Five Pillars Or Ruins Of Islam

by Dr. M. Amir Ali, Ph.D.


If asked to explain some essentials of Islam, any Muslim would talk about the five pillars of Islam, namely shahada, salah, zakah, saum and hajj. This explanation of Islam in terms of pillars is based on a sahih hadith (found in both Bukhari and Muslim). However, Muslims neither know nor think about the underlying concepts of five pillars. Pillars cannot stand by themselves unless they have a foundation. A pillar standing without a foundation can easily be knocked over by a child. Besides, pillars are a functional part of a building, i.e. to support the roof of the building. A complete building would have at least one roof, walls, doors, windows and interior and exterior decoration. If a Muslim was asked about the analogical components of a building in Islam he would be at a loss. He would not know what are you talking about. Therefore, the current explanation of Islam in terms of five pillars without reference to the foundation and the rest of the building is a reference to the RUINS OF ISLAM. This is the reality of life.

In the ancient ruins in Greece, Italy, Egypt, India, Pakistan or any of the old countries a few broken pillars are found lying on the ground, and a few broken pillars still standing with or without some signs of a foundation. That is the analogy of Islam as practiced in our times. Islam's roof and walls, along with the decorations have fallen away; the foundation is barely visible and a few broken pillars are lying on the ground and a few are still standing.

Fallen Five Pillars

The concept of SHAHADA is the declaration of Oneness of God (tawheed) and messengership of Prophet Muhammad (S) which people pronounce by tongue without understanding the meanings and its impact on life. The ninety nine names of Allah are highly regarded and invoked in prayers and du'aa (supplications); chanted repeatedly with the belief that such activities will bring blessings and acceptance of du'aa without knowing the meaning and impact. Muslims are involved in nifaq (hypocrisy) and shirk (associationism) of all kinds in beliefs and in deeds (or works). The messengership of Prophet Muhammad (S) means accepting him as a guide and a ROLE MODEL in daily life. Unfortunately, the role model of a large majority of Muslims is the white man of the West. From the rulers of Muslim countries to ordinary people in the street, whether living in a Muslim country or western country, the role model is a white "successful" person certainly NOT Prophet Muhammad (S). And for a Muslim country or a Muslim society, the role model is America, her political and economic systems, and her value system or lack of it. For so called religious minded Muslim the role model is frequently a dead or living saint (wali) or imam or 'alim (scholar), almost never Prophet Muhammad (S); if he is the role model it is in a hearsay manner or by conjecture not through authentic and direct knowledge. Lip service is given to Prophet Muhammad (S), his birthday (maulood or milad-un-Nabi) is celebrated, seeratun-Nabi is celebrated with great enthusiasm and fanfare, salath 'alan-Nabi or durood is said whenever his name is uttered. Those who do not are looked at with scorn and to those who do not do any of these celebrations are called WAHABIS. A very large majority of Muslims are not even familiar with the biography of Prophet Muhammad (S) and the irony is that the "ulama" (scholars) discourage Muslim masses from studying and obtaining guidance directly from QUR'AN and books of authentic HADITH. This broken pillar of SHAHADAH or declaration of the CREED OF ISLAM is lying on the ground. Only if the meaning of shahadah is understood and lived by, sufficient guidance is there for life in this world and salvation in the life hereafter.

SALAH (Namaz or five daily prayers) is another broken pillar standing but ready to fall any time. A large majority of the Muslim population does not pray hence the pillar is broken. Among those who perform five daily prayers, the meaning of the prayer does not touch their lives. Among those who pray are some who do not do so correctly or understand the meaning of what they say by their tongues; naturally what they do not know, they do not practice. For example, the most essential part of salah (or prayer) is saying SURAT AL-FATIHA which is a reminder of the covenant (meethaq) with Allah and a du'aa (supplication). A section of 'ulama (Hanafi madhhab) have advised their followers against saying Surat Al-Fatiha in congregational prayers (silent or loud) despite the fact that Prophet Muhammad (S) has strongly advised saying it individually even in congregational prayers. There is a significant majority of those who perform five daily prayers who have adopted different ethical values in their daily lives (mu'amilaat), such as in business, jobs, industry, etc. and they remain untouched by the value system of Islam. For them salah is for Allah and daily business is to make a living where Allah does not exist, hence it is all right to cheat, break promises, contracts and pacts; it is all right not to give their money's worth to the employer, it is all right to cheat employees, it is all right to be a tyrant ruler, and so on yet pray five times a day. Salah is a broken but partially standing pillar not capable of bearing any weight of the roof.

ZAKAH (zakat or poor-due or wealth cleansing tax) or whatever way the word is translated is a broken and fallen pillar in an overwhelming majority of Muslim countries and minority Muslim societies around the world. Zakah collection is neither organized nor collected nor distributed in a manner done in the first century of Islam. It has been left up to the individuals to distribute zakah and a majority of them do not offer zakah. Naturally, the Muslim countries are the poorest countries of the world despite being the richest in the world in terms of natural resources, collectively speaking. Without allocating zakah, rich Muslims are amassing dirty riches making the poor poorer and rich richer; just the opposite of the desired result of an Islamic economy.

SAUM (rozah or fasting in the month of Ramadan) is perhaps practiced by more people than those who perform the five daily prayers. Fasting has three DON'TS and one very important DO; don'ts are eating, drinking and sexual activity. A very important DO is to live by the MORAL CODE of Islam. Without following the moral code of Islam SAUM is reduced to a simple deprivation of food, drink and sex and does not bring any spiritual benefit. Saum or fasting is a test of sincerity (ikhlaas) of a Muslim's beliefs. According to the Qur'an fasting is supposed to develop piety or God consciousness (taqwa) in a Muslim and develop a community of God conscious people. Piety or God consciousness means avoiding evil thoughts or deeds for regard of Allah. Today, the community of fasting people is composed of as many evil doers (if not more) than those who do not even believe in Islam or fasting in the month of Ramadan. Fasting makes no difference to Muslims and it has no impact on their lives; it is just a ritual without meaning. In fact the month of fasting has become a more expensive month than the other months for every Muslim in the Muslim countries. The consumption of everything in Ramadan goes up, so do the prices. In the Muslim countries, the Ramadan days become nights and nights become days and a lot of indigestion and sickness grows. Saum is another broken but partially standing pillar which is not capable of bearing any weight of the roof of the building of Islam.

HAJJ (pilgrimage) is also a broken pillar of Islam which is partially standing without being able to bear the load of the building. Like the Friday khutba (sermon) is a weekly educational program and renewal of faith, hajj is an annual international meeting of Muslims. This is a meeting where Muslims from various parts of the world should meet with each other, exchange progress of Islam in their respective countries and suggest to each other working solutions of mutual problems. This would develop brotherhood of Muslims in the world context. Obviously, hajj has become a ritual devoid of its benefits to the Muslim UMMAH.

Concept of a Complete Building

The foundation of Islam is the set of basic beliefs which is composed of

  1. Belief in One God Alone, Allah with all His attributes and knowing their meaning and impact on one's life,
  2. Belief in divine guidance of mankind through His Prophets and Messengers and belief in Muhammad (S) as the last Prophet/Messenger,
  3. Belief in the Books of Allah and Qur'an being His last and complete Book,
  4. Beliefs in the Angels as His functionaries,
  5. Belief in the Last Day or the Last Hour,
  6. Belief in the LIFE HEREAFTER which includes resurrection of man and accountability to his Creator and Lord, the Day of Judgement followed by reward and punishment meaning the eternal life of paradise or hell, and
  7. Belief in destiny (Qadr).

The set of beliefs may also be looked at as the engine of a car. If the engine of a car is good the car (body) will go places and if the engine is bad the car will not go any place irrespective of the condition of the body. The set of beliefs of a person is his engine, if beliefs are no good the person will have problems in his life. A society composed of people with sick beliefs will be a sick society as it is the condition of Muslim society today.

The rest of the building of Islam, GOOD DEEDS OR WORKS, (a'maalus salihaat) consists of the following seven components.

1. The first component consists of RITES OR ACTS OF WORSHIP commonly known as five pillars of Islam namely, shahada, salah, zakah, saum and hajj which have been discussed in the beginning of this article. These pillars support the building of Islam above ground.

2. The most important good work after establishing the pillars for a Muslim is to be a ROLE MODEL for mankind as Prophet Muhammad (S) is the role model for Muslims. To be a role model requires excellence in knowledge which includes professions and vocations. A good Muslim must be the best in his vocation to be a role model. A society composed of knowledgeable best persons will also be the best society which would become a role model for all other societies of the world.

3. The MORAL CODE of Islam is another component of the building of Islam. Propagation of the moral code of Islam, enjoining good and forbidding evil (amr-bil-ma'roof wa-nahi 'an-almunkar) is a duty of every Muslim.

4. RIGHTS AND DUTIES given by Islam is another component of the building. There are three areas of rights and duties, namely (a) God-man relation, (b) man-man relations, and (c) man-earth relations. The details of these rights and duties are given elsewhere.

5. Islam also provides guidelines in SHARI'A law which is the system of civil and penal law. As a part of the legal system there are guidelines for allowed/lawful (halal) and disallowed/unlawful (haram) in four areas, namely, (a) eating and drinking, (b) sources of income, (c) spending of wealth, and (d) sexual relations. These areas of law also become a part of the building of Islam.

6. Islam makes every person responsible to convey the message of Islam to other human beings (DA'WAH) due to our love for them. How would it be possible for a Muslim to hope for going to paradise by the Grace of Allah without providing any such chance to non-Muslims? This love for mankind demands that other's be informed about the message of Islam and let them have a chance to accept it. CONVEYING THE MESSAGE OF ISLAM is another essential component of the building of Islam.

7. Finally, this earth belongs to Allah, therefore, He has the most right to rule this earth according to His design. The human being is a trustee or manager of God on earth (KHALIFAH) which simply means that man has a duty to manage the earth according to the wishes of the owner (Trustor, Allah) NOT according to his (trustee, humankind) wishes. This means IMPLEMENTATION OF THE RULE OF ALLAH on earth is the responsibility of Muslims. Every Muslim must implement the Rule of Allah beginning with his personal life and extending it to family life, to social life, to economic life and to include political life at local, national and international levels. This aspect completes the building of Islam with its finishing touches. Let us come together and work together to implement the Rule of Allah in its entirety and rebuild the Muslim Ummah.

For a more complete treatment of this subject see the article by the same author, "HOW TO PRESENT ISLAM, A RATIONAL APPROACH" available from the Institute.

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