The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Five Pillars of Islam

The religion of Islam consists of faith (إيمان, īmān) and practice (دين, dīn). The Five Pillars of Islam is the term given to the five most fundamental aspects of Islam.

For the Sunni sect, the Five Pillars (Arkan-al-Islam) are the five most important obligations of a Muslim under Sharia law, and which devout Muslims will perform faithfully, believing them to be essential to pleasing Allah.

For the Shia sect, the Five Principles (Usul-ul-Deen) are the five fundamental principles of Islam; no more, no less. The Shia sect consider the Sunni five pillars to be merely the most important obligations rather than these being the Five Pillars of Islam. The Branches of Religion (Furoo-ul-Deen) which consist of ten essential obligations for Muslims correlate more closely to the Sunni concept of "Pillars of Islam".


The Five Pillars of Islam

In summary, the practices are:

  • The profession of faith in God (Shahadah) - the declaration that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.
  • Prayer (Salah) - establishing of the five daily Prayers.
  • Fasting (Sawm) - refraining from eating, drinking and having sex from dawn to dusk in the month of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar.
  • The paying of alms (Zakaah) - which is generally 2.5% of the yearly savings for a rich man working in trade or industry, and 10% or 20% of the produce for agriculturists. This money or produce is distributed among the poor. And 25% of found treasure such as non gambling lottery and every precious items found by someone.
  • The Pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) - this is done during the month of Zul Hijjah, and is compulsory once in a lifetime for one who has the ability to do it.

Some Muslims, mainly belonging to the sect of the Khawarij, hold that there is a sixth pillar of Islam, jihād (جهاد), literally meaning "struggle" or "combat", but usually understood to refer to holy war, but this is probably a misunderstanding in some cases. While jihād is widely considered a duty of Muslims, the view that it is one of the pillars is not shared by most theologians.

Shahādah, the profession of faith in God

According to the Qur'an, "There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is His messenger." This declaration of faith is called the shahadah, a simple formula which all of the faithful Muslims pronounce daily. Intrinsic in this action is the acknowledgment of Muhammad, as "Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets. And Allah has full knowledge of all things." [Qur'an: Surah al-Ahzab 33:40]

Şalāh, prayer

Muslims are obliged to perform ritual prayers or salah five times a day:

  • In the morning / right before sunrise (Fajr)
  • After midday (Dhuhr)
  • Midway between midday and sunset (Asr)
  • Right after sunset (Maghrib)
  • one hour after sunset (Isha'a)

A Muslim may offer extra optional prayer(s) at any other time.

Although it is preferable for men to pray together in a mosque, there is no strict requirement to do so. On Fridays, congregational prayer (jumu'ah) is held at midday, deemed obligatory for men but optional for women. A Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in a place of work or a school. It is also customary for a Muslim to face Mecca during prayer, although this is not a rigid requirement.

Before prayer is the ritual of ablution, a ceremonial cleansing with water (or alternatively, with sand) which is usually performed. The parts cleansed include arms, head, and the feet up to the ankles. If the cleansing was done using water, the Muslim is considered to have wudhu, which means that he or she has cleansed him or herself from the physical manifestations of sin in a lasting fashion that extends between prayers. In other words, unless the Muslim does something to remove this cleanliness, the cleansing would not need to be repeated before the next prayer. When sand is used, the cleansing is only temporary and regardless of whether or not the Muslim commits any physical acts of uncleanliness he or she will need to undergo the ceremonial cleansing immediately before the next prayer.

The salah must be performed in the Arabic language (even if the person neither speaks nor understands Arabic; the prayers are to be recited by heart), and include praises to Allah, the shahada, a plea for forgiveness and various blessings, Chapter one (al Fatihah) and one or more other parts of the Qur'an (by heart) and an optional prayer of one's own. The entire session includes standing upright, bowing down, kneeling and prostrating oneself. The session ends with looking right and left to say "Peace be unto you, and on you be peace" in Arabic to the believers sitting with you. Muslims believe that there are angels sitting on one's both shoulders (the angel on the right is said to record the person's good deeds and the one on the left is said to record the person's bad deeds).

Şawm or şiyām, fasting

Observance of the Siyam involves abstinence from eating, drinking, smoking, sexual intercourse, and other forms of worldly pleasure. This fasting is ordained in the Qur'an, and is observed by devout Muslims throughout the daylight hours of the 29 or 30 days of the lunar month of Ramadan. There are some exceptions, for example for children, pregnant women, sick Muslims, laborers, and travelers.

As well as fasting, Muslims spend more time praying during this period. Siyam is intended to teach patience and self-control, and is seen as a debt owed by the believer to Allah.

