Five Pillars of Islam
The “five pillars of Islam” are religious duties that provide a framework for a Muslim’s life. These duties are performed regularly and encompass duties to God, to personal spiritual growth, to care for the poor, self-discipline, and sacrifice.
In Arabic, “arkan” (pillars) provide structure and hold something steadily in place. They provide support, and all must be present for the framework to balance steadily. The articles of faith provide a foundation, answering the question of “what do Muslims believe?” The Five Pillars of Islam help Muslims to structure their lives around that foundation, answering the question of “how do Muslims affirm their faith in daily life?”
Islamic teachings about the Five Pillars of Islam are found in the Quran and the Hadith. In the Quran, they are not outlined in a neat bullet-pointed list, but are rather dispersed throughout the Quran and emphasized in importance through repetition.
The Prophet Muhammad did mention the five pillars of Islam in an authentic narration (hadith):
“Islam has been built upon five [pillars]: testifying that there is no diety but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, performing the prayers, paying the zakah, making the pilgrimage to the House, and fasting in Ramadan” (Hadith Bukhari, Muslim).
Shahaadah (Profession of Faith)
The first act of worship that every Muslim performs is a confirmation of faith, known as the shahaadah. The word shahaadah literally means “to bear witness,” so by professing faith verbally, one is bearing witness to the truth of Islam’s message and its most fundamental teachings. The shahaadah is repeated by Muslims several times each day, both individually and in daily prayer, and it is a frequently-written phrase in Arabic calligraphy.
People who want to convert to Islam do so by simply reciting the shahaadah aloud, preferably in front of two witnesses. There is no other requirement or prerequisite ceremony for embracing Islam. Muslims also strive to say or hear these words as their last, before they die.
Daily prayer is a touchstone in a Muslim’s life. In Islam, prayer is directly to Allah alone, directly, without any intermediary or intercessor. Muslims take time out five times each day to direct their hearts towards worship. The movements of prayer – standing, bowing, sitting, and prostrating – represent humility before the Creator. Words of prayer include words of praise and thanks to Allah, verses from the Quran, and personal supplications.
In the Quran, giving in charity to the poor is often mentioned hand-in-hand with daily prayer. It is central to a Muslim’s core belief that everything we have comes from Allah, and is not ours to hoard or covet. We should feel blessed for everything we have and must be willing to share with those less fortunate. Charity at any time is recommended, but there is also a set percentage required for those who reach a certain minimum net worth.
Many communities observe fasting as a way to purify the heart, mind, and body. In Islam, fasting helps us to empathize with those less fortunate, helps us to reprioritize our lives, and brings us closer to Allah in strengthened faith. Muslims may fast throughout the year, but all adult Muslims of sound body and mind must fast during the month of Ramadan each year. The Islamic fast lasts from dawn to sunset each day, during which time no food or drink of any kind is consumed. Muslims also spend the time in additional worship, refrain from bad talk and gossip, and share in friendship and in charity with others.
Unlike the other “pillars” of Islam, which are performed on a daily or annual basis, the pilgrimage is required to be done only once in a lifetime. Such is the impact of the experience and the hardship that it entails. The Hajj pilgrimage occurs during a certain set month every year, lasts for several days, and is only required of those Muslims who are physically and financially able to make the journey.