thirds of masjids in Britain, very few women use them.

    There is nothing intrinsic in the salaah that requires privacy or special quiet. On the contrary, culturally, men’s salaah is exceptionally public. (Women’s salaah is expected to be discreet and private.) However partly out of concern not to be mocked in a hostile environment, and partly influenced by the Anglo-Saxon reserve from expression of religious sentiment, many Muslims and non-Muslim facilitators assume they should find a place tucked away to perform salaah.

    An organisation can go a long way towards acknowledging Muslim requirements by having a dedicated prayer room or a multi-use room used routinely by convention for salaah. There may be a public mosque (properly speaking, a masjid) in the neighbourhood, but (i) about a third of masjids have no facilities for women, (ii) time to get there may be limited, (iii) some masjids are locked up outside of fixed Jama’at times.

    Statues and pictures or portraits of people are forbidden in Islam, in abhorrence partly of aggrandisement and partly of idolatry. Therefore a location that has these features would not be acceptable for salaah. Ad hoc measures however might include covering them up or taking such features down temporarily.

  13. Travelling
  14. When on a journey there are some concessions on Salaah. The rakaahs (units) of the obligatory salaah are halved, and less significance is placed on the non-obligatory Salaahs. Travellers may also “join together” Dhuhar and Asr Salaah and Maghrieb and ’Esha Salaah. Shi’a practice allows this joining together whether travelling or not, at the boundary time, i.e. late afternoon and the end of twilight. There are two different Shari’ah definitions of when someone qualifies for the traveller’s concessions, i.e. the circumstances when an individual can apply these dispensations.

  15. footnote - Women and the Mosque
  16. In the time of Messenger of AllahDarood graphic, women came to the masjid, but his advice to them was that the best place for their salaah was in a quiet place at home and the worst was in the masjid, with the reverse case for men. His second closest companion, ’Umar, when he was khalif, responded to increasing decadence in the masjid by banning women from the masjid altogether. As a consequence nowadays, different schools of Islamic practice vary on whether women should be encouraged to use the masjid or discouraged from it, or whether indeed salaah in the masjid is a distinctly male characteristic as is, say, keeping a beard.

    In practice in Britain, among all the better known schools of practice there are masjids with facilities for women and masjids without. In most localities it is possible to find some masjids that provide facilities for women if they are willing to disregard factional niceties.

    There is no correspondence between women's use of the masjid and liberal attitudes in the masjid - almost every “Salafi” masjid has facilities for women though these are popularly considered to be the most “fundamentalist” institutions, whereas about half of all UK masjids are aligned with very orthodox, Deobandi pracice and slightly more than half of these have facilities for women, while some of the most outspoken of those who make a principle of “male-only” masjids, are among the generally liberal, Bareilvi tradition. However practically all new, purpose-build masjids include facilities for women.

    The situation of the Haram Shareef , the sanctuary of the Ka'aba in Makkah, is different because women are obliged to perform all the rituals there just as men are, so alternate segments are designated for women, and families intermingle freely. All of the masjids commonly on the visitor's itinery in Makkah and Madinah, have substantial facilities for women.

2.2.2   Sawm (Arabic) or Roza (Urdu) – Fasting

It is an obligation on all Muslims to fast in the month of Ramadhaan. The daily routine of fasting involves awaking to have enough time for breakfast before first light (which is as early as 3.03 am in midsummer in London, but 6.26 in midwinter), fasting without food or drink or ingested medication until immediately after sunset, and breaking the fast at that time. Then in the mid-evening there is a long period of extra Salaah, tarawih salaah, in which the entire Qur’an is recited over the 29 or 30 days of the month. It is highly recommended that Muslims read and recite as much of the Qur’an as they can individually during the month.

Fasting does not apply to anyone who is too sick to fast, or is on essential medication that is swallowed, injected or absorbed, or to women when menstruating, pregnant or suckling, or to travellers. Travellers may fast if it suits them. Those exempt must make up the missed fasts except those who are in a long term condition, who may instead feed a given number of the poor if they are able to afford it.

