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 The Five Pillars of Islam                


Islam is a monotheistic religion because its followers believe in one God, and it is a universal religion because a person from any background may practice the faith.  The word "Islam" means "being in peace by committing oneself to God," and the followers of Islam are known as Muslims.


To show their commitment to God, Muslims perform certain religious duties, often called the "Five Pillars" of Islam because these five duties are required of every observant Muslim.  The Five Pillars of Islam are:



to state belief in One God and the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him)


to pray five prayers each day


to pay charity each year


to fast from dawn to sunset during the month of Ramadhan each year


to make the pilgrimage to Makkah once in a lifetime



1. Shahadah (the Islamic Creed)


The shahadah declares the two primary tenets of Muslim belief.  Through recitation of the shahadah, Muslims bear witness that there is no other god but God, and that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the messenger of God.


Muslims believe that God has sent many prophets to humankind, including the prophets of the Hebrew Bible and Jesus of Nazareth.  Muslims honor those earlier prophets of Judaism and Christianity as servants of the One True God.  According to Islam, the list of prophets sent by God includes Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus, and Muhammad (may God's peace and blessings be upon them all).  Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last prophet, and that his teachings confirm the basic message of God contained in the other scriptures.



2. Salah (The Muslim Daily Prayers)


Salah refers to the five daily prayers required of all Muslims, who perform the prayer as taught by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and passed down through the generations.  Each of the five prayers is associated with a certain time of day:


Prayer Name

Time of Day


between dawn and sunrise


noon to mid-afternoon


mid-afternoon to early evening


at sunset


night-time, after dusk has ended


Before praying, Muslims perform a purification called wudhu.  They wash their hands, face, arms and feet, and rinse their mouths and nose before they stand before God to pray.  No matter what language they speak, all Muslims pray in the Arabic language.  They recite from the Qur'an while making a series of required movements: standing, bowing, kneeling with the hands and forehead touching the ground, and sitting.



One complete cycle of these movements is called a rak'at.  It is the basic unit of prayer, and each of the five prayer times calls for a specific number of rak'ats to be performed.  If two or more Muslims pray together, one of them will act as imam (prayer leader), and the others form rows behind the imam.  Worshippers all face toward Makkah, and stand in rows behind the imam.



3. Zakat (Charity as a Duty)


Zakat is the principle that all Muslims with wealth beyond their basic needs should give some of it away as charity.  The word zakat means "purification" and Muslims believe that such acts of charity can purify a wealthy person of greed.  Zakat is calculated as 2.5% of cash assets, or at different rates for other forms of wealth or property.  In addition, Muslims are encouraged to donate more if they are able, and many do.



Paying the zakat reminds Muslims of their religious duty to help the poor, and reminds them that all wealth is a gift from God.  Zakat money is intended to help several groups of people, such as the poor and needy, travelers, people in debt and others.  One hadith, or saying of the Prophet, says that people should make acts of charity or kindness every day.

4. Sawm (Fasting)


"You who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may attain piety." (Qur'an 2:183)


During Ramadhan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, adult Muslims are required to fast during daylight hours.  Many children also practice fasting before they are adults, for at least some part of Ramadhan.  By the age of 11 or 12 years, many Muslim children are fasting through the whole month.  Pregnant women and ill persons may forgo fasting, but are expected to make up the lost time as soon as their health permits.


The fast begins with a pre-dawn meal after which Muslims go about their normal duties of work and school.  At sunset they may break their fast with a light meal of dates, fruits and water. Afterward, Muslims make the sunset prayer then gather for dinner, usually eaten with family and friends.  Many masjids hold community meals that anyone can attend.


It was during the month of Ramadhan that the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed and Muslims commemorate this holy event by increasing their reading of their holy scripture as well as by observing nightly voluntary congregational prayers known as Taraweeh during the holy month.


