Five Pillars of Islam: What Do They Represent?

If you have ever heard a short introduction to Islam, chances are you would have heard something about Islam’s five pillars. The use of pillars as a descriptive term was used by the Prophet Muhammad to name practices that are central to the religious life of Muslims. Pillars hold up and support a building, and this is an analogy for the five pillars. Muhammad taught: “Islam is built upon five: to testify there is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God; to establish Salah (ritual prayer); to pay Zakah (charitable tax); to perform Hajj (pilgrimage); Sawm (to fast in Ramadan).”

Islam’s pillars represent religious observances that have been demonstrated during the life example (or Sunnah) of the Prophet Muhammad, and which believers are expected to perform in the same way. The frequency of these observations varies: some are daily observations, others are at specific times of the year.

The pillars have an impact on an individual but also on communities and society generally. Individually they can create a greater sense of being conscious of God, bringing mindfulness and peace within. Socially, they create a greater sense of neighbourliness, equity, compassion and social responsibility.

It is worth noting that the classic 5 pillars are taught across the majority Sunni section of Muslims. Shia Muslims, whilst observing these practices as well, are more likely to refer to the Ten Obligatory Acts they are taught. In addition, the majority of Muslims do not observe all practices of the 5 pillars strictly, even though most would probably acknowledge they should. Not observing all of the pillars strictly (such as the daily ritual prayers) does not mean religion is not important to one or that they do not consider themselves “practising” or religious. It tells us that, in real life, Muslims observe religious duties and rituals in different ways and to varying degrees.