Learning Islam

The Five Pillars of Islam

These fundamentals of Islam are considered obligatory by believers and serve as the foundation of Muslim life. They are shahadah (Islamic creed), daily prayers (Salah), almsgiving (Zakāt), fasting during the month of Ramadan (Sawm), and the pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj) at least once in a lifetime.

  1. Shahadah is the declaration of faith, i.e. the professing that there is only one God (Allah) (monotheism) and that Muhammad is His messenger. Kalima is a set statement normally recited in Arabic: ‘La ‘ilaa-ha ‘il-lal-laa-hu mu-ham-ma-dur ra-soo-lul-laah, translated to “I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad is His Servant and Messenger.” The testimony of faith is the most important pillar of Islam.

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2. Salah is the Islamic prayer. Salah consists of five daily prayers according to the Sunnah (Prophetic Tradition). The names are according to the prayer times: Fajr (dawn, performed before sunrise), Dhuhr (noon, performed midday after the sun has surpassed the highest point), Asr (afternoon, performed before sunset), Maghrib (evening, performed after sunset), and Isha’ (night, performed as the last prayer of the night).

3. Zakat: All things belong to Allah, and wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust.  The original meaning of the word zakat is both ‘purification’ and ‘growth.’  Giving zakat means ‘giving a specified percentage on certain properties to certain classes of needy people.’  The percentage which is due on gold, silver, and cash funds that have reached the amount of about 85 grams of gold and held in possession for one lunar year is two and a half percent.  Our possessions are purified by setting aside a small portion for those in need, and, like the pruning of plants, this provides balance while encouraging new growth.

4. Fasting: Muslims fast during the lunar month of Ramadan from dawn until sunset, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations. Although the fast is beneficial to health, it is regarded principally as a method of spiritual self-purification. By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, a fasting person gains true sympathy with those who go hungry and gains a more spiritual connection with Allah.

5. Hajj: The annual pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for those who are physically and financially able to perform it.  About two million people go to Makkah each year from every corner of the globe, with the annual Hajj performed in the twelfth month of the lunar Islamic calendar. Male pilgrims wear special simple clothes which strip away distinctions of class and culture so that all stand equal before Allah. The rites of Hajj include circling the Kaaba seven times and going seven times between the mountains of Safa and Marwa, commemorating Hagar’s search for water.  Then the pilgrims stand together in Arafat and pray to Allah for His forgiveness, in what is often thought of as a preview of the Day of Judgment.