By Jamal Badawi
What are the Five Pillars of Islam and what is the origin of this expression?
The term and the specification of the number appear in more than one saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). One of the most famous sayings is narrated in the collection by Muslim and says that “the infrastructure of Islam is based upon the Oneness of Allah, the performance of regular prayers, the payment of Zakah or the poor’s due, the fasting, and the pilgrimage”. (Muslim) The term was based on the mention of this hadith.
More specifically the first pillar on the Oneness of Allah means that in order for a person to be Muslim they would have to confess with conviction of the heart and mind that there is no deity but one God and that is Allah who is the One and Only universal God of all. One is required to mention this a minimum of one time in their lifetime in order to be Muslim.
The second pillar is the performance of regular prayers and these are also specified as five specific prayers which follow a specific format during the day and night. This is not prayer in terms of supplication, I use the term prayer in English because it is the closest translation. It is not prayer in the sense of sitting and making supplication but requires lots of preparation.
The third pillar is the payment of poor’s due and is called Zakah in Arabic.
The fourth is fasting and this refers to observing the fast from dawn to sunset during the month of Ramadan which is the ninth lunar month in the Islamic calendar.
Finally is the pilgrimage to the Holy places in Makkah (Mecca) at least once in a life time if a person is able to.
When non-Muslims write about Islam and mention these Five Pillars quite often one is under the impression that these Five Pillars is all that Islam is about. Is this correct?
Unfortunately, it is not. The problem with many non-Muslim authors, writers, film producers, and narrators is that they try to interpret Islam from the point of view of their own background which is like placing Islam in an alien framework and this is where the mistake occurs. Most writers in films and so on and many who pose as experts on Islam come from a background which views religion as a large set of dogmas or rituals or something that focuses on the spiritual aspect of life with some kind of separation from the secular or mundane activities.
True Islam is an all embracive comprehensive way of life, it is a way of looking at life and taking it as a totality not making an artificial separation between religion and secularism. The lack of understanding of this particular point makes many people view the pillars of Islam in the sense that doing those five things is all that Islam is about.
Any particular structure pillars are not everything but essential for a building’s support. In addition to the pillars one needs a roof, walls, partitions, insulation heating system and furnishing. The same thing applies to Islam. Many people think that once we talk about the Five Pillars of Islam that they’ve got everything. No they have not.
If we look at Islam the same way we look at the structure of a building as a functioning religion as a faith that is not limited to the spiritual aspect but is a complete way of life. One doesn’t have a functional building just with the pillars one has got to have all the other things that go along side with the pillars.
The pillars are essential and are the create the base but they are not everything. There is a difference between saying the pillars are everything and between saying the Five Pillars are the basis of everything. This is the way a Muslim looks at the Pillars of Islam.
In fact Islam addresses spiritual, moral, social, economic and even political aspects of life. When those writers refer to the Pillars of Islam they do not even depict it in sufficient depth. It is depicted as a formal ritual, whereas if one looks very closely in depth at the nature of those pillars one finds that they give lots of lessons which regulates social, moral, economic and even political life. In a way Islam goes far beyond the simple notions of rituals or formalisms.
Is there any significance as to the order in which these pillars appear and if so which come first and why?
Yes, there is a hierarchy. For example the first pillar which we mentioned which is the corner stone of Islam is the belief in the one universal God of all. Belief in God and faith in Him and acceptance of his prophets represents the very foundation upon which any good deeds can be accepted by God. This is the source of all virtue.
One notices that the second Pillar is the keeping of regular five daily prayers which is the most noble act of communicating directly with God without an intermediary. This is a reflection of how a Muslim after accepting God tries to nourish this direct relationship with his creator.
The second pillar is followed by the poor’s due which is an instrumental pillar in building social equity and justice in society. This is followed by the fourth pillar which is fasting. This is a method to discipline one’s self and control our desires and as such lead a virtuous life. Finally is the pilgrimage for those who are able to. As I understand it there is a hierarchy of relative importance.