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The Five Pillars of Islam:
A Christian’s Perspective
By Gary F. Zeolla
The Five Pillars of Islam are dictates that all Muslims must abide by. In this article, this Christian will give his perspective on these five pillars. All Bible quotes are from this writer’s Analytical-Literal Translation of the Bible (ALT).
The First Pillar
The First Pillar is the Shahadah, or the Testimony of Faith. It consists of reciting two declarations: “There is no (true) god but God (Allah),” and “Muhammad is the messenger (or prophet) of God.” The words in parentheses are clarifications or alternative translations of the original Arabic. One pro-Islam site comments, “This simple yet profound statement expresses a Muslim’s complete acceptance of and total commitment to Islam” (Royal).
To comment on the first declaration, both Jews and Christians believe there is only one true God. The basic Jewish confession of faith is the Shema (from the Hebrew word for “hear”). It is found in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Be hearing, O Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” This confession was taken over into the Christian faith when Jesus quotes the Shema in Mark 12:29. Many other passages in the Bible teach there is only one true God. These are listed in “Scripture Study #9” in this writer’s Scripture Workbook.
But is this one God of the Bible the same as the one God of Islam? The way to answer this question would be to compare all that the Bible teaches about the nature of this one God to all that the Quran teaches about its God. “Scripture Study #7” in my Scripture Workbook is on “The Attributes of God.” It presents hundreds of Bible verse references grouped according to the various attributes of God. The same would need to be done with the Quran, and the two compared.
Having read both the Bible and the Quran, I will say there would be some similarities, but also important differences. But the main difference would be in regards to what is meant by “one.” Another pro-Islam site comments, “The first part, ‘There is no true god but God,’ means that none has the right to be worshipped but God alone, and that God has neither partner nor son” (Brief). This comment is due to passages in the Quran that specifically declare that Allah does not have a son. The Quran also specifically says that Allah is one not three.
These Quranic passages are directed against the Biblical doctrines of the deity of Jesus and of the Trinity. But the Bible clearly teaches, “Within the one Being or essence of God, there eternally exists three distinct yet equal Persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.” It also teaches the full Deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ and the full Deity and full personality of the Holy Spirit. These assertions are taken from the Confession of Faith for this writer’s ministry Darkness to Light. They are demonstrated to be Biblically true in “Scripture Study #9” on “God's Three-in-Oneness” in my Scripture Workbook by way of over six hundred Bible verse references.
These are not minor points as the teaching of God’s three-in-oneness and the Sonship and Deity of Jesus are essential doctrines of the Bible and the Christian faith. As such, this difference in the conception of God cannot be brushed aside, as many try to do. For instance, Jesus declared:
23And He said to them, “You* are from below; I am from above. You* are from this world; I am not from this world. 24Therefore, I said to you*, ‘you* will die in your sins,’ for unless you* believe that I Am, you* will die in your* sins.” (John 8:23,24).
Jesus’ assertion of “I Am” is a clear claim to deity. This can be seen by comparing Exodus 3:14; Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10,25; 45:19; 46:4; 51:12. These verses all have “I Am” (Greek ego eimi in the Septuagint, the third century BC Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures). Jesus also claims to be this great “I Am” in Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50; 14:62; John 6:20; 8:58; 13:19; 18:5f,8 (Note: Some versions have “It is I” in these verses, but the literal phrase is “I Am!” as seen in ALT.)
This is just one of many Biblical proofs for the deity of Jesus. But the important point for our study is Jesus links the belief in His deity to the forgiveness of sins. John later comments about his Gospel:
30Now indeed many other signs Jesus also did in the presence of His disciples which have not been written in this scroll. 31But these have been written so that you* shall believe [or, be convinced] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and so that believing you* shall be having life in His name (John 20:30,31).
Thus John links having “life” meaning enteral life with God to a belief in the Sonship of Jesus. Being assured of the forgiveness of sins and having enteral life are essential to a confident spiritual life and are offered in the Christian faith via faith in Jesus, but the Islamic faith cannot offer assurance due to its denial of the deity of Jesus. As such, this is THE dividing line between Islam and the Christian faith.
As for the second declaration of Muhammad being the messenger (or prophet) of God, whether that is true of not would require a study on what it means to be a prophet and if Muhammed fit those requirements. That study will have to await another time. But it will be emphasized here that what Muhammed taught about Jesus, not just about His deity but also about His death and resurrection (see Islam and the Resurrection), directly contradict what the Bible teaches on these essential points, so both cannot be correct.
