The primary place of worship for Muslims is a mosque (masjid). Mosques around the world vary depending on resources and culture. Common features found throughout include the minaret (slim tower where the call to prayer is made), a dome, a prayer hall and a miḥrāb (an ornamental indentation in the wall that marks the direction of the Ka‘bah in Mecca, Saudi Arabia). Mosques usually function as a place of congregational prayer as well as a community and educational centre. Ceremonies and services connected to life events such as marriage and birth are not usually performed in a mosque. There are usually no statues or pictures used or featured inside the building. Rather, only calligraphic inscriptions of verses from the Qur’ān.
The term madrasah broadly refers to an educational institution. Such institutions were originally dedicated to the study of Islamic sciences and theology. In contemporary times, a madrasah is generally any school below university level dedicated to teaching the Qur’ān. The term madrasah is also sometimes used to refer to Muslim religious schools specifically for European-born children of Muslim immigrants.
Visitors are permitted to visit a mosque to attend an official function, meet community members and learn about Islam. All visitors are expected to be respectful by observing of etiquette:
- Modest dress for both males and females is expected. A common practice is for clothing to extend past the knees and shoulders, as well as covering the chest.
- In many mosques, it is not required for visiting women to cover their hair, but the gesture is welcome. In some mosques, head coverings for females are required, which are usually provided.
- Before entering the prayer area, one is required to remove their shoes.
- In the prayer hall, people sit on the floor, which is covered with rugs.
- Minor ritual purification (wuḍu’) is required before prayer.
- Men and women pray in the same congregational prayer, but in two separate spaces within the mosque. The separation can take many forms, such as a separate area or room.
- While professional chanters (known as qāri’) may recite the Qur’ān, no music or singing is permissible.
- It is disrespectful and inappropriate to walk in front of someone who is in prayer, especially since it may disrupt them.
Handling religious texts
In Islam, there are a number of expectations related to the handling of religious texts, especially the Qur’ān. This belief stems from the regard that the Qur’ān is the literal word of God. The printed Arabic text of the Qur’ān is known as the muṣḥaf. These are special protocols Muslims follow when handling, touching or reading from the muṣḥaf.
- According to Surah 56:77-79, only those who are pure and clean should touch the text. Some interpret this to mean that only those of Muslim faith should handle the text. Regardless of who handles the text, there is a general belief that the person needs to be physically and ritually clean (i.e. completed a wuḍu’).
- Some Muslims believe that a non-Muslim should not handle the Qur’ān if it is printed in Arabic but are permitted to listen to the text or handle a non-Arabic translation.
- If the Qur’ān is not in use, the text should be closed and stored in a respectable place.
- Worn out copies of the Qur’ān with broken binding should be wrapped in cloth and buried in a deep hole with the absence of any impurities. One can also place the book in flowing water to dissolve the ink, or burn the text.
Prayer Mats (Sajjādatu al-Ṣalāh)
Sajjādatu al-Ṣalāh, known in English as a prayer mat or rug, is used by Muslims to cover the ground while they pray. The prayer rug should be laid down pointing towards the sacred house (Ka‘bah) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia while in use. Prayer rugs come in a variety of designs and colours, often decorated with religious symbols.
A turbah is a piece of soil, clay, stone or wood, usually from the city of Karbalā’, used by a Shi’ite during daily prayers (ṣalāh).
Prayer Beads (Subḥah)
Subḥah are prayer beads that some Muslims use during prayer. Islamic prayer beads come in a range of colours and styles but all follow common design qualities. For instance, subḥah have either 33 round beads or 99 round beads separated by flat disks into three groups of 33. There is usually a larger bead and a tassel at one end to mark the start point. To use the beads, the worshipper touches one bead at a time while simultaneously reciting words of remembrance of God (dhikr). These recitations are usually phrases that glorify God.
Islam strictly prohibits visual depictions of God and Muḥammad. As such, artistry is usually expressed in the form of calligraphy (al-khaṭ al-‘arabī). Written verses from the Qur’ān in calligraphy are used in many contexts. For example, they adorn the walls of mosques and the front cover of the Qur’ān. Short verses with relevant content may be found on the entrance to schools or hospitals. Moreover, some national flags feature calligraphy of Qur’ān verses or Islamic phrases.
Islamic dress code is generally guided by the principles of modesty (ḥayā’) and partition (ḥijāb). Dress is considered one aspect of modesty, a value that is expected to be demonstrated through one’s behaviour, speech and manners. The general pattern is that Muslims are expected to dress in a way that upholds modesty, but there is no fixed standard as to the style or type of clothing Muslims are required to wear. For both men and women, one’s overall appearance should be modest without excessive articles of wealth. Clothes should generally be loose fitting so as not to outline one’s body shape. Clothing should also be thick enough so that one’s skin cannot be seen through the clothing.
