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An Outline Introduction to Islam


Orville Boyd Jenkins

The basic definition of Islam is "Submission (to the will of God).”  A Muslim is "One who submits (to God).”  There are "Five Pillars" of the faith of Islam which define specifically what is involved in "submitting" to God.  These Five Pillars are called in Arabic al-arkan.

1.  Repetition of the Creed (Shahada):  "La ilaha ilIa Allah; Muhammad rasul Allah.”  This means, "There is no god but the One God.  Muhammad is the messenger of God.”  The word rasul in this creed is commonly translated as "prophet:" "Muhammad is the prophet of God.”  The word is more like apostle, or messenger.  The word nabi, from the same Semitic root as the Hebrew word, means "prophet.”

2.  Prayer (Salat).  Sunni Muslims observe ritual prayers 5 times a day.  Only 3 daily prayer times are mentioned in the Qur'an.  But tradition has established five times.  The Isma'ili Shi'ites are quick to point this out.  On the other hand, one Isma'ili stated in dealing with this question, "Though only three times are prescribed in the Qur'an, it is good to pray five times.  But why pray only five times a day?  Why not pray all the time?"

This comment would fit the concept of prayer as meditation or a spiritual exercise.  More commonly, the concept in Islam is that prayer is an action, a physical event, with prescribed movements and a minimum required recitation.  Prayer involves praise to God (Allah in Arabic), in both prescribed form and free expression, and a declaration of submission to God's holy will.

3.  Almsgiving (Zakat).  Almsgiving is an important principle of Islam.  This was an early concern of Muhammad, who was concerned about the neglect of the poor by his rich Quraysh clan.  Originally the Zakat was considered obligatory, although it was not strictly considered or administered as a tax.  Voluntary giving is the more common modem approach.  It has also taken the form of a religious tax, obligatory by law, collected by government.

Such collections would not go into the government's general tax revenues, but would comprise a special fund for charitable purposes.  Though it is considered voluntary in most areas, it is still seen as a strong moral obligation.  Muslims in non-Islamic countries, such as in Africa, are conscientious about their giving to needy, beggars, or other causes, on a voluntary basis.  In addition, many mosques have a regular "provident fund," which is handled on behalf of the worshipping community, to assist with needs in the mosque family and in the community at large.

4.  Ramadhan (Fasting:  Saum).  During the month of Ramadhan, Muslims celebrate the giving of the Qur'an.  This consists of fasting during this sacred month, from dawn to dusk.  Nothing is to be taken into the body:  food, drink, tobacco, and in the strictest observance, even saliva.  The end of the month is celebrated by 'Id al-Fitr, at the first sighting of the moon.

5.  Pilgrimage (Hajj).  This is a religious pilgrimage to Mecca, to be performed at least once in a lifetime, if one is healthy and can afford the trip.  Jerusalem and Medinah are also holy cities to Islam and pilgrimages are made to these cities.  The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is a sacred shrine.  Mecca and the hajj are under the control of the Sa'udi Arabian government.


Originally published in An Outline Introduction to Islam (Nairobi:  Communication Press, 1991.)
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 20 November 2007

Orville Boyd Jenkins, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © 1991, 2007 by Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

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