On the authority of Abdullah ibn Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say:

 “Islam is built upon five [pillars]: testifying that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establishing the prayers, giving the Zakah, making the pilgrimage to the House and fasting in the month of Ramadan.” [Bukhari & Muslim]

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Importance of This Hadith

This hadith lays the basis for fundamental aspects of outward submission to Allah. If your foundation is strong, you’ve built a pretty good base to get started. If your foundation is weak, you need to work on it first before looking at other aspects of Islam.

This is similar to a building which can pass some of the most severe tests and stand tall if its foundation is strong. A building having a weak foundation will crumble and fall at the slightest push.

Similarly, if your submission towards Allah swt is strong, you can pass through any trials big or small. When your foundation is weak, you’ll find yourself falling apart even when a minor calamity strikes you.

So how do we get our foundation strong?

You need to first understand and get the basics of Islam right. Learning the fundamental aspects of this deen is crucial in kickstarting a journey that will help you submit to Allah’s will, even if you “dislike” the situation you’re facing at this point of time.

So what are these foundations? We shall look at them in detail now.

“Islam is built upon five [pillars]:

Did you notice how our Prophet (saws) used the word “built”? He (saws) is using a beautiful analogy to compare the tenets of Islam to a building built upon five pillars. This goes to show that even if you neglect or miss out on one pillar, your foundation becomes weak, in turn, making your building weak. If any of these pillars are missing, the house stands imperfect and deficient as each pillar complements and supports the other.

First Pillar:

“Testifying that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”

The shahadah or the testimony of faith makes the first pillar of Islam. This testimony is a Muslim’s key to paradise.  However, every key has a few ridges to it. Similarly, this testimony also has certain conditions which need to be fulfilled, in order for you to use this key and open your house in paradise.

There are nine conditions to fulfill “there is none worthy of worship except Allah”. They are:

Knowledge (al ‘ilm): This is to have a basic necessary understanding of what the shahadah means: to affirm what the shahadah says and deny what it denies.

Certainty (al-yaqeen): To have no doubt in anything that’s confirmed in the Quran and Sunnah. Denying or not believing something that’s confirmed in the Quran or sunnah amounts to kufr. Therefore, your heart shouldn’t be wavering when a command from the Quran or sunnah is presented in front of you.

  1. Acceptance (al-qabool): Acceptance in your tongue and heart after having knowledge and certainty becomes mandatory for a true believer.
  2. Submission/compliance (al-inqiyad): This refers to the actual physical enactment of deeds.
  3. Truthfulness (al-sidq): This implies to proclaim the shahadah sincerely, with complete honesty and mean it.
  4. Sincerity (al-ikhlaas): When you are declaring the shahadah, you are doing it solely for the sake of Allah. This reflects your sincerity.
  5. Love (al-mahabbah): This is to love the shahadah, to love its implications and requirements and what it stands for.
  6. Deny: A Muslim denies everything that is denied in the Quran and sunnah.
  7. Adhere: A Muslim adheres to the shahadah until he dies.

    The conditions for fulfilling “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah” are:
  • Affirming his message and believing in it inwardly within the heart.
  • Believing that he was sent for all of mankind until the Day of Judgment.
  • Uttering the testimony and affirming it outwardly upon the tongue.
  • Following him by acting upon whatever he has come with from the truth and abandoning whatever he has prohibited from falsehood.
  • Attesting to whatever he has informed of from enjoining the good and prohibiting the evil and the unseen affairs of the past and in the future and other than that.
  • Love for him must be more intense than love for oneself, wealth, father, son and all of the people.
  • Putting his statement over the rest of the people, regardless of whoever they might be, and to act upon his Sunnah.

Action Points

So how do we put this into practice?

  • Understand what “la ilaaha illa Allah” means.
  • Make sure all your actions are in concurrence with the shahadah, i.e. let your tongue utter what is in your heart, and let your limbs act according to your words. Believing in “la ilaaha illa Allah” but not acting upon it or not fulfilling its commandants is a direct sign of deficiency that needs to be immediately rectified.
  • Increase in uttering “la ilaaha illa allah” at all times, so your tongue is always in a state of dhikr.

Hold on to the sunnah and don’t say “Well, it’s just a sunnah”.

Second Pillar:

“…establishing the prayers…”
Establishing something is different from performing it. For example, performing at your workplace is different from establishing yourself in that company/organization and working towards it.

So what does it mean to establish prayer?

Scholars say, to establish prayer is to:

  • Do wudhu in the proper way.
  • To perform salah on time (a lot of us falter in this aspect).
  • To do it in congregation as much as you can because the rewards are multiplied 27 times when you pray in congregation. Who doesn’t want more rewards?!
  • Observe proper manner while praying (doing it with khushoo, humility and complete submission). This includes not thinking about your work, unfinished tasks at office or the household chores while praying.

Ibn Al-Qayyim says prayer is of five degrees:

  1. The one who is careless and is therefore punished.
  2. The one who prays on time but at the same time, he is distracted and is therefore admonished.
  3. The one who fulfils his prayer by fighting the devil and is therefore redeemed.
  4. The one who is entirely concerned with his prayer and is therefore rewarded.

The one who performs his prayer while only being preoccupied with Allah and is therefore rewarded and brought closer to Allah.

Our Prophet (ﷺ ) said:  “The covenant that distinguishes between us and them is the prayer, and whoever neglects it has disbelieved (become a kaafir).” (Ahmad)

This means that purposeful abandoning of salah takes you out of the fold of Islam. Isn’t it amazing that salah, an act of worship that brings nothing but blessings, mercy and ease in our affairs, is often pushed aside to be performed at the last minute, or in worst cases, not performed at all! All it takes is about 10-15 minutes of your time! Prioritize!

