Four Unique and Complementary Pillars

The five pillars of Islamic ritual combine to create a unique and powerful experience that millions of Muslims follow. The different rites complement and contrast each other in many ways which provides the holistic approach to living that Muhammad preached. This post will look at ways in which the Hajj and Salat could be compared to Zakat and fasting in the hope of understanding the complex interplay of tradition a little better.

Before that, it is important to take note of that post deals with Zakat and not the almsgiving that Islam promotes “at the discretion of the will and conscience” (99 Qutb). While seeming similar, these two traditions should be regarded separately because of the highly important distinction that almsgiving is at the discretion of the giver while Zakat acts closer to social welfare in the state it is practiced.

While comparing the Hajj and Salat to the Zakat and fasting, it is easy to see the Hajj and fasting as analogous and same with Zakat and Salat. The Hajj and Zakat are ordeals that an individual undergoes to confirm their commitment to Allah while Salat and Zakat are the more mundane forms of tradition that ground a follower in their faith.

Zakat and Salat are demanded by Islam at regular times with rigorous procedures for practicing either. The prayer that forms the basis for communication with Allah has many regulations and specific demands which is not unlike the precise law of Zakat being “meant to free the duty of charity from the inclinations of the person” (151 Tabbarah). In both cases onerous demands are placed upon the follower and precise practice counters the easy backsliding from honourable practice that comes over time. It is though an emphasis on listening to Allah and doing his work that many believe Islam is based in prayer and charity (in the form of the Zakat). Their related nature is emphasised in their practice when “each time a verse in The Koran calls for the performance of prayer, there is a call for practising charity” (151 Tabbarah). From a certain viewpoint, prayer deals with the spiritual while charity deals with the physical such that the Salat may reduce the gap between man and Allah while “Zakat should reduce the gap between rich and poor” (198 Dean and Khan). Islam promotes that both are important and each must be constantly maintained to the benefit of the other.

In the Hajj and fasting there is “an establishment of equality among the rich and the poor” (167 Tabbarah).  Just as all are equal once Ihram has been put on, there is no way for Muslims to find preferential treatment while fasting unless they cheat. Being put through a specific common struggle in both cases brings out a sense of community that unites those involved. The Hajj combines thousands with prayer in the streets and fasting has ironically brought upon feasts after sundown that makes Ramadan “the happiest time of the year” (18 Murata and Chittick). While they share this beautiful aspect, these two practices are fundamentally different for those participating. The Hajj allows many the platform for introspection and commitment to God through experiences like the day at Arafat. Fasting demands something different of the follower: “to humble himself though hunger and deprive the devil (power to) work” (33 Farah). Here the faith in Allah is tested and sharpened. Muslims try “to avoid the evil of his ‘animal’ nature” through control of his desires for “food and sex [which] lead to desire for ostentation and wealth, to all kinds of envy and greed” (165 Tabbarah and 32 Farah). A good simplification of the matter is to see that Hajj as empowering the Ruh which searches for Allah in believers while fasting strengthens followers’ control of the Nafs that may corrupt them.

Here I have analysed a few of the similarities and differences between the four pillars of Islam mentioned. There are countless other comparisons that could be made regarding beliefs, such as whether the benefit is in what the believer does or intends, however the above arguments look at how each tradition fits into the lives of practicing Muslims and where they supplement each other (i.e. the Hajj and fasting) or should be seen as more intimately linked (Salat and Zakat).

Works cited:

Hartley Dean and Zafar Khan, Muslim Perspectives on Welfare, 1997 Cambridge University Press 193-209

Caesar E. Farah, Al-Ghazali Abstinance in Islam, Bibliotheca Islamica, Minneapolis 31-61

Sachiko Murrata and William C. Chittick, The Vision of Islam, Paragon House, New York 17-19

Sayyid Qutb, Social Justice in Islam, Islamic Publications International 93-111

Afif A. Tabbarah, The Spirit of Islam, 149-163

Four Unique and Complementary Pillars

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