Abdullah ‘ibn ‘Umar stated that he heard Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) say that Islam has five pillars. This Hadith is ‘agreed-upon’ meaning that both Imam Bukhari and Muslim included it among the authentic narrations. These are the 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.
- Fasting in Ramadan.
These five pillars are obligatory for Muslims to follow. All Muslims must do their utmost to implement them in their lives. Along the five pillars, the six articles of faith are also a must for Muslims to believe in: belief in Allah, the angels, the revealed books, the prophets, the Day of Judgment, and predestination.
The six articles of faith are the foundation of Islamic belief. On the other hand, the five pillars are the foundation of Islamic action. Any Muslim who wishes to follow the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) should live according to these rules of life. Everything else in life is secondary.
Sadly, not all Muslims act upon these five pillars. On the contrary, millions of Muslims have the tag of being Muslim without actually acting upon the five pillars. This is why it’s of immense importance for Muslims to know about them and their significance, so that they may also eventually act upon them.
1st of the five pillars: Shahadah
Shahadah is an Arabic word which means testimony. All Muslims must profess the Shahadah, which is the verbal way to accept Allah and the Prophet (PBUH) as God and His Messenger (PBUH), respectively. A Muslim must at least recite this once in their lives, though people also frequently recite this in their daily prayers, etc. It is the most important pillar of Islam, because it shows that you accept Allah and submit to His will.
The words that make up the Shahadah are: “La ilaha ill Allah, Muhammad ur Rasool Ullah.” Their meaning is: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad (PBUH) is the Messenger of Allah.”
It is ideal for a Muslim to often profess the Shahadah, the first of the five pillars, as a method of remembering Allah. It is for this reason that the Prophet (PBUH) prescribed various duas to read upon waking, sleeping, etc. One of the Sunnah duas is to recite the Shahadah after waking up. We can also hear the Shahadah every day during the Adhan. Each Adhan at each mosque contains the Shahadah. We also recite it during the jalsa, i.e., the sitting portion of our prayer.
Allah is the only Being deserving of worship
Allah tells us in Surah al-Baqarah that our god is one God. He says that none is worthy of worship except for Him. All Muslims need to understand that Allah is above and beyond everything else.
Allah is the Creator of the heavens and the Earth and everything. Everything that exists other than Him is His creation. Therefore, He is the only Being that deserves worship. We cannot worship any Being other than him, as many people do. We can also not worship any Being alongside him, such as the Christians.
This is the core of the five pillars and the Islamic faith. To honestly profess the Shahadah in the correct manner, we must understand all the aspects of Tawheed. Allah says in the Quran that He created humans and jinns to worship Him alone. Therefore, that is the primary purpose of our lives.
Every human being is born with the fitra to believe in Allah and worship Him. However, it’s the person’s surroundings and those around them that shape them in a way that they end up defying Allah. All of Allah’s Prophets, starting from Adam (AS) to the last and final messenger, Muhammad (S), brought the same message of Allah’s Oneness, and why we must worship Him.
Muhammad (PBUH) is Allah’s messenger
The first of the five pillars has two parts, the second being the acceptance of the Prophet (PBUH). We know through Hadith that Allah sent many prophets to humanity, possibly more than 100,000. However, He mentioned 25 prophets in the Quran, and Muhammad (S) is the last one.
Like all prophets, Muhammad (S) was simply a human being and part of Allah’s creation. However, unlike previous ones, his message was for all the Muslims rather than being focused on one nation or area, as was the case with most other prophets. It’s also crucial for Muslims to accept that he is the final prophet, with none to come after him.
2nd of the five pillars: Salah
One of the most well-known incidents in Islamic history is when the Prophet (PBUH) ascended to the heavens. He traveled to Al-Aqsa mosque during one night and then went to the heavens, where he met various prophets and then had the privilege of speaking to Allah.
It was during this occasion that Allah revealed the obligation of the daily prayers. At first, He said that Muslims would have to pray 50 times a day. However, when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) descended and told Musa (AS), he urged him to ask Allah for a concession as the burden would be too heavy.
Allah reduced the number by five, but once again, Musa (AS) asked Muhammad (S) to ask for more reductions. This continued until there were just five prayers left, after which the Prophet (PBUH) didn’t think it was appropriate to ask for more. Thus, this central 2nd pillar of the five pillars was established.
The timings of the five daily prayers
- The starting time for Maghrib is at sunset. The finishing time is before the start of Isha.