The Second Pillar
The Second Pillar of Islam is the five daily prayers, known as the Salah. A pro-Islam site comments:
Prayers are to be performed just before dawn, at noon, in midafternoon, just after sunset, and in the evening, between an hour after sunset and midnight. Prayers are to be made in the direction of Mecca and must be carried out in a state of ritual purity, achieved by either ritual ablutions or a bath (Oxford).
There are three cycles to this prayer, in which the first chapter of the Quran and then select Quranic verses are recited, followed by the Shahadah and then prayers for oneself, Muhammad, and Abraham. The postures to be utilized through this prayer time are also prescribed: raising the hands, then bowing, prostration, with both knees and hands and the forehead on the ground, prostrating three times, then sitting on the heals during the Shahadah.
As a Christian, I fully agree with the importance of prayer. Jesus gave an example of praying often by often withdrawing from others to pray (e.g., Matt 14:23; 26:36-44). And He taught us much about prayer (e.g., Matt 5:44; 6:5-13; 21:22). But one thing He taught us was, “Now when you* pray, do not use vain repetitions [or, many meaningless words] like the Gentiles, for they suppose that they will be heard by their many words” (Matt 6:7). But by having prescribed prayers and prescribed times for repeating these prescribed prayers with prescribed body positions, such repetition is exactly what Muslims are doing. The point is, prayer is to be from the heart. But when it is done ritualistically, it can easily become just a dry ritual, with no true spiritual life to it.
Moreover, a pro-Islam site comments, “These five prayers contain verses from the Quran, and are said in Arabic, the language of the Revelation, but personal supplication can be offered in one’s own language” (IIslamiCity). Now if someone knows Arabic and is fluent in it, that is fine. But not all Muslims are. And repeating something in a language someone is not fluent in is just a dry ritual. And by prescribing such, Islam shows more concern with ritual than a beneficial spiritual experience.
Another pro-Islam site comments, “Prayer in Islam is a direct link between the worshipper and God. There are no intermediaries between God and the worshipper” (Brief). Another states, “The Islamic faith is based on the belief that individuals have a direct relationship with God” (Royal).
These comments take us back to the ideas of the nature of God and the forgiveness of sins. To think that one can come directly into the presence of God on one’s own is to ignore the holiness of God and our inherent sinfulness. In the Bible, such is always recognized when someone first encounters God. Consider for instance Isaiah’s experience:
1And it happened in the year in which Uzziah the king died, [that] I saw the LORD sitting on a high and having been exalted throne, and the house [was] full of His glory! 2And seraphs had stood round about Him; six wings to one and six wings to one [fig., each one had six wings]; and with two they were covering [their] face, and with two they were covering [their] feet, and with two they flew. 3And they cried out, another to the other, and they were saying, “Holy, holy, holy [is] the LORD of hosts; the whole earth [is] full of His glory!” 4And the lintel was lifted up at the voice which they cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.
5And I said, “Oh! I [am] miserable, for I have been pierced [to the heart]! For being a person, and having unclean lips, I dwell in [the] midst of a people having unclean lips; and I saw with my eyes the King, the LORD of hosts!” 6And there was sent to me one of the seraphs, and he was having in [his] hand a coal, which he took from the altar with the tongs. 7And he touched my mouth, and said, “Behold, this touched your lips and will take away your iniquities and will purge off your sins.” (Isaiah 6:1-7).
Thus Isaiah was miserable in the presence of the holy God until his sins were forgiven. And that forgiveness had to come from the grace of God; Isaiah could not earn his own forgiveness. The Christian answer to this dilemma of God’s absolute holiness leaving us miserable in His presence due to our sinfulness is for Jesus to die for our sins upon the cross. His shed blood is the means of our forgiveness. With Him as our intermediary, we can come freely into the presence of God.
14Therefore, having a great High Priest [who] has passed through the heavens—Jesus, the Son of God—let us be holding fast our confession. 15For we do not have a High Priest [who is] unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but [One] having been tried in all [respects] in the same way [we are, yet] without sin. 16Therefore, let us be approaching with boldness [or, a joyful sense of freedom] to the throne of grace, so that we shall receive mercy and find grace for well-timed help. [cp. Eph 3:12; Heb 10:19-22, 35] (Heb 4:14-16).
But this whole conception is absent in Islam. The god of Islam is not holy like the God of the Bible is, and we thus have one more vital difference between the Islamic god and the Biblical God. And Muslims do not have a sense of inherit sinfulness. But the Bible declares, “For all sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Moreover, the Quran denies that Jesus died on the cross. He thus did not pay for our sins and cannot bring us freely into the presence of God in Islam.
