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PILLARS OF ISLAM. The foundations (arkan) upon which the religion of Islam rests are known as the five pillars, a belief based in a saying of the Prophet, reported in both Sunni and Shi` Y hadith tradition, “Islam is built upon five [fundamentals].” The five are the profession or witness (shahadah). “There is no god except God and Muhammad is the messenger of God”; regular observance of the five daily prayers (salat); the offering of the welfare alms (zakat); performance of the hajj pilgrimage; and fasting (sawm) during the month of Ramadan.

Islam is a system of religious acts, obligations and intentions, service and human interactions. These essential principles are succinctly expressed in the terms `iba-dat (rituals or acts of worship) and mu’amalat (human interrelations). The five pillars constitute the basis of worship, of the sacred law that governs social interrelations, and of theology.

The Qur’an presents the five pillars not as a creed but as a framework of worship, a commitment of faith, and a moral responsibility. Thus, regular worship and the giving of alms (surah 2.43, 83; 4.77) are presented both as acts of worship and moral imperatives; prayers, the Qur’an asserts, “dissuade from lewdness and indecency (29.45),” and almsgiving is also an act of purification (9.103).

Muslims believe that the five pillars were fully instituted during the Prophet’s life. In a momentous Qur’anic verse revealed after the farewell pilgrimage in which the Prophet led the Muslims shortly before his death, God says: “Today have I completed your religion for you, fully bestowed my favor upon you and accepted Islam as a religion for you (5.3).” The word din (religion) in this verse is taken to signify all the essential religious and legal institutions of Islam.

The five daily prayers are not strictly fixed in the Qur’an; their times are only generally indicated (17.78, 11.114, 24.58). Frequent zakat is enjoined but not fixed; but the fast of Ramadan and the hajj pilgrimage are clearly stipulated. The shahadah does not occur in the Qur’an, but its early use is indicated by its inclusion in the call to prayer (adhan) and the five daily prayers.

Neither the Qur’an nor the Prophetic tradition presents the five pillars together in a fixed sequence in any creedal definition of Islam. However, subsequent developments in the interpretation and application of the five pillars occurred in law, theology, and popular piety. Their centrality in the shari ah is evidenced by the general agreement of both Sunni and Shi’i legal schools (madhhabs) on the essential details of the duties (fara’id) legislated in the five pillars. The Qur’an distinguishes between islam and iman, the former understood as the outward adherence to Islam and the latter as the inner faith of the heart (49. 14). The Qur’an also uses the term isldm to designate a religious system that includes both faith and practice (3.19, 85). This seeming theological contradiction became an issue of great debate soon after the first generation of Muslims.

The crisis of succession following the Prophet’s death and the vast conquests that resulted in the deterioration of the ideal of the caliphate into a monarchical autocracy, led to the rise of various sects and movements whose beliefs diverged from what came to be accepted as Sunni orthodoxy. Chief among these were Shi`is, Khawarij, Murji’ah, and Mu’tazilah. Orthodox formulations of the five pillars, particularly the shahddah, were therefore attributed to the Prophet, or one of his prominent companions, and used as arguments against such religio-political movements.

In an early tradition reported by both Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet is said to have asserted: “I have been commanded to fight with all peoples until they say there is no god except God. When they say this, they protect from me their lives and their possessions except for what is due [as zakdt], and their final reckoning is with God.” This tradition and other similar ones indicate that the five pillars very early served as a credal formula signifying a person’s admission into the Muslim community. They were also used as polemical arguments against the Khawarij, who held that the profession of faith in God alone is not sufficient grounds for true Islam. In several important traditions reported by Bukhari, the duties of Islam are defined as faith in God’s oneness, observance of regular prayers, paying the zakdt alms, and fasting during the month of Ramadan. Some traditions add the duty of jihad, or fighting in God’s way.

The rise of various schools and sects caused sharp disagreement among Muslims concerning the reality of islam and iman as expressions of faith. The angel Gabriel, according to a well-known tradition reported by Muslim, came to the Prophet in human form and asked about isldm and iman. Islam, the Prophet said, “is to bear witness that there is no god except God and that Muhammad is the messenger of God, to establish regular worship and give the zakat, to observe the fast of Ramadan, and to perform the hajj if you are able to make your way thither.” Imdn means “that you believe in God, His angels, His Books and messengers and the last day, and that you believe in Divine decree (qadar), be it good or evil.” Belief in qadar was no doubt added later to counter the Mu`taziili belief in free will and that human beings are alone responsible for their actions. Through popular Sufi piety, the five pillars were personally internalized as acts of devotion and spiritual exercises. Thus the shahddah became a constant recollection (dhikr) of God and the obligatory prayers became a life of continuous prayer and meditation.

Shi’i tradition regards faith in God’s oneness (tawhid) not as one of the foundations of Islam, but as its essence. Therefore, for Shi`i Muslims, the fifth pillar is jihdd or striving in the way of God, which can be realized fully only under the guidance of a divinely appointed imam. For Muslims of every legal school or theological persuasion, however, the five pillars have been the fundamental principles of both personal and collective faith, worship and social responsibility.

[See also Islam, overview article; Hajj; Salat; Sawm; Shahadah; Zakat.]

Primary Sources


Bukhari, Muhammad ibn Isma`ili al-. The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih al-Bukhari. 9 vols. 4th ed. Translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan (with Arabic text). Beirut, 1405/1984. See especially volume I, book 2, The Book of Belief (faith), and volume 9, book 93, The Book of Tauhid (monotheism).

Muslim ibn Hajjaj al-Qushayri Sahih Muslim (with Nawawi’s commentary). 3d ed. 18 vols. Beirut, 1978. Especially relevant is Nawawi’s commentary on Kitab al-Iman (The Book of Faith), which heads Muslim’s work. See also Arkan al-Islam (The Pillars of Islam) at the end of Kitab al-Imdn in volume t. Sahih Muslim has also been translated into English by ‘Abdul Hamid Siddiqi (Lahore, 1972); see Kitab al-Iman (The Book of Faith).

Ibn Babawayh al-Qummi, Muhammad ibn `All ibn al-Husayn (known as ash-Shaykh as-Saduq). l’tiqadatu al-Imdmiyah (A Shi’ite Creed). Translated by Asaf A. A. Fyzee. Tehran, 1402/1982. Important work, one of the earliest creeds, written by a foremost Shi` traditionist.

Secondary Sources

Cragg, Kenneth. “Worship and Cultic Life: Muslim Worship.” In Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Mircea Eliade, vol. 15, pp. 454463. New York, 1987.

Cragg, Kenneth, and R. Marston Speight. Islam from Within. Belmont, Calif., 1980. Useful anthology of primary materials in English translation. See in particular chapter 2.

Wensinck, A. J. The Muslim Creed: Its Genesis and Historical Development. London, 1965. Very useful presentation of the genesis and development of the Islamic creed. Draws parallels and possible relations with Eastern Christian developments. See especially chapter 2.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/pillars-of-islam/

  • writerPosted On: June 27, 2017
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