The Five Pillars of Islam

The Pillars of Islam

The Promised Messiahas wrote over 80 books in Arabic, Urdu, and Persian. Excerpts of his collected works have been translated into English and organised by topic. The Review of Religions is pleased to present these excerpts as part of a monthly feature. Here we begin a three-part series on the pillars of Islam.

Extracts from The Essence of Islam, Vol.II

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I have stressed many times that you should not be satisfied merely with [the fact] that you are Muslims and profess that:

Those who have studied the Holy Qur’an know well that God Almighty is not pleased merely with words. The Holy Qur’an sets out the annals of the Jews that they were in the beginning bestowed great bounties by God Almighty, but when the time came that they were satisfied with only verbal professions and their hearts became full of deceit, dishonesty and evil thoughts, God Almighty imposed diverse types of torments upon them, so much so that some of them were designated apes and swine.

This happened despite the fact that they had the Torah and the Psalms and they professed to believe in them and acknowledged all prophets. But God was not pleased with them because all their professions were mere words and they had nothing in their hearts…

Reflect on the meaning of the credo 

By affirming this by his tongue and confirming it with his heart a person proclaims that he has no God beside Allah. Ilah is an Arabic word and connotes the One worshipped Who is the Beloved and the True God. This credo, which Muslims have been taught, is the epitome of the Holy Qur’an. It is difficult for everyone to commit long books to memory. God Almighty is All-Wise and has announced a brief credo. Its meaning is that till God is preferred to everything, till He is acknowledged as the only One to be worshipped and till He becomes the True Goal, man cannot achieve salvation. It is mentioned in the Hadith that:

‘He who declares that “There is none worthy of worship beside Allah” will enter paradise.’

People have misunderstood this hadith. They imagine that it is enough to repeat the credo verbally for a person to enter paradise. God Almighty is not concerned with words. He is concerned with hearts. This means that those who impress the true concept of the credo upon their hearts, so that the greatness of God Almighty is fully impressed on their minds, will go to heaven.

When a person truly believes in the credo, no one beside God can remain the object of his affection or worthy of his worship or his desired one. The spiritual station of the Abdal a Qutab [pioneer saint] and a Ghauth [sage] is none other than the sincerest belief in the Kalima:

…This sublime credo excludes all deities beside Allah. It is, therefore, necessary to push out of one’s heart all personal and universal gods so that the heart is purified for Allah alone. Some idols are manifest but some are subtle. For instance, to rely on material means beside Allah is also an idol, but a subtle one…

Those subtle idols that people carry about under their arms are difficult to throw out. Great philosophers and wise people cannot get rid of them. They are very fine insects which cannot be perceived except through the microscope of the great Grace of God. They inflict great harm on a person. Those idols are personal emotions which carry men a far distance in repudiation of the rights of their fellow beings and of God Almighty. Many who are called learned and erudite and maulavis [Muslim scholars] and who study the ahadith [sayings of the Holy Prophetsa] cannot recognize these idols inside them, and worship them. To avoid these idols is possible only for a very brave man. Those who follow these idols cultivate rancour in their hearts, deny the rights of others, and imagine that they have captured a quarry. They lay undue stress upon material means and rely entirely upon them. Till these tendencies are removed altogether, the Unity of God cannot be established.

[Speeches of Jalsa Salana, 1906, pp. 1-5]

Salat Leads to God

After comprehending the meaning of 

pay full attention to the prayer services, the observation of which has been repeatedly emphasised in the Holy Qur’an; but along with this it is said:

That is, woe unto those worshippers who are unaware of the reality of prayer.

It should be well understood that prayer is an entreaty which a worshipper makes to God at the time of his separation from Him in torment and with a melting heart that he may be granted a meeting with God, inasmuch as no one can be purified unless God purifies him and no one can meet with God until God brings about a meeting. Man is held in a diversity of chains and collars. He desires to get rid of them but they persist. Despite man’s intense desire to be purified his reproaching self (nafse-lawwamah) does sometimes stumble. It is for God to purify a person from sin. There is no power that can purify you by force. God has prescribed prayer for the generation of pure sentiments. Salat is a prayer which is submitted to God in travail and burning with a heart aflame, so that vicious thoughts and evil designs may be got rid of and a holy love and a pure relationship may be established and one may be enabled to keep God’s commandments. The word salat indicates that true prayer is not offered only with the tongue but must be accompanied by burning and sizzling and being consumed by fire. God Almighty does not accept prayer until the worshipper at the time of prayer arrives [at] a kind of death….

