Muslims are required to pray five times a day. Prayers are considered a very personal form of devotion, so Muslims can pray on their own in any place that is clean (they use a prayer mat to ensure that they do not kneel on dirty ground). For communal prayer, Muslims visit the mosque. Men are expected to attend midday prayers on a Friday, the Muslim holy day. Women attend the mosque much less frequently, and when they do, they sit separately from the men. This is because the Muslim rules of modesty forbid the free mixing of the sexes.
Prayers take place before sunrise, just after midday, mid-afternoon, just after sunset and after dark. The timings vary from day to day because they depend on the position of the sun. For cleanliness, Muslims take off their shoes and wash before praying. They always pray in the direction of Makkah. There are no priests, because each individual is expected to create a direct link with Allah without the need for an intermediary; but prayers are led by an Imam (a teacher or man of knowledge), who may also preach a sermon.
Around 1,000 people attend prayers at the South London Islamic Centre on Fridays, the busiest day of the week. This rises to around 1,500 on bank holidays and to 3,000 at Eid.
People pray towards the mihrab (the niche in the wall) because this ensures that they are facing Mecca. The minbar, or pulpit, stands to the right of the mihrab. The minbar usually has three steps. The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) preached from the top step, so the imam always stands on a lower one.