You’ve most likely heard about The Five Pillars of Islam on the news or in a classroom, but most people do not have a clue what they are. So, for this blog entry I want to quickly explain what they are.
The Five Pillars of Islam consist of the Shahadah (the testament or proclaimation), Salat (prayer), Zakat (the alms tax), Sawm (fasting, especially during the month of Ramadan), and Hajj (the Pilgrimage).
The Shahadah is the proclamation or testament to the oneness of God, transliterated into English as “lā ʾilāha ʾillā-llāh, wa muḥammadun rasūlu-llāh”, meaning “There is no God but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God,” which is the profession of faith made by Muslims and those whom wish to convert to Islam. The Shahadah is considered important for the pious Muslim as it reaffirms that God is the only and first being, and also is a testament to the fact that the Prophet Muhammad is the deliverer of the Word of God and that Muhammad himself is the final Prophet of God.
The Salat is the formal prayer and represents the most visible aspect of The Five Pillars. Many hadith say the first thing Muslims will be made accountable for on the Day of Judgment and the Returning to God will be their Salat. The Salat consists of the Five Daily Prayers which were told to the Prophet Muhammad by God during the Night Journey. The five prayers consist of the Fajr, Zuhr, ‘Asr, Maghrib, and ‘Isha. The Fajr is said before sunrise when the light is just barely visible, the Zuhr is the second prayer of the day and can be said beginning at noon until the time when the shadow of an object is the same length as the object. The third prayer is the ‘Asr, which is said between the Zuhr but before the fourth prayer, the Maghrib, which is said at sunset. The fifth and final prayer of the day is the ‘Isha which is said when the sun has completely set, and the light of the sun is no longer visible.
The third pillar of Islam is the Zakat or ‘purification’ which is commonly translated as ‘the alms tax’. In the early years of Islam, requirements for the Zakat were pretty simple for most people as it is mainly based upon excess wealth, generally considered anything over the value of 3oz of gold. Zakat is given to the needy and those less fortunate often during Eid. The Zakat is considered to be ones debt to God.
The fourth pillar is Sawm, translated as fasting, and is considered to be a universal practice. Sawm takes place during the month of Ramadan and it is the practice of abstaining from food, drink, conjugal relations, smoking, and other activities which could pull an individual away from the focus of God, which is practiced from sunrise to sunset. The dates for fasting are based upon the lunar calendar and is only obligatory for those Muslims who have reached puberty. Special exceptions to fasting are made for those women who are pregnant, nursing, or menstruating and for any individual who has serious health problems.
The fifth and final pillar of Islam, the Hajj, is performed during the last month of the lunar calendar and is the pilgrimage which was practiced originally by Abraham and is not new to the religion of Islam. Muhammad was said to have reinstituted the ways of Abraham by reemphasizing the importance of Hajj in Islam. The Hajj consists of wearing the Ihram in the Holy Sanctuary at Mecca, drinking from the well of ZamZam, camping at Mina, traveling to the Mount of Mercy, Returning to Mina and stoning the three stone idols, and traveling to the Ka’aba.