The Five Pillars of Islam are the
framework of the Muslim life:
- Faith or belief in the Oneness of God and
the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad;
- Establishment of the daily prayers;
- Concern for and almsgiving to the needy;
- Self-purification through fasting; and
- The pilgrimage to Makkah for those who are
Iman or Faith
"There is none worthy of worship
except God and Muhammad is the messenger of God." This declaration
of faith is called the Shahadah, a simple formula that all the faithful
pronounce. The significance of this declaration is the belief that
the only purpose of life is to serve and obey God, and this is achieved
through the teachings and practices of the Last Prophet, Muhammad.
Salah or Prayer
Salah is the name for the obligatory
prayers that are performed five times a day, and are a direct link
between the worshipper and God. There is no hierarchical authority
in Islam and there are no priests. Prayers are led by a learned
person who knows the Qur'an and is generally chosen by the congregation.
Prayers are said at dawn, mid-day,
late-afternoon, sunset and nightfall, and thus determine the rhythm
of the entire day. These five prescribed prayers contain verses
from the Qur'an, and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation.
Personal supplications, however, can be offered in one's own language
and at any time.
Although it is preferable to worship
together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as
in fields, offices, factories and universities. Oftentimes visitors
to the Muslim world are struck by the centrality of prayers in daily
An important principle of Islam
is that everything belongs to God, and that wealth is therefore
held by human beings in trust. The word zakah means both "purification"
and "growth." Our possessions are purified by setting
aside a proportion for those in need and for the society in general.
Like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages
Each Muslim calculates his or her
own zakah individually. This involves the annual payment of a fortieth
of one's capital, excluding such items as primary residence, car
and professional tools.
An individual may also give as much
as he or she pleases as sadaqa-h, and does so preferably in secret.
Although this word can be translated as "voluntary charity"
it has a wider meaning.
The Prophet said, "Even meeting your brother with a cheerful
face is an act of charity." The Prophet also said: "Charity
is a necessity for every Muslim." He was asked: "What
if a person has nothing?" The Prophet replied: "He should
work with his own hands for his benefit and then give something
out of such earnings in charity." The Companions of the Prophet
asked: "What if he is not able to work?" The Prophet said:
"He should help the poor and needy." The Companions further
asked: "What if he cannot do even that?" The Prophet said:
"He should urge others to do good." The Companions said:
"What if he lacks that also?" The Prophet said: "He
should check himself from doing evil. That is also an act of charity."
Sawm or Fasting
Every year in the month of Ramadan,
all Muslims fast from dawn until sundown--abstaining from food,
drink, and sexual relations with their spouses.
Those who are sick, elderly, or
on a journey, and women who are menstruating, pregnant or nursing,
are permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of days
later in the year if they are healthy and able. Children begin to
fast (and to observe prayers) from puberty, although many start
Although fasting is beneficial to
health, it is mainly a method of self-purification and self-restraint.
By cutting oneself from worldly comforts, even for a short time,
a fasting person focuses on his or her purpose in life by constantly
being aware of the presence of God. God states in the Qur'an: "O
you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed
to those before you that you may learn self-restraint." (Qur'an
Hajj and Pilgrimage
The pilgrimage to Makkah (the hajj)
is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially
able to do so. Nevertheless, over two million people go to Makkah
each year from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity
for those of different nations to meet one another.
The annual hajj begins in the twelfth
month of the Islamic year (which is lunar, not solar, so that hajj
and Ramada-n fall sometimes in summer, sometimes in winter). Pilgrims
wear special clothes: simple garments that strip away distinctions
of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God.
The rites of the hajj, which are
of Abrahamic origin, include going around the Ka'bah seven times,
and going seven times between the hills of Safa and Marwa as did
Hagar (Hajir, Abraham's wife) during her search for water. The pilgrims
later stand together on the wide plains of 'Arafat (a large expanse
of desert outside Makkah) and join in prayer for God's forgiveness,
in what is often thought as a preview of the Day of Judgment.
The close of the hajj is marked
by a festival, the 'Id al Adha, which is celebrated with prayers
and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. This
and the 'Id al Fitr, a festive day celebrating the end of Ramadan,
are the two holidays of the Islamic calendar.