All people of the Islamic religion are expected to observe a set of five simple rules which are called the Five Pillars of Islam. These are, namely, “Belief, Worship, Fasting, Alms giving and Pilgrimage”. The Five Pillars act as a template for how the faithful have to conduct themselves in relation to fellow believers as well as non-believers. Taken in the right spirit, adherence to the Five Pillars will take the faithful close to Allah and ensure a blissful after-life. In the original Arabic rendition, the Five Pillars are termed “Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith, Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day, Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy, Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan, Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca”. (bbc.co.uk, 2009)
The first pillar, Shahadah requires that Muslims recite “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger” (bbc.co.uk, 2009). This is an important requirement, a breach of which might amount to blasphemy and even apostasy. This rule ensures that an individual member of the faith completely and unconditionally submits himself to Allah and his messenger Prophet Muhammad.
The Salat, the second pillar of Islam is a way to discipline the mind and body by offering prayers five times a day. The ideal times to perform these prayers are dawn, midday, late afternoon, after sunset and before midnight. This habit is inculcated into children as young as seven years of age, so that they will continue it in their adult lives. Since Islam was founded in the Middle-East, which is close to the equator, the Salat helped organize a day into different parts. There is evidence to suggest that the Salat has been practiced by Muslims since the time of Prophet Mohammad in 7th Century A.D. (Fareed, 2008, p.60)
The third pillar, called the Zakat serves a social and economic function in that it ensures that the meek and the poor get their basic needs fulfilled. Zakat serves a function, which in modern nation-states would be termed a ‘social welfare mechanism’. What is remarkable about this observance is that it offers a practical solution to the problem of poverty among Islamic communities.
The fourth pillar is the Sawm, which stands for fasting. The most devout expression of this pillar of Islam is during the month of Ramadan. During this month, Muslims do not take food or drink of any kind during day time. They also abstain from smoking and sexual intercourse. While all Muslims aspire to follow this rule, the unwell and the really old are excepted from this observance. The Sawm is seen as a method to increase spiritual and mental strength. By conditioning and controlling the natural urges of the body, the spirit and mind grows in power. As a reward the month long deprivation, Muslims celebrate Eid ul-Fitr (also called Ramzan) as a way of breaking the Fast and celebrating the occasion. (Esposito, 2002, p.112)
Finally, Hajj, the final pillar of Islam denotes the pilgrimage to Mecca, which everyone is expected to do at least once during their life-time. During the pilgrimage, members of the faith from all across the world gather at the Mecca to offer their prayers to Allah. This exercise keeps the Islamic community together and helps build solidarity among the various sects and ethnicities. It also reinforces the notion of equality and brotherhood among Muslims where the rich and the poor stand side by side and offer prayers.
“Covering Islam.” American Journalism Review Jan.-Feb. 2002: 59+.
Esposito, John L. What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Fareed, Muneer. “Rights of God, Rights of People.” Islamic Horizons May-June 2008: 60.
BBC Religions, Five Pillars of Islam, Last updated 2009-09-08, retrieved from <http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/practices/fivepillars.shtml>