The Five Pillars are considered the most essential instructions from Muhammad for how to live as a Muslim. Loyal Muslims are expected to follow the Five Pillars as closely as they can.
1: Profess Faith – Shahada
Shahada – Say with conviction, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet.” This asserts that only Allah deserves to be worshipped, and that Muhammad was the last and final prophet of God’s word.
Shahada, if said with conviction, is all that is needed to convert to Islam and become a Muslim. In order to say it with full belief, the speaker should 1) believe that the Holy Qur’an is the literal word of God, revealed to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel; 2) believe there will be a Day of Judgment when all people will be resurrected, judged by Allah, and deemed worthy of heaven or condemned to hell; 3) accept Islam with its required practices; and 4) commit to worshipping only Allah.
2: Pray – Salat
Salat – Pray at five specific times a day, facing the holy city of Mecca. Prayers are performed at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and at night. Each set of prayers is only a few minutes long, and can be done almost anywhere. The prayers affirm a Muslim’s devotion to God as well as each Muslim’s direct relationship with God.
3: Give Alms – Zakat
Zakat, or charitable giving – Give support to those less fortunate, especially the poor. Zakat serves as a reminder that all wealth comes from Allah and should be used to benefit others as well as oneself. Muslims are required by their faith to give 2.5 percent of their wealth to the needy, but may give more if they wish.
4: Fasting during Ramadan – Sawm
Sawm – All adult Muslims fast for the month of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. The fast lasts 29 or 30 days, during which Muslims do not eat or drink anything during daylight hours, only before dawn and after dark. Ramadan is revered as the month when the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad, so Muslims try to live especially pure and faithful lives during Ramadan. The fast also helps Muslims learn compassion for those who are truly hungry or needy in other ways. Children are not required to fast until they are ten to twelve years old, although they may begin earlier if they choose and their parents permit. If fasting will endanger a person’s health, they may break the fast.
5: Pilgrimage – Hajj (pronounced HAH-dge”)
Hajj – Every Muslim is expected, at least once in their lifetime, to make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. The Hajj takes place during five days in the last month of the Islamic calendar. Pilgrims change into white robes to signify that all are equal in the eyes of Allah. They walk counter-clockwise seven times around the Kaa’ba, the cube-shaped building which houses the holy Black Stone, and perform rites in praise of Allah, in rejection of evil, and in remembrance of events in Islam’s history. More than two million Muslims perform the Hajj each year, traveling to Saudi Arabia from all over the world.