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The Five Pillars of Islam

By Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay
Almost as soon as the Arab armies of Islam conquered new lands, they began erecting mosques and palaces and commissioning other works of art as expressions of their faith and culture. Many aspects of religious practice in Islam also emerged and were codified. The religious practice of Islam, which literally means "to submit to God", is based on tenets that are known as the Five Pillars (arkan), to which all members of the Islamic community (umma) should adhere.
Shahada (photo: Mustafa and Aziza, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Shahada (photo: Mustafa and Aziza, CC BY-SA 2.0)

1. The profession of faith (the shahada)

The profession of faith (the shahada) is the most fundamental expression of Islamic beliefs. It simply states that “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet.” It underscores the monotheistic nature of Islam. It is an extremely popular phrase in Arabic calligraphy and appears in numerous manuscripts and religious buildings.
Prayer Rug with Coupled Columns, early 18th century, wool (warp, weft and pile), symmetrically knotted pile, attributed to Turkey, probably Ladik, Konya, 172.7 x 121.9 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Prayer Rug with Coupled Columns, early 18th century, wool (warp, weft and pile), symmetrically knotted pile, attributed to Turkey, probably Ladik, Konya, 172.7 x 121.9 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

2. Daily prayers (salat)

Muslims are expected to pray five times a day. This does not mean that they need to attend a mosque to pray; rather, the salat, or the daily prayer, should be recited five times a day. Muslims can pray anywhere; however, they are meant to pray towards
Mecca
. The faithful pray by bowing several times while standing and then kneeling and touching the ground or prayer mat with their foreheads, as a symbol of their reverence and submission to Allah. On Friday, many Muslims attend a mosque near midday to pray and to listen to a sermon (khutba).

3. Alms-giving (zakat)

The giving of alms is the third pillar. Although not defined in the Qu’ran, Muslims believe that they are meant to share their wealth with those less fortunate in their community of believers.

4. Fasting during Ramadan (saum)

During the holy month of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims are expected to fast from dawn to dusk. While there are exceptions made for the sick, elderly, and pregnant, all are expected to refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours.
Last day of Hajj. All pilgrims leaving Mina, many already in Mecca for farewell circumambulation of Kaaba (photo: Omar Chatriwala, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Last day of Hajj. All pilgrims leaving Mina, many already in Mecca for farewell circumambulation of Kaaba (photo: Omar Chatriwala, CC BY-SA 4.0)

5. Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca

All Muslims who are able are required to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and the surrounding holy sites at least once in their lives. Pilgrimage focuses on visiting the Kaaba and walking around it seven times. Pilgrimage occurs in the 12th month of the Islamic Calendar.

Additional resources

Essay by Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay

Want to join the conversation?

  • mr pink red style avatar for user bonnie
    if they are not allowed to eat for a month, then how are they not dead? the longest a man can go without food or water is 4 to 5 days at the most.
    (0 votes)
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    • marcimus pink style avatar for user Hanzerz
      Oh no ,you see no one can go without food for a month. That's not what Muslims do lol.
      Think of it as a diet kind of thing. Muslims do not eat from sunrise around sunset ( otherwise known as fasting). Once the sun sets they break there fast with water or a date and then they have a feast and make there traditional foods and eat whatever they want until its sunrise.
      The process continues for about 29-30 days.
      The reason they do this is because many people out there are poor with usually no food or water. Therefore God tests them to see if they can bare the hunger for him and stay away from sins, give charity to those in need and remember the blessing of having food and also keeping in mind that out there there are many that live without any food and suffer from hunger.

      Hope his helped :)
      (52 votes)
  • leaf blue style avatar for user saroshahansraj
    btww.. not all muslims are required to make the pilgrimage to hajj. there are many branches of islam and not all branches are required to go to mecca. it would be much appreciated if you could change this to incorporate all branches of islam, not just one specific branch. while all muslims do follow the five pillars of islam, there are various interpretations of these pillars. this page can give wrong information to many people and generalize the muslim population. I think it would be very nice if you could do more research on this topic and edit this page. thanks
    (11 votes)
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  • ohnoes default style avatar for user jijamoe
    in the last paragraph it says that you are supposed to go to hajj only once in your life. Are you allowed to go more then once?
    (1 vote)
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  • aqualine sapling style avatar for user Annabel L
    Would the 5 Pillars be considered the ritual or ethical and legal dimension of Smart's seven dimensions of religion?
    Thanks in advance.
    (5 votes)
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  • piceratops tree style avatar for user AbdurRahman Sultan
    I'm so glad that they have the five pillars of Islam on this website, very educational to non-muslims to get to know the basics of the Muslim faith!
    (5 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Farhanna Khan
    Unfortunately, most people do not know Arabic so we are left to read the Quran in a language that is translated from Arabic.
    What I have learned from the Quran ( English translation) is that to submit to the will of God and God guidance is the meaning of being a Muslim.
    The five pillars are an article of faith that originate from hadith and have resulted in the divide of Muslim believers ( Suni, Ismaeli, and so forth). If one is to follow the guidance of God ( Quran) then submission only to God and guidance from God ( Quran, all articles of faith and belief in all prophets and their message (Adam, Noah, Abraham..Jesus, Moses peace be upon them all to the last Prophet Mohammad peace be upon him): in the Quran there is mention of so many good acts that one should do which are not mentioned in the five pillars so I would advise that along with the five pillars read the Quran. Many issues that voice a concern are the outcome of people following the word of men rather than reading directly from the source ( Quran).
    I hope my comments helped.
    (4 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user smeketa25
    so basically why is there exceptions made for the sick,elderly,and the pregnant during Saum,i don't think that is very fair
    (0 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      What is unfair about giving special consideration to sick people, old people and pregnant people? Islam is a religion of compassion. What you seem to advocate is a form of social Darwinism, in which the weak and old are left behind for the wolves, and only the strong survive. I find that reprehensible.
      (9 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user ella_mills
    Should Muslims give equal value to the five pillars of islam? Please help
    (2 votes)
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    • duskpin sapling style avatar for user DreamyBoatSC (🍫)
      While the five pillars of Islam are all important, Muslims should not give equal value to them. Without Shahadah, the first pillar of Islam, anything else you do would not be valid which makes the first pillar of Islam the most important. Similarly, you are not considered a Muslim without Salat (prayer) since Muslims believe this will be the first thing we are going to be asked about on the Day of Resurrection (also known as "the last day"). The five pillars of Islam are in order of their importance:

      1.) Shahadah (Testimony of Faith)
      2.) Salat (Prayer)
      3.) Zakat (Giving in charity)
      4.) As-Saum (Fasting; abstaining from all foods and drinks)
      and
      5.) Al-Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca)

      Hope this helps,
      ☆★Sabrina★☆
      (4 votes)
  • duskpin sapling style avatar for user Kaylin Combs
    why are there five pillars?
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user 😊
    How is the concept of jihad related to the Five Pillars of Islam?
    (3 votes)
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