As such, Muslims do not have assurance that their prayers will be heard by God, as their sinfulness still separates them from the one true holy God. But Christians can have assurance of their prayers being heard because of the atonement and intervention of Jesus.
5For [there is] one God and one Mediator [between] God and people, a Person, Christ Jesus, 6the One having given Himself [as] a ransom on behalf of all, the testimony in its own times, 7in regard to which I was put [or, appointed] [as] a preacher and apostle (I am telling [the] truth in Christ, I am not lying), [as] a teacher of Gentiles in faith and truth. 8Therefore, I want men to be praying in every place, lifting up devout [or, holy] hands, without wrath and dissension [or, doubting]. (1Tim 2:5-8).
14And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that if we shall be asking anything according to His will, He hears us. 15And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have requested from Him. [cp. John 14:13,14] (1John 5:14,15).
The Third Pillar
The Third Pillar of Islam is the zakah, which means an alms tax or support of the needy. “Giving zakat means ‘giving a specified percentage on certain properties to certain classes of needy people.’” The amount to be given is “equal to 2.5 percent of an individual’s total net worth, excluding obligations and family expenses” (Royal). It is “typically paid to a religious official or representative of the Islamic state or to a representative of a local mosque…. It is used to feed the poor, encourage conversion to Islam, ransom captives, help travelers, support those devoting themselves to God’s work, relieve debtors, defend the faith, and any other purpose deemed appropriate” (Oxford). Moreover, “The word zakat means both ‘purification’ and ‘growth.’ Our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need, and, like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth” (IslamiCity).
With the general idea of giving to charity, especially for helping the poor and needy, this Christian fully agrees, as the Bible has much to say about helping the poor and needy. See for example Deuteronomy 15:7-8, Proverbs 19:17; 22:9; 28:27; Isaiah 58:7; 1John 3:17). However, I take issue with the idea of giving to charity being a “requirement” and prescribing an exact amount to give. This turns giving to charity into a meritorious obligation.
Giving to charity does please God, but it is not a means of attaining salvation, and Muslims are being severely misled if they think it is. We simply cannot buy our way into heaven. The Bible teaches, “18knowing that not with corruptible [things like] silver or gold were you* redeemed from your* futile way of life handed down by your* fathers, 19but with [the] precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless” (1Pet 1:18,19).
As for the prescribed amount of 2.5%, that is just 1/40th of one’s net worth. That is hardly a significant percentage and is just one-fourth of the common idea that the Bible prescribes the giving of a tithe of one’s income to charity. But in reality, the Biblical tithe is much more complicated than that a simple 10% and would require an article in itself to explain. But no matter as such a prescribed tithe is only found in the Old Testament. In the new Testament, we are simply told:
6Now [I say] this: the one sowing sparingly will also reap sparingly; and the one sowing in blessings [fig., bountifully] will also reap in blessings [fig., bountifully]. 7[Let] each one [give] just as he decides in his heart, not from sorrow [fig., reluctantly] or from necessity [fig., under compulsion], for God loves a cheerful giver (1Cor 9:6-9).
The point is, a person should give to charity not because it is a requirement but for the benefit of the people being helped by the charity. And we are to give as we are able, not to fulfill a prescribed percentage, as if it is just another bill to pay.
The Fourth Pillar
The Fourth Pillar of Islam is fasting during the month of Ramadan, called the sawm. Muslims are obligated to fast from food, drink, and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset. This is done during Ramadan, as it is said to be “the month during which the Holy Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad” (Royal). A pro-Islam site claims, “a fasting person gains true sympathy with those who go hungry, as well as growth in his or her spiritual life” (Brief).
If a person is physically unable to fast during Ramadan, then he or she is to do so later in the year. If they cannot do that, then they are to feed the poor for an equal number of days. This fast is prescribed for all Muslims from puberty and older. A pro-Islam site comments further:
Muslims break their fast at sunset with a special meal, iftar, perform additional nocturnal worship, tarawih, after evening prayer; and throng the streets in moods that are festive and communal. The end of Ramadan is observed by three days of celebration called Eid Al-Fitr, the feast of the breaking of the fast. Customarily, it is a time for family reunion and the favored holiday for children who receive new clothing and gifts (Royal).
“Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, which consists of 12 months and lasts for about 354 days.” Thus Ramadan moves around the year. This year (2016) it begins June 7; next year it will begin May 27 (Time). Personally, I find it hard to understand how fasting for an average of 12 hours will enable someone to “gain true sympathy with those who go hungry.” Just eat right before sunrise and after sunset. No big deal.
