The five pillars of Islam are five acts central to Islamic life. They include acts that are performed by Muslims daily, and acts that some Muslims never have the opportunity to complete. While these acts are deemed obligatory for all Muslims who can perform them, Sunni Muslims consider them pillars of Islam, but they are classified differently by Shi'a Muslims.
Shahadah: Testimony of Faith
Conversion to Islam requires nothing more than a brief statement testifying to one's belief in God and His Messenger. This testimony, known in Arabic as shahadah, marks the beginning of one's life as a Muslim. In Arabic, one version reads, "Ash hadu An laa ilaha illallah wa Ash hadu anna Muhammadan abduhu wa Rasooluh," which translates to: "I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is his servant and messenger." The shahadah is whispered into the ears of newborns as part of the call to prayer, and converts recite the statement in Arabic and their native language to formally complete a conversion to Islam. The shahadah is also part of the obligatory prayers.
The five daily prayers are performed in a formula specified by accounts of the Prophet Muhammad leading prayer and praying alone, and involve reciting passages from the Qur'an, bowing, prostrating, sitting and standing in a manner articulated in fiqh, Islamic jurisprudence. Sunni Muslims pray five times daily: dawn, midday, afternoon, twilight, and after nightfall. Prayer times are determined according to the position of the sun, but Muslims calculate the times that the sun will be in the required positions for convenience. Shi'a Muslims combine two prayers twice a day, creating three distinct times for prayer. Salah is obligatory for Muslims beginning at the age of puberty, but women are exempt from salah during menstruation and postpartum bleeding.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is obligatory for all Muslims above the age of puberty, unless exempted due to health reasons. Fasting requires abstaining from food, beverages and sex between the time of the dawn prayer and the twilight prayer. Some modern Islamic jurists prohibit smoking during these hours. When the call to prayer is made for the twilight prayer, Muslims break their fast. The fast of Ramadan ends with Eid ul-Fitr, the Festival of the Fast Breaking, which is celebrated with special congregational prayers, traditional feasts, special adornments and forms of entertainment.
Zakah: Purifying One's Wealth
Zakah comes from a word root meaning to clean or purify, and the zakah is a tax on wealth that is given to the needy. The amount is drawn not from total income, but income in excess of what one needs to survive, which is determined by Muslim jurists. If a Muslim has a certain amount in cash or property above what he needs to support himself and any dependent family members, then 2.5 per cent is owed in zakah. This can be paid directly to a needy person, but many Muslims give to organisations that distribute the money to the needy. In Muslim-majority countries, zakah may be collected by the state. Zakah is considered a right of the needy, and is separate from acts of charity.
The Hajj is a pilgrimage performed in and around Mecca, in what is now known as Saudi Arabia. Hajj is only obligatory for those with the means and strength to perform it, and the rites include walking around the Ka'aba, the cube-shaped house of worship towards which all Muslims face when they pray. This is followed by running between the hills of Safa and Marwa, praying on Mount Arafat, spending the night in Muzdalifah, throwing stones at pillars to symbolise rejection of evil, and sacrificing an animal for the poor before walking around the Ka'aba again to end the rites of the pilgrimage. The day that pilgrims sacrifice the animals is known as Eid ul-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, and is celebrated by Muslims worldwide.