The Five Pillars of Islam is the term given to what are understood among many Muslims to be the five core aspects of Islam. Shi'a Muslims accept the Five Pillars, but also add several other practices to form the Practices of Religion.
Five Pillars of Islam
The basic creed or tenet of Islam is found in the shahādatān ("twin testimonies"): ašhadu 'al-lā ilāha illā-llāhu wa 'ašhadu 'anna muħammadan rasūlu-llāh; "I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God." As the most important pillar, this testament can be considered a foundation for all other beliefs and practices in Islam. Ideally, it is the first words a new-born will hear, and children are taught to recite and understand the shahadah as soon as they are able to understand them. Muslims must repeat the shahadah in prayer, and non-Muslims must use the creed to formally convert to Islam.
The second pillar of Islam is salah, the requirement to pray five times a day at fixed times. Each salah is performed facing towards the Kaaba in Mecca. In the very early days of Islam, when it was based primarily in Mecca, Muslims offered salah facing towards Jerusalem, but then God revealed a verse of the Qu'ran to Muhammad, telling the Muslims to pray facing Mecca from then on.
Salah is intended to focus the mind on God; it is a personal communication with God, expressing gratitude and worship. According to the Qur'an the benefit of prayer "restrains [one] from shameful and evil deeds". Salah is compulsory but there are flexibilities under certain circumstances. For example in the case of sickness or lack of space, a worshipper can offer salah while sitting, or even lying, and the prayer can be shortened when travelling.
The salah must be performed in the Arabic language to the best of each worshipper's ability (although any du'a, or extra prayers said afterwards need not be in Arabic), and the lines are to be recited by heart, although beginners may use written aids. The worshipper's body and clothing, as well as the place of prayer, must be cleansed. All prayers should be conducted within the prescribed time period or waqt (Arabic for 'time') and with the appropriate number of units (raka'ah). While the prayers may be made at any point within the waqt, it is considered best to begin them as soon as possible after the Adhan|call to prayer is heard.
Zakat, or alms-giving, is giving charity to the poor and needy by able Muslims, based on the wealth that one has accumulated. It is a personal responsibility intended to ease economic hardship for others and eliminate inequality. It consists spending a fixed portion of one's wealth for the Poverty|poor or needy, including people whose hearts need to be reconciled, Slavery|slaves, those in debt, and travelers. A Muslim may also donate an additional amount as an act of voluntary charity, known as sadaqah, in order to achieve additional divine reward.
There are two main types of zakat: zakat on traffic, which is a per head payment equivalent to cost of around 2.25 kilograms of the main food of the region paid during the month of Ramadan by the head of a family for himself and his dependents; and zakat on wealth, which covers: money made in business; savings; income; livestock; gold and silver, and so on.
The payment of zakat is an obligation for all Muslims. In current usage it is interpreted as a 2.5% levy on most valuables and savings held for a full lunar year, if the total value is more than a basic minimum known as nisab (3 ounces or 87.48 g of gold). At present (as of 16 October 2006), nisab is approximately US $1,750 or an equivalent amount in any other currency.
Sawm, or fasting, is an obligatory act during the month of Ramadan, as enjoined in the Qur'an:
O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint — Qur'an
Muslims must abstain from food, drink, and sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk during this month, and are to be especially mindful of other sins. The fast is meant to allow Muslims to seek nearness to God as well as remind them of the needy. During Ramadan, Muslims are also expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam by refraining from violence, anger, envy, greed, lust, harsh language, gossip, and to try to get along with each other better than normal. All obscene and irreligious sights and sounds are to be avoided. The fast is an exacting act of deeply personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of closeness to God. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities and its purpose being to cleanse your inner soul, and free it of harm.
Sawm of Ramadan|Fasting during Ramadan is not obligatory for several groups for whom it would be excessively problematic. Children before the onset of puberty are not required to fast, though some do. Also some small children fast for half a day instead of a whole day so they get used to fasting. However, if puberty is delayed, fasting becomes obligatory for males and females after a certain age. According to Qur'an, if fasting would be dangerous to people's health, such as to people with an illness or Disease|medical condition, or Old age|elderly people, they are excused. Diabetes|Diabetics and Breastfeeding|nursing or pregnancy|pregnant women are usually not expected to fast. According to hadith, observing the Ramadan fast is not allowed for menstruating women. Other individuals for whom it is usually considered acceptable not to fast are those in battle, and travelers who intended to spend fewer than five days away from home. If one's condition preventing fasting is only temporary, one is required to make up for the days missed after the month of Ramadan is over and before the next Ramadan arrives. If one's condition is permanent or present for an extended amount of time, one may make up for the fast by feeding a needy person for every day missed.
The Hajj is a pilgrimage that occurs during the Islamic calendar|Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah in the city of Mecca. Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so is obliged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his or her lifetime. When the pilgrim is around ten kilometers from Mecca he wears ihram consisting of two white sheets. Some of the ritual of Hajj are walking seven times around the Kaaba, touching the Black Stone, running seven times between Al-Safa and Al-Marwah|Mount Safa and Al-Safa and Al-Marwah|Mount Marwah, visiting List of holy cities|holy places and sacrificing an animal in commemoration of Ibrahim's sacrifice. Furthermore, it includes throwing seven stones at each of the Three Pillars|three pillars symbolizing devil at Mina, Saudi Arabia|Mina and cutting (some or all) head’s hairs.
The pilgrim, or the hajji, is honored in his or her community. For some, this is an incentive to perform the Hajj. Islamic teachers say that the Hajj should be an expression of devotion to God, not a means to gain social standing. The believer should be self-aware and examine his or her intentions in performing the pilgrimage. This should lead to constant striving for Self-help|self-improvement.
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