Islam is a monotheistic religion that was founded by the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century AD. The Arabic word Islam literally means submission to the will of Allah, meaning God in Arabic. Islam has several important doctrines. These sacred religious principles are known as The Five Pillars of Islam.
Declaration of Faith
The first pillar of Islam is the declaration of faith or Shahadah. Although it is recited in Arabic, it translated as: "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger." Although the Shahadah can be recited at anytime, it is usually stated during prayer. 3:2 of the Quran states the essence of the Shahadah: "Allah - there is no deity except Him, the Ever-Living, the Sustainer of existence."
The second pillar of Islam is prayer or salat. While facing Mecca, Muslims pray at least five times a day. Salat is performed at dawn, midday, the late part of the afternoon, just after sunset and between sunset and midnight. Although the Azan calls for prayer over a loud speaker from a mosque, it is also broadcast over radio. The Azan states: "God is most great. I bear witness there is no god but God. I bear witness Muhammad is the prophet of God. Come to prayer. Come to well being. Prayer is better than sleep. God is most great. There is no God but God."
The third pillar of Islam is charity or Zakat. Rather than being a voluntary act of charity, Muslims are required to pay 2.5% of their wealth towards Zakat each year. The purpose of Zakat is to benefit the poor, learn self-discipline and free oneself from greed. The Quran states: "And establish prayer and give Zakat and bow with those who bow in worship and obedience."
Fasting During the Month of Ramadan
Fasting during the month of Ramadan or Sawm is the fourth pillar of Islam. Ramadan marks the period when Muhammad first received the revelation of the Quran. For 30 days, all able bodied Muslims must fast and abstain from smoking and sexual activity. However, it is permissible for Muslims to drink and eat food after sunset. Muslims believe that fasting teaches self-discipline and gratitude for God's gifts. All prayers are multiplied on Ramadan, especially during the night when the first verses were revealed. This is known as Lailat ul Qadr.
Pilgrimage to Mecca
The fifth and final pillar of Islam is the pilgrimage or Hajj to the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca. All able bodied Muslims must perform the Hajj at least once in their lifetime. Mecca is home to the holiest Muslim shrine known as the Kaba. Muslims believe that the Prophet Abraham built the Kaba as a shrine dedicated to God when water miraculously sprung from the desert for Abraham's wife Hajira and son Ismail. During the Hajj, Muslims must perform numerous rituals designed to cleanse the soul.
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