Introduction to World Religions by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
The Pillars of Islam:
Pillars of Faith and Pillars of Practice
[still under construction]
The Five Pillars of Islamic Practice (the basic religious duties of Muslims, as practiced by Sunni Muslims; some Muslims add Jihad as a sixth pillar; see esp. Qur'an 2:142-152, 183-203):
Shahada (declaration of faith) - "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet" (another translation: "There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God").
Reciting this statement with full conviction and under no coercion makes someone a Muslim; there is no other "conversion" or "initiation" ceremony (in contrast to Jewish circumcision or Christian baptism).
Muslims hear and recite this profession of faith very frequently, since it is part of the regular Adhan ("Call to Prayer"), broadcast from all mosques five times daily.
The full Shahada is not a direct quotation from the Qur'an, but a combination of two ideas, both of which occur often (but separately) in the Qur'an: the uniqueness of God, and the prophetic role of Muhammad (see, for example, Qur'an 49:1-18).
Shi'ite Muslims often add a phrase at the end of the Shahada ("Ali is the Friend of God"), alluding to their emphasis on the role of 'Ali, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, as the first legitimate successor of Muhammad as leader of the early Muslim community.
Salat (worship or ritual prayer) - Ritual prostrations, accompanied by mental prayer, are done at prescribed times five times daily by Sunni Muslims (or three times daily by Shi'ite Muslims).
The prayer times are set according to the movement of the sun: dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nightfall.
Just before each prayer, a muezzin or mu'adhdhin ("chanter") publicly intones the adhan ("call to prayer").
To approach God in purity of mind and body, Muslims often perform ablutions (ritual washings, called wudu) before prayer, if they are not already clean.
Muslims remove their shoes and face in the direction of the Ka'bah in Makka whenever they pray; visitors are also asked to remove their shoes before entering any mosque.
A certain number of cycles of specific bodily movements (bowing, kneeling, placing the forehead on the ground, etc.) is prescribed for each prayer period, along with a recitation of al-Fatihah, the first surah (chapter) of the Qur'an, as well as private prayers thanking God for his grace and mercy.
The prayers may be done alone in any location, but Muslims try to pray together with others and/or in a mosque, if possible.
Common prayer is required (for men) for the Friday midday prayers, usually held in a mosque and preceded by a substantial sermon (ca. 20-30 minutes).
Muslims gather together, lining up shoulder to shoulder in straight rows, which emphasizes their common unity before God with no distinctions (rich or poor, young or old, ethnic groups, etc.).
In small family settings, men, women, and children can all pray together; but in public settings, men and women gather and pray in different areas or even in separate rooms inside the mosque, so as not to be distracted during the ritual prayers by the close proximity and bodily movements.
Click on the following for translations of the Adhan(call to prayer) and al-Fatihah (Q 1:1-7, the opening surah of the Qur'an).
Zakat (giving alms to the poor) - Every adult Muslim is required annually to give 2.5% of his/her capital assets to the poor and needy.
Muslims believe that all things ultimately belong to God and possessions are merely held in trust by human beings.
Charitable giving reminds everyone of this truth, especially the wealthy, and is interpreted as a "purification of wealth."
In the past, in some Muslim countries zakat was collected by the state as a tax; today, it is usually left up to the individual to give charitably.
For further teachings about almsgiving, see Qur'an 2:261-281; 107:1-7.
Sawm (fasting during Ramadan) - Muslims abstain from all food, drink, smoking, and sexual activity during all daylight hours for the entire month of Ramadan.
This month-long fast, considered the holiest time of year for Muslims, was instituted in 624 CE (Year 3 on the Islamic calendar; see Qur'an 2:183, 185).
The purpose of the fast is spiritual and physical cleansing of the mind and body, so one can better empathize with the poor, practice self-discipline, and keep one's focus on God.
It is not a time of mourning or penance, but rather a time of spiritual renewal, gratitude to God, and generosity toward others.
The fast is required for all healthy adult Muslims, but not for young children, pregnant women, sick people, or if it would be an undue burden.
If an adult does not fast on a particular day during Ramadan, he/she may make up for that day either by fasting on another day after the conclusion of Ramadan, or by giving an appropriate amount of money to the poor.
Many Muslims rise early during Ramadan and have a small meal before sunrise, but then do not eat or drink anything else until after sunset.
Following ancient tradition (a sunna or "custom/habit" of the prophet Muhammad himself), Muslims "break the fast" immediately after sunset by eating a date (or three dates, or similar fruit) and drinking water.
Then, after doing the daily prayers at sunset, they have a larger meal (called an iftar or "fast-breaking"), sometimes with special desserts (esp. fruit & nuts), and often shared with friends and neighbors.
In addition to fasting from food & drink, Muslims expend extra effort during Ramadan to abstain from evil deeds and reflect on their relationship with God.
Thus, for example, many Muslims try to read the entire Qur'an at least once during the month of Ramadan (1/30th portion each day).
At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, one of the two most festive days of the Islamic calendar, with special meals and the exchange of gifts among family and friends.
Fasting outside of Ramadan is also encouraged, especially in certain situations (see Qur'an 5:87-95).
Hajj (pilgrimage to Makka) - Every Muslim should visit the Holy City of Makka/Mecca at least once in his/her lifetime, if possible.
The main pilgrimage is held annually during the twelfth month of the Islamic lunar calendar (see Q 3:96-97; 22:25-30); however, a minor pilgrimage (called 'Umra) can be done at any time of the year.
Every Muslim who is physically and financially able is obligated to make this pilgrimage at least once in his/her lifetime; some Muslims try to go more than one; non-Muslims are not allowed to attend or participate.
Pilgrims wear special, simple clothing during the Hajj, to emphasize the unity of all Muslims, erasing all distinctions of wealth, social class, or culture.
Several rituals, which Muslims believe go back to the days of Abraham, are performed in or near Makka during the Hajj, such as circumambulating the Ka'bah seven times, running back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa, joining in prayer on the Plain of 'Arafat (just outside Makka), throwing stones at three pillars representing the devil, sacrificing an animal, etc.
The Hajj ends with the celebration of Eid al-Adha, the "Feast of the Sacrifice," which commemorates the sacrifice of Abraham; on this feast, Muslims worldwide also exchange gifts among family and friends, but do not perform or emulate any of the other rituals done in Makka itself during the Hajj.
By the year 2000, about 2 million Muslims per year journeyed to Makka to participate in the Hajj; the number could soon increase to 3 million per year, since the government of Saudi Arabia is building new and expanded facilities to handle the crowds.
Jihad (struggle or exertion) - Effort expended for the sake of God or on behalf of the Islamic religion.
This struggle is both internal and external; most Muslims consider the internal struggle more important than external, but believe that literal fighting or war may also be necessary at times.
The internal jihad is the struggle within each person, between one's good inclinations and one's evil desires.
The external jihad is the struggle against evil, injustice, and oppression in the world -- if necessary including the use of force.
Jihad should not properly be translated as "holy war," although the struggle against evil might involve the use of force, especially in cases of self-defense or fighting against injustice, oppression, or other evils.
The Pillars of Muslim Faith (Core Muslim Beliefs): (for a brief list of most of the following beliefs, see Q 2:177)
God / Allah
Monotheism (belief in only one God) is the core tenet of the Muslim faith.
"Allah" is not really a proper noun or personal name for God, but simply means "The God" in Arabic (i.e. the one and only God). It stems from the same Semitic root as the Hebrew "El, Eloh, Elohim," which is also the generic word for "god."
In Muslim texts in English, the Arabic word is sometimes trans-lated "God" and sometimes trans-literated "Allah," but both have the same meaning.
Most pre-Islamic Makkans were polytheistic, worshipping Allah as one god among many; but some people living in 7th-century Arabia were also Jews or Christians, referred to frequently as "People of the Book" in the Qur'an.
The Qur'an stresses that God has "no associate or partner" (contrast with Muslim understandings of the Christian doctrine of the "Trinity"). Yet, since there is only one God, Muslims maintain Allah is exactly the same as the God worshipped by Jews and Christians, the other "monotheistic" faiths.
Most surahs of the Qur'an, and many other Muslim writings, begin "In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful"; other translations are, "In the name of God, All-Merciful, All-Compassionate," or "In the name of God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful."
Muslim mystical prayer sometimes focuses on the 99 Names of Allah recorded in the Qur'an (using stings of 3x11 or 33 beads, somewhat similar in function to a Catholic rosary).
Spiritual beings exist, who can only do good and serve God.
Muslims believe that each person has several angels who accompany, guide, and protect him or her at all times.
As God's "messengers," angels reveal God's messages to the Prophets, who in turn transmit them to other people
Some angels have well-known names, such as the angel Gabriel, who revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad.
Holy Books -
God's messages have been recorded in various books over time, but ultimately in the Arabic Qur'an.
God's will has been revealed in different languages to different cultures in different eras, yet all with the same basic message.
Thus, Muslims acknowledge the Books of Moses, the Psalms of David, and the Gospels of Jesus as holy books. Yet the Qur'an refers to the Injil [Arabic, derived from Greek evangelion or "gospel"] as a revelation TO Jesus--analogous to the Islamic understanding of the Qur'an as a revelation to Muhammad--rather than as a series of writings ABOUT Jesus and his message.
The Qur'an frequently also refers to Jews and Christians as "people of the book." In contrast, Jews prefer to describe themselves as "children of the covenant" while Christians see themselves as "brothers & sisters of Jesus"; that is, while the written scriptures are obviously important for Jews and Christians, the broader concept of TORAH (the living, originally oral "teaching/instruction" of God to Moses) is even more central for Jews, just as the person of JESUS (the incarnate Word of God) is more central for Christians.
In practice, few Muslims actually read the books of the Hebrew Bible or Christian New Testament, focusing instead on the Qur'an as the "completion" of God's revelation.
God has sent messengers
to humanity from the beginning of time, all conveying the same basic message.
Muslims believe God has sent thousands of prophets over the centuries, beginning with Adam himself
Many of the characters considered "prophets" are familiar from the Judeo-Christian traditions: Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Moses, Jesus, etc.
Muslims believe that Muhammad was the "last" in this long series of prophets; yet he was not the "greatest" prophet, since all prophets are equal before God.
Day of Resurrection or Judgment Day -
All people will be raised back to life and judged by God.
Each person is ultimately responsible and accountable before God for his or her own actions.
Those whose good deeds outweigh their bad deeds will be rewarded (eternal life in heaven);
Those whose bad deeds outweigh their good deeds will be punished (everlasting fires in hell).
Choice of Good or Evil -
Each individual has been given the knowledge and ability to choose between right and wrong.
Every human being has a free will and a conscience to help him or her decide what to do.
Life involves a "struggle" (jihad), which is both interior and exterior, between good and evil (see the "sixth pillar" above)
Heaven and Hell - The afterlife is real; there are places of reward or punishment, based on one's life here on earth.
God will grant eternal life in heaven to those whose life on earth was righteous.
God will punish in the fires of hell those whose earthly life was evil.
Equality / Unity - All human beings are alike before God, so there should be no discrimination.
Arabs are no better than non-Arabs, and vice-versa; there should be no discrimination against blacks, whites, or any other races or peoples.
Thus, Muslims place great emphasis on the ummah, the "community" or "brotherhood/sisterhood" of all Muslims.
Muslims believe that all monotheistic religions have the same core message, esp. the "People of the Book" (Jews & Christians; see Qur'an 3.84)