That said; the Bible mentions fasting, but it is voluntary, not an obligation. And the length and severity of it is up to the individual, not prescribed. And most of all, it is a private thing, not for public show.
16“And when you* are fasting, stop becoming gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces, in order that they shall appear to the people [as] fasting. Positively, I say to you*, they are receiving their reward in full. 17But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18in order that you shall not appear to the people [as] fasting, but [only] to your Father, the [One] in secret, and your Father, the [One] seeing in secret, will reward you (Matt 6:16).
However, Islam has turned fasting into a prescribed communal event that all Muslims must engage in, and all the world knows when they are doing it, with earthly rewards for engaging in it built into the ritual. Thus engaging in the sawm brings no reward from God.
The Fifth Pillar
The Fifth Pillar of Islam is a pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj. “It is to be taken during the first ten days of the month of the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar, which is Dhu al-Hijjah” (Oxford; Brief). This pilgrimage is to be taken by all Muslims who are physically and financially capable of doing so. While in Mecca, there are nine rituals that must be engaged in for the Hajj to be considered complete.
The nine essential rites of the hajj are the putting on of the ihram (unsewn cloth symbolizing the humility and equality of all believers), circumambulation of the Kaaba, standing at the plain of Arafat, spending the night at Muzdalifa, throwing stones at three symbols of Satan, sacrifice of an animal at Mina, repetition of the circumambulation of the Kaaba, drinking of water from the well of Zamzam, and performance of two cycles of prayer at the Station of Abraham (Oxford).
If a pilgrim is unable to complete these nine rites, he can pay a tax instead. This pilgrimage is said to be “the most significant manifestation of Islamic faith and unity in the world… The Hajj is a remarkable spiritual gathering of over two million Muslims from all over the world to the holy city” (Royal). “The close of the Hajj is marked by a festival, the Eid al-Adha, which is celebrated with prayers and the exchange of gifts in Muslim communities everywhere. This, and the Eid al-Fitr, a feast-day commemorating the end of Ramadan, are the main festivals of the Muslim calendar” (IslamiCity).
Some might compare the Haji to Christians making pilgrimages to the Holy Land at Christmas and Easter and engaging in rituals like walking the Via Dolorosa, “the route that Jesus took between his condemnation by Pilate and his crucifixion and burial” (Sacred). However, such pilgrimages by Christians are always voluntary. It is not an obligation imposed upon them by the authorities of their religion, with a fine to pay if they do not do so in exactly the prescribed manner. There is also not built into their pilgrimage a reward of a celebration afterwards. Thus once again, Islam has taken what should be a personal decision to engage in a religious ritual and made it into an obligation with built-in earthly rewards.
The Five Pillars of Islam bring out many differences between the god of Islam and the God of the Bible and the means of approach thereto. The Five Pillars also bring out differences between Islamic and Christian attitudes toward religious practices.
The god of Islam does not have a son that can make atonement for the sins of his people. The god of Islam is not a holy god as unforgiven sinners can enter his presence without fear. Islam cannot give assurance that prayers are heard by its god. The Islamic god can be appeased by engaging in obligatory rituals. Islamic rituals are prescribed outward practices, which have built-in earthly rewards.
In contradiction to all of this, the God of the Bible is a holy God who cannot be approached by sinful people, which we all are. But by His grace He made a way that we can approach Him without fear, by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. It is by His death on the cross we can be forgiven can enter without fear before the throne of God. It is due to His intercession that we can be assured our prayers are heard by God. Christian rituals are always voluntary and inward, with their reward coming from God not people.
3Blessed [be] [or, Worthy of praise [is]] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One having blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies [fig., heavenly realms] in Christ, 4just as He chose us in Him before [the] laying of the foundation of [the] world, so that we shall be holy and unblemished [fig., without fault] before Him, in love, 5having predestined us to [the] adoption [or, the formal and legal declaration that we are His children] by means of Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6to [the] praise of the glory [or, splendor] of His grace [or, of His glorious grace], by which He bestowed grace upon [or, showed kindness to] us in the Beloved, 7in whom we have the redemption by means of His blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, according to the riches [fig., abundance] of His grace (Eph 1:3-7).
Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam: What Are the Five Pillars of Islam?
IslamiCity: The Five Pillars of Islam.
Oxford Islamic Studies Online: Pillars of Islam.
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia: The Five Pillars Of Islam.
Sacred Destinations. Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem.Time and Date. Ramadan starts in United States.
The Five Pillars of Islam: A Christian’s Perspective. Copyright © 2016 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
The above article was posted on this Web site January 2, 2016.
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