The Five Pillars of Islam

In order that he may lead his life properly in this world, Quran (the word of God) and Hadith (the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad) provide man with an action plan known as the ‘Five Pillars of Islam.’ These are Iman (faith), Salat (prayers), Zakah (almsgiving), Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah) and Sawm (fasting).

Just as a house stands on pillars, so does the Islamic faith stand on these five tenets. These pillars are not mere rituals, but if performed with the true spirit, they become the source of receiving the choicest divine blessings.

1. Iman (Faith)

The literal meaning of Iman is to believe in or to have faith in something. This deep faith is attainable through realization alone. Hence it would be proper to say that faith is a discovery and that there is no discovery greater than the discovery of God.

One is required not only to testify to one’s faith, in the oneness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad by word of mouth (Shahadah bil Lisan), but also to accept it with all his heart and soul. Through this article of faith, a man accepts God and all His attributes. He also accepts that God sent Muhammad (on whom be peace) to this world as the eternal guide for all mankind. If this reality reaches one’s heart, it becomes a part of one’s being. One’s heart opens to the truth and reality. In other words, Iman is to accept Islam with conviction.

There are seven things, which are essential for a Muslim to believe in. These come under the heading of Iman Mufassal, a detailed declaration of faith:

1. Belief in one God, 2. Belief in His angels, 3. Belief in His revealed Books, 4. Belief in all of His messengers, 5. Belief in the Last Day (the Day of Judgment), 6. Belief in Taqdir or the doctrine of predestination, which means that everything good or bad is decided by God and 7. Belief in the Life after Death.

2. Salat (Prayer)

Salat means prayer. It forms the most important part of Islamic worship. It is obligatory or Farz for a Muslim to offer prayer five times a day – at daybreak (Fajr), noon (Zohr), mid-afternoon (Asr), sunset (Maghrib), and evening (Isha). Besides this, Nafil (voluntary prayer) may be said at other times. The spirit of salah is khushu, which means submission. Salat is intended to inculcate a deep sense of submission in a believer, which is expressed externally by his physical bowing in the postures of ruku and sajdah. The spirit of these daily five prayers is humility. One who bows before his Creator, in the true spirit will be devoid of pride and ego. Muslims have been advised in the Quran to be steadfast, in their prayer (29:45) for prayer keeps away indecency and evil. One who performs his prayer in its true spirit cannot become forgetful of God after his prayer is over. The actions of prayer are a manifestation of the fact that one’s heart is full of fear and love for God. Therefore, if prayers are said in their true spirit, one’s prayer will surely fend off indecency and evil by purifying the worshipper’s soul and serve to bring him closer to God.

3. Zakah (alms-giving)

Zakah means purity. This means that a man purifies his earnings by giving away one part of them in the path of God. In this way, zakah awakens the sense in man not to consider his earnings as his own possession, but a gift of God. Zakah is, in essence, a practical acknowledgement of God’s bounties. It is this admission, which is no doubt the greatest form of worship. Zakah, in reality, is a form of sacrifice meant to underlie those ethical values, which are known in Islam as Huququl Ibad, that is, fulfillment of one’s responsibilities towards others. Thus the spirit of Zakah is the service of mankind. It requires an annual contribution of 2.5 percent of an individual’s wealth and assets. Therefore Zakah, far from being viewed as “charity,” is an obligation—for those who have received their wealth from God—to help the less weaker members of the community: “...the poor, orphans, and widows, to free slaves and debtors, and to support those working for the cause of God.” (9:60).

4. Hajj (Pilgrimage)

The root meaning of the word, “Hajj” is to set out or to make a pilgrimage. Hajj means visiting sacred places in Hijaz in the month of Dhul Hijjah in order to perform the annual worship required of a believer once in his lifetime. Hajj is a symbol of Islamic unity and it is through Hajj that interaction takes place between Muslims on an international scale. It is also through Hajj that Muslims from all over the world are reminded of the sacrifice of Prophet Abraham (May peace be upon him). On the pilgrimage they also witness the historical places associated with the Prophet Muhammad. In this way they return with a long-lasting inspiration, which continues to activate them to adhere to the path of God throughout their lives. At least once in his or her lifetime, every adult Muslim who is physically and financially able, is required to make the sacrifice of time, money, comforts by becoming a pilgrim totally at God’s service.

The pilgrims wear simple garments, two seamless white clothes for men and a dress that entirely covers the body, except the face and hands, for women. These coverings symbolize purity as well as the unity and equality of all believers. Some important rituals to be performed during the Hajj are as follows:

—  Tawaf (circumambulation), i.e. going round the Kabah seven times.

—  Saee: the pilgrims undertake a brisk walk between Safa and Marwah, two hillocks near the Kabah.

—  Standing on Arafat: the pilgrims gather at Arafat and pray to God throughout the day,  reciting the Talbiyah. This standing on the 9th day of Dhul Hijjah is very important. According to tradition, standing at Arafat is the culmination of the pilgrimage.

It was at Arafat that the Prophet delivered his farewell sermon to his people from the Mount of Mercy, a hill in the middle of the plane.

In one Hadith, the Prophet called it “the supreme act of worship.” But it is not just the rites of pilgrimage that constitute this importance; it is the spirit in which Hajj is performed. Hajj has been prescribed so that it may inspire us with a new religious fervour with one’s faith in God strengthened and rekindled – that is the hallmark of a true pilgrim.

5. Sawm (Fasting)

The Arabic term for fasting is, ‘Sawm’ which means to abstain. It is a form of worship, which has to be observed annually, in the month of Ramadan. The outward form of sawm is abstinence from eating and drinking from morning till sunset. The inner state of sawm is renunciation of all things that God has forbidden, directly or indirectly. It aims at weakening the material aspect of man and strengthening the spirituality in him. When a man fasts, observing all these aspects of fasting then he comes to experience closeness with God.