When a person is in qiyam, or the standing posture, during salat, it indicates that he or she is standing before God the way a slave might stand respectfully before a king.
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Salat is prayer at a very high level, but people do not appreciate it duly. In this age many Muslims are devoted to frequent repetition of pious formulas, as, for instance, the Naushahis and Naqshbandis [members of two different Sufi orders of Islam], etc. It is a pity that none of these is free from innovations. These people are unaware of the reality of salat and defame God’s commandments. For a seeker none of these innovations is of any benefit compared with the salat. The way of the Holy Prophetsa was that at a time of difficulty he made his ablutions and stood up in salat and made his supplications in the salat. My experience is that nothing takes one so near to God as salat. The various postures of the salat demonstrate respect, humility and meekness. In qiyam (standing posture) the worshipper stands with his arms folded as a slave stands respectfully before his master and king. In ruku‘ (bowing) the worshipper bends down in humility. The climax of humility is reached in sajdah (prostration), which indicates extreme helplessness.

[Speeches to Jalsa Salana, 1906, pp. 6-8]

Observe prayer services regularly. Some people content themselves with one prayer service daily but they must remember that no one is exempt from them, not even prophets. It is narrated in a hadith that a company of men who had just accepted Islam requested the Holy Prophetsa to be exempted from the salat. He observed: A religion that does not demand action is no religion at all.

[Malfuzat, vol. 1, p. 263]

I tell you again that if you wish to establish a true relationship with God, hold fast to salat in such a way that your body and your tongue and your spiritual designs and emotions should all become a true embodiment of salat.

[Malfuzat, vol. 1, p. 170]

What is Salat

What is salat? It is a supplication addressed to the Lord of Honour without which a person cannot be truly alive, nor can he procure any means of security and happiness. When God Almighty bestows this grace upon a person it is only then that he obtains true comfort. From that moment he will begin to feel pleasure and delight in salat. As he derives pleasure from delicious food he will begin to derive pleasure from his weeping and crying in salat. Before he experiences that condition in his salat it is necessary that he should persist in salat as he swallows bitter medicine so that he may be restored to health. In the same way it is necessary for him to persist in salat and in making his supplications while he derives no pleasure from them. In such [a] condition he should seek pleasure and delight in salat with the supplication:

Allah! Thou knowest how blind and sightless I am, and at the moment I am like the dead. I know that in a little while I shall be called and shall present myself before Thee and no one will be able to stop me. But my heart is blind and unenlightened. Do Thou cause to descend upon it such a flame of light that thereby it may be inspired with Thy love and devotion to Thee. Do Thou bestow upon me such grace that I shall not be raised up sightless nor join the blind.

When he supplicates in this manner and persists in the supplication he will see that a time will arrive when something will descend upon him while he is engaged in such type of prayer which will melt his heart.

[Malfuzat, vol. IV, pp. 321-322]

This means those believers…who are themselves watchful over their prayers and do not need any reminder from anyone else. Their relationship with God has the quality that the remembrance of God becomes dear to them and becomes the source of their comfort and their very life, so that they are constantly watchful of it and every moment of theirs is devoted to it and they do not like to be parted from it at any time.

It is obvious that a person is extremely watchful every moment only of that the loss of which he deems would spell his ruin, like one who, while traversing a waterless wilderness in which there is no likelihood of his finding water or food for hundreds of miles, is most watchful of such provisions as he has with him, holding them as dear as his life because of his conviction that their loss would mean his death. Thus the true believers are watchful of their prayers like such a traveller. They do not neglect their prayers even at the risk of losing their wealth or honour, or of incurring someone’s displeasure. Any apprehension of missing their prayer causes them great anguish and brings them near unto death. They cannot endure the thought of being neglectful of the remembrance of God for a single moment. They deem prayer and the remembrance of God their essential nourishment on which depends their very life. This condition is reached when God Almighty loves them and a bright flame of His personal love, which is the very soul of their being, descends upon their heart and bestows a new life upon them and thereby their spiritual being is illumined and becomes alive. In such a condition they occupy themselves with the remembrance of God, not out of any sense of formality or desire for appearance, but because God makes their spiritual life, which they hold dear, dependent upon the nourishment provided by His remembrance, as He has made man’s physical life dependent upon physical nourishment. Therefore they love this spiritual nourishment more than physical nourishment and are apprehensive of its loss.

For the true believer, prayer and nearness to God Almighty is the most essential nourishment.
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This is the consequence of the spirit which is caused to descend upon them like a flame and which generates perfect inebriation with the love of God in their hearts. They do not desire to be separated from it for a single moment. They suffer for it and endure torments on its account but do not wish to be separated from it for a moment, and are constantly watchful of their prayers. This becomes natural for them, inasmuch as God has made the Salat, which is their loving remembrance of Him, an essential nourishment for them, and by manifesting His personal love for them has bestowed upon them the delicious delight of Divine remembrance. In this way the remembrance of God becomes as dear to them as, and even dearer than, life itself. The personal love of God is a new soul that falls on their hearts like a flame and makes salat and the remembrance of God a nourishment for them. Thus they believe that they live not by bread and water but by the salat and the remembrance of Allah.

