The Five Pillars of Islam

Learn about the five pillars and obligations of Islam; the general duties that regulate a Muslim’s relationship with Allah, Prophet Muhammad and worldly desires…

Narrated Ibn `Umar: “Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “Islam is based on five: Testifying that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger, offering Salah (Prayer), paying Zakah (alms giving), performing Hajj (pilgrimage) and observing sawm (fasting) during the Month of Ramadan.”

The Narrator

The narrator  of the hadith here is `Abdullah ibn `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with them both). He was born 4 years after the advent of Islam and died in 74 or 73 AH. He embraced Islam at an early age and migrated to Madinah with his father `Umar, when he was 10. He was one of the greatest Hadith narrators among the Companions.

Islam Is Based on Five

Shahadah: The testimony of faith, namely no one has the right to be worshipped but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger

Salah: It is the central worship of Islam. It consists of certain acts, sayings and supplications, such as kneeling, prostration and takbir (saying Allahu Akbar).

Zakah: It is a kind of charity obligated on those who have properties that reach the nisab (the minimum amount of property on which Zakah is due) paid to eight beneficiaries (set in the Qur’an) with certain conditions.

Hajj: Pilgrimage means to leave to the House of Allah (i.e. the Ka`bah) and perform certain obligatory and recommendable rituals in the order reported from the Prophet Muhammad.

Sawm: The abstention from eating, drinking and sex from the break of dawn to the sunset with the intention of worshiping Allah, the Almighty.

So what Does This Hadith Mean?

The hadith at hand mentions the main and central obligations upon which the whole religion of Islam is established. Islam has been defined as submission, obedience and worship of Allah, the only God and Lord of the universe, being its Creator.

The hadith is showing the major principles that exemplify these meanings. Imam An-Nawawi said, “This hadith is a great source of understanding the religion of Islam as it included all of its pillars.”(1)

The hadith deals with the general duties that regulate a Muslim’s relationship with Allah, Prophet Muhammad and worldly desires. It explains the main individual obligations that are required from every Muslim, male or female. Imam Ibn Rajab said, “The hadith means liking the religion of Islam to a building, while the pillars of the building are these five things and without them the building is collapsed. Then, the rest of Islam’s rites are complements of this building.”(2)

Below is a brief description of the five pillars mentioned in the hadith:

1- The Testimony of Faith

The first pillar of Islam is to testify that there is no one worthy of worship but Allah, the Almighty and that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the Messenger of Allah. Sheikh Mohamed Salih Al-Munajjid explains the meaning of the Testimony of Faith by saying: “To bear witness that there is no god except Allah means to deny that no one other than Allah has the right to be worshipped, and to affirm that this is the right of Allah alone, with no partner or associate. Allah says:

That is because Allah is the Truth, and that which they call upon other than Him is falsehood, and because Allah is the Most High, the Grand. (Al-Hajj 22:62)

To bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah is to believe firmly that Muhammad is Allah’s slave and His Messenger to all of creation; the mankind and the Jinn. That means believing in what he has told us, obeying and following what he has commanded, giving up and avoiding what he has forbidden, following his laws, adhering to his Sunnah in secret and in the open, accepting and submitting to his judgments, and knowing that obedience to him is obedience to Allah, and disobedience to him is disobedience to Allah.(3)

2- Performing Salah

Prayer occupies a matchless rank in Islam. It is the column of religion and the first thing that one is called into account about. If it comes to be good, the rest of one’s deed will be so and if it is invalid, the rest of one’s deed become null and void.

Mu`adh ibn Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet said: “Shall I not tell you of the head of the matter and its pillar and peak?” I (Mu`adh) said: “Yes, O Messenger of Allah.” He said: “The head of the matter is Islam, its pillar is prayer and its top is jihad.” (At-Tirmidhi)

It is a constituent part of Islam, without which one’s religion is nothing. It implants modesty, unity, equality and common cooperation in the hearts and souls of Muslims. Also, it brings the worshipper closer to Allah and purifies him from the filths of sins. Moreover, it teaches good manners and upright attitude. Almighty Allah says:

And establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing. (An-Nahl 29:45)

Prayer has been obligated five times a day so that a praying person implores his God, regrets his sins and asks Him help and support in all matters. It is a good time to get out for a while of the discomforts of life to spiritual contemplation and meditation.

Therefore, it is highly required to perform with utmost reverence because this is reflected on one’s attitude and morals in the daily life, as mentioned in the aforementioned verse.

