They were not commanded but to serve God, being sincere to Him in obedience, and upright, and to establish the Prayer and pay the Due-Alms. (98:5)
It is not easy to reform a world fallen deep in misdeeds. In spite of knowledge, men are liable to fall prey to temptations, greed, envy, pride and prejudices. Certain drills have, therefore, been given to mankind, by the All-knowing, All-Wise God to condition them so that they adhere to His right path. They reminded people constantly and tune them in a manner that obedience to God and sense of virtue and goodness become their very nature. They are unconsciously drawn to obedience and goodness. Differences vanish and fraternity develops, provided these drills are carried in a correct manner and in their true spirit.
It is a Five-point Program viz. (a) Testimony, (b) Prayer, (c) Due-Alms, (d) Pilgrimage and (e) Fasting. They are called the Pillars of Islam, as the House of Islam cannot stand without them. They are the foundations on which the House stands. Their performance is essential to inculcate Islam in the soul making it subservient to God. They were, therefore, given to all peoples in all ages. They are found in all the communities. They differ in form from place to place, but forms do not matter as long as the essence and the spirit remain the same.
These drills were given as big tools in the hands of man to help him to achieve the ends. But man always forgot the ends and made these tools purposeless ceremonies. He even neglected them altogether, except for some bowing to God or an occasional act of charity. Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets, (may God bless him), brought them afresh in a perfect shape for all people and for all ages to come.
There is no god except God; Muhammad is Gods Messenger.
This is a declaration which everyone must testify. This is the foundation-stone of Islam. This is its First Pillar. This is an all-embracing Statement.
By first part of the Testimony one declares God, the creator, as the only Master and King, as the Sole Power in the world, as the Sole Guide and Protector, and thus one is taught to deny and reject all false gods that enslave humanity. This is a declaration of freedom of man. This lifts him above seven skies. After this, everything falls as dust before him. All men appear to him equal, humble and insignificant. It is a signal of equality of mankind.
Its second part states that Muhammad (may God bless him) speaks on behalf of God. His Message (Quran) is not a feat of his own wisdom which may or may not be accepted. It is a Message from God describing the Original Law on which man was created, and is, therefore, infallible and binding. If you reject or disregard even a word of it, you break Gods Original Law and invite disaster.
Thus, this Testimony is the Gate to Islam. You enter the House of Islam through it.
It is a big contract. You are henceforth a servant of God. You have sold yourself to Him. Your life and your property are all His. You live and die for Him. You have denied your very self.
Man is asked to perform the Prayer five times a day so that he continuously remembers God during his various activities and is able to control the rebellious temptations of the Devil. It is, moreover, not a prayer in isolation for his spiritual uplift only. He joins others, at fixed times, and stands in a line, under a commander, and bows and prostrates before God, all facing the central Mosque (Kaba) at Mecca. In addition, special congregation is enjoined on each Friday afternoon, so that the leaders may remind people of their duties.
Thus, through Prayer, man not only remembers God, the source of all virtue, all the time, but he also looks after his material gains, eagerly and fearfully.
He is taught fraternity and natural equality of man in spite of differences in economic status, color or race. He learns punctuality, discipline and obedience of his commander. He is taught to be clean and smart. His life is regulated around five times fixed for the Prayer. He comes to belong to an organization which is spread all over the world. During all this, he bows before God without any intermediary and is thus raised to the highest status that man can ever dream of. He prays for the Straight Path which brings Gods blessings. The words he speaks are important, and he must know what he is praying for, yet his movements alonestanding erect, bowing and prostratinggo on drilling in his unconscious mind a sense of obedience to God and listening to the commands of his leader. There is no better way to unite mankind, make them disciplined and smart, and direct them to the right path.
The following verses will show that the Prayer is also meant to improve the affairs of this world and to bring about unity, fraternity and special care for the orphans and the needy. A mosque which is built to cause division in the ranks of the Believers is not acceptable to God.
In extreme emergencies, the Prayer may be cut short, or replaced only with remembrance of God, in any available position.
DUE - ALMS (Zakat)
Men differ in intelligence and physical strength, hence in their capacities to earn and to save. This makes them rich or poor, then haughty or meek. To help the poor, therefore, the Religion of God taught Due-Alms-giving throughout ages. Indeed, the two biggest themes of all religions have been Prayer and Due-Alms. The Quran stirs people to acts of charity in many ways and curses those who try to gather riches and do not care for the needy.
