What are the “Five Pillars” of Islam?
They are the framework of Muslim life: faith, prayer, concern for and almsgiving to the needy, self-purification through fasting, and the pilgrimage to Makkah for those who are able.
Faith (Shahada); there is no god worthy of worship except Allah (Arabic for God) and Muhammad is His messenger. This declaration of faith is called the Shahada.
Prayer (Salat); there are five obligatory prayers which are performed five times a day. There is no hierarchical authority in Islam, and no priests, so the prayers are led by a learned person who knows the Quran, chosen by the congregation. Prayers are a direct link between the worshiper and God. Prayers are performed at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall. Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere.
Almsgiving (Zakat); an important principle in Islam is that all things belong to God, and that wealth is therefore held by mankind in trust. Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need. Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakat individually.
Fasting (Saum); every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast from first light until sundown, abstaining form food, drink and sexual relations. Those who are sick, elderly or traveling and women who are pregnant or nursing are permitted to break the fast and make up an equal number of days later in the year. If they are physically unable to do this, they must feed a needy person for each day missed.
Pilgrimage (Hajj); the annual pilgrimage to Makkah is an obligatory only for those who are physically and financially able to perform it. The annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar, not solar, so that Hajj and Ramadan fall sometimes in summer, sometimes in winter). Pilgrims wear special clothes: simple garments that strip away distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God.
The rites of the Hajj, which are Abrahamic in origin, include circling the Ka’ba seven times, and going seven times between the mountains of Safa and Marwa as did Hagar during her search for water. Then the pilgrims stand and join in prayer for God’s forgiveness. Millions go to Makkah each year from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity for people of different nationalities to meet one another.