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What are the 'Five Pillars' of Islam?

First Pillar: Faith

There is no god worthy of worship except God and Muhammadis His messenger. This declaration of faith is called theShahada, a simple formula which all the faithfulpronounce. In Arabic, the first part is la ilahailla'Llah - 'there is no god except God'; ilaha (god) canrefer to anything which we may be tempted to put in placeof God--wealth, power, and the like. Then comesilla'Llah: 'except God', the source of all Creation. Thesecond part of the Shahada is Muhammadun rasulu'Llah:'Muhammad is the messenger of God.' A message of guidancehas come through a man like ourselves.

Second Pillar: Prayer

Salat is the name for the obligatory prayers which areperformed five times a day, and are a direct link betweenthe worshipper and God. There is no hierarchicalauthority in Islam, and no priests, so the prayers areled by a learned person who knows the Quran, chosen bythe congregation. These five prayers contain verses fromthe Quran, and are said in Arabic, the language of theRevelation, but personal supplication can be offered inone's own language.

Prayers are said at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset andnightfall, and thus determine the rhythm of the entireday. Although it is preferable to worship together in amosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as infields, offices, factories and universities. Visitors tothe Muslim world are struck by the centrality of prayersin daily life.

A translation of the Call to Prayer is:

'God is most great. God is most great. God is most great.God is most great. I testify that there is no god exceptGod. I testify that there is no god except God. I testifythat Muhammad is the messenger of God. I testify thatMuhammad is the messenger of God. Come to prayer! Come toprayer! Come to success (in this life and the Hereafter)!Come to success! God is most great. God is most great.There is no god except God.'

Once Muslims prayed towards Jerusalem, but during theProphet's lifetime it was changed to Makkah. From theminbar, the pulpit, the Imam who leads the prayer givesthe sermon at the Friday noon community prayers.

Third Pillar: Zakat

One of the most important principles of Islam is that allthings belong to God, and that wealth is therefore heldby human beings in trust. The word zakat means both'purification' and 'growth'. Our possessions are purifiedby setting aside a proportion for those in need, and,like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balancesand encourages new growth.

Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakat individually.For most purposes this involves the payment each year oftwo and a half percent of one's capital.

A pious person may also give as much as he or she pleasesas sadaqa, and does so preferably in secret. Althoughthis word can be translated as 'voluntary charity' it hasa wider meaning. The Prophet (SAW) said: 'Even meetingyour brother with a cheerful face is charity.'

The Prophet (SAW) said: 'Charity is a necessity for everyMuslim.' He was asked: 'What if a person has nothing?'The Prophet (SAW) replied: 'He should work with his ownhands for his benefit and then give something out of suchearnings in charity.' The Companions asked: 'What if heis not able to work?' The Prophet (SAW) said: 'He shouldhelp poor and needy persons.' The Companions furtherasked 'What if he cannot do even that?' The Prophet (SAW)said 'He should urge others to do good.' The Companionssaid 'What if he lacks that also?' The Prophet (SAW) said'He should check himself from doing evil. That is alsocharity.'

Fourth Pillar: The Fast

Every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast fromfirst light until sundown, abstaining from food, drink,and sexual relations. Those who are sick, elderly, or ona journey, and women who are pregnant or nursing arepermitted to break the fast and make up an equal numberof days later in the year. If they are physically unableto do this, they must feed a needy person for every daymissed. Children begin to fast (and to observe theprayer) from puberty, although many start earlier.

Although the fast is most beneficial to the health, it isregarded principally as a method of self-purification. Bycutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for ashort time, a fasting person gains true sympathy withthose who go hungry as well as growth in one's spirituallife.

Fifth Pillar: The Pilgrimage (Hajj)

The annual pilgrimage to Makkah, the Hajj, is anobligation only for those who are physically andfinancially able to perform it. Nevertheless, about twomillion people go to Makkah each year from every comer ofthe globe providing a unique opportunity for those ofdifferent nations to meet one another. Although Makkah isalways filled with visitors, the annual Hajj begins inthe twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar,not solar, so that Hajj and Ramadan fall sometimes insummer, sometimes in winter). Pilgrims wear specialclothes: simple garments which strip away distinctions ofclass and culture, so that all stand equal before God.

The rites of the Hajj, which are of Abrahamic origin,include circling the Ka'ba seven times, and going seventimes between the mountains of Safa and Marwa as didHagar during her search for water. Then the pilgrimsstand together on the wide plain of Arafa and join inprayers for God's forgiveness, in what is often thoughtof as a preview of the Last Judgement.

In previous centuries the Hajj was an arduous undertaking.Today, however, Saudi Arabia provides millions of peoplewith water, modem transport, and the most up-to-datehealth facilities.

The close of the Hajj is marked by a festival, the Eidal-Adha, which is celebrated with prayers and theexchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. This,and the Eid al-Fitr, a feast-day commemorating the end ofRamadan, are the main festivals of the Muslim calendar.