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The Five Pillars of Islam

In Islam, it is important to recognise and acknowledge one's duties and obligations towards the faith. The Five Pillars of Islam are the foundations of the obligations of a Muslim. These well-known Islamic pillars comprise Shahadah, Salah, Zakah, Sawm and Hajj. It is important to understand what these foundational principles actually mean. Read on to learn more about the Five Pillars of Islam. 

The Five Pillars of Islam

1. What is Shahadah?

Shahadah means declaration of faith and dedication to the belief that there is only one God, Allah (SWT), and that He sent His Messenger, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), to guide humankind. As the first of the Five Pillars of Islam, Shahadah is one of the most important and acts as the fundamental step towards submission to Allah (SWT) and announcing one’s intention as a true follower of the faith. Reverts to Islam are also required to take Shahadah as their first act of joining Islam. This serves as an affirmation of their commitment to the faith.

To take Shahadah, intent is important. One must recite the declaration sincerely with acceptance with the heart and mind. It is important to know what the words actually mean while taking Shahadah. Allah (SWT) says in the Qur’an about true submission:

“And who can be better in religion than one who submits his face (himself) to Allah (i.e. follows Allah’s religion of Islamic Monotheism); and he is a Muhsin (a good-doer).”

[al-Nisa 4:125]

2. What is Salah?

Salah is the second pillar of Islam and the act of obligatory daily prayer that is observed five times a day at set times. The five prayer times fall between dawn and midnight, although the times change depending on where you are in the world and the time of year. The prayers in order are as follows:

  1. Fajr – starts at dawn and ends at sunrise.
  1. Zuhr – mid-day, starts once the sun has passed the highest point and lasts until Asr.
  1. Asr – begins in the late afternoon and ends a little before the sun begins to set.
  1. Maghrib - starts after sunset once the sun dips below the horizon.
  1. Isha – starts after Maghrib time (the disappearance of red afterglow) and lasts until midnight.

An integral part of Salah is ablution - purifying one’s physical self in preparation for prayer. This is also known as wudhu, which is thought to wash away minor sins of a believer.

Salah is followed by Adhan - the call to prayer which is broadcasted from Mosques to announce the time for Salah. Muslims performing Salah at home can also give the Adhan before performing their prayers.

Salah is an important reminder that there is no one greater than Allah (SWT). During Salah, the mind should be free from any other worldly thoughts.

The believers are encouraged to pray Salah in congregation at their local Mosque, which is a great way of demonstrating humanity and equality in Islam – a reminder that all humans were created by Allah (SWT) and that they shall return to Him.

3. What is Zakah?

In the literal sense, Zakah means ‘to cleanse’ or ‘to purify.’ Zakah is an obligatory charity in Islam. It is a way of worshipping Allah (SWT) by giving what He has ordained to those eligible in the light of the Qur’an. Every year, Muslims pay a 2.5% share of their held wealth (cash, property, gold, and silver) over a certain threshold to help the less fortunate.

Zakah purifies wealth and helps it grow literally and metaphorically, according to Islamic principles. Donating from one’s wealth protects a person from problems, and Allah increases his provision because of his charity giving.

“Wealth never decreases because of charity.” [Muslim, 2588]

Allah (SWT) says in the Qur’an:

“The example of those who spend in the way of Allah is just like a grain that produced seven ears, each ear having a hundred grains, and Allah multiplies (the reward) for whom He wills. Allah is All-Embracing, All-Knowing.” [2:261]

Zakah is a means of salvation from the heat of the day of resurrection. The Prophet (PBUH) said:

“Every man will be in the shade of his charity on the Day of Resurrection.”

[Sahih al-Jaami (4510)]

Islam puts a great emphasis on giving to those in need. Donate your Zakat to Muslim Aid and help the less fortunate receive food, medication, education, and shelter.

4. What is Sawm?

The term Sawm means to fast. Fasting during the holy month of Ramadan is more than simply avoiding food. It is the practice of discipline and abstaining from temptations and bad habits. From dawn to sunset, able Muslims should avoid food and drink (including water), sexual activity, smoking, intoxication, and any impure thoughts. Throughout Ramadan and the rest of the year, believers strive hard to refrain from acts of evil and causing harm to others.

The length of the fasting day varies according to daylight hours in a particular region. The days are longer in summer but shorter in winter. The heat can make it difficult to fast, and special care needs to be taken to avoid fatigue and dehydration during hot weather.

There are two meals the believers eat in Ramadan – Suhoor and Iftar. Suhoor is the pre-dawn meal and is highly encouraged to be eaten before beginning the fast. Iftar is the meal eaten just after sunset at the time of breaking the fast. The daily fast is traditionally broken with dates, which carry numerous health benefits.

Ramadan is an incredibly auspicious month in which the initial verses of the Holy Qur’an were revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as a guide for all humanity. This happened during the final 10 nights of Ramadan on Laylat-al-Qadr (the Night of Power), which holds great significance in Islam.

An important purpose of fasting is to attain taqwa (closeness to Allah (SWT)) - to establish a strong connection with Allah (SWT). The month itself holds countless rewards for those who seek forgiveness and the pleasure of Allah (SWT).

Certain individuals have been granted exemption from fasting - including those who are ill, those travelling, women expecting a child, breastfeeding mothers, and those who are underage or going through extreme old age. In most cases, missed fasts have to be made up later, but those unable to do so have to pay fidya.

Ramadan is then concluded with the festival of Eid-al-Fitr, which is a day many Muslims spend with family and loved ones. The day begins with congregational prayers, prior to which Zakat-al-Fitr (fitrana) is offered to those in need. Following this, Muslims celebrate and rejoice with loved ones. It is a time of praying, eating, and sharing gifts.

The month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. As the Islamic year is based on the lunar calendar, it rotates by around 11 days each year. The Ramadan start date for 2024 is expected to fall on 10 or 11 March (with the possible variation of a few days) following the sighting of the moon.

5. What is Hajj?

The fifth and final pillar of Islam is Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. It is a time when Muslims from around the world congregate in Mecca to worship Allah (SWT) and perform several rituals to strengthen their faith and devotion. Pilgrims must wear plain white clothing and enter a spiritual state of holiness known as Ihram. Ihram helps promote unity amongst the Ummah in attendance, for no man or woman, rich or poor, resident or traveller, stands above another. Regardless of age, ethnicity, status, and race, we are all equal in the sight of Allah (SWT).

Hajj falls in the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar, Dhul Hijjah, from the 8th to the 12th. It is a journey that every Muslim is obliged to take at least once in a lifetime.

Hajj is followed by the festival of Eid-al-Adha, which is the time of Qurbani (festival of sacrifice). The ritual of sacrifice dates back to the great sacrifice that Prophet Ibrahim was prepared to make in devotion to Allah (SWT).

The spirit of all the above-discussed obligations is submission and sacrifice. These acts of worship remind believers to remember the vulnerable around the world. Muslim Aid supports many campaigns throughout the year, including Zakat Appeal, Qurbani Donations and the Need is Greatest campaign. Help save lives around the world and donate generously to support a good cause today.

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