3- Zakah

Zakah means to give the prescribed shares from certain specified kinds of property to those who are entitled to them. The types of property include gold, silver, crops, fruits, trade goods and livestock (i.e., camels, cattle and sheep). It is required that a full Hijri year passes while the property in in one’s possession as well as that it must reach the nisab (the minimum amount of property on which Zakah is due).

Moreover, the Qur’an illustrates that Zakah should be given to eight types of people and it is not permissible to give it to other than these eight types:

Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect (zakah) and for bringing hearts together (for Islam) and for freeing captives (or slaves) and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the (stranded) traveler – an obligation (imposed) by Allah . And Allah is Knowing and Wise. (At-Tawbah 9:60)

Zakah represents one of the highest forms of thankfulness to Allah, and Islamic solidarity. Those with big wealth are commanded to pay out a small part of their money to be spent for the benefit of the poor, community and religion, showing gratitude to Allah who blessed them with that wealth and all other all favours.

Zakah is paid for helping the needy and indebted people, establishing public facilities and spreading the message of Islam. It is not to be given to saints or sheikhs, or to a specific tribe or class. Rather, it is expended only within the eight categories mentioned in the Qur’an, as mentioned in the verse above.

4- Hajj

Hajj or pilgrimage consists of certain rituals such as Tawaf (circumambulation of Ka`bah), standing in `Arafat and throwing pebbles. Allah says:

And (due) to Allah from the people is a pilgrimage to the House – for whoever is able to find thereto a way. (Aal `Imran 2:97)

Abu Hurairah reported: “The Messenger of Allah said: “Whoever performs Hajj (pilgrimage) and does not have sexual relations, nor commits sin, nor disputes unjustly (during Hajj), then he returns from Hajj as pure and free from sins as on the day on which his mother gave birth to him.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

The majority of scholars are of the opinion that Hajj was prescribed in the ninth year of Hijrah. However, it is enjoined one time in life and it is required only on those who are capable to perform it financially and physically. One should be keen to offer it because it is a means of expiation of sins, if a person does it in the manner prescribed in Shari`ah.

Sheikh Ibn `Uthaimin says: “During Hajj, Muslims from all parts of the world come together and show their love for one another and get to know one another. Also, Muslims demonstrate unity in time, place, actions and appearance. All of them stand in the different locations of Hajj at the same time, doing the same actions, and wearing the same clothes, with humbleness before Allah. The season of Hajj brings a great deal of good in both spiritual and worldly terms, as the Muslims may benefit by coming together, learning from one another and doing business.”(4)

5- Sawm

Fasting or sawm is defined as the abstention from the things that invalidate fasting from the break of dawn to the sunset with the intention of worshiping Allah, the Almighty.”(5)

Fasting was enjoined in 2 AH, and the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) fasted nine months of Ramadan. Al-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) fasted Ramadan for nine years, because it was made obligatory in Sha’ban 2 AH.” (Al-Majmu`, 6/250)

Regarding the obligation of fasting, Allah says:

O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous. (Al-Baqarah 2:183)

Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Messenger of Allah said, “Fasting is for Me and I reward it. Every good action is rewarded by ten times its kind, up to seven hundred times, except fasting, which is for Me, and I reward it.” (An-Nasa’i)

Fasting teaches sincerity and righteousness. It also makes us feel the sufferings of those who do not find food and drink, so that one becomes more generous and bountiful with them.

Also, it has a lot of healthy and moral benefits. The Prophet stated that Allah has prepared a great reward for the fasting people and there will be a special door for them in Paradise called Ar-Rayyan.

Lessons and Rulings

  • The hadith does not include all the obligations of Islam. There are, of course, other obligatory and top ranked deeds, such as Jihad. This is because the hadith highlights the basics of Islam as well as that Jihad is a collective obligation.(6)
  • The rites not mentioned in the hadith are also required and they complete one’s religion and one will be called into account about abandoning them for no excuse, such as enjoining good and forbidding evil.
  • The five duties mentioned here are indispensable and it is impermissible to abandon them, except within the legal excuses set by Shari`ah.

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(1) Muslim, Sahih Muslim, Dar Al-Khair, 1996, volume 1, p. 146.

(2) Ibn Rajab, Jami` Al-`Ulum wa Al-Hikam, Beirut, Al-Risalah, 2001, p. 145.

(3) http://www.islam-qa.com/en/21738 (Last accessed, 17/Nov/2013)

(4) Quoted from http://www.islamqa.com/en/109234 (Last accessed, 20/Nov/2013)

(5) Ibn `Uthaimin, http://ar.islamway.net/fatwa/6253 (Last accessed, 17/Nov/2013)

(6) Ibn Rajab, Jami` Al-`Ulum wa Al-Hikam, Beirut, Al-Risalah, 2001, p. 152.

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