The framework in which Muslims believe in and act upon religiously is what we called the Five Pillars of Islam.
These guidelines is a set of obligations that every Muslim must satisfy in order to live a righteous and responsible life.
It is set based on what was commanded by Allah (SWT), through the exemplary of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
They are specifically mentioned in the Quran and was also narrated as Hadith.
Why is it important?
Just like laying the foundation of an architecture, these acts of worship (i.e. the pillars) are the main anchoring points of Islam.
Without acting upon it, a Muslim faith lacks its stability, strength and integrity and a possible collapse in entirety.
So what are the Five Pillars of Islam?
Let’s look at a hadith narrated by Abdullah, the son of Umar Ibn al-Khattab (ra) who said:
I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say:
Islam has been built on five [pillars]: testifying that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establishing the salah (prayer), paying the zakat (obligatory charity), making the Hajj (pilgrimage) to the House, and fasting in Ramadan. [Reference 40 Hadith Nawawi 3]
With that, we can further delve into these five pillars.
1st Pillar of Islam: The Testimony of Faith
The Declaration of Faith, the shahadah, is the most fundamental expression of Islamic beliefs which has to be professed with sincerity and conviction.
It consists of two declarations. The first is:
La ilaha illa Allah,
There is no true god (deity) but God (Allah),
And the second:
Muhammadur rasoolu Allah
and Muhammad is the messenger (Prophet) of God.
The first part, “There is no true god but God,” emphasizes on the monotheistic nature of Islam.
It means none has the right to be worshipped but God alone, and that God has neither partner nor son.
Arab calligraphers love to use the phrase in their writings and it became extremely popular and widespread in various manuscripts and religious buildings.
This declaration of faith is also the first step for someone who wish to converts to Islam, by reciting it with total sincerity and full understanding of its meaning in front of witnesses.
2nd Pillar of Islam: Prayer
The 2nd Pillar of Islam is the Worship, or also known as Salah or Solat.
Every Muslims are obligated to worship to God five times a day:
- At Dawn (Salat al-Fajr / Fajar / Subuh)
- Noon (Salat al-Zuhr / Zuhur)
- Mid-Afternoon (Salat al-‘Asr / Asar)
- Sunset (Salat al-Maghrib)
- And nightfall (Salat al-‘Ishak / Isyak)
Depending on which part of the world you are in, the prayer timing varies depending on the country’s timezone and daylight.
So Muslims are usually dependent on their respective national Islamic bodies to provide the prayer schedule.
For example, Singaporean Muslims refer to the guidelines set by MUIS (Majlis Ugama Islam Singapore), the national governing body representing Muslims in Singapore which are readily available on their official website.
Direct Connection to God
Each prayer does not take more than a few minutes of perform, thus Muslims can conveniently slot these prayers in between their day-to-day activities.
Prayer in Islam is a direct connection between the believer and God, which means there are no intermediaries in between.
It makes the worshipper feels inner happiness, peace, and comfort, knowing that God is pleased with them
Muslims are not expected to attend the mosque (or the masjid) to pray, though it is highly encouraged.
Instead, they can do it anywhere as long as they face and pray towards the Mecca.
Prayers of body, soul and mind
The set of prayers are not just phrases that need to be spoken.
Instead, the prayer ritual involves a holistic approach – the mind, soul and body synchronizes to a whole series of set movements involving bowing, kneeling, and prostration that goes along with the words of the prayer.
During the prayers, Muslims have to be in the right frame of mind, putting aside everything else for that few minutes and be exclusive to God.
Call To Prayer
The call of prayers (or the Azan) is usually done by the Muezzin, who calls the faithful together by saying the verses below:
Which translates to:
God is Great (repeat four times)
I testify that there is no god but God (repeat twice)
I testify that Muhammad is God’s messenger (repeat twice)
Come to prayer (repeat twice)
Come to salvation (repeat twice)
God is great (repeat twice)
There is no god but God.
For the dawn prayer, the muezzin adds, after the second ‘Come to salvation’ with the phrase ‘Prayer is better than sleep’ twice.
In many Islamic countries, the public call to prayer from the mosques sets the rhythm of the day for the entire population, including the non-Muslims.
On top of the five daily prayers, all male Muslims are enjoined to gather together every Friday for the noon prayer and listen to a sermon, called the Khutba, by the leader of the community.
Female Muslims are not required to attend, but if they wish to do so, they can but will be segregated from the men and pray behind, beside or above them.
3rd Pillar of Islam: Giving Zakat (Support of the Needy)
The third pillar of Islam is the zakah or the alms giving, which basically means giving charity to the poor.
The rationale for this is to benefit the needy while helping the giver by moving him closer to the holiness and submission of Allah (SWT).
As mentioned in the Quran, surah at-Tawbah Chapter 9, Verse 60 which says:
Alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah. and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.
