There are five pillars of Islam. The term “Islam” means “submission to God.” There are five “pillars” (as they are called), or five basic duties, or acts of worship, every Muslim must do.
1. Shahada; Declaration of Faith. Shahada is the Muslim testimony of faith. Shahada goes as follows: La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadu Rasool Allah. (There is no god but God, Muhammed is the messenger of Allah.) I have also heard it said in a little bit lengthier, more formal setting, and also in prayers: “I bear witness that there is no god but God, and I bear witness that Muhammed is the last and final messenger of God.”
This is a really important statement that holds a wealth of meaning behind it. It seems like a pretty simple statement if taken at face value, but it represents a deep conviction in a Muslim’s belief system. When I first heard it and later when I first declared it myself, I understood that I did not fully appreciate its value. I feel confident to say now that I do now appreciate its complete intention.
The shahada itself is not one of the five pillars. Rather, belief in the heart and declaration with the tongue is what constitutes the act of worship.
2. Salat; Prayer. Muslims pray five times a day, at specific times, in a specific manner, facing a specific direction. Beyond that, prayer can be performed anywhere. Praying in such a rigorous manner may seem excessive, but prayer is one of the best ways to worship God, praise God, and also ask for help, patience, guidance, etc. Imagine anyone who prays five times a day, with sincerity, in any religion; it becomes almost difficult for that person to sin, knowing that before too long they will be praying in front of God once again. It keeps God to the forefront of your mind throughout your entire day.
All prayers are memorized and spoken in Arabic. In English (translated, I mean) the prayers go like this:
Praise be for Allah, Lord of the Worlds
the Beneficent, the Merciful
Master of the Day of Judgement.
Thee alone we worship and to Thee alone we turn for help.
Guide us in the straight path.
the path of those whom you favored
and who did not deserve Thy anger
or went astray.
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Allah is one and the only God.
Allah, upon whom all depend.
He Begets not, nor is he Begotten,
and there is nothing which can be compared to him.
Allah is the greatest.
Glory to my Lord the Great.
Allah has heard all who praise Him.
Our Lord: Praise be to Thee. O Allah, Exalt Muhammad & The Followers Of Muhammad.
As Thou did exalt Ibrahim & His Followers
Thou Art The Praised, The Glorious.
O Allah, Bless Muhammad
And His Followers
As Thou has Blest Ibrahim & His Followers
Thou Art The Praised, The Glorious
“O Allah, I have been very unjust to myself and none grants pardons against sins but You, therefore, forgive me with Your Forgiveness and have mercy on me. Surely You are the Forgiver, the Merciful.
Peace be on you & Allah’s Blessing*
Peace be on you & Allah’s Blessing
*The two statements at the end are spoken to your left and right shoulders, where it is believed there are two angels, one who records every good thing you do (thoughts, words, actions) and the other records all the bad things (in your thoughts, words, and actions).
3. Sawm. Fasting. Islam has two holidays, one to celebrate the start of Ramadan and one to celebrate the end, both called “Eid.” Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan. They do not ingest anything into their bodies during the fast. They abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and from sex until after sunset. Most families have big get-togethers during this time. It is important to wake up early (before the fast) and eat breakfast, to sustain you through the day. It is also advised to eat right at the sunset time, to celebrate the successful fast of the day.
Fasting is a time to strengthen your faith, pray, abstaining from negative thoughts, swearing, reminding ourselves what it feels like to feel hunger, denying ourselves worldly desires. Ramadan has very strict restrictions regarding the fast; if you knowingly break your fast, you must stop fasting for the remainder of the day, some even say the remainder of Ramadan. This includes swearing or becoming angry. Pregnant women, elderly people, and children are not required to fast.
4. Zakat. Charity. Zakat is a tax that Muslims give to charity. Islam requires each individual Muslim to pay 2.5% of their profitable income to some kind of charity or area of need. Profitable income is defined as the amount of your income that exceeds your immediate needs. Muslims are encouraged to give to other Muslims or Muslim charities, to prevent any Muslim from going hungry or without proper needs.
5. Hajj. Hajj is the trip to Mecca that all able Muslims are required to complete in their lifetime. All “able” Muslims means any Muslim who has the means to afford the trip. Hajj is a life-changing experience. Muslims from all over the world, of all different nationalities, and all different walks of life come together to pray for three days at the end of Ramadan. It is a challenging feat, requiring the most of patience and endurance. All prior sins are forgiven after successfully completing Hajj.