It is reported that ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) as saying,
“(The religion of) Islam is based on five (pillars) – to testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) is His Servant and Messenger, to establish the prescribed prayers, to pay the obligatory Zakah, to make Hajj (pilgrimage), and to observe Fasting throughout the month of Ramadan.”
[Bukhari – Kitab Al-lman (Book on Faith), hadith 8; Muslim – Kitab Al-lman (Book on Faith), hadith 16/21]
Meaning of the Hadith
This hadith means that Islam as a religion is based on the above-mentioned five acts, which function as pillars to support the whole structure of Islam.
The implied simile between Islam and a physical structure indicates that no structure can be erected without supporting pillars. Likewise, Islam can never be established without each of the mentioned five acts, while other Islamic acts perfect the whole structure’s strength.
This means that if any Islamic act other than the specified five is missing, the structure would be deficient, but still existing. Whereas the absence of any of the mentioned five acts would undoubtedly ruin the whole structure of Islam. Therefore, the absence of the two Testimonies [(testifying one’s faith in Allah and His Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam)] ruins the existence of Islam. The meaning of the two testimonies in another narration of the hadith recorded also by Al-Bukhari with this wording –
“(The religion of) Islam is based on five (pillars): testifying faith in Allah and His Messenger, establishing …” [Bukhari – Tafsir (Interpretation), hadith 4514]
Imam Muslim also recorded another narration with this wording – “(The religion of) Islam is based on five (pillars): to testify one’s faith in the Oneness of Almighty Allah …”
Another narration for Imam Muslim also reads, “(The religion of) Islam is based on five (pillars): to worship Allah and disbelieve in all others.” [Muslim – Kitab Al-Iman (Book on Faith), hadith 16/19-20]
This indicates that having faith in Allah and His Messenger (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) represents the core of Islam as concluded in the previous hadith.
Status of Prayer (Salat) in Islam
There are many hadiths indicating that whoever abandons the prescribed prayers is not considered a Muslim.
Imam Muslim recorded in his Sahih that Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “Abandoning Prayer is the barrier between a Muslim and infidelity and atheism.” [Muslim – Kitab At-Iman (Book on Faith), hadith 82/134]
In a hadith reported by Mu’adh (may Allah be pleased with him), the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “Islam is the apex of everything and Prayer is its pillar.” [Tirmidhi – Kitab Al-lman (Book on Faith), hadith 2616, this is a good authentic hadith; Musnad Ahmad – vol. 5, pp. 231,237]
This hadith is a simile comparing the status of Prayer in Islam to that of a tent post, where the tent would definitely be ruined if the post collapsed.
‘Umar bin Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “He who abandons Prayer has nothing at all to do with the religion of Islam.” [Muwatta Malik – Kitab At-Taharah (Book on Purity), hadith 53]
Sa’d and ‘Ali bin Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with both of them) said, “He who abandons Prayer would have disbelieved in Islam.” [Recorded by Ibn Abi Shaybah in 11/47 and 49]
‘Abdullah bin Shaqiq said, “Companions of the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) did not count any act as leading one to disbelieve in Islam except abandoning the prayer.” [Recorded by Ibn Abi Shaybah in 11/47 and 49]
Ayyub As-Sikhtyany said, “Abandoning Prayer is undoubted blasphemy.”
This very opinion was adopted by a group of early as well as later scholars, including Ibn Al-Mubarak, Imam Ahmad and Ishaq. Ishaq said that there was a consensus among all scholars on this view.
Muhammad bin Nasr Al-Marwazy said, “This opinion is the same adopted by the majority of the scholars of hadith.”
A group of scholars adopted the view that he who intentionally abandons any of the five pillars of Islam would make himself a disbeliever. This view is attributed to Sa‘id bin Jubayr, Nafi’ and Al- Hakam in addition to being in a narration attributed to Imam Ahmad as adopted by some of his followers. Ibn Habib, from the Maliki School of Jurisprudence adopted the same view.
To prove the blasphemy of whoever abandons Prayer, Imam Ahmad and Ishaq quoted the incident of Satan’s blasphemy due to his refusal to prostrate himself before Adam. They (Imam Ahmad and Ishaq) commented, “What then would be the case with prostrating oneself before Allah, Who is greater than Adam?”
Abu Huryrah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “If one recites a Qur’anic verse on prostration and then prostrates oneself before Allah, Satan will cry and say, ‘Woe on me! This descendant of Adam was commanded to prostrate himself and he obeyed, for which he will be admitted to Paradise. But as I was commanded to prostrate myself and I did not obey, I would be admitted to enter hellfire.’ ” [Muslim – Kitab Al-Iman (Book on Faith); hadith 81/133]
The hadith at hand, as reported by Ibn ‘Umar, proves that if there is a group of various elements under one parent, whereby that parent is not necessarily ruined by the absence of some elements. To clarify this, scholars made a simile between Faith and a tree that has different branches. If some branches disappear or fall down, the mother would still carry the name of tree, even though some of its branches are missing.
Allah has shown this very simile in the Qur’an, where He said,
“Seest thou not how Allah sets forth a parable? A goodly Word like a goodly tree, whose root is firmly fixed, and its branches (reach) to the heavens. It brings forth its fruit at all times by the leave of its Lord.” (Surah Ibrahim, 14 : 24-25)
The “Word” given in this parable is the rectification of the Oneness of Almighty Allah, while the “roots” stand for the faith deeply rooted in the believers’ hearts; the “fruit” representing the believers’ good deeds.
The Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) set forth a similar parable when he compared the believing Muslim to a date palm, 1 which would continue carrying the name of “date palm tree” even it’ some of its branches fell down.
Jihad (Holy War) and the Pillars of Islam
Although Jihad is the best deed, it is not mentioned in the hadith at hand, as reported by Ibn ‘Umar.
Mu‘adh bin Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (Sallallahu a’laihi wa sallam) said, “Islam is the apex of everything and Prayer is its pillar, and Jihad is the highest point of its structure.” [Tirmidhi – Kitab Al-Iman (Book on Faith); hadith 2616; Musnad Ahmad – vol. 5, pp. 231,237]
This means that Jihad is not one of the pillars on which Islam is based due to the following:
First: The majority of scholars agree that Jihad is a collective duty and not an individual duty like the five pillars of Islam.
Second: The obligation to practice Jihad would not last till the Last Hour is established, as it would be cancelled after the advent of Jesus (peace be upon him) and the survival of Islam as the only religion on earth, when wars would come to an end. This is unlike the five pillars which are individual obligations to all believers who should adhere to them till they die or till the Last Hour is established.
(1) Bukhari – Kitab Al-‘llm (Book on Knowledge); hadith 61, 63; Muslim – Attributes of the Hypocrites, hadith 2811
By: Imam Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali , From the book: Jami’ al Ulum wal Hikam.