There are certain other days in the year in which optional fasts are routinely made, and some people keep habitual fasts every Monday and Thursday.

If any amount of food or drink is taken in genuine forgetfulness, fasting is not technically broken, even if it was a seven course meal! The fast merely resumes from the point where the error is remembered. There is no need to expel anything thus taken. However fasting is broken if anything, even something completely indigestible, is taken intentionally, e.g. a pebble, with the intention of mitigating hunger. There is an unsavoury habit of some to expectorate while fasting, though in fact swallowing saliva that is in the mouth does not break the fast.

Ramadhaan ends with the new moon of the following month and is followed by the feast day, Eid-ul-Fitr, literally the feast of fast-breaking.

Most of Scotland is sufficiently far north that in midsummer the boundaries of the late evening salaah, 'Esha, and the start of fasting and the morning salaah, Fajr, (i.e. first light) do not occur. In this situation the usual practice is to set a fixed time in the early morning to start the fast.

2.2.3   Zakaah – Charity

Every Muslim who owns more than a certain Shari’ah-defined amount of property and savings above their routine needs, by Islamic convention taken to be around £700 of savings unused for a year or more, is required to pay 2½% as Zakaat, literally ‘purification’ of their wealth. The money must be distributed to Shari’ah-defined poor Muslims, those who have insufficient wherewithal to be assured of their next meal.

Numerous charities and private initiatives exist to channel these funds for distribution to poor communities overseas. This activity is concentrated in Ramadhaan since any obligatory religious act is deemed many times more virtuous in that month.

2.2.4   Hajj – Pilgrimmage to Makkah

Any Muslim who has the means to do so and can support his family for the duration, is under obligation to perform Hajj once in his life. Hajj requires a visit to Makkah (Mecca) and Arafat nearby, and invariably includes a number of days in Madinah 300 miles further north. Hajj occurs during the second week of the month of Dhul-Hijjah which is two months after Ramadhaan. (see 5.3  The Muslim Year) Visits to Makkah and Madinah can be made at most other times too, but do not qualify as the Hajj proper and are called Umrah. Any visit to Makkah, for Hajj or Umrah, must include specific rituals, particularly wearing ihram, comprising for men just two unstitched cloths; circumambulating the Kaaba, the black-shrouded masjid built first by Abraham; making seven walks between the hillocks of Sa'fa and Marwah; and having the head shaved (men) or a lock of hair cut (women).

Umrah can take as little as a couple of hours and is not an obligation in the way that Hajj is. Hajj covers five continuous days of activity, spent in Makkah, nearby in Mina, then on the Day of Hajj, on the plain of Arafat, and is followed with the feast day of Eid-ul-Adha, literally the feast of sacrifice, in which an animal is slaughtered for each adult in the family, and its meat distributed to relatives, friends and the poor. Stoning of three pillars takes place over the next three days in Mina. The pillars represent three ancient idols that once stood there and symbolise stoning the devil and rejection of idolatry of all kinds.

Either before or after Hajj, pilgrims normally spend 8 consecutive days at Masjid an-Nabi Darood graphic as well. In total, time required for Hajj involves at least three weeks off, and more for making arrangements such as visas and visiting or collecting close relatives living elsewhere. Hajj is a major event for a family and can only take place at the specific time of the Islamic Year.

Diversity Note: It can be difficult for employees to make arrangements for sufficient annual leave at the right time for all the family to travel together as required, so a valuable concession by employers would be to make special allowance for the period on one or a few occasions in a person's career. It is also helpful not to regard this leave as trivial holiday leave, though there is usually no reason why it shouldn't come out of annual leave entitlement, or through carrying-forward leave for exceptional reasons (say 5 days per year acumulated over 5 years). (Non-Muslims might also benefit from this kind of concession.)

Women travelling to Saudi Arabia are obliged to travel with their husband or a mahram male, i.e. a brother, father, son, nephew or uncle. For this reason if a widow living in, say Pakistan, wants to go for Hajj and her son is living in Britain, she must obtain a Hajj visa in Pakistan, her son must obtain a Hajj visa from Britain and travel first to Pakistan to accompany her for Hajj, and return the same way. Furthermore most Muslim countries are subject to Hajj quotas imposed by Saudi Arabia, so families in Britain may not know until quite late that relatives overseas that are obliged to accompany them, have succeeded in getting Hajj visas.