Salat Strengthens a Believer’s Spiritual Faculties

The remembrance of God charged with love, which is called the salat, truly becomes their food without which they cannot survive and which they guard and watch constantly, like a traveller who in the midst of a stark wilderness guards his scanty supply of bread and water. The Absolute Bestower has appointed this condition also as a stage in the spiritual progress of man which is the last stage. The remembrance of God charged with love, the technical name of which is salat, truly becomes for a worshipper a substitute for nourishment. Indeed he repeatedly seeks to sacrifice his physical soul in return for this nourishment and cannot survive without it, as fish cannot survive without water. He deems a single moment away from God as death itself. His soul is always in prostration at the threshold of God and he finds all his comfort in God. He is convinced that if he were parted from the remembrance of God for even a moment, he would die.

In the same way that iron, when heated by fire, takes on the qualities of fire, belivers also display divine signs when they become closer to God.
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As food generates a feeling of freshness in the body and strengthens the physical senses like seeing and hearing, in the same way at that stage the remembrance of God which is surcharged with love and devotion strengthens a believer’s spiritual faculties, that is to say, his eye acquires the faculty of beholding visions clearly and in a subtle manner, and his ears hear the word of God Almighty and his tongue gives expression to that word in a clear, bright and delightful manner. He sees true dreams frequently which are fulfilled like the advent of the dawn, and on account of his pure and loving relationship with God he partakes of a great number of true dreams that convey good tidings to him. This is the stage at which a believer feels that the love of God serves him as nourishment. This new birth takes place after the spiritual framework becomes ready, and then the spirit, which is aflame with the personal love of God, falls upon the heart of such a believer and suddenly a superior power lifts him above the stage of humanity.

This is the stage which is designated spiritually as a new creation. At this stage God Almighty causes a blazing flame of His personal love, which is designated the spirit, to descend upon the heart of a believer and thereby removes all its darkness and pollutions and weaknesses. With the breathing of this spirit the beauty of the believer, which hitherto was at a lower stage, arrives at its climax and he acquires a spiritual glory, and the narrowness of a vicious life is totally removed and the believer feels that a new spirit has entered into him which was not there before. He acquires a wonderful sense of serenity and contentment through the spirit. His personal love surges up like a fountain and waters the plant of his servitude. The fire that hitherto had only possessed a certain degree of warmth blazes up at this stage and burning up all the straw and tinder of the human self brings it under complete control of the Divine and comprehends all the limbs. Then, like a piece of iron which when it is heated in a fierce fire becomes red and looks like fire itself, such a believer manifests Divine signs and actions, as the red hot piece of iron manifests the effects and qualities of fire.

This does not mean that such a believer becomes God. Only it is a characteristic of Divine love that it bestows its own colour upon that which is manifest, while the inner qualities of servitude and its weakness continue. At this stage God becomes the bread of the believer, which sustains his life, and God becomes the water by drinking which the believer is delivered from death, and becomes the cool breeze that comforts the heart of the believer. At this stage it would not be inappropriate to say metaphorically that God enters into the believer and saturates his whole being and makes his heart His throne; then he beholds not through his own spirit but through the spirit of God and hears through it and speaks through it and walks through it and overcomes his enemies through it inasmuch as at this stage he arrives at the station of nonbeing and the spirit of God bestows upon him a new life through the manifestation of its personal love for him. Then he becomes the illustration of the verse:

[Brahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Part V, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 21, pp. 212-216]

Salat Should be Offered in the Most Befitting Manner

It is folly to be satisfied with the outward performance of salat. Most people observe the salat only formally and get through it quickly as if it were a burdensome tax which should be got rid of speedily. Then there are those who get through the salat quickly and thereafter occupy themselves with long drawn-out prayers which take twice or three times as much time as the salat, whereas the salat itself is nothing but prayer. He who does not observe it in that spirit and does not occupy himself with supplication in the course of it fails to observe the salat. You should seek to make your salat delicious like food and cold water, lest it should bring woe upon you rather than blessing. Salat is an obligation due to God. It should be carried out in an excellent manner.

[Malfuzat, vol. VI, p. 370]

1. ‘There is none worthy of worship except Allah.’
2. Ibid.
3. ‘He who declares that ‘There is none worthy of worship beside Allah’ will enter paradise.’
4. Ibid.
5. The Holy Qur’an, 107:5-6.
6. ‘And who diligently guard the observance of their Prayers.’ The Holy Qur’an, 23:10.
7. ‘. . . Then We develop it into another creation. So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators. The Holy Qur’an, 23:15.