- The time for Isha starts when it is entirely dark. It is best to pray it before midnight, but the time extends till Fajr.
- The time for Fajr is at the break of dawn. The final time to offer it is before sunrise.
- The time for Zuhr is when the sun reaches its highest point. The last time is before the Asr prayer.
- Asr starts in mid-afternoon when the shadow of an object becomes longer than its length. The final time for it is sunset.
Important facts about Salah
The second of the five pillars begins with the pronouncement of the Adhan at mosques. This signifies the starting time. All Muslim men should try to offer prayer at mosques. Any clean environment is suitable for offering prayer, however.
To offer prayer, we must perform ablution first and be in a state of purity. After that, we can pray. Each prayer has an obligatory part and a part that is Sunnah. Muslims should try to offer the Sunnah as well whenever possible. However, the mandatory component is a must, and Muslims can’t miss out on it. If they do, they have to offer late prayer to make up for it.
There are some special occasions on which Muslims must try to pray in large congregations. One is the weekly Friday prayer, which replaces Zuhr, where we should listen to the sermon. Friday is a day of worship, so we should try to spend the day doing other devotional activities.
Other occasions where we must offer prayer in large congregations are the two Eid prayers. These are held early in the morning after sunrise and have a specific method behind performing them.
While not being among the five pillars, Muslims can offer many other types of optional prayer for extra rewards. One of the most rewarding ones is the Qiyam ul Layl or Tahajjud, where we can offer several rakat during the latter portion of the night before Fajr.
3rd of the five pillars: Zakat
Every Muslim who has money or possessions according to a certain specified amount must give a portion of them as Zakat annually. Hence, this is a form of compulsory charity. Islam encourages us to share our wealth with others to ensure a balanced society. This is also a way of making sure that people don’t hoard wealth without helping others.
The minimum value to pay Zakat is known as the nisab. The nisab is defined by the price of gold and silver in Islam, and hence, the minimum value changes all the time. The amount of gold and silver is around 85 and 595 grams. However, there is a vast disparity between gold and silver prices nowadays, with the latter being much more affordable. Therefore, Muslims should calculate the value of 595 grams of silver, and if they have an amount that exceeds that, they must pay Zakat.
A person who has the minimum amount must give 2.5% of it in Zakat, i.e., 1/40th, to fulfill the third of the five pillars. This applies to the cash and savings that a person has. You don’t need to give Zakat on your house, car, or other possessions. However, if you have livestock, a farm, etc., then Zakat may be applicable.
In the past, when there were Muslim countries in existence, the state collected and distributed the Zakat accordingly. However, except for a few countries, most Muslims must pay Zakat individually. It’s crucial that to fulfill this obligation, you check what you own and make the right calculation, then give the Zakat to an appropriate person or entity.
Who can receive Zakat?
Allah specified eight categories of people who can receive money that Muslims give to fulfill the third of the five pillars.
- Poor people who are suffering in poverty and can’t meet basic needs.
- Needy people who aren’t well off and are struggling to make ends meet.
- Zakat collectors who collect and distribute Zakat to other people.
- New Muslims and others inclined to Islam to strengthen their faith and encourage them.
- To free a slave or captive by buying his freedom from his owner.
- To pay off someone’s debt if he is in need and can’t repay it.
- For assisting people engaged in Jihad or seeking Islamic knowledge.
- To assist stranded travelers who don’t have the means to return to their countries.
4th of the five pillars: Sawm
All Muslims must fast during the month of Ramadan. Fasting involves abstaining from consuming any food and drink from Fajr to Maghrib, while also not partaking in sexual activities with a spouse.
Fasting is something that many communities and nations have used over the years for the benefit of the people. Most recently, we can see the phenomenon of people using various fasting-related techniques for weight loss and to live a healthy lifestyle.
Ramadan is a month when Muslims must try to get close to their creator. Satan is chained during this month; therefore, we have an excellent opportunity to do good and gain rewards. It’s common to see Muslims partaking in many religious activities in Ramadan, such as reading the Quran, giving others food, and attending a lot of optional prayers alongside obligatory ones.
The third of the five pillars teaches us self-control and how to rein in our desires. When we refrain from eating food for long hours, then we also get a glimpse of what the poor and needy of our society have to go through every day. Hence, we can sympathize with them.
Being patient while fasting and displaying good manners helps us to suppress all feelings of negativity and control our emotions. Our soul is purified, and when we break our fast at Iftaar, we can socialize with relatives and friends and praise Allah’s bounties.