Standards of modesty call for men to cover the part of the body between the navel and the knees. A bare chest is also usually frowned upon in situations where it may draw attention. There are articles of clothing men might wear, depending on the tradition, the region and the local culture:
- Many wear a long-sleeved tunic over long loose-fitting pants.
- Some men choose to grow a beard, usually as a way to emulate Muḥammad.
- It is encouraged for Muslim men to cover their heads, especially when they are going to prayer. A common headpiece during prayer or when inside a mosque is a sunnah cap (ṭāqiyah) or small hat.
- In the Arabian Peninsula, a popular headwear is a rectangular or square head scarf (ghutrah) worn with a rope band (‘igāl).
- Some may wear a turban (a long piece of cloth wrapped around the head). The colour and method of folding the turban depends on the region and culture. In some cases among Sunnī Muslims, those believed to be descendants of Muḥammad may wear black turbans.
- Muslim men are prohibited to wear gold accessories or clothing made from silk.
The notion of partition (ḥijāb) is particularly important in determining what is appropriate for Muslim women to wear around someone who is classified as not maḥram. Code of conduct for dress is often greatly relaxed when individuals are in their home and around their family since the emphasis is on one’s public presentation, especially around men who are not maḥram.
Some women will also dress in loose clothing that covers most of one’s body. Standards of modesty call for women to cover the chest (Surah 24:30-31). Some Muslims interpret this verse in the Qur’ān as requiring women to wear some sort of head covering. More conservative Muslims may cover the entire body. Choice of head coverings depends on personal choice, region, culture and familial expectations. Moreover, some Muslim women choose to wear a head covering as a way to affirm their Islamic identity. The following are examples of head coverings:
- Shaylah: A long scarf wrapped around the head and pinned or tucked in place at the shoulders. Also sometimes known as a khalijī shaylah.
- Ḥijāb: As a type of dress, a ḥijāb is a veil that covers the head, hair and neck while still showing the face and perhaps the hairline. Scarves can come in various colours and shapes.
- Al-Amīrah: A two-piece veil, consisting of a close-fitting cap and an accompanying tube-like scarf.
- Khimār: A long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist. It covers the hair, neck and shoulders, while the face is left visible.
- Shādhūr: An outer garment that is body-length and usually black in colour. It is commonly accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath. It does not have any buttons or clasps, so women tend to hold it closed. Also sometimes known as a .
- Niqāb: A scarf that covers the head and face, but not the eyes. It is usually worn with a loose black garment (‘abāyah) that covers head to feet.
- Burqu‘: A type of veil that covers the whole body, from the top of the head to the feet. It also covers the entire face with a mesh or net cloth near the eyes to enable the woman to see through.
Islamic dietary laws categorise foods as either allowed (ḥalāl) or forbidden (ḥarām) for consumption by Muslims. Generally, all food and drink are ḥalāl except for specifically forbidden cases. Foods specifically identified as forbidden (ḥarām) are:
- Dead meat that has not been slaughtered by appropriate means (see dhabīḥah below).
- Pork or food containing traces of pork.
- Alcoholic drinks or food containing traces of alcohol.
- Meat that has been sacrificed to idols or in the name of anything other than God.
- Meat already partially consumed or killed by wild animals.
Under certain or exceptional circumstances, prohibited food and drink can be consumed without being deemed a sin. Muslims may also eat foods that adhere to Jewish dietary laws when ḥalāl foods are unavailable.
Preparation of Animal Meat (Dhabīḥah)
An integral part of Islamic dietary law is the prescribed method of animal slaughter, known as dhabḥ. This method requires the throat of the animal to be slit in a swift and merciful manner while reciting the name of God (Surah 6:118-121). It is required that the animal does not suffer nor see the blade prior to slaughter. Dhabīḥah does not apply to fish or other aquatic animals which are all considered ḥalāl. Meat prepared according to dhabīḥah is considered to be ḥalāl meat, thus suitable for Muslims to consume.
Muslims may abstain from eating meat if they are unsure of how it was slaughtered. According to Surah 5:5, a Muslim may eat meat that is slaughtered according to traditional Jewish and Christian practices. However, apart from kosher meat, these practices are no longer common. Thus, unless specifically labelled as kosher or ḥalāl, commercial meat is not suitable for Muslims.
There are special dietary laws relating to the Islamic month of Ramaḍān. During this time, Muslims who are physically and mentally fit participate in a month-long fast (ṣawm). Muslims abstain from food and drink, along with other activities during the hours between dawn and dusk. After completing the sunset prayer (ṣalāt al-maghrib), Muslims usually gather in their homes or local mosques to break their fast with a shared meal called ifṭār. Just before dawn, Muslims will partake in a pre-dawn meal, known as suḥūr, to prepare them for the ṣawm.
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