The Five Pillars of Islam, Part 1


The Arabic shehada
The shahada in Arabic (Wikimedia Commons)


From my general-LDS-audience manuscript on Islam:


President Spencer W. Kimball used to talk of the thirteen Articles of Faith, encouraging members of the Church to memorize them so that they would have in their minds a simple and orderly outline of some of the basic teachings of the restored gospel. There is nothing in Islam that is precisely comparable to the Articles of Faith. But there exists a list of five essential Islamic practices—the so-called “Five Pillars of Islam”—that can serve for us something of the same purpose. If we know and understand the Five Pillars, we know and understand a fair portion of Islam itself. These five items are (1) the shahada, or “profession of faith”; (2) prayer; (3) almsgiving; (4) fast­ing, especially during the month of Ramadan; and (5) pilgrimage to Mecca. A sixth concept, jihad, never found quite the universal acceptance as a “pillar” that it required to formally enter the list. Nonetheless, it remains highly important, and following brief dis­cussions of each of the Five Pillars, I shall have a few words to say about it as well.

The Shahada

The shahada, or “profession of faith,” is a verbal formula that is per­haps familiar to some readers of this book already. In English trans­lation, it goes roughly as follows: “I testify that there is no god but God, and that Muhammad is the messenger of God.”[1] This state­ment is the key to membership in the Islamic community. If a person utters it sincerely, and with real intent, that person becomes a Mus­lim. No ordinance of baptism is required, no bishop’s interview, no ritual of any kind. There is no Islamic priesthood to perform any of these functions.

Some Muslim scholars have argued, with good reason, that the shahada contains all the essence of Islam within its brief compass.

They like to break it into its two component parts. When the believer says, “I testify that there is no god [ilah, ‘a god’] but God [Allah, ‘the God’],” he affirms his belief in a timeless monotheism. In the second portion of the statement, when he declares that “Muham­mad is the messenger of God,” he identifies his commitment to a particular community of monotheistic believers from among the sev­eral that have existed in the various dispensations of earth’s history and commits himself to the particular historical and legal details of that community’s life. Since they recognize Jews and Christians as “People of the Book,” Muslim jurists allow those two groups their own versions of the shahada. A Jew can validly say, “I testify that there is no god but God and that Moses is the messenger of God.” A Christian can validly offer the same testimony with regard to Jesus.


[1] The word shahada, which is pronounced “sheh-HAH-da,” literally means “testimony” The Church publishes an Arabic pamphlet entitled Shahadat Yusuf Smith. (Perhaps readers might surmise the translation of the title.)



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