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The Pillars of Islam

What are the tenets of the practises of the faith?

While it is true that Islam is not a ritualistic faith, it does have certain rituals that if carried out properly will guide the seeker towards the righteous path. The 'house' of Islam, is 'supported' by five 'pillars', which hold the house in position and prevent it from collapsing.1

The first pillar of Islam is belief. Hypocrisy is not acceptable in Islam; the Quran tells us on many occasions that God knows what is in our hearts; in the words of the prophet, God 'scans' our hearts. We have to believe in Islam to practise, and true belief can only be such by the will of God and practised by the believer without coercion or subjugation. Blind faith, or ritualistic devotion, is not encouraged at all in Islam. A man or woman must choose to follow Islam; otherwise, her Islam is not real.

"All actions are judged by intentions."2

This injuction applies to all actions, be it in accidental injury trial, or in a theological argument.

Islam teaches faith, and Muslims try to express that faith in every aspect of their everyday lives. It is unacceptabtle for the Muslim to take his or her religion to the mosque on Friday and then discard it for a week; the Muslim must integrate the faith in this entire existence.

The second pillar is Salat. It is the most important practise of Islam; the daily recognition of the divine of the Universe that Muslims call Allah3 is of supreme importance. The prayer, which takes place five times each day, eases their hearts from committing evil deeds, and encourages them to perform deeds of righteousness and purity. The day is structured throughout; at specific times that find their times according to the position of the sun in the sky and the lunar calendar, a Muslim prays.

The specifics4 of the ritual of the prayer are fairly simple; the positioning of the body, and the ablution with water5 preceding the prayer.

"Thus, the concept of 'worship' in Islam is different from that in any other religion. Here it is not restricted to the purely devotional practises, for example, prayer or fasting, but extends over man's practical life as well."6

The prayers are simple, and do not involve any intermeddiaries. The Muslim does not pray to God through any vehicle other than himself; there are no idols or men to be contacted. A Muslim may simply stop in the middle of desert and pray; to a Muslim, the world is the 'church'.

In each of the prayers, this verse from the Quran is recited.

It is called, the Fatihah. In English, it is called the Opening.

"In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

Praise be to Allah, The Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds
Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Master of the Day of Judgement,
Thee do we worship
And Thine aid we seek.
Show us the straight way
The way of those on whom
Thou hast bestowed The Grace
Those whose (portion)
Is not wrath
And go not astray."

The third pillar of Islam is called Zakah. The closest translation for this term would be alms-giving, but it is more than mere charity. Indeed, charity itself is a very broad thing for the Muslim; a smile is a charity, a good demeanour is a charity. But zakah is a ritualistic cleansing of one's wealth, and shows to the Muslim that all wealth is but an illusion. All the wealth belongs to Allah.

One day, a wealthy rider came across a peasant. He saw not his face, only the ragged clothes he was wearing. He passed him by, and then came across another man, a wealthy man. The rider thought to himself," Shame, for this wealthy man to be walking on the same path as such a destitute man. I will offer him a ride." He stopped his horse, and offered his services. The wealthy man asked the rider to describe the poor man. After the rider described him, the wealthy man said," You are the poor one, my rider." He walked on. The rider, curious, follwed him. Upon seeing the poor man, the wealthy man embraced him. He gave him all of his material wealth, and sat and laughed with the poor man.

The poor man was now wealthy, and the wealthy now poor.

The rider asked the now-poor man," Why do you give him your wealth?"
"It was not my wealth, nor is it now his. It all belongs to God. He has greater need of it, and so I give it to him."
"Does he now owe it to you?" the rider asked.
"No.  I relieve him of such an obligation. Instead, he will give his wealth to someone in greater need when they need it."

The rider asked them both," Why do you both treat each other as such? Do you even know each other's name?"
"No." They replied.
"Have you met before?"
"No." They replied again.
"Then why?"
"For we are both Muslims."
"What difference does that make?"
They both replied, "For he believes in one and only God. For he knows that it is to Him that we shall return, and that He has created all. For he knows that all mankind is but one family, and that we are brothers in it."

Upon hearing this, the rider dismounted and gave his horse to them both, asking for their forgiveness for his behaviour.

The stipulation for Zakah has a pragmatic and practical viewpoint as well as a spiritual one. Zakah seeks to redistribute the wealth amongst the needy, without forcing people to relinquish hold of all of their assets to maintain their family and themselves.

The fourth pillar is Sawm during Ramadan; in English, Sawm would be fasting. This word, as well, is insufficent to describe the month of Ramadan.

A Muslim fasting abstains from all evil thoughts and avoids anything that could possibly lead to evil. A Muslim will not swear or treat anyone in a bad manner; in truth, a Muslim should be in this state throughout his existence, but if he committs these acts during Sawm, his fast is void. A Muslim who is fasting also does not commit sexual intercourse or smoke.

A non-Muslim will usually look at this act as some sort of penance, or some kind of self-injury. The Muslim, however, has a different persepctive, for the Muslim sees the fast as an opportunity for spirtitual advancement.

" The streets during Ramadan are quiet, and content. The populace do not think about their hunger; they only think about how they can be better human beings. The people are even more eager to wish peace upon one another; and less reluctant to forgoe a bad look or an evil thought. Most of them look upon Ramadan as a joyous time, and are saddened by it's ending: fasting invigorates the soul."

The final pillar is the pilgramage known as Hajj. Every Muslim who is able is to make a pilgramage to Mecca at least once in his/her lifetime.

There are specific duties that are to be performed during this voyage, but the most striking aspect of Hajj is the meeting of so many different peoples in one place, under one faith, and one way of life.

"I have had many nice moments in my life. But the feeling I had while standing on Mount Arafat on the day of Hajj was the most unique..... It was an exhirilating experience to see people belonging to different colours, races and nationalities, kings, heads of states and ordinary men from very poor countries all clad in two simple white sheets praying to God without any sense of either pride or inferiority. It was a practical manifestation of the concept of equality in Islam."8

After the performance of the pilgrimage, the Muslim may add Al Haji before his name, to signify his accomplishment. In most Arab countries, Muslims do not perform this custom, but in further countries such as Nigeria, it is taken in a serious manner9.


1. According to tradition, the angel Gabriel came to Muhammed, and spoke to him about the five pillars (but all the pillars are described in the Quran).

2. Reported statement of Muhammed Ibn Abdullah, the Seal of the Prophets of Islam

3. Allah would be better spelled in English as Al (the) Lah (God). It merely confirms that there is only one 'real' God; THE God, the ultimate.

4. As required by both the Quran and the Bible; see Genesis 17:3, Numbers 20:6, Joshua 5:14, Matthew 26:39

5. As required by both the Quran and the Bible: see Exodus 40:31-32

6. Muhammed Asad, "The Spirit of Islam" published by the Islamic Foundation

7. Holy Quran, Chapter 1

8. Muhammed Ali (Three time World Heavyweight Boxing Champion)

9. Consider that to travel all the way to Mecca and back again from Nigeria was not exactly an easy task before the advent of aeroplanes and modern technology

Hisham Zoubeir

1 March 1998.

[Currently, he is at the University of Sheffield undertaking a multi-disciplinary degree in law. He has lived in Abu Dhabi, Cairo and London. His main interests delves into peace, equality, righteousness and spirituality.]

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