How Zakat is being distributed
In accordance to Islamic law, Muslims donate a fixed portion of their income, traditionally set at one-fortieth, or 2.5 percent, of the value of all liquid assets and income-generating properties owned by the giver.
The giver usually pay his or her zakat to a religious official or representative of the Islamic state or local mosque.
It will then be distributed to the poor, encourage conversion to Islam, ransom captives, assist travelers, support those devoting themselves to God’s work, relieve debtors, defend the faith and any other purpose deemed appropriate.
Those who are wealthy and can afford might go the extra mile by funding for public amenities such as mosques, drinking fountains, schools, hospitals and universities.
This act of giving serves as a reminder of one’s broader social responsibilities to the community.
Interesting fact: One of the common forms of charity in medieval Islam cities was to establish a public drinking fountain (which is called sabil), where fresh, sweet water was distributed freely to all passers-by.
4th Pillar of Islam: Fasting in the Month of Ramadan
The 4th pillar of Islam is fasting, or sawm (صوم) or siyam (صيام) in Arabic words.
Every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast during the daylight hours, from dawn till sundown, abstaining from food, drink and sexual activities with their spouse.
It is an act of worship where the faithful follower denies his own needs and desires while seeking the blessings of Allah (SWT).
Through this temporary deprivation, they renew their awareness of and gratitude for everything God has provided in their lives. The Quran was also revealed during this holy month.
This also reminds them of the poor and needy who might be deprived of food and water. Thus, sharing this hardship makes them to be more mindful and help those less fortunate.
5th Pillar of Islam: The Pilgrimage to Makkah
The 5th and last pillar of Islam is the pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca), or also known as Hajj.
The annual pilgrimage is conducted during the first ten days of Dhu al-Hijjah (Dzul Hijjah). Dzul Hijjah the twelve month of the Islamic calendar.
Every Muslim whose health and finances permit it must perform their Hajj once in their lifetime.
This annual affair brings together about two million faithfuls from every corner of the globe.
Significance of Hajj
Regardless of ethic group, social status, and culture, all Muslims worldwide will gather together in the holy city of Mecca.
They would then stand before the Kaaba (Kaabah) to praise Allah (SWT).
It is a ritual that is created to strengthen the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood of Muslim globally.
It was mentioned in the Holy Quran, Surah Al-Hujurat, Chapter 49, Verse 13 which says:
O human kind, We have created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye shall recognize one another, and not that you shall despise one another
And in Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) last sermon, he emphasized on the following:
All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.
Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly.
Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.
All pilgrims will be dressed in plain white cloths, stripping away all indicators of social status, wealth and pride.
The dress code brings humility to the faithful, as in the eyes of Allah (SWT), everyone is equal.
Prophet Ibrahim (SAW) erected the Kaabah as part of God’s instruction to him.
It is situated in the middle of Haram Mosque in Mecca, represented as a cubical structure that covered in black embroidered hangings.
Nine Essential Rites of Hajj
There are a total of Nine (9) important steps for Hajj. They are:
- Putting on the Ihram, a special garment made of two seamless white cloths which symbolizes humility and equality.
- Circling around the Kaabah seven times, also known as the Tawaf, to emphasize its centrality. This will also be the time when the pilgrims can touch the black stone of Kaabah.
- Gathering at the Mount of Mercy (Mount Arafat) and the Plains of Arafat, which is a large desert outside Makkah. This is when the pilgrims join in prayer for God’s forgiveness (also known as Wuquf). It is often thought as a preview of the Day of Judgement.
- Spending the night at Muzdalifa.
- Throwing 49 stones at three symbols of Satan. This symbolizes the time when Satan tried to prevent Prophet Ibrahim (SAW) from sacrificing his son, Ishamel (Ismail).
- Sacrificing of an animal in Mina for feast and also distributed to the poor. This is called the Eid Al-Adha, which is means Feast of Sacrifice in Arabic.
- Returning to Mecca for the second circling of the Kaabah.
- Going seven times between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa, and drinking from Zamam spring. This is a reenactment of the time when Hagar did during the search of water.
- And lastly, performing of two cycle of prayer at the Station of Abraham.
A visit to the Prophet’s mosque and grave site in Madinah (Medina) is not an official part of the pilgrimage. However, most pilgrims include it in their trip.
Completion of Hajj
If they could not complete all the required nine rites, the Hajj can still be considered as complete. All they have to do is to pay the expiation for the failure to complete them.
Once the pilgrims officially performed their Hajj, they will earn the title of Haji and Hajjah for men and women respectively.
This title holds great honour and respect.
With this blueprints, it guide Muslims to internalize and act upon as the duty of devotion towards Allah (SWT).
It is these pillars that will uphold their iman (belief) and define them as a Muslim.