What Are the Basic Precepts in the Islamic World?

The Dome on the Rock is one of Islam's most sacred sites
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More than 1.5 billion Muslims across the globe adhere to a staggeringly large number of schools within the Islamic tradition that promote varying and often contradictory beliefs. Whether living in the Islamic World, regions with majority Muslim populations, namely the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and the Asian Pacific, or residing in the diaspora, nearly all Muslims agree on the Five Pillars of Islam: the proclamation of faith, prayer, alms giving, fasting and pilgrimage.

1 Proclamation of Faith

The proclamation of faith, or shahadah, is said by all Muslims to signal their status as a believer and their membership in the Ummah, or community. New converts recite the shahadah as they join the faith. This proclamation is twofold, first is that affirmation that “There is no God but Allah,” and second, that “Muhammad is his messenger.”

2 Prayer

Men pray in a Baghdad mosque
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The second pillar, called salat, refers to the five daily prayers required of all Muslims. Prayers are required before sunrise, at noon, midafternoon, shortly after sunset and finally at night. Before prayer, a devout Muslim must rid himself of physical and spiritual impurities by performing ablutions called wudu. Prayer is performed facing in the direction of Mecca, and involves recitation of Quranic verses.

3 Alms Giving

All Muslims are to pay an alms tax called zakah. Traditionally, 2.5 percent of a Muslim's annual income beyond what he needs to live on is given to a representative of the mosque to feed the poor, relieve debtors, and other charitable deeds. Payment of this taxreinforce a Muslim's sense of responsibility to his community.

4 Fasting

Lights adorn East Jerusalem during Eid al-Fitr.
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The fourth precept of Islam is the observation of fasting, sawm, during the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from sunrise to sunset. While one can forgo fasting because of illness, pregnancy or travel, it is required that she fast later in the year as a substitute. Ramadan is a time of celebration with many cities and Muslim neighborhoods lining the streets with lights for Eid al-Fitr, or the Feast of Breaking the Fast, which celebrates the end of Ramadan.

5 Pilgrimage

The pilgrimage to Mecca, called hajj, that is required of all Muslims physically and financially able to perform it. This pilgrimage takes place in the first 10 days of the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah and involves nine rites. Pilgrims dress in an unsewn and typically white cloth to symbolize the humility and equality among believers; circumambulate the Ka'bah, the cube-shaped building considered Islam's most sacred site; visit the Plain of Arafat; sleep overnight at Muzdalifah; throw stones collected at Muzdalifah at symbols of Satan; sacrifice an animal at Mina -- you can hire an agent to do the actual slaughtering -- circumambulate the Ka'bah for a second time; drink from the well of Zamzam; and pray at the Station of Abraham. Each of these rites has its root in the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

Amy Sachman holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Florida and an M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas. She has traveled extensively in North Africa and South Asia.