What do Muslims believe?

Five Pillars of Islam

Even though some beliefs and practices may vary among Muslims, there are five actions that characterize peoples of the Islamic faith. These pillars that support a Muslim’s faith are:

  • The Confession of Faith (Shahada)

    “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”

  • Prayers (Salat)

    Salat are ritual prayers said 5 times a day at specific times. These prayers can be said individually or communally in a mosque. A Muslim must perform ablution and ceremonial washings. The prayers are directed eastward toward Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad. Each prayer is accompanied by postures and actions and consists of recitations from the Qur’an in Arabic and individual petitions.

    Doa are informal prayers which are prayed in any language and are more personal in nature.

  • Charity (Zakat)

    Alms-giving is an obligation to share one’s wealth with the less fortunate. Traditionally, this alms-tax is 2.5% of one’s annual income. Also on Eid al-Fit’ (breaking the fast of Ramadan), Muslims are required to pay the equivalent of one day of food. Muslims also voluntarily give endowments (waqf) to schools, hospitals, libraries, and mosques.

  • Fasting (Sawm)

    Muslims are required to fast during the daylight hours of Ramadan, which is observed during the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar, usually between May 5 – June 4. During this time, Muslims fast from food, liquids, smoking, and sex; they are to reflect on the needs of the poor and their obligations to Allah. The tradition of Ramadan was observed by some groups prior to Islam, such as the Sabaeans.

  • Pilgrimage (Hajj)

    Every Muslim is required to go on one pilgrimage to Mecca. Unless they are not physically or financially able to make the trip. During the Hajj, all participants are equal. Men, women, rich, poor, Arab, and Muslims of all nationalities arrive wearing the same pilgrim dress of unsewn white material and they perform the same prescribed rituals, including circumambulating the Ka’ba, kissing the black stone, offering animal sacrifices, drinking from the well of Zamzam, and casting stones at the devil.

The Struggle (Jihad)

Some Muslims hold an additional action that Muslims are required to perform:

The Struggle (Jihad) is interpreted differently by different teachers and sects of Islam.

Some believe it is the internal struggle to live a life pleasing to God. This is referred to as the “smaller Jihad”. Others believe that the Jihad is the struggle to spread the Islamic faith and preserve or defend Islamic beliefs from attack to the point of being killed for one’s faith. This is called the “greater Jihad”.

“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day,
Nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger
Nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth
from among The People of the Book, until they pay the Jizyah (tax) with willing submission and fell themselves subdued.” – Surah al’Tawbah 9.29

In America, the Struggle or Jihad is associated with the most violent and extreme interpretation used by some terrorist groups; this Jihad is the external struggle with non-Muslims in order to advance Islam through force and violence. The vast majority of Muslims do not hold this view.

“Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you,
But do not transgress limits; For Allah loveth not transgressors.
And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out
For tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter;
But fight them not at the Sacred Mosque,unless they first fight you there;
But if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.
But if they cease, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful
and fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression,
and there prevail justice and faith in Allah
But if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.” – Surah al’Bakara 2.190-193

Most Muslims interpret this passage as a historical command for that specific time in the past.