For many people, the real struggle is not during Ramadan. It’s to continue living in the same way after Ramadan. It’s not uncommon to see mosques full during Ramadan and empty after it. People often control themselves during this month and do religious practices, and then when it’s over, they go back to living life on their own terms.
The ninth Ramadan comes to an end when the moon for the next month is spotted. Hence, this obligation of the fourth of the five pillars lifts. Eid is a moment of great joy for the Muslims. There are two annual occasions of Eid, and Allah has designated them as celebrations for the Muslims.
To start Eid, we must give Zakat-ul-Fitr to help the poor, enabling them to also participate in this occasion. Then, we go and offer Eid prayer. After that, Muslims celebrate the completion of Ramadan by meeting each other, distributing gifts, and by relaxing and enjoying.
5th of the five pillars: Hajj
The pilgrimage to the Kaabah, the House of Allah, is the final pillar of Islam. It’s one of the fundamental Islamic practices. Nowadays, there are more than 1.5 billion Muslims globally, whereas only a few million get to perform Hajj every year. Hence, it’s something that Muslims really desire and long to take part in.
Hajj has a prerequisite: a person should be physically and financially capable of undergoing it. Hajj, in the modern-day context, costs a lot, which is why Muslims often save up money for a long time to be able to afford to go and offer this blessed fifth of the five pillars of Islam.
Muslim male pilgrims go to Makkah wearing two white pieces of cloth. This is compulsory and is a way of emphasizing equality during Hajj. All the Muslims are equal, and there is no difference between them, which the clothing emphasizes. Women usually wear black clothing in the form of an abaya and a hijab.
There are many rituals of Hajj that Muslims must complete for it to be a completed Hajj. The main rituals include the tawaaf, i.e., walking around the Kaabah, traveling between Safa and Marwa, and stoning the Jamaraat. Pilgrims often also visit other places outside Makkah, including Muzdalifah, Minaa, and Arafah. At Arafah, they repent and pray for forgiveness.
If a Muslim goes for Hajj and performs the last of the five pillars correctly and Allah accepts it, then He also forgives the person’s sins completely. The person departs from Hajj like a newborn baby with a clean slate, thereby allowing him or her to start life anew. Muslims must do and promote good and stay away from and discourage evil.
Muslims believe that Ibrahim (AS) built the Kaabah with his son Ismail. Allah says in Surah aal-Imran that He commanded them to construct it. It was built as the House of Allah. That is, it’s a place where we turn to during worship. However, it is not literally Allah’s House.
In the times before Muhammad (PBUH), the pagans had converted the Kaabah into a site for pilgrimage for their own people. It had numerous idols inside and became the economic hub for the Quraish as they benefited from pilgrims. During the Conquest of Makkah, the Prophet (PBUH) destroyed 360 idols located in the Kaabah, thereby purifying the House of Allah for worship once again.
Since then, the Kaabah has been the site toward which Muslims pray. Additionally, it is the location for the Hajj, and millions of people frequent it every year for the sake of Allah’s worship.
The five pillars in the Quran
And We sent among them a messenger from themselves, [saying], “Worship Allah ; you have no deity other than Him; then will you not fear Him?”Quran 23:32
Indeed, I am Allah . There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance.Quran 20:14
The believers are only the ones who have believed in Allah and His Messenger and then doubt not but strive with their properties and their lives in the cause of Allah . It is those who are the truthful.Quran 49:15
We have certainly seen the turning of your face, [O Muhammad], toward the heaven, and We will surely turn you to a qiblah with which you will be pleased. So turn your face toward al-Masjid al-Haram. And wherever you [believers] are, turn your faces toward it [in prayer]. Indeed, those who have been given the Scripture well know that it is the truth from their Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what they do.Quran 2:144
And establish prayer and give zakah and bow with those who bow [in worship and obedience].Quran 2:43
[and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.Quran 2:177
The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days.Quran 2:185
So whoever makes Hajj to the House or performs ‘umrah – there is no blame upon him for walking between them. And whoever volunteers good – then indeed, Allah is appreciative and Knowing.Quran 2:158
It is hoped that this summary of the five pillars will help Muslims to understand their importance. All Muslims who wish to live life according to Allah’s commands and obey His teachings have to carry out the five pillars.
Of course, some of them have prerequisites such as Zakat and Hajj. There are exceptions for fasting for travelers and ill people, while disabled or sick people can pray Salah in many ways instead of the usual methods. Hence, Allah has not made it a burden for us. Instead, He has made religion and the five pillars easy.