The Five Pillars of Islam


The Five Pillars of Islam, duties enjoined on the faithful, are Shahadah (witness), Salat (prayer), Zakat (alms), Sawm or Siyam (fasting), and Hajj (pilgrimage).

The “Five Pillars of Islam” are the duties enjoined on the faithful to combine spiritual values with their actions in this world.

1. SHAHADAH ( The Witness)

A Muslim’s first duty is to declare and publicly confess, “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Prophet.” This assertion of faith encompasses the Muslim’s absolute belief in the oneness and universality of God, and a complete rejection of all forms of polytheism. It also asserts the believer’s faith that Muhammad was the true and final Prophet of God, who brought to the world God’s complete and perfect message, so that no further messengers (Prophets) would be needed.


2. SALAT (Mandatory Prayers of Worship)

Salat is the formal, prescribed ritual prayer repeated five times every day. It is enjoined in the Qur’an (Koran) and detailed in the Sunnah (writings that embody the theory and practice of orthodox Islam).

The prescribed times for Salat are dawn (before sunrise), mid-day, afternoon, dusk (after sunset), and night. Before Salat, the worshipper performs a physical ablution, to cleanse his body of all dirt, and also a spiritual cleansing, so that he will be prepared in body and soul to be in the presence of God.

Salat involves specific formal physical rituals and the intonation of sacred words. Salat can be performed in any clean place, either alone or in a group. Since there is no priesthood in Islam, any Muslim can lead the prayers.

Salat is essential to the faith of a true Muslim, as it represents his earnest effort to communicate with God.


3. ZAKAT (Mandatory Alms)

Zakat implies God’s right to a Muslim’s wealth, for all things belong to God, and the Muslim serves merely as His steward. Zakat is a mandatory tax of at least 2.5 percent per annum on the net worth of a Muslim’s wealth, regardless of his gains and losses during the year.

Zakat is collected by the state and spent according to directions in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. It is used to benefit the poor, the indigent, and others who are needy or vulnerable.

Zakat reminds a Muslim that all he possesses rightfully belongs to God. It also reinforces the moral law of mutual responsibility. Zakat is not a voluntary sharing of private wealth, but a relinquishing of wealth in recognition that all are equal under God, and that one’s fellow man has a rightful claim on God’s bounty.

The word Zakat implies purification. Wealth itself is purified by the tax that takes a part of it for the needy in obedience to God’s commandment.


4. SAWM OR SIYAM (Fasting)

In Islam, Muslims fast for the full ninth lunar month (Ramadan). The fast starts at dawn and ends at sunset every day during Ramadan. During this time, the devout Muslim abstains not only from food and drink, but also from smoking, sexual intercourse, and feelings and expressions of anger or resentment. Fasting is both a physical and a spiritual discipline, whereby the Muslim exercises self-control, mastering his own desires and impulses and strengthens his commitment to Islam.


5. HAJJ (Pilgrimage)

At least once in his or her lifetime, every adult Muslim who has the means to do so is enjoined to perform Hajj, or pilgrimage, to the holy city of Mecca. Hajj starts on the eighth day of the last month of the lunar year.

The male pilgrim, before entering Mecca, must disrobe, bathe, and don a special garment made of two plain white sheets that have not been sewn. The female pilgrim wears a simple long gown and covers her hair, but not her face or hands.

The pilgrimage involves symbolic ritual acts and re-enactments of key events in sacred history. For example, in Mina pilgrims throw pebbles at three pillars in defiance of Satan. And the sacrifice of a camel or sheep commemorates the moment when God provided a substitute sacrifice to absolve Ibrahim (Abraham) from sacrificing his own son in submission to God’s will.

During Hajj, the pilgrims are moved by a powerful sense of fraternity and equality, as well as a sense of sacred solidarity, as Muslims gather from all parts of the world, dressing alike and performing the same solemn rituals in a uniform way, regardless of rank, wealth, race, or place of origin.

© Demand Media 2011