Actions Points:

  • Pray on time.
  • Make wudhu properly.
  • Forget about all worldly affairs for 10-15 minutes five times a day.
  • Beg Allah to give you the strength to establish your prayers.
  • Pray with khushoo, thinking that you are really standing in front of Allah.
  • Strive to reach the highest level which Ibn al Qayyim points out to.
  • Beg Allah to accept your salah.

Third Pillar:

“…giving the Zakah…”

Zakah linguistically means to purify, to grow, to bless. However, in the shariah, it is to give a specific portion of one’s wealth to a certain group of people at a certain time of year.

Quick Facts

  • Zakah is usually mentioned along with salah in the Quran. (in 82 instances!)
  • The disbelievers become a part of Islam when they repent, pray and give zakat. (Quran , al –Taubah:11)
  • Zakah is a reason for you to receive Allah’s mercy in the hereafter. (al-Taubah:71)
  • Zakah purifies your wealth. (al-Taubah:103)
  • It purifies your soul by cleansing it of diseases like stinginess and miserliness. (At-Tabarani)
  •  It increases your wealth. [Saba: 39]
  •  Zakah strengthens the brotherhood in Islam when the wealth is distributed amongst the poor.

Action Points

  • Reflect on the benefits of giving zakah.
  • Don’t boast about your charity giving abilities.
  • Don’t remind the poor of your favors upon them. (Al Baqarah 2 : 264)
  • Learn the various fiqh rulings related to zakah to make sure you are doing it properly.
  • Give your charity in secrecy so much that even your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is giving.
  • Make loads of dua asking Allah to accept your zakah.  
  • If you find it difficult to part with your wealth, ask Allah to help you purify your soul and remove the excessive worldly attachment your heart has towards wealth; ask Him to help you give zakah.

Fourth Pillar:

“…making the pilgrimage to the House…”

This to undertake a journey to Makkah during the month designated for performance of Hajj, making it another act of worship for the sake of Allah.

Benefits of Hajj:

  • All your sins are forgiven.
  • You submit to Allah, reaching a very high level of piety.
  • Hajj that is accepted by Allah and performed properly has no rewards other than Paradise. (al Bukhari and Muslim).
    As Siddiqi rightly states, “Hajj is the perfection of faith as it combines in itself all the distinctive qualities of other obligatory acts. It represents the quality of salah as a pilgrim offers his prayer in Kaaba. It encourages spending of material wealth for the sake of Allah (making it a characteristic of zakah).”
  • Hajj makes you abandon the comforts of your home, your materialistic possessions and other worldly affairs solely for the sake of Allah in order to purify your soul and cleanse your sins.

This is an obligation we all need to fulfill provided we are financially, physically and mentally capable of doing so. A large number of people have a misconception of delaying Hajj until they reach old age. This has no basis in the sunnah and is highly discouraged. If you have the means to do so, do it immediately!

Action Points:

  • Set out to perform Hajj with the right intention (to please Allah and expect reward from Him).
  • If you don’t have the means to do so, make loads of dua asking Allah for help, especially during tahajjud. Allah will open doors from places you least expect, but you have to turn to Him first.
  •  While performing Hajj, make a special dua asking Allah to keep you calm and patient because the crowd, heat and interaction with other people can make you lose your temper and your rewards.
  • If you are blessed with lots of wealth, give away some money to a poor person or family who don’t have the money to perform Hajj. You get magnanimous rewards for helping out.
  • Ask Allah to accept your Hajj.

Fifth Pillar:

“…fasting in the month of Ramadan…”

The linguistic meaning of “siyaam/fasting” is to restrain oneself from something. The shariah meaning for this is to refrain from food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn to sunset.

Importance of siyaam:

  • Fasting is a source of developing self restraint, piety and God-consciousness.
  • It’s a protection from hellfire. (Ahmed, An Nasaai)
  • Fasting will come as an intercessor on the Day of Judgment. (Ahmed)
  • Fasting demonstrates the utmost sincerity to Allah because only Allah knows whether a person has abstained from food and drink or not. It’s easy for a person to hide from others and drink or eat, but a true believer never does that knowing that Allah is All-Seeing.
  •  A special reward from Allah. (al Bukhari)
  • All the minor sins are forgiven if you fast with faith in Allah and hope for its rewards. (al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Fasting can be split into three levels as follows:

  1. General: At this level, a person abstains from food, drink and sexual intercourse.
  2. Special: A person who reaches the special level does not only abstain from food, drink and sexual intercourse but also abstains his tongue from indulging in useless or harmful speech, abstains his eyes from gazing at inappropriate things and abstains his hands and feet from doing something that’s not allowed in the Quran and Sunnah.
  3. Extraordinary: At this level, a person has already attained the general and special levels of fasting. Along with those, they also restrain their hearts from moving away from Allah. They remove all things and desires that would take them away from Allah and are exceptionally focused in filling their hearts with Allah and getting closer to Him by all means.

Action Points:

  • Ask Allah to accept your fasts and forgive your sins.
  • Help out a poor family by arranging for an iftar meal.
  • Try to attain the “extraordinary” level of fasting mentioned above.
  • Increase in giving charity, for every good deed done on this special month gets multiplied many times over.
  • Don’t forget to give zakat al fitr!

Perfecting these five pillars takes time, effort and sincerity but when performed with the right intention of seeking Allah’s pleasure and reward, you can transform your life into one that reaches a high pinnacle in dunya and akhirah.

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