Due-Alms add to the feelings of mercy, thankfulness and mutual love. They protect the poor and the destitute from utter destruction. Without them, there would be no mutually supporting society and even the gatherings at the Prayer will be an empty show. That is why the Quran mentions both the Prayer and Due-Alms together. One without the other does not fulfil Gods purpose. Ultimate aim of both of them is to equalize the human society, and that cannot be achieved without simultaneous effects of both. Moreover, what use is the wealth which a few hold while the humanity at large suffers.
Abraham, the straight-forward, the father of many a Prophet, born in a community of idol-worshippers, left them. He settled his son, Ishmael, in the barren valley of Mecca where the two built the first House of God so that people may come there to worship God in stead of idols, and revolve round His House. He prayed for peace and plenty for the uncultivated land so that it may stay as a living symbol of God for all times to come.
Abrahams prayers and efforts were duly heard and rewarded. No other place on the earth is so much the cause of worship of God as Mecca and its first House of God. People who have visited it bear testimony that peace of body and mind prevails there, and everything , including fruits, is available in plenty; and this is at a place which draws its main water supply from the hills of Taif, forty miles away.
Now, every year, on a fixed date, Muslims, from all over the world, who can afford, visit Mecca. Clad in a pair of unseen clothes (Ihram), they revolve round the Central House of God (Ka ba), run about between the hillocks of Safa and Marwa (as Abrahams wife Hajira did in search of water), go out of the city camping for 3-4 days, sacrifice some animal in memory of Abrahams readiness to sacrifice his son in the way of God, and shave their heads.
By such physical ceremonies, man spiritually goes around God, his spirit trying to merge in Him. It shows complete submission and readiness to lay down his very life in time of need. It is indeed the most difficult pledge that he makes. During Prayer he stood erect, as if waiting for the orders, and here he marches to the goal.
He goes out camping like a soldier and sacrifices an animal only to show his willingness to die in the same manner when so required. He shaves his head to shed his evils symbolically. Clad as he is, he reaches the depth of humility and climax of spiritualism. He shows the world that mankind is one community which could unite only under the leadership of God.
It provides the Muslims an opportunity for an annual world conference of common men to discuss and solve their problems. It breaks geographical barriers and reminds mankind that the are one body citizens of same one earthen hemisphere. It brings economic prosperity, as trade is permissible during the season, nay, it is inevitable.
Fasting makes the body feel weak and humble; and thereby affects the soul. It kills arrogance and pride, and reminds of the problems of the poor. Thus it makes one godfearing. It also gives practice in going without food in time of need. It was enjoined by all earlier Messengers of God but, again, it was given a perfect shape at the hands of Muhammad (may God bless him).
It must have been noted by now that this program is a handsome combination of both spiritual and material uplift of human society.
The main purpose of the Prayer is remembrance of God, but it also turns the people into a disciplined fraternity. Due-Alms initially appeal and polish the sense of mercy, the root of virtue, and raise one spiritually, but they also help in the material good of the community. Pilgrimage takes man to the heights of spiritualism by making him to revolve round Gods Ancient House, His biggest Sign on the earth, but, at the same time, it teaches him unity of mankind, practice in camping for war, and opportunity to travel, trade and commercial benefits. Fasting subdues baser emotions and improves spirit, but also improves bodily health by giving rest to various organs, and providing stamina to bear the strain of battles. To obtain these benefits, it has been ordained that every Muslim shall pray five times a day, pay prescribed Due-Alms once a year, visit the House of God once in life, and fast for a month every year. This is the minimum obligation for everyone who can afford.
But just as there is no end to perfection, all these acts may be performed more frequently, to obtain more benefits. Ultimate aim may be to remember God all the time, to be able to distribute everything in Due-Alms, to visit Kaba annually, and to fast more often than a month, so that the devil is completely subdued and man attains perfection.
All this is to receive Gods pleasure without shedding the world. In fact, the world is to be held only by men of God.
(One big reason for failure of Muslims to dominate the World during past centuries is their failure to implement this program vigorously and intelligently in its true spirit).
The Holy Quran Society