The Literature, Culture and Society of Singapore


Islam & The Five Pillars

The word Islam is derived from the root word 'slm' which has two meanings - peace, and submission. Thus while Islam has generally come to mean 'submission to God's will', it can also be understood as the sense of total peace which comes from submitting to the will of God.

For Muslims, Islam encompasses all aspects of life. The two main sources on which Muslim life is based on are the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet (sunnah). An important element is the five obligatory acts of worship often known as the Five Pillars of Islam.

The Five Pillars are:

Shahadah - the profession of faith; The acknowledgement that there is only one God - Allah, and that Muhammad is His Prophet. Saying the shahadah in full sincerity and conviction is what makes one a Muslim.

Salat - the obligatory prayer; Muslims must perform the salat five times a day - at dawn, midday, afternoon, evening and night. Muslims perform their salat facing the Ka'bah in Mecca.

Zakat - the poor-due; All adult Muslims have a social duty to share a certain portion of their income as alms to the poor. Zakat is payable by adult Muslims once a year - a 2.5% levy on the amount of savings and valuables held for a full year above a basic minimum known as nisab. The nisab for Singapore is at present (March 2002) S$1,503 and zakat can be paid at the mosques.

Sawm - fasting; During Ramadan (the 9th month of the Islamic calendar) Muslims must fast from sunrise to sunset. Sawm requires abstinence from food and other physical desires such as smoking, and the exercise of moral restraint. Through fasting, Muslims are made more aware of the hardships endured by the poor and are thus more willing to share with the less fortunate.

Haj - the pilgrimage; This fifth pillar is to undertake the journey to Mecca at least once in one's lifetime if one has the health and means to do so. During the Haj, the pilgrim is to leave all worldly activities behind, to think only of God and to pray for forgiveness and enlightenment.

Exhibition is on at the Asian Civilisations Museum till 31 December 2002. This document is part of a joint project of the Asian Civilisations Museum and the University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore. The text appears here with the kind permission of the Asian Civilisations Museum.

Asian Civilisations Museum University Scholars Programme

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Last updated: February 2002