The five pillars of Islam

The first of the Five Pillars is the necessary condition for the spiritual validity of all of the rest, for through it, one becomes a Muslim. This is the Testification (shahāda – lit. “witnessing”) that there is only one God, that is, that there is nothing worthy of worship other than God. In practice, many human beings worship – in the sense of maximal devotion and adoration – imagined perfect worldly, material circumstances – the perfect home, career, spouse and so on; they worship the people in whose hands their material prosperity lies, they worship being seen a certain way in the eyes of others, and a kind of material vision of happiness – which can however never be true happiness. Islam teaches that this form of maximal devotion and adoration should never be directed towards material things; it should be solely for the Creator of those things, Who brought them and the whole world into existence, a world the structure and interrelationality of which bears the mark of His wisdom and compassionate plan for humanity. All that we know and love and desire in this world and throughout our short lives is good when it is sought after and enjoyed for His sake, and – as He has prescribed – for the common good of our fellow human beings. Yet in themselves, without reference to the meaning bestowed upon them by the Source of their being, material things are of no value – how, after all, can something that is devoid of all meaning be valuable? As Imām Nursī says in the First Word:

It would be foolishness to kiss the feet of a poor man coming to give you a gift from a king, without recognising who the gift has been sent by. Praising and showing affection for the people apparently bestowing blessings, while forgetting the ultimate, real Benefactor, is, however, an example of foolishness a thousand times more extreme.

The Testification, saying there is nothing worthy of worship but God, then, is recognition, adoration and devotion to the Source of all being, Reality Itself, Who gives and takes away as part of His plan for the human soul; we human beings who, through the ups and downs of the test of our lives, develop and grow, and mature in soul, such that in the Hereafter we can bear the fruits concealed in the seeds of our life and actions, and fulfil, for all eternity, our true natures.

The second pillar is prayer, or more properly, the Prayer, a Muslim’s spiritual link with his Lord; five times a day, all Muslims, men and women, turn to Mecca in a rhythmic series of prostrations and recitations that are as it were the meditative eye of the storm of the hectic bustle of daily human life; an internal oasis of calm and spiritual light, through which Muslims refocus, take stock and remind themselves of the purpose of the lives that they return to at the end of the Prayer.

The third pillar is the giving of charity – what is called the poor tax (zakāt); that the more fortunate give those less fortunate some of the wealth that God has given them. And give them of God’s wealth, which He has given you (Qur’an, the Chapter of Light, 24:33) – the wealth is fundamentally God’s – He is its Creator and Bestower – and He tests the rich by asking them to give 2.5 % of their wealth (required to be given to the poor by individuals who have had over a minimum amount of money saved for an entire year) in order to completely abolish poverty. Islamic societies were the first “welfare” societies; where the poor were entitled to have their difficult circumstances alleviated. It is the sharīʿa that guarantees this – money is to be taken from the rich, if they will not willingly give it, in order to be given to the poor, because receiving the poor tax is seen as a right granted by the Divine, the Bestower of wealth.

The fourth pillar is fasting in the month of Ramadan, the month in which the Qur’an was revealed, in solidarity with the poor, and as a spiritual exercise cultivating qualities of discipline, self-denial and non-indulgence. This is the month in which Muslims abstain from food, drink and sexual activity between dawn and dusk, and busy themselves with the practice of the Divine Remembrance (dhikr), and reading and reflecting upon the Qur’an. Yet it is also a month of material blessings and joy, and after dark, a festival month of gatherings of families and friends, and of true appreciation of the gift of food and drink. As a hadith states “a person who fasts has two joys; joy when he breaks his fast, and joy when he meets his Lord” that is, in the Hereafter.

The last pillar is that of the Pilgrimage (ḥajj) to Mecca.