Islam






arkan ad-din
the five pillars of religion


Islam Glossary
Islam
   The Arabic word which gives Islamic religion its name is islam, which means "submission," in particular, submission to God. This submission takes the form of the arkan ad-din, or the Five Pillars of Religion, which form the active ritualistic life of the Muslim and define the believer's relationship to God. The Five Pillars consist of five ritual duties:


Shahadah: the confession of faith. The confession of faith is the fundamental expression of Islamic faith and the core of all Islamic law; it is very simple: "There is no God but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God" (la illaha illa 'lah Muhammadun rasul 'llah). The shahadah is the first thing spoken to a newborn and the last thing whispered into the ears of the dead.

Salat: prayer. Islam enjoins upon the believer five prayers every day. These ritual prayers must be performed in the direction of Mecca and involve first standing, inclining, prostrating oneself, and sitting. The prayers are read from the Qur'an and must be chanted from memory in Arabiyya, or the classical Arabic of the Qur'an . It is not allowed to either have a book in one's hand or to chant the Quranic prayers in another language. Personal prayers, called du'a in Arabic, can be made in one's own language after the ritual prayer.

Sawm Ramadan: the fast of the month of Ramadan. During the month of Ramadan, all believers must refrain from food, drink, and sexual relationships from dawn until dusk. The month of Ramadan occurs at different times of the year (the Muslim calendar is a lunar rather than a solar calendar), so the severity of the fast varies. The fast is intended to purify the believer as a renunciation of the world.

Zakat: alms-giving. The Qur'an does not vilify the accumulation of wealth as the Christian gospels do; in fact, Islam manifestly understands the material world as created for the enjoyment of humanity. However, one's duties to God involve distributing one's wealth to the less fortunate. This is instituted in Islamic law, the Shari'ah, which constrains everyone to give the equivalent of 2 1/2 percent of their wealth to the poor in the form of taxes (if one's wealth is in money). Islamic society, it is not unfair to assert, was the first welfare state in existence! Just as the fast of Ramadan purifies the believer through renouncing the world, the zakat purifies the believer by encouraging a charitable disposition and a lack of attachment to worldly belongings.

Hajj: the pilgrimage to Mecca. Every believer must once in their life make a pilgrimage to the Ka'bah, the sacred shrine of Islam in Mecca. By recreating many of the events of the life of Abraham and Ishmael who are, in Islamic tradition, the founders of the Ka'bah, one injects oneself into the core of Islamic history and re-evaluates one's life and one's society in the perspective of that history.

Richard Hooker



World Cultures

©1996, Richard Hooker

For information contact: Richard Hines
Updated 7-14-1999