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 Pillars of Islam  
  What are the ‘Five Pillars’ of Islam?  
  They are the framework of the Muslim life: faith, prayer, zakat (Alms giving), fasting, and the pilgrimage to Makkah for those who are able.  
Faith (Iman)

There is no God worthy of worship expect one God and Muhammad (peace be upon him) is His messenger. This declaration of faith is called the Shahada, a simple formula that all the faithful pronounce.

In Arabic, the first part is la ilaha Illa’Llah-‘there is no God except God’; ilaha (God) can refer to anything which we may be tempted to put in place of God - wealth, power, and the like. Then comes illa’Llah: ‘except God’, the source of all creation. The second part of the Shahada is Muhammadur rasulullah: ‘Muhammad is the messenger of God.’ a message of guidance has come through a man like ourselves.

The moment one recites the Shahada; he accepts that the only law he recognises is the law of God, only God is his Sovereign, only God is his Ruler, only God he will obey, and only the things given in His Book & by His messengers are true & right. It means that as soon as he becomes a Muslim, he must renounce his authority in favour of God’s authority.
Prayer (Salat)

Salat is the name for the obligatory prayers that are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and God. As revealed by Allah the purpose of creation of mankind is to worship and serve Him; salat plays the most crucial role towards meeting this goal.

It prepares a man, physically and mentally towards fulfillment of this purpose. Salat five times a day is a constant reminder to a Muslim during all the phases of the daily routine that he is Allah’s servant. It prevents people from becoming overtly focussed on worldly needs to remind them that Allah alone is the Provider, Sustainer & the Fulfiller of all their needs.

It not only inculcates sense of duty but also instills discipline of following the leader. It is the best possible form of demonstrating one’s humility in front of his Lord. The congregational prayer held in the mosque in itself, is a team building process. It assures a Muslim individual that he is not left alone to face the tumult of the life.

It provides all the Muslims a readymade forum to assemble and interact with each other at mohalla level (five times a day), at sector level (once in a week during Friday prayer), at city level (twice a year during Eid prayers), and at international level (once in a life time during Hajj pilgrimage).

All the social, ethnic and linguistic prejudices are set aside when all the faithful stand in neatly formed rows, shoulder to shoulder in the show of solidarity. There can be no better exhibition of universal brotherhood than a sight of congregational prayer. It also signifies that all are one people belonging to one nation irrespective of caste, creed color or nationality. It prepares an astute army of Lord to fight the evil forces of the world.

Although it is preferable to worship together in a mosque, a Muslim may pray almost anywhere, such as in fields, offices, factories and universities. Visitors to the Muslim world are struck by the centrality of prayers in daily life.
Alms - Giving (Zakat)

One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. The word ‘zakat’ means both ‘purification’ and ‘growth’

Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion’ for those in need, and CLEAR ADMITTANCE BY A Muslim that his Lord has been kind and generous enough to give him wealth in excess of his requirement. Like the pruning of plants, this cutting back, balances and encourages new growth. Though it is an annual affair, it is commanded as often as prayer thus signifying it’s significance in the scheme of the things as laid down by Lord. Says Allah Almighty in His Holy Book:

" mercy embraces everything and I shall ordain it for those who are God conscious and give the Alms and who believe in our messages" [7:156]

It is one of the most important ingredients of Islamic Economic Order through which Islam envisages to herald prosperity & dignified living standard to all. De facto Zakat is a very simple but effective means to circulate the wealth in the society.

Each Muslim calculates his or her own zakat individually. For most purposes this involves the payment each year of two and a half percent of one’s capital or more as the case may be. But it is preferable to have a central pool whereby Zakat will be collected and effectively disbursed to the deserving and needy in a manner most appropriate.

The importance of Alms giving and charity can be understood from what the Prophet said: “Charity is a necessity for every Muslim.” He was asked: “What if a person has nothing?” The Prophet replied: “He should work with his own hands for his benefit and then give something out of such earning in charity.” The companions asked: “What if he is not able to work?” The Prophet said: “He should help poor and needy.” The Companions further asked, “What if he cannot do even that?” The Prophet said, “He should urge others to do good”. The Companions said, “What if he lacks that also?” The Prophet said “He should check himself from doing evil. That is also charity.”
Fasting (Sawm)

Every year in the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast from early dawn until sunset, abstaining from otherwise lawful food, drink and sex. Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are pregnant or nursing are exempted from the fast and are required to make up an equal number of days later in the year. Children begin to fast (and to observe the prayer) from puberty, although many start earlier.

Fasting like Salat as an act of worship, has been part of Sharia’ given by all the prophets; as mentioned in Holy Qur’an:

"O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was for those before you, that you may (learn self - restraint and) become pious." [2:183]

Human being is a unique combination of body and soul. Therefore it is essential to strike a balance between one’s physical and spiritual needs. But more often than not, this balance is lost sight of. Lust, greed and passion overtakes all other human faculties, leaving behind a poor spiritual being vulnerable to worldly evils.

Here comes Fasting to the rescue of the faithful. The month long, focussed exercise in self-control wherein the body is made to starve and the spiritual being is being strengthened through Qur’an Recital of the Qur’an, not only restores this desirable balance but also helps an individual imbibe the attitude of obedience.

Fasting is not all about denying oneself the lawful food or drinks or sex alone; it is to eschew all unlawful acts, which displease his Lord. If this aspect is not taken care of, while fasting, a Muslim does not achieve anything out of his fasting except hunger as mentioned by Prophet (PBUH)

"Whoever does not abandon falsehood in word and deed, Allah does not require him to give up eating and drinking."

On another occasion he said:

"any are the people who fast but who gain nothing from their fast except hunger and thirst."

The secret nature of fasting ensures that one has a very strong faith in the ‘unseen’ Lord and the ‘Hereafter’ where he will be rewarded for his self-restraint in the way of Allah; or else who can stop him from drinking and eating when no one is around.

Fasting possibly is the only means to expose the rich & famous to hunger pangs; so that they may sympathise with the poor of the society.
Pilgrimage (Hajj)

The annual pilgrimage to Makkah- the Hajj - is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to perform it. Nevertheless, about two million people go to Makkah each year from every corner of the globe providing a unique opportunity for those of different nations to meet one another.

Although Makkah is always filled with visitors, the annual Hajj begins in the twelfth month of the Islamic year (which is lunar, not solar, so that Hajj and Ramadan fall some times in summer some times in winter). Pilgrims wear special clothes: simple garments that strip away distinctions of class and culture, so that all stand equal before God.

The rites of the Hajj, which are of Abraham origin, include circling the Ka’ba seven times, and shuttling seven times between the mountains of Safa and Marwa as did Hagar during her search for water. Then the pilgrims stand together on the wide plain of Arafat and join in prayers for God’s forgiveness, in what is often thought of as a preview of the Day of Judgement.

In previous centuries the Hajj was an arduous undertaking. Today, however, Saudi Arabia provides millions of people with water, modern transport, and the most up-to-date health facilities.

The close of the Hajj is marked by a festival, the Eid al-Adha, which is celebrated with prayers and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. This, and the Eid al -Fitr, a feast-day commemorating the end of Ramadan, are the main festivals of Muslim calendar.
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