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What are the Five Pillars of Islam?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Five Pillars of Islam are the core beliefs of the Islamic faith. They are believed to be first in importance in the way one lives one's life. They hold the same type of sacred qualities that the Ten Commandments hold to Jews and Christians. One main difference is that they don’t merely describe what to avoid, but what one must do in order to be faithful and true in one’s practice of Islam.

The pillar of highest priority is Testimony of Faith or Shahadah. Each Muslim must believe and say that there is no God but Allah. This emphasizes the monotheistic nature of Islamic belief, which differed from some of the polytheistic practices one could find in the 7th century CE.

Though both Jews and Christians could certainly be found in the area where Muhammad rose to power, many worshipped numerous Gods. Thus, emphasis on the one true God, the God of Abraham, and belief in only one God distinguished the Muslim from those who were polytheistic. It also made them brethren with the Jews and the Christians.

The second of the Five Pillars of Islam is Ritual Prayer, or Salat. Every day, Muslims pray in Arabic five times a day. These daily prayers are always done facing Mecca, the spiritual home of Islam.

Giving alms is the third pillar. Called Zakat in Arabic, all Muslims are obligated to assist the poor. This system is quite similar to the practice of tithing, common in many Christian denominations. However, not everyone is required to give the same percentage. A rich man might give two and a half percent of his total savings each year. Those who have large farms might donate 10-20% of their goods each year, or a portion of their profits.

The fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam is fasting or Siyam. All who are able must fast between the hours of sunrise and sunset during the ninth month of Islamic calendar, which is Ramadan. Young children, pregnant women and the elderly need not fast. Most people who are seriously ill are not required to fast either. However, all others must observe Siyam in obedience to the Five Pillars.

The last of these is Pilgrimage or Hajj. Every Muslim must try during his or her lifetime to make the annual Hajj to Mecca. This is considered jihad, since the Hajj can be trying and one may encounter difficulties along the way. However, most feel the Hajj is of tremendous spiritual importance as one follows in the footsteps of Muhammad.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon185523 — On Jun 12, 2011

Thank you for the article, it's really good!

By anon185520 — On Jun 12, 2011

It's not a negative religion, they were simply stating that the 10 commandments have quite a few "thou shalt not" as apposed to the fairly positive idea of the five pillars (in response to leonidas226).

By anon145871 — On Jan 25, 2011

the shea believed that the caliph should be a direct descendant from muhammad, and the sunni believe that the caliph can be anyone.

By BostonIrish — On Dec 11, 2010


I think the difference between Sunni and Shia is different than the difference between Protestant and Catholic in that the latter happened later after the founding of the religion. The Sunni and Shia battled over succession whereas the Protestants and Catholics battled mainly over the doctrine of faith vs. works salvation. They are similar, however, in that faiths which are Monotheistic and very important to their followers tend to create deep rifts because of how strongly they are followed and how seriously each of their doctrinal points are taken.

By TrogJoe19 — On Dec 10, 2010

I wonder if the relation between Sunni and Shia is similar to the relation between Catholicism and Protestantism. They seem to both be quite bitter toward the other, but willing to put aside differences to combat the "infidels" which, on both sides, is the historical mutual perception between Christianity and Islam.

By Leonidas226 — On Dec 09, 2010

"One main difference is that the Five Pillars don’t merely describe what to avoid, but what one must do in order to be faithful and true in one’s practice of Islam."

Why would you say that Judeo-Christian laws only prescribe what to avoid? There are actually a considerably higher number of positive commands than negative ones in the Bible, and laws are always given an incentive for obedience. One main difference between the Golden Rule of Christianity and the Golden Rules of various other religions is that it is positive in Christianity. Christ said: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto yourself," whereas most other faiths say "Don't do unto others what you wouldn't want them to do to you." I don't see why you could think that Christianity is a negative religion of don'ts.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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