Zakāh, the paying of alms

A major principle of Islam is the belief that all things belong to God and that wealth is only held by human beings in trust. The word zakah means both purification and growth. Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakah individually, and for most purposes this involves the payment each year of two and a half percent of one's capital in excess of one's basic needs. A Muslim may also donate an additional amount as an act of voluntary charity (sadaqah ), in order to achieve additional divine reward. Zakah is calculated on the basis of 2.5% of an amount in excess of what you have in hand, after the needs of the family has been met.

Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca


The final pillar of Islam is the pilgrimage to Mecca performed during the month of Zul Hijjah. Performance of the Hajj at least once in one's lifetime is obligatory to all who are physically and financially able to undertake it, and about two million people go to Mecca each year. Pilgrims wear a distinctive attire of simple garments to strip away distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God. Performance of the Hajj involves a series of rituals, including encircling the most holy shrine of Islam, the Ka'aba, a giant square house covered with a black cloth that lies in the center of a large square court. It also includes throwing stones at a hill outside the court, which symbolizes driving away evil spirits.

In previous centuries the Hajj was an arduous and potentially hazardous undertaking. However, with the advent of modern transport and adequate infrastructure, Saudi Arabia is now able to accommodate the millions of annual visitors. A shorter, simpler version of the pilgrimage can be made as well, but this does not 'count' as one of the five pillars.

The Five Pillars of Islam in the Shia sect

Arguably the concept of "Five Pillars of Islam" (Arkan-al-Islam) does not exist in the Shia faith. The Usool-ul-Deen, which means The Principles of The Religion are merely five articles of faith which are believed to be fundamental to the Islamic faith. These principles are listed at the end. The concept of "Furoo-ul-Deen", which means the branches of religion which contain ten obligations that are considered fundamental to the Islamic faith can probably be considered to correlate more closely to the Sunni concept of "Five pillars".

Four of the five Sunni pillars are represented in the furoo-ul-deen except the shahada (Testimony of Faith). The usool-ul-deen can be viewed as an exegesis on the shahada; Tawheed (Oneness of God) representing "There is no God but Allah", Nubuwwah (Prophethood) representing "Muhammad is the messenger of God" and Imamah (Leadership on mankind) representing "Ali is the heir of God" which many Shia add to the recital of the shahada. While Adl (The Just nature of God) defines an essential aspect of the God which has been affirmed in the first part of the shahada, the belief in Qiyamaah (Resurrection) affirms the need to proclaim the shahada.

The Furoo-ul-Deen follow:

  • Salat (Prayers).
  • Saum (Fasting).
  • Hajj (Pilgrimage).
  • Zakat (Poor Rate).
  • Khums (Wealth Tax).
  • Jihad (Striving).
  • Amr-Bil-Ma'roof (Enjoin what is good).
  • Nahi-Anil-Munkar (Forbid what is wrong).
  • Tawalla (To love and respect the Ahl-ul-Bait and their friends).
  • Tabarra (To disassociate from the enemies of the Ahl-ul-Bait).

The Usool-ul-Deen are:

  • The Oneness of God (Tawheed/Tauhid).
  • The Justice of God ('Adl).
  • Prophethood (Nubuwwah).
  • The Leadership of Mankind (Imamah).
  • The Resurrection (Qiyamaah).

Modern Muslims and the pillars of Islam

Despite that the five pillars are obligatory for Muslims, not all individual Muslims can, or do, participate. This is due to a variety of reasons. For Muslims living in Western societies time and energy consuming duties such as Ramadan or the five daily prayers are difficult to observe, often in these cases Muslims are encouraged to offer their obligatory prayers at a later time. It is always best to perform the salat (prayer) in a timely manner. However unforeseen circumstances may prevent an individual to do so. Therefore, offering the obligatory salat (prayer) at a later time is a must. Some Muslims may have stopped participating in religious duties altogether, or have chosen to only participate in, for instance, the Ramadan fast. Such choices, however, are not appropriate for a Muslim and as result Muslims are discouraged from abandoning their duties to God and self. One must understand that Islam is not just a way of life but a total belief system in a power higher than any known or unknown. To be called a Muslim one must believe in all aspects of the word (the word Muslim mean to surrender to the will of God) and be in constant purist of attaining the ability, knowledge and will-power to improve ones believe. One must understand that being a Muslim is not a birth right it takes dedication, knowledge, and most importantly active participation. It is an honor that is bestowed on by God himself. It cannot be taken away nor will it perish in the least. So, for the Muslims around the world practice your faith and seek knowledge that benefits and seek refuge in God from a heart which is not humble, from an inner self that is never satisfied, and from a prayer that is not answered.

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Last updated: 08-04-2005 20:09:20
Last updated: 08-18-2005 03:09:49