Fasting as a community helps bring Muslims together and adds depth to the experience.  For many Muslims, gathering with others in homes or in masjids and community centers is one of the most enjoyable and memorable parts of experiencing Ramadhan.  Ultimately, fasting bring Muslims closer to one another as well as bringing them closer to their Lord.


Muslims are supposed to fast in spirit as well; they will make an extra effort to avoid arguments and conflicts.  They believe fasting builds will power against temptation, reminds them of those in need, and encourages generosity.  Fasting causes physical and psychological changes, and helps people to think about the spiritual side of their lives.  Many religions include fasting as a form of worship and a way to draw closer to God.



5. Hajj (The Journey to Makkah)


The fifth basic act of worship of Islam is to make a pilgrimage know as Hajj to the city of Makkah, in present day Saudi Arabia.  If their health and finances permit, Muslims must perform Hajj at least once in their lives.  During Hajj, Muslims perform specific rituals to recall the life of the Prophet Abraham, his wife Hagar, and their son Ishmael.  Each year, around three million Muslims perform Hajj during Dhul-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar.


Hajj brings together Muslims from around the world to worship God together in a spirit of universal humanity.  The pilgrimage symbolizes the worldwide nature of Islam and links modern Muslims with the historic sites of Islam.  According to Islamic teachings, the building known as the Ka'bah was the first house of worship for the one God; it was built by Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael.  During Hajj, pilgrims circle the Ka'bah, walk between the hills known as Safa and Marwah, and drink from a spring of water called Zam-zam.


Outside Makkah are other stations where pilgrims perform prayers, camp overnight and ask for God's forgiveness and guidance.  To complete their Hajj, pilgrims sacrifice an animal and share its meat with the needy.  This sacrifice commemorates the Biblical and Qur'anic story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for God.



The Five Pillars' Many Dimensions


The Five Pillars are more than just religious requirements; they are rules for life that have influenced Muslim societies around the world in many ways. Throughout the 1,400 years of Muslim history, the practice of the Five Pillars has shaped the places and cultures where Muslims live.


The first pillar, Shahadah, contains the basic message of Islam, and the earliest Muslims spread the message to new territories.  To understand God's creation, Muslims built libraries, studied the sciences, and traveled and traded across much of the ancient world.  The study of mathematics, astronomy and geography were encouraged by the need for Muslims to know the exact time for prayer, and to be able to calculate the exact direction of Makkah from any other place in the world.


To have community places to practice the second pillar of Salat, or prayer, Muslims have built many beautiful masjids (Mosques) across the world.  masjids can range from simple mud-brick buildings to very large structures decorated with tiles, domes, towers, gardens and fountains.  Muslims often lay out a mat or carpet to have a clean spot to pray.  Local design traditions and techniques produced wonderful designs for these rugs.


The third pillar, Zakat, has long provided Muslim societies with a steady source of charity and led to the development of many outlets for charitable work.  Long before capitalist societies developed forms of social security, the Islamic institution of Zakat was fully taking of the needy and preventing them from having to beg or steal to meet their basic needs.


The fourth pillar, Sawm, or Ramadan fasting, has been a special time of year for Muslims for more than 1,400 years.  The community gatherings, congregational prayers, and efforts to reach out to the needy are a few of the things that make Ramadan a time of renewal for the Muslim society which is looked forward to by all.


Finally, Hajj has affected Muslims globally in many ways.  Muslims from around the world meet in Makkah for the annual pilgrimage.  Even those born and raised in the world's smallest villages, who might have little contact outside of their own family let along their own country, gain an appreciation for the diversity of the earth and its inhabitants when embarking on this journey of a lifetime.  Hajj has helped to unify Muslim beliefs and practices, and spread many inventions and ideas throughout the world.  Throughout history, Muslim rulers have built roads, wells, and ports, all to help pilgrims achieve the goal of performing Hajj.


When Muslims today carry out the Five Pillars, they are maintaining the traditions of unity and diversity which have historically defined the worldwide network of brothers and sisters in the faith of Islam.




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