What is the Shahada?

Shahada is an Arabic term meaning 'testimony'. In Islamic context, this testimony refers to the belief in Allah and His Prophet Muhammad.

The Shahada summarizes the essence of Islam in a short statement. However, despite the short pronunciation, this has a deep meaning.

Thus, the Islamic testimony of faith is an inseparable part of Islam. It is the first pillar of religion. Then follow the other 4 pillars of Islam which are also inseparable from Islam.

You pronounce the Shahada if you want to convert to Islam. Muslims also pronounce this statement when, for example, they make the call to prayer and apostates pronounce it to return to Islam.

Shahada pronunciation

Below we describe the pronunciation according to Sunnism. This testimony of faith has been narrated in several Prophetic traditions (Hadith). And this is the most followed way.

In Arabic: أَنْ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا الله ، وَأَشْهَدُ أَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ الله
Meaning: I bear witness that nothing and no one has the right to be worshiped except Allah. And I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah
How to pronounce: Esh-hedu el-laa ilaha illa Allah, wa esh-hedu ennaa Mohammedan rasul Allah

Shiites and Alevis add an extra element to the Shahada, which is: "and that Ali is God's friend". According to them, this is not a requirement when pronouncing the Shahada.

Quranists reject the traditions (Hadith), and pronounce the Shahada thus follow the verses of the Quran. They say: "Laa ilaha illa Allah (there is no deity except Allah)". Because of this they abandon also pronouncing: "and that Muhammad is His messenger".

According to the Sunni movement, the statement "and that Muhammad is his messenger" must be pronounced. That testimony is a requirement for convertion to Islam.

Convert with the Shahada

Conversion to Islam takes place after a person makes this statement of faith with full conviction and acceptance. This person has then become a Muslim after the requirements of conversion.

It is not a requirement to give this testimony to witnesses. Therefore, it does not have to be done in a mosque. You can take the Shahada with witnesses, in a community or just before God alone.

It is also important that the index finger does not have to be raised when pronouncing the Shahada. This has no proof in Islam.

Meaning of Laa ilaha illa Allah

The Islamic testimony of faith consists of the statement 'Laa ilaha illa Allah'. This part has a deep meaning. Its literal translation is: 'There is no god but Allah'.

It is not enough to pronounce that statement without practicing its deep meaning. And that is to believe that no one has the right to be worshiped except Allah.

لَا إِلَٰهَ
Translation: No one has the right to be worshiped
How to pronounce: Laa ilaha
إِلَّا الله
Translation: Except Allah
How to pronounce: illa Allah

Every Messenger of Islam came with the message to worship Allah without partners. It is something that all Messengers had in common.

And verily, We have sent to every nation a Messenger (proclaiming): “Worship Allah and reject the Taghut (false gods).
(16:36 Quran)

Laa ilaha illa Allah comes down to disbelieving in idols and believing in Allah. In Islam, disbelief in idols has the term: Kufr bit Taghut. Believing in Allah has the term: Emanu bi Allah, which is also the first pillar of faith.

Thus, the Shahada is a rejection of false gods and an affirmation that there is only one God: Allah.

When is the Shahada pronounced?

In addition to conversion to Islam, the Shahada is also pronounced in other situations. Muslims say this, for example, in the daily prayer calls.

1. First call to prayer (Adhaan)

During the daily prayer call to prayer (adhan) of the Muslims, the Shahadatayn is pronounced twice, five times a day. The Muslims make the call to prayer only in a mosque and prayer meeting. Thus, the adhan is intended as the first prayer call for Muslims to be informed that prayer time has begun.

Description of the Adhan Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar. Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar. Ash-hadu allaa ilaha illa Allah. Ash-hadu allaa ilaha illa Allah. Ash-hadu annaa Muhammadan rasulullah. Ash-hadu annaa Muhammadan rasulullah. Hayya 'ala Salat. Hayya 'ala Salat Hayya 'ala Falah. Hayya 'ala Falah Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar. La ilaha illa Allah.

2. Second call to prayer (Iqama)

Then, when the prayer begins and the Muslims stand in rows behind the Imam to pray, the Iqama is done first. This one resembles the Adhaan, but the sentences are not repeated twice except for two. Muslims often make the second call to prayer at home when they want to start praying. This is also done in the mosque and prayer meeting.

Description of the Iqama Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar. Ash-hadu allaa ilaha illa Allah. Ash-hadu annaa Muhammadan rasulullah. Hayya 'ala Salat. Hayya 'ala Falah. Qad qamati Salat, qad qamati Salat. Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar. La ilaha illa Allah.

3. After ritual washing (Wudhu)

Every Muslim must be clean by performing a ritual washing (wudhu) before performing the prayer. This wash has both a small and a large variant. After the Muslim has finished ablution, he says the Shahadatayn to follow the Prophet (ﷺ) in his orders and actions.

Muhammad (ﷺ) said: " Anyone who recites the following after wudu, will have all eight doors of Jannah opened for him to enter from whichever of them he wishes: Ash-hadu al la ilaha illallahu wahdahu la sharika lahu wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadan ‘Abduhu wa Rasuluh " Sahih Muslim 552

4. When praying

When the Muslims pray and come to a sitting position with their right index finger outstretched, they recite the Tashahhud. This is recited after a certain set and in the sitting position at the end of the prayer.

Recitation of the Tashahhud: التحيات لله، والصلوات والطيبات، السلام عليك أيها النبي، ورحمة الله وبركاته، السلام علينا وعلى عباد الله الصالحين، أشهد أن لا إله إلا الله، وأشهد أن محمدا عبده ورسوله ‘At-tahiyatu lillahi, wa’s-salawatu wat tayyibat. As-salamu ‘alayka ayyuhan nabiyyu wa rahmatu’llahi wa barakatuhu. As-salamu ‘alayna wa ‘ala ‘ibadil lahis-salihin. Ash-hadu alla ilaha illa Allah wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadan ‘abduhu wa rasuluh. Sunan Tirmidhi 289 (Authentic) The hadith collector (Imam Tirmidhi) indicates that this is the most authentic report on the subject of the Tashahhud. Also, this recitation is used by most of the Companions of the Prophet (ﷺ), and is followed by the students of the Companions.

5. On deathbed

It is recommended to pronounce the declaration of faith before dying. Thus the words are heavy on the scales of hasanat (good deeds) and thus a Muslim ends his life with the hope of being forgiven of bad deeds. However, the person must have lived according to the testimony by having practiced Tawheed and avoided Shirk.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said: "Exhort to recite There is no god but Allah to those of you who are dying." Sahih Muslim 916a

Facts about the Shahada

  • The outstretched index finger during the Shahada does not belong to Islam
  • Some countries display the Shahada on their flags (Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Somaliland)
  • The Shahada is displayed on the flag of Jihad
  • Meaning of the Shahada is not that there is no deity besides Allah, but that nothing and no one has the right to be worshiped except Allah.
  • Also former Muslims, who have fallen into apostasy because of their act of major Shirk, pronounce this testimony again in order to turn to Islam.

Abu Athari writes about basic principles within Islam. He uses his critical and well-researched way to spread knowledge of the first three Muslim generations.

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