The Pillars of Islam

article picked 4U by - Mohammad Shahrour

May 27, 2020

The Pillars of Islam

We are now in a position to redefine the three pillars of al-Islam as they are presented in the Book. Let us begin with the first two pillars:

1. Belief in the existence of God

2. Belief in the Hereafter. As we said before, these two pillars contain elements of an axiomatic, indisputable truth which, once it is accepted, initiates a believer into the religion of Islam. The first part of the shahada, ‘There is no god but God’, is already the most elaborate expression of a theological doctrine in Islam, as it follows naturally from the more fundamental belief in the existence of God and the Hereafter. This doctrine was first expressed by the prophet Noah, and then reaffirmed by several messengers and prophets until it was finally sealed by Muhammad.

3. Doing what is righteous’ (al-amal al-salih) The Good Work. Since the ethical fundaments of Islam have always been ignored by scholars, the following section is dedicated to studying the third pillar in more detail. The scholar’s negligence of ethics meant that it was excluded from both the pillars and tenets of Islam and Eman, which is the reason why we should not brush over this important duty too quickly. ‘Doing what is righteous’ (al-amal al-salih) refers to the