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The Pillars of Islam

Islam has five "pillars" central to the faith, set forth in Qur'anic revelation and through the Prophet's hadith.

1. The Shahadah
2. Prayer: salat
3. Charity: zakat
4. Fasting: sawm
5. The Hajj

Shahadah: the first pillar

"There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the prophet of God." This simple statement is the creed of Islam. In Arabic it reads, "la illaha illa Allah, Muhammad ur Rasul Lul Lah.

Prayer: the second pillar

Salat, or daily prayer, is performed five times a day, facing toward Mecca and the Kaaba. Although it's nice if Muslims can pray in a mosque, daily prayers may be done anywhere. Friday noon prayers are a weekly worship service where a sermon may be given.

Charity: the third pillar

Early in Muhammad's career, it became clear that charity on behalf of the needy was going to be one of the main requirements of Islam. Zakat means "growth" and "purification," and it is purely voluntary (though it was not in some cultures in the past). In some poorer countries, zakat funds social welfare programs for the needy.

Fasting: the fourth pillar

Sawm, or fasting, was encouraged by the Prophet during the month of Ramadan, which is the ninth lunar month in the Muslim calendar. Fasting occurs for able-bodied Muslims between sunrise and sunset of every day during the month. Menstruating, pregnant and nursing women, the sick, and very young children are not required to fast, although there is an obligation to make up days missed later or to substitute acts of charity.

The Hajj: the fifth pillar

The Greater Hajj, or Pilgrimage to Mecca, takes place in the twelfth lunar month of the Islamic calendar: the Dhu al-Hijjah. It lasts from the eighth day to the thirteenth day, six days in all. Male pilgrims commonly wear an ihram, a two-piece white seamless garment (women wear their customary dress). The culmination of the pilgrimage is the Greater Feast, the Eid al-Adha, one of the two major Muslim religious holidays (the other one is Eid al-Fitr, the Lesser Feast, which celebrates the end of Ramadan).