5.1 Testimony of Faith
Host: 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 (PBUH). 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 zaka or the poor’s due, the fasting, and the pilgrimage. The term was based on the mention of this Hadeth.
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 zaka 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 Macca at least once in a life time if a person is able to.
Host: 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. Like I said earlier 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.
Host: 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.
Host: Could you explain the meaning and significance first pillar?
The first pillar means that in order for a person to be a Muslim he would have to confess with full conviction without compulsion or pressure of the mind and heart that there is no deity but the one God, Allah, and that Muhammad is his messenger. More specifically the formula goes like this “I bear witness that there is no deity but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is his servant and messenger.” The mere uttering of this with conviction allows a person to automatically enter into Islam without the need for a specific ritual or priestly pronouncement. It is a person’s right to accept with conviction God as his master, his friend, his companion, his guide. This right doesn’t need the approval or accept of anyone because it is a matter between the creature and his creator.
Host: What does the Quran say about the nature of God?
The formula of creed which admits a person to Islam starts with negation as it says that there is no deity but the one God, Allah. This has some significance because the fact that it starts with negation rather than affirmation shows that for a Muslim it is not enough to say that there is a God but it is important to negate that any creature shares any of the divine attributes with the creator. In that sense we can say that God is the universal creator and sustainer of this universe and that He is the absolute Sovran or power in this universe and he has no partner or helper. Thirdly we need to realize that the nature of God is definitely far beyond our limited human imagination and perception. God is not limited to the material, space or time. The Muslim regards it as erroneous to take any images for God whether human or otherwise as He is beyond material images.
It follows that the transcendence of God is contradictory not contradictory to his closeness to mankind because as the Quran indicates God is close to us, He guides us and whenever we chose His path He aids us and helps us continue on the right path. He reciprocates and values our love for Him. An example can be found in (2:255) in the Quran “Allah. There is no god but He,-the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor Sleep. He is all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permitted? He knoweth what (appeared to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He willeth. His Throne doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory).” This is one of the most beautiful and widely quoted verse called Ayatul Kursi. There are a few more quotes in (42:11) “There is nothing whatever like unto Him, and He is the One that hears and sees (all things).” Another example is in (6:103) “No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision: He is above all comprehension, yet is acquainted with all things.” In one of the shortest chapters, 112, of the Quran it says “Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him.”
On the point that his closeness to man is not contradictory to his transcendence we read in (50:16) “It was We Who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than (his) jugular vein.” These are just a few samples of what the Quran states in regards to the attributes of God.
Host: Can you explain the second part of the testimony “I bear witness that Muhammad is the servant and messenger of Allah.”
This is a logical follow up to the belief in God. As we mentioned before God cares for us and guides us and wants us to achieve felicity in this life and hereafter. It follows then that He must have a way that He communicates this kind of guidance to us and the most effective way of communicating this information through prophets. The Muslims believe that God chose model human beings throughout history and sent them as His prophets. This process started all the way from Adam (PBUH), regarded as the first prophet, all the way through Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, Jesus and finally Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The fact that a Muslim, in the first Pillar of Islam, confesses that Muhammad is the messenger of God is simply an expression that Prophet Muhammad was the last catalyst of all prophets and that God has completed his message, perfected it and made it more comprehensive in terms of providing total guidance for life through this last prophet. A Muslim’s acceptance of the second half of the testimony implies acceptance and belief in all prophets who proceeded the last prophet.
According to the Quran the Muslim is obliged as an Article of Faith to believe in all prophets. This belief is one of the acts or righteousness. Even thought the Quran mentions that some prophets had more of a role to play than others that in terms of brotherhood it emphasizes that we should not make a distinction between them as it appears in (2:285) “We make no distinction (they say) between one and another of His apostles.” And they say: “We hear, and we obey: (We seek) Thy forgiveness, our Lord, and to Thee is the end of all journeys.” Believing in Prophet Muhammad implies the belief in the previous prophets. The Quran is full of praise of the moral character, struggle, and nature of prophets throughout history. The Quran and Hadeth makes it clear that no shameful or moral sin is attributed to any of the prophets. For a Muslim to accuse any prophet of moral sins that blemish their character and their role would be contrary to the text of Quran. No one is saying they were anything but human but they were the best models for humanity. The five great prophets Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad are praised in the Quran. By virtue of faith a Muslim has to accept the prophets.
In fact we do not only find this connection through the Quran but we might recall that the whole third series titled Muhammad in the Bible pointed out that the advent of Prophet Muhammad has already been prophesied by many prophets throughout history and particularly by the Israelite prophets including Moses, Jesus and Abraham (PBUT). If one recalls we went into great detail to point out that even in the Bible in its present form there is talk of the great nation who will come from the descend of Ishmael who is the grandfather of Prophet Muhammad. We described how the Bible mentions the place in Arabia and Becca (Mecca) which the prophet will come from. There was also a description of the nature of the revelation that would come to him and of the Ka’aba the Holy Shrine in Mecca. We discussed the prophecy made by Prophet Jesus (PBUH) who is again highly regarded and respected by Muslims as one of the greatest five prophets. All prophets of the past have prophesied the advent and coming of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and they ordained their followers to follow him because he would receive the same essential message in a more complete form. In that sense if we take scriptures in their proper we will find that the prophets are presented there as brothers like links in the same chain which has been completed and perfected through the advent of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Host: Are there are other beliefs that are related to this first pillar that are over and above the belief in Allah and the belief in Prophet Muhammad.
As a result of the Five Pillars and especially the first one, believing in God and the prophets of God, there are four addition Articles of Faith so that there are six total Articles of Faith that the Muslim must believe in. The articles of Faith are first the belief in the oneness and uniqueness of God, the belief in the angels of God, the belief in the scriptures revealed by God, he belief in the prophets of God, the belief in The Day of Judgment or life after death, and finally the belief in measure. The previous series dealt with these Articles of Faith in greater detail.
The belief in the first Pillar of Islam implies that one believes in God and that He cares for them. If one believes that He cares for them then they believe that He sent prophets, and if one believes in prophets then one has to accept the scriptures that the prophets received. If one believes in revelation they have to believe in angels because the archangel Gabriel was the angel who carried the revelation to the prophets and then one has to believe in The Day of Judgment. In the end they all relate to one another.
Host: Is there a place in the Quran or sayings of Prophet Muhammad that mention these beliefs and require the Muslim to accept them?
There is one famous Hadeth known as Gabriel’s Hadeth where Gabriel came in the form of a human being to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) while he was sitting in front of people and Gabriel asked him questions that covered many things including both the five Pillars of Islam and the six Articles of Faith.
Gabriel asked Muhammad “tell me what is Islam.” So Muhammad told him the Pillars of Islam (Oneness of Allah, prayer, fasting, poor‘s due, and the pilgrimage). Then he asked him “what is faith?” The Prophet replied that faith was to believe in God, His angels, His Books, His prophets, The Day of Judgment, and due-measure. Then he asked him “what is excellence?” He said excellence is to worship God as if one sees him but if one doesn’t see Him one should feel that he sees you.