.أشهد أن لا إله إلا الله و أشهد أن محمد رسول الله
Transliteration: Ashadu an la ilaha illa (A)llah, wa ashadu anna Muhammadan rasulu (A)llah
English: I bear witness that (or I testify that) there is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.
The Shahada is the first Pillar of Islam and is often cited as the most important of the Five Pillars. The Shahada is the Islamic Creed or profession of faith and must be recited correctly aloud with full understanding and internal assent and without compulsion.
A single honest recitation of the Shahada in Arabic is the only initial requirement to enter Islam. There is some differing opinion on whether the Shahada needs to be recited in public for it to be valid – I personally have not found a single reference in the Hadith indicating this. I also truly believe that Allah is the Best Witness. I do, however, recommend reciting the Shahada in public in front of Muslim witnesses for the reason that there will be a more welcoming feeling to Islam.
The Shahada is a commitment which must be regularly remembered and renewed. The Shahada is also recited in the Adhan (call to prayer) by the muzzein (person chosen by each mosque to perform the call to prayer) and is part of Salat (daily prayer). It is also whispered in a newborn's ears and is recited in the moments before death.
The Shahada expresses the two simple, fundamental beliefs that make one a Muslim. It represents acceptance not only of Allah and His prophet, but of the entirety of Islam. The complete Shahada cannot be found in the Qur'an, but comes from Hadiths [See Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 2, Number 47 and Sahih Muslim Book 001, Number 0001]
Let us slice it into two sections and examine it in a bit more detail.
The first part of the Shahada declares one’s belief in monotheism, the Oneness of God. He is without equal, without partner, parent or child. Allah - Glory be to Him – is the only true God, Who alone deserves to be worshipped. He cannot be compared with any other thing, He is the Creator of all that is seen and unseen, and everything in the entire Universe is under His Control and His Command.
This first statement is clear rejection of all false gods and a rejection of any associations with God. [See Surah Al-Ikhlas 112:1-4]
The second part of the Shahada declares one’s acknowledgement and belief that Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) is the servant and messenger of Allah.
Muslims should acknowledge that we can learn what Allah wants from us by adhering to the message sent via His Messenger Muhammad (pbuh). Muslims are required to believe what Muhammad (pbuh) said, to practise his teachings and follow his example, to avoid what he has forbidden, and to worship Allah alone according to the message revealed to him. [See Surah An-Nisa 4:80]