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Understanding the five Pillars of Islamic Faith

The ‘five pillars’ of Islam are the fundamental deeds which form the basis of a Muslim’s faith. No matter to which part of the world the Muslim belongs, these five pillars define the basic identity of Muslims and encompass the unity of their faith, their beliefs and their practices.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“The structure of Islam is raised on five (pillars) : testifying that there is no God (none truly worthy of being worshiped) but Allah, and that Mohammad is the messenger of Allah, performing the prayer, paying the Zakah (poor-due), fasting the month of Ramadan, and performing Hajj.” 

♦ Testimony of Faith

The first pillar of Islam is the ‘shahada’ or testimony of faith, without which a person cannot enter Islam or be called a Muslim. This simple yet profound statement expresses a Muslim’s complete acceptance and total commitment to Islam.

The Shahada can be declared as follows:

“Ash-Hadu Anla Elaha Illa-Allah Wa Ash-Hadu Anna Mohammadan Rasul-Allah.”

 (There is no God worthy of worship but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger.)

The first part of shahada deals with the belief in Oneness of Allah which is the fundamental teaching of Islam and foundation of Islamic faith. The second part avers that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the last messenger of Allah sent for guidance of mankind. Success in life and hereafter can be achieved only by following the teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

After proclamation of shahada, it is incumbent upon a Muslim to shun all things declared wrong or sinful in Islam and embrace all good deeds that have been ordained by Allah and His last messenger.

♦ Salat:

Salat or prayer is the second pillar of Islam. It was the first act of worship that was made obligatory upon the Muslims during the journey of ‘Meraj’ in the 10th year of Prophethood. Salat is the first act that the person will be held accountable for on the Day of Judgment.

Praying five times a day is compulsory for all adult male and female Muslims, rich or poor, whether at home or traveling, during peace or war, whether healthy or sick. Only menstruating women are exempt from praying. Numerous verses in the Qur’an exhort the Muslims to offer their prayers regularly.

“Guard strictly the Salah, especially the middle Salah (asr). And stand before Allah with obedience.” (2:238)

“Verily, salat has been enjoined on the believers at fixed times. (Surah An-Nisa 4: 103)

 “Observe Salat. Surely salat restrains one from indecency and manifest evil and remembrance of Allah is indeed the greatest virtue.” (Surah Al-Ankaboot 29:45)

♦ Sawm:

Sawm is the third pillar of Islam and became obligatory in the second year of Hijrah, the time of migration of Muslims from Mecca to Medina. Sawm generally means “to abstain from something.” In Islamic terminology, it means to abstain from eating, drinking and having physical relationship with the spouse from dawn till dusk in obedience to Allah’s commands in order to seek His mercy and forgiveness.

Fasting has been enjoined upon all healthy and adult Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan which is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.

It is stated in Quran:

“O you who believe, fasting is decreed for you, as it was decreed for those before you, that you may attain salvation.” (2: 183)

The purpose of fasting is to achieve self restraint and self-discipline through spiritual reflection, prayers, recitation of the Qur’an and remembrance of Allah.

♦ Zakat:

Zakat is the fourth pillar of Islam and became obligatory on the Muslims in the second year of the hijri calendar. The literal meaning of the word “zakat” is to purify, to develop and cause to grow. According to Islamic Sharia, zakat is the amount of money that every adult, free, and financially able Muslim, male and female, has to pay to support the poor and the needy persons of the Muslim society.

“The men who give in charity and the women who give in charity and set apart for Allah a goodly portion, it will be doubled for them, and theirs is a generous reward.” (The Quran 57:19)

The prescribed rate of zakat is 2.5% of accumulated wealth when it is in form of cash, gold or silver. Separate rates are fixed for commodities like cattle, crops and mineral resources, each explained clearly in the Quran and Hadith. The Quran contains severe warnings for those who do not pay zakat.

♦ Hajj

Hajj is an obligatory duty upon every healthy, adult Muslims who can physically and financially afford to perform the pilgrimage. It is one of the five pillars of Islam and enjoined upon Muslims just once in their lifetime if they have means to do so.

Abu Hurayrah reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) gave a sermon (khutbah) and said: “O people, Allah has enjoined Hajj upon you, so do Hajj.” (Narrated by Muslim, 1337)

The benefits of performing Hajj are many and include both worldly and spiritual gains. The pilgrim who goes for Hajj earns the pleasure of Allah as he fulfills one of the main requirements of Islamic faith. If he performs Hajj with sincerity of heart and purity of intention for Allah’s sake, all his previous sins are forgiven

Following the five pillars of Islam give stability and strength to a Muslim’s faith. A true Muslim cannot dispute or disregard any of these five fundamental principles of Islam.