The five pillars of Islam provide a perfect path and plan to connect the created being with his/her Creator.
If you think about it, actualizing one’s purpose in life require an action plan. If you want to achieve anything successfully, you need a plan to guarantee focus, consistency, commitment, sustainability and progress.
That’s why the five pillars of Islam – in their very essence- provide a perfect plan for the journey of growth, commitment and closeness to the Creator.
They are all based on the remembrance of Allah and deep connection with Him.
The five pillars start with the Shahada (the testimony of faith/testimony of Oneness of God).
It is an acknowledgement that must emanate from a deep conviction at heart and mind of the absolute Oneness of the Creator. It is an understanding and acceptance of the path of all messengers sent by the Creator, the path that He completed and perfected with the last and final messenger, Muhammad. Through the shahada, one acknowledges Allah as The One and Only Deity worthy of worship.
The words of the shahada are:
أشهد ان لا الله الا الله وأشهد ان محمدا رسول الله
Ash-hadu An La illaha illa Allah, w ash-hadu Ana Muhammadan Rasul Allah.
It is an acknowledgement that all mankind have One God. It is He who created the heavens and the earth and everything in between. He sent all the messengers to remind mankind of Him and of the purpose of their creation. He sent Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and finally Muhammad (peace and blessings upon them all).
He is the God who created all pairs, but remains Al-Ahad the Absolutely Unique One.
Ahad in Arabic doesn’t simply mean one. Saying ‘one’ might reflect that there could be another one, or that, in addition to that one, there is a two or a three or a four…but Ahad means the absolute unique one, there is nothing before Him, nothing after Him, nothing beside Him, there is absolutely nothing like Him.
This is reflected throughout the Qur’an, and so beautifully illustrated also in Chapter 112 called Surat Al-Ikhas (Sincerity of belief/ Oneness of God) which says:
In the Name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful
“Say: He is Allah the One and only.
Allah is the Self-Sufficient (independent of all, while all are dependent on Him).
He begets not, nor is He begotten.
And there is none comparable to Him.” (Qur’an 112)
Remembering and acknowledging that there is nothing and no one worthy of worship but Allah is a liberation for the human being from being enslaved to anything or anyone else in this life.
Everything in life is created by Allah, subject to His order, governed by His laws (for example who set the laws for all creations in existence from sun to moon to everything else in nature?).
Allah created time, He created the sun and moon that give people the indication of time, but He is not subject to time. He is The Ever Living (Al Hayy) The Ever Lasting (Al Baqi).
He is not subject to the laws that He created for His created beings in this life.
Allah created the males and females with their unique instincts, desires and laws; including the need for marriage/mating, for example. But, He is not subject to that law which He created for His creations.
He remains the Unique One whom all belongs and resorts to; He is already closer to them than their own conscience…
“[He is] The Originator of the heavens and the earth. He has given you mates of your own kind just as [He has willed that] among the cattle [there be] mates – to multiply you thereby; [but] There is nothing like Him, and He alone is all-hearing, all-seeing.” (Qur’an: 42:11)
Realizing that Allah is ArRahman (the Continuously Merciful/The Entirely Merciful) unlocks the human soul from the chains of sadness, depression and hopelessness.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) said: “Indeed, Allah has one hundred portions of mercy; because of just one portion there is compassion between [all creations on earth], and ninety-nine other portions are still reserved for the Day of Resurrection.” [Sahih Muslim]
So, His mercy is incredibly vast which gives a sense of ease, peace, tranquility, hope and longing to This Ultimate Source of Mercy.
He is the Afflicter, the Protector, and the Wise. In every situation, be it good or bad, He places wisdom and a meaning for the person to learn, grow in knowledge, spirituality and remembrance of Him.
People admire beauty, but Allah is the Shaper of beauty, The Fashioner of all out of nothing.
We sometimes let life absorb us and burden our hearts. We seek different means for healing, while Allah is The Ultimate Healer who created all hearts and have their cure…
“O mankind, there has come unto you an instruction [a heart penetrating advice, i.e. the Qur’an] from your Master and a cure for what’s in your hearts and a guidance and mercy to the believers. Say: “It is the grace and mercy of Allah (that He has sent this Qur’an), so let the people rejoice over it, for it is better than (the worldly riches) they are collecting.” (Qur’an: 10:57, 58)
People search for love, while Allah is Al Wadud (the Most Loving, the Source of Love).
People forget, neglect Him, walk away or pursue dunya and material worldly gains, while He remains the Watchful (ArRaqeeb), The Patient One (As-Saboor).
He is the Manifest (Al-Thahir) who created all what humans are capable of seeing.
He is “closer [to the human-being] than his jugular vein,” (Qur’an 50:16)
He is so clear to the heart of the person whose fitra (innate God-given nature) is pure and seeks its origin.
He is Al-Batin, the Source of existence that is Hidden in His Supreme Majesty from His limited created being’s perception. Thus, He tests their hearts, faith, sincerity in passionately and faithfully committing to Him.
“Vision perceives Him not, but He perceives [all] vision; and He is the Subtle, the Acquainted.” (Qur’an: 6:103)
“And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, “My Lord, show me [Yourself] that I may look at You.” [Allah] said, “You will not see Me, but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.” But when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He caused it to crumble into dust, and Moses fell unconscious. And when he awoke, he said, “Exalted are You! I have repented to You, and I am the first of the believers.” (Qur’an: 7:143)
Ultimately, the mindfulness of Allah, knowledge of who He is and what this world is about are all incorporated in the true meaning of shahada and monotheism (true Oneness of God).
The second part of the shahada is a mercy to mankind.
First, they get to know their destination (Allah), then they find the perfect way that leads them to that destination.
With sending Muhammad as a final messenger, Allah has provided a clear straight path to reach Him.
The human beings don’t have to randomly figure out what to do to get closer to their Creator. The person has a clear way, following the messengers whom Allah sent, from Adam to Muhammad, the seal of His messengers.
Muhammad was sent to deliver and teach the Qur’an that brought an understanding of life, its meaning and its purpose from the beginning of time until the Last Day.
He was also sent to help purify people’s hearts and actions.
And He was sent to provide them with a path that organizes all their life affairs.
Out of mercy, Allah didn’t just create mankind and let them suffer unguided, unaided trying to figure out helplessly who they are and what they’re doing.
He did send His messengers. He did send His books. He did send Muhammad and He revealed the Qur’an (The Reminder):
“All praise is due to Allah Who has sent to His Servant (Worshipper) the Book and has not placed therein any crookedness (deviance).” (Qur’an: 18:1)
“And indeed We have made the Qur’an easy for remembrance; so is there any who will remember?” (Qur’an: 54:22)
Secondly in the pillars we have the five daily prayers that enable the person to recite and remember the words of the Creator, and then ask Him of all what he/she needs.
Through this daily communication, one observes that Allah is indeed The All-Hearing who listens to every supplicant. He is the All Knowing of what His created beings reveal and conceal (Al ‘Alim). He is the One who sees all what happens (Al Baseer). He is the One who responds to the caller (Al Mojeeb).
So, the five daily prayers instill a sense of constant neediness and reliance upon Allah. It allows the person to take a few-minutes- break out of the consuming fast pace of life, and just speak to the Creator. It helps us remember what’s beyond all of what we’re witnessing and experiencing; it help us remember that we belong to The One who is Greater than anything and anyone in life, which is the meaning of Allahu Akbar that we utter repeatedly in prayer at every transitional movement.
This act recharges the heart with energy, power, as well as, awe and admiration of the Creator… it’s a reminder for the ones praying that they always have a resort, a haven in the intimate moments they have with their Creator whilst praying. It reminds them that they’re important and they matter and that the King of kings always has time to listen to each of them individually and respond to their every need and helps them cure what’s in their hearts and inner beings that no one else has the power to see.
People easily forget the purpose of life and get overwhelmed by this world. So there is mercy in establishing the prayers to remain connected, guided and comforted.
When Allah spoke to Moses (peace be upon him), He told him:
“Indeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance. (Qur’an 20:14)
In Arabic, the word salah (prayer) is connected to the word sela which means (connection). The prayer is a connection between the created being and the Creator.
Imagine knowing someone but never calling him, never asking about him, remembering him or talking to him… Only when you need something, you call to ask for what you want. What does that make you?
Allah never wants to cut His relationship with the people He created, so He ordered the prayer, the connection. But it is the people who sometimes cut the relationship with their Creator by neglecting Him and getting absorbed in their own worldly affairs.
Nevertheless, Allah, The Entirely Merciful, still says:
“And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.” (Qur’an 2: 186)
Thirdly in the pillars is the Zakat (almsgiving) which also means purification. It is a purification of one’s material wealth.
It is a reminder that the person’s wealth is a blessing from Allah. It is a blessing that one ought to share with others. This helps humble the person and increases the sense of unity with humanity. It is a selfless act that one performs in pursuit of His Creator’s pleasure and in service to His creation.
The sincerity, persistency and consistency in doing these acts of charity brings inner satisfaction and peace. It also promotes social justice as the rich always have an obligation towards the poor.
“(As for the one) who gives from his wealth for the increase in self-purification, And has in his mind no favor from anyone for which a reward is expected in return, But only seeking the pleasure of his Lord, Most High. He surely soon will be pleased.” (Qur’an 92: 18-21)
Fourthly in the pillars is the fasting of the month of Ramadan, which is a yearly purification for the inward and outward being.
There is a great impact the person experiences both on the physical and inner self as a result of fasting. Upon eating after the limited hours of fasting, the person experiences and realizes the true value and blessing of foods and drinks that have been given to us.
Through fasting one gets to be thankful for that which he/she has been given unconditionally by the Creator, which sometimes people take for granted. In essence, being grateful and thankful helps one come closer to Allah, Ash-Shakoor (The Appreciative). He appreciates even the smallest acts of goodness of His created beings- even though He is Al-Ghanyy (The Free of any Need).
But, the focus during fasting in Ramadan is essentially on the soul.
It is purification of the physical body in the morning, then cleansing and purification of the inner being through the prayers in the evening (during taraweeh, i.e. congregational night prayer).
So, it is discipline of the body, and emphasis on the soul.
During the month of Ramadan, the Qur’an is meant to be abundantly recited. While letting the physical body fast, reciting the Qur’an alternately feeds the soul.
In the taraweeh prayers, Muslims pray in congregation in mosques reciting part (s) of the Qur’an every night until the Book is recited entirely at least once throughout the month.
The human soul is not something that is earthly or tangible. It is a gift from Allah Almighty, it descends from above; from Allah. It is a breath from Him. So what nourishes this soul also cannot be earthly or tangible. It is something also descended from above, which is The Revelation of Allah who created the soul.
This is what the person experiences during the Ramadan and the prayers when the Qur’an is recited. It feeds, soothes and heals the soul of the human being and connects it with its Creator the Supreme Pure Being.
The human beings freely enjoy foods, drinks and respond to all the physical needs of their bodies throughout the eleven months of the year. This one month of Ramadan is a chance to free one’s enslavement to physical desires, and instead feed and elevate their inner being by connecting it with its Creator through His words.
As for the fifth pillar Hajj, it is a physical journey that reflects the inner, spiritual journey of the human beings.
The Ka’ba in Mecca is the heart or the symbolic center towards which all Muslims directs their hearts, souls, bodies and pray.
It reflects the unity of the creation and the Oneness of their Destination.
The sight of millions of Muslims from across the globe united, praying, facing the same Qibla (direction of prayer) while the heart is facing the same Creator, highlights the essence of “there is no god but One God and all mankind are equal.”
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (Qur’an 49:13) (46)
Hajj is about leaving worldly life behind and journeying towards the Creator in utter submission and humbleness to Him.
During the Hajj, the sight of millions of people from the East and the West, dressed in simple pure white garments, standing together, bowing together, prostrating together before their Creator reflects a truly deep and rich spiritual experience.
Going on this brief ‘hijra’ (migration) to Allah’s sacred house in Mecca reveals aspects that one can hardly see or observe elsewhere. In Hajj, people are seeking purity inwardly and outwardly, uniting with human beings from all over the world, all equal before the One Truth (Al Haqq). This experience is like a snapshot of The Day of Judgement when all mankind will stand before their One Creator.
It’s a reminder of the purpose of life, the meaning of life and the Destination towards which all mankind are heading.
These are the acts that provide the spiritual/physical plan for the person’s journey of exploring life and connecting with The Source of Life.