5 Pillars of Islam

What are 5 Pillars of Islam?

You’ve probably come across the term 5 Pillars of Islam. These are the most important Muslim practices that put Islam into action. They keep God at the heart of everyday life and connect you to Muslims all over the world.

Shahada: Faith

This is the first Pillar of Islam and in Arabic means to bear witness to the faith. It is a simple but powerful statement all Muslims say to show commitment to their faith. It needs to be recited three times in front of witnesses.

“There is only one God and Muhammad is God’s messenger.”
لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله

Shahada is also said at the birth of a child, first thing on waking, the last thing before your head hits the pillow and will probably be the last words on your death bed. If you are a revert, you will have said these words when you embraced Islam.

Young Muslim man reads the Qur’an
Young Muslim man reads the Qur’an

Most importantly the shahada is recited in the call to prayer to help you keep God in the forefront of your mind. With so many ideas and people constantly vying for your attention, saying shahada instills a sense of calm and peace, reminding you that you are accountable to no-one but God.

Salah: Prayer

This is the second Pillar of Islam and means ritual prayer. This is done five times a day in the direction of Mecca and involves a sequence of movements, which include bowing and prostration. As you go through the movements of prayer, you recite verses from the Qur’an.

Muslim women in prayer
Muslim woman praying

If you’re new to practising Islam, ritual prayer can appear daunting. No-one expects you to know how to pray or cite verses from the Qur’an immediately. With time and practice it will all become more familiar.

The five daily prayers are known as fajr (the prayer before sunrise), zuhr (just after midday), asr (during the afternoon), maghrib (just after sunset), and isha (during the hours of darkness). You don’t need to go to a mosque to pray. All you need is a quiet and comfortable place. Prayer allows you to take a break from everyday life, providing the time and space to reflect on your day and come back calmer and more productive.

Zakat: Giving Alms

This is the third Pillar of Islam and asks you to give 2.5% of your annual assets to the less well off. But don’t confuse zakat with charity. That is separate and optional. Zakat is recognition that everything ultimately belongs to God and we should do all we can to help those in need. The act of giving zakat also helps curb our greed and desires, and teaches us to be honest and disciplined and play a positive role in the community.

Donating money towards Zakat
Donating money towards Zakat
“Give relatives their due, and the needy, and travellers – do not squander your wealth wastefully.”
وَآتِ ذَا الْقُرْبَى حَقَّهُ وَالْمِسْكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَلاَ تُبَذِّرْ تَبْذِيرًا
Qur’an, 17:26

Sawm: Fasting

This is the fourth Pillar of Islam and requires Muslims to fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year. This means not eating, drinking, smoking or having sexual intercourse during daylight hours. It also means refraining from having bad thoughts and making a greater effort to be loving and peaceful.

Muslims break Ramadan fast at sunset
Muslims break Ramadan fast at sunset

If you are new to Islam, this might sound tough. It is, and especially if Ramadan falls during the summer months when the days are longer. Many choose to sleep during the day or take comfort in prayers to get them through the fasting hours. But as any Muslim will tell you, Ramadan is a very special month where the challenges only deepen your faith and strengthen self-discipline. At sunset, friends and family gather to break fast and a wonderful feeling of community and togetherness surfaces.

However, following ijtihad and local customs, the Qur’an does make exceptions from fasting in some cases. These include the elderly, the sick, young children, pregnant and menstruating women.

Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca

This is the fifth Pillar and means pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest city for Muslims. Throughout history, believers have sought out places of retreat to devote themselves to God. This is what hajj offers Muslims, a place to grow closer to God through prayer and worship.

Muslims gather round the holy Kaaba in Mecca
Muslims gather round the holy Kaaba in Mecca

All Muslims are expected to make the journey to Mecca once in their lifetime, if they are physically capable and can financially afford it. Many Muslims save throughout their life to make this trip in old age. But if hajj is likely to cause hardship for your dependents, you are excused from going.

The pilgrimage takes place during the month of
Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Every year about two to three million Muslims from across the world, from all different races and ethnicities, journey to Mecca to do hajj, making it one of the most spectacular mass gatherings of people.