Hajj is an enormously exhausting and intense time, and one's time is occupied almost entirely with religious devotions. Eating and sleeping is consciously reduced to a basic minimum. While the opportunity exists to meet Muslims from all over the world on a more or less equal footing, the atmosphere of worship and singularity of purpose act to reinforce the spiritul intensity of the occasion. This is very much an intended consequece of Hajj and so it should be no surprise that people returning from Hajj are often substantially changed by their experience. Indeed this is precisely what their objective should be in going. However the cultural shock of returning to mundane work can cause some upsets for those whose habits before Hajj were less obviously religious. For example, someone who before making Hajj did not trouble with the daily salaah at least at work, will be anxious not to break the habit now gained. But he or she may feel very awkward about praying in the workplace or taking time out to go to the masjid if there is no well-established arrangement for this, and some of the more contentious aspects such as the need for ritual wash before salaah, (see 9.1  Wudhu – Washing before prayer) may cause the returning Hajji to behave apparently strangely to avoid friction with colleagues.

Finally, while it may sound morbid, many elderly Muslims of a pious disposition, set out for Hajj very late in life with the thought, even wish, that they may die there, to be interred in hallowed ground. With the tremendous stresses of the Hajj rituals and the enormous gatherings, this wish is very often fulfilled, and of course this too will cause extra complications for the returning family and may delay a return to work.

2.3        Ecumenicalism and Interfaith

Muslims have always been constantly preoccupied with ensuring that Islam retains its pristine state free of the influence of other religions.  Efforts to this end include continual reminders that the Qur’an’s Arabic text is immutable and translations are mere opinions of its meaning; all manner of precautions to ensure that performance of salaah is not inadvertently directed towards a symbol or person or portrait; and avoidance of bringing in to Islam ceremonies or celebrations that echo aspects of other religions that Islam rejects.

Thus for example, although Muslims believe as an article of faith, in the miraculous virgin birth of the Prophet Jesus, both the taking part in celebration of Christmas and celebration of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad Darood graphic are controversial issues (most Muslims would disdain the former; Deobandis and Salafis would strongly oppose the latter).  The symbolism of Easter is of course anathema for Muslims but fundamental to Christianity.  The Jewish Passover has been consciously incorporated into Islam albeit with deliberate changes.  Hindu devotions being the very definition of idolatry from a Muslim perspective, it is inconceivable that Muslims could participate in a Hindu-inspired, religiously oriented gathering. A similar response would apply to Sikhs, except for the little known dispute between Sikhs and Muslims, namely that Muslims claim that the first two or three founders of Sikhi were actually Muslim missionaries sent to Hindus and that later generations of Sikhs half-reverted to Hinduism (hence perhaps the Sikhs’ claim to be defenders of all religions and their respect for the Qur’an).  While Jews, Muslims and Christians may converge on a common concept of God the Creator, ambiguous terms like ‘Lord’ have for Muslims enough of a Christian resonance for many to assume that even in an ecumenical context this is too close for comfort to unintended polytheism (in this case implying worshipping Jesus).

Participation in ecumenical gatherings is always ultimately a personal choice for individual Muslims.  People in position of religious authority have particular concern that a religious act involving another faith’s traditions might be interpreted as an endorsement of the act, or worse, may make the participant vulnerable to accusations of weakness in his own practice, especially in the fractious atmosphere of the Muslim community where authority is weak.

As long as Muslims continue to see themselves as put upon, some Muslim figures will be uncomfortable with participating in activities that appear to drive them into positions of compromise by association with other groups with which strong disagreements exist, or that are recognised as having compromised way beyond a level that the Muslim figure’s audience is ready for.  Political sensitivities of the Muslim community are often very different to those of the wider British community, but often have an international context that local British sensibilities ignore.  Therefore one should not be dismayed by the poor response from many Muslim representatives to ecumenical initiatives.