The Five Pillars of Islam

Almost as soon as the Arab armies of Islam conquered new lands, they began erecting mosques and palaces, as well as commissioning other works of art as expressions of their faith and culture. Connected to this, many aspects of religious practice in Islam also emerged and were codified. The religious practice of Islam, which literally means to submit to God, is based on tenets that are known as the Five Pillars (arkan), to which all members of the Islamic community (Umma) should adhere.

Shahada (photo: mus)

Shahada (photo: mus)

1. The profession of faith (the shahada)

The profession of Faith (the shahada) is the most fundamental expression of Islamic beliefs. It simply states that “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet.” It underscores the monotheistic nature of Islam. It is an extremely popular phrase in Arabic calligraphy and appears in numerous manuscripts and religious buildings.

2. Daily prayers (salat)

Muslims are expected to pray five times a day. This does not mean that they need to attend a mosque to pray; rather, the salat, or the daily prayer, should be recited five times a day. Muslims can pray anywhere; however, they are meant to pray towards Mecca. The faithful are meant to pray by bowing several times while standing and then kneel and touch the ground or prayer mat with their foreheads, as a symbol of their reverence and submission to Allah. On Friday, many Muslims attend the mosque near mid-day to pray and to listen to a sermon (khutba).

3. Alms-giving (zakat)

The giving of alms is the third pillar. Although not defined in the Qu’ran, Muslims believe that they are meant to share their wealth with those less-fortunate in their community of believers.

4. Fasting during Ramadan (saum)

During the holy month of Ramadan (the ninth month in the Islamic calendar), Muslims are expected to fast from dawn to dusk. While there are exceptions made for the sick, elderly, and pregnant, all are expected to refrain from eating and drinking during day-light hours.

Photograph of Hajj in 2011 (photo: @ifatma)

Photograph of Hajj in 2011 (photo: @ifatma)

5. Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca

All Muslims who are able, are required to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and the surrounding holy sites at least once in their lives. Pilgrimage focuses on visiting the Kaaba and walking around it seven times. Pilgrimage occurs in the twelfth month of the Islamic Calendar.


Additional resources:

Hajj Stories from the Asian Art Museum

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

More Smarthistory images…

Cite this page as: Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay, "The Five Pillars of Islam," in Smarthistory, August 8, 2015, accessed May 21, 2022,