In a city where the Islamic community is pretty slim, one might think that during the Open Cambridge days everyone would do all the major landmarks in the city and no one would be interested in visiting a random mosque. Surprisingly enough, there were lots of people interested in knowing more and more about Islam and all that comes with it: from how Muslims do the prayer to the 5 pillars of Islam, the visitors who attended this session spared the guide no question.
We started our tour by visiting the mosque and as we wandered in it, the guide kindly enough explained several things.
First and foremost, the guide explained to us why the Mosque was called “Abu Bakr Masjid”. Abu Bakr was one of the Prophet Muhammad apostles. Furthermore, ‘Masjid’ literally means ‘place of prostration’ because when Muslims pray they prostrate to ask Allah for forgiveness and thank him for the many blessings.
The particularity of Abu Bakr Mosque is that it was once both a catholic church and a synagogue ! It then became a mosque in the end of the 20th century.
There are 4 prayer rooms. The main one is where the imam is. Men can pray in this room. The women pray upstairs in a room where there is a television and loudspeakers, so that they can hear and see the imam and pray too. The Mosque opens two other rooms when there are a lot of believers, especially on Fridays (up to hundreds of people). The rest of the week fewer people come (mostly in the evening).
A place to pray…
Of course the Mosque is firstly an official building for believers to come and pray. In Islam, the prayer (or salah) takes place 5 times a day and each prayer has a specific time.
The first one (Fajr) is done at dawn, the second one (Dhur) at mid-day, the third one (Asr) is prior nightfall, the fourth one (Maghrib) takes place at the night fall and the last one (Ichaa) takes place late at night.
To an extent, we got an understanding that Muslims worship God by praying and by performing good deeds and avoiding bad ones. An everyday activity can be considered an act of worship when performed solely for the sake of God.
The mosque also focuses on teaching and studying the Quran : there are islamic teaching circles and lectures about various subjects.
In between prayers, people are welcome to come and read the many books in english or in arabic (Quran, religious books) on the shelves. People can come to find answers to their questions in addition to their prayer. There is also a bigger building nearby which only deals with Islamic studies (the Islamic center).
The Five Pillars of Islam
During our visit to the Cambridge Mosque, the guide showed us an exhibition regarding the Five Pillars of Islam, the main framework of Muslims life.
The first pillar is the testimony of faith (shahada). The worshipper must clearly say , « La ilaha illa Allah, Mohammad our rasoulou Allah ». « La ilaha illa Allah » means that there is no other deity than Allah so only Allah can be worshipped, and « Mohammadour rasoulou Allah » means that Mahomet is Allah’s prophet.
The prayer (salah) is the second pillar. Muslims have to pray for a few minutes five times a day in order to create a link between God and the worshipper and god. There are precise moments to pray. These moments are the dawn, noon, mid-‐afternoon, the sunset and during the night. The aim of the prayer is to feel Allah, that is to say, happiness, peace and well being.
The third pillar consists in charity: muslims have to give money to the poorest (zakat). As everything belongs to Allah, muslims have to give at least 2.5% of what they have to the needy. It gives them the opportunity to purify themselves and what they own because it stimulates a new growth.
The fourth pillar (sawm) consists in fasting during the month of Ramadan. Each year, muslims fast from dawn to sunset, they don’t drink or eat. While they fast, muslims are purified because they can understand what the poorest have to bear and grow in their spiritual life.
The pilgrimage to Makkah (haji) is the fifth and the least of the pillars of Islam. Muslims have to do this annual pilgrimage, which takes place in the twelfth month, at least once in their life. Every year, at Makkah, there are around two million people, from all over the world gather there.
(By Cassandre Carat, Oumaima Hadi and Marine Garaïcoechea)