Islam is not just a religion, but a complete way of life. It is the guidance from Allah for all creation. The word Islam is an Arabic word which means submission. Submission is to Allah and true obedience is putting His commands into practice. Submission to Allah, through obedience to Him bring peace, and hence the words Islam and Salam, meaning peace, share the same root in Arabic.
Though this submission to God’s will can be manifest in various ways, is often summarized in the five pillars of Islam:
1) Shahada or Declaration of Faith
The Muslim declaration of faith is: “There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” This short phrase encapsulates the most fundamental aspects of Muslim belief, notably belief in God and belief in the prophethood of the final messenger, Muhammad (peace be upon him). This first pillar forms the basis for all others, and therefore without it, all other religious acts have little value.
2) Salat or Prayer
Prayer is the second pillar of Islam and is prescribed upon Muslims five times a day. These prayers are an invaluable opportunity to practically demonstrate one’s obedience to Allah and gain closeness and proximity to Him. Prayer purifies the heart, develops the mind and comforts the soul. The correctness of the prayer is conditional on the attainment of ritual purity (wudu). Wudu involves the washing of various limbs, and is symbolic in that through prayer sins are also washed away.
3) Sawm or Fasting
This fasting is compulsory during the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. Fasting develops self-control and helps overcome greed and selfishness, as well as engendering empathy for those less fortunate. During this month Muslim must fast from dawn to dusk every day, abstaining from food, drink and sexual relations. The end of this blessed month is marked by Eid al-Fitr, one of the two major festivals in Islamic calendar.
4) Zakat or Charity
Zakat literally means “to purify or cleanse.” Giving a small percentage (2.5%) of one’s accumulated wealth annually in charity means that a believer has to opportunity to help others less fortunate. This monetary form of worship is prescribed upon all Muslims who have reached the threshold which makes Zakat obligatory.
5) Hajj or Pilgrimage
Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam. It is a sacred journey, made once in a lifetime by those who can afford to do so. This pilgrimage centres on the visit to the Ka’ba in Makka. This cube-shaped building was originally built by the prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) for the sole purpose of the worship of Allah. One of the underlying themes in the Hajj is equality, highlighted in the wearing of two plain white cloths by pilgrims called ihram. Barriers of language, territory, colour and race are insignificant as all are servant before God.