What Does a Muslim Believe?
Just as we have fundamental beliefs in Al-Islam, we also have five fundamental practices which we must observe. By increasing our knowledge of these fundamentals, we increase our
understanding of Al-Islam. These fundamental practices are the pillars of a Muslim’s entire Islamic life, which is based on the Holy Qur’an and the Uswah of Prophet Muhammad. They are as follows: To bear witness that there is no deity except Allah, and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger; to observe prayers five times a day; to pay zakat (charity as an obligation); to fast during the month of Ramadan; and to perform pilgrimage (Hajj) to Makkah at least once in a lifetime, if one is financially and physically able.
First Pillar of Al-Islam: Shahadah (Declaration of Faith)
If we do not have the courage to acknowledge the worship of Allah, The Creator, and if we do not have the courage to live a life which shows others our worship of Him, then we are not strong enough to accept the first pillar of our religion. When people declare themselves Muslims, they make their faith known by openly bearing witness that, “There is no deity except Allah, and Muhammad is His servant and messenger.”
A person who claims to be a Muslim, but who hides his faith is not a believer. When we openly bear witness that nothing is worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad is His messenger, we are telling the world that Allah is One, and that Muhammad is not a divinity, but a messenger of Allah. A Muslim must embrace Al-Islam in a public declaration. However, if he fears that making his declaration publicly may bring him harm, he may make it secretly, until such time as circumstances permit him to make it publicly. Even when the declaration is made secretly one must fulfill all his obligations and avoid what is forbidden. If he cannot fulfill obligations where he is, he must leave the areas of harm. The Holy Qur’an says, “My Servants who believe! Truly spacious is My Earth. Therefore serve Me [and Me alone!” Thus Allah tells us that His Earth is large enough for us to travel to a place in it where we will not meet with opposition in observing our faith.
When people understand the message of Al-Islam and feel an obligation to declare themselves Muslims before Allah and before the Islamic community, their hearts are taking a courageous stand. Allah rewards their courage by blotting out all the sins in their past. Even if one is in confinement for a criminal act, all his previous sins are forgiven, regardless of what they may have been, once he makes his declaration to accept Al-Islam.
The Second Pillar of Al-Islam: Salat, (Prayer)
Performing the obligatory prayers five times daily. Once we acknowledge that there is but One God, we must show our appreciation for the blessings He has given us by prostrating
ourselves before Him in prayer in the most humble fashion. We must be conscious of our development toward excellence and of our limitations. Further, we must demonstrate to the world that we worship none except Allah. We must strive for a clean life, free of corrupt thoughts, motives and intentions. We must devote ourselves regularly to the worship of Allah, and we must ask His forgiveness for our sins.
The Third Pillar of Al-Islam is the Payment of Zakat (Charity)
which literally means to grow in purity. Every Muslim whose financial resources are above a specified minimum is obligated to pay 2 1/2 percent of his wealth into zakat annually (during each lunar year). Zakat applies to all net savings, after reasonable expenses.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (PBUH), described zakat as a right of the poor. Its aim is to distribute the wealth produced by the community in such a manner that no one is treated unfairly. Allah told Prophet Muhammad, “Of their goods, take alms that you might purify and sanctify them and pray on their behalf. We are warned in the Holy Qur’an that our prayers are useless if we reject a charitable disposition. We are also warned, “0 you who believe! Cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury, like those who spend their substance to be seen of men.” It is reported in Hadith that Prophet Muhammad said, “There is never a morning wherein servants (of Allah] are not visited by two angels. One of them says, ‘0 Allah, give the spender [of charity] replacement,’ and the other says, ‘0 Allah, give the person who withholds [charity] ruination.”
Charity is an act which we perform unselfishly. Our object should be to please Allah. Allah tells us in the Holy Qur’an, “Only those are believers who have believed in Allah and His Messenger, and have never since doubted, but have striven with their belongings and their persons in the cause of Allah.
Charity in Al-Islam is much broader than just the giving of money. It also means going into our hearts and minds and donating our time and energy to help those in need, those less fortunate than we are. In Al-Islam you are never too poor to give some form of charity. If I need someone to defend my truthfulness when I am attacked by a liar, I need charity in the form of support (jihad) more than I need money. Defending righteousness, truth and human dignity, promoting a healthy society, imparting knowledge to better educate our children, standing by our brothers or sisters when they conduct themselves properly, yet correcting them when they are wrong; these are various forms of charity or jihad.
The Fourth Pillar of Al-Islam Is Fasting (Saum) During the Month of Ramadan.
Allah tells us in the Holy Qur’an, “0 you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may learn self-restraint.’
Fasting has been ordered as a religious duty to aid in subduing lust and in keeping appetites channeled within reasonable bounds in order that we may avoid being enslaved by impetuous impropriety. The Holy Qur’an clearly states, “And for such as had entertained the fear of standing before their Lord’s Tribunal and had restrained their souls from lower desires, their abode will be the Garden.” A man cannot attain salvation unless he learns to restrain himself from low, impetuous desires. By learning self-restraint, we are able to discipline ourselves and to bring our lives under control for the service of Allah.
The Fifth and Last Pillar of Al-Islam Is That of Hajj; Performing Pilgrimage to Makkah to Visit the Ka’bah.
Pilgrimage must be performed at least once in the life of a Muslim who is physically and financially able. The pilgrimage and its significance are very important in the lives of Muslims. Pilgrimage is not a new institution. It is as old as the Ka’bah itself, which the Holy Qur’an calls the first House of Divine Worship that Allah appointed for humanity.
In obeying Allah, our Creator, we are respecting our relationship with everything in creation. Al-Islam is a religion which brings us into agreement with the whole of creation. When we come into Al-Islam, we come into a beautiful family; a family of servants obedient to The Creator. This is a great blessing that Allah has given us; a revelation which shows us our true identity and which makes it possible for us to identify with all people, and to live together with others in peace, happiness and useful cooperation.
This is why the great day in the life of a Muslim is the day on Mt. Arafat, the ninth day during the month of Hajj. That is the day when people of all different races and nationalities come together under Allah’s Mercy.
As Muslims, we believe that all people share in one humanity. The pilgrimage symbolizes that belief and the struggle to bring it about. The pilgrimage is a coming together of people from all around the world, people who have been drawn together by their love for Allah and His messenger. Only Allah has the power to destroy racism and to unite all people under the Truth. Until we can realize this kind of consciousness, we have not completely accepted the five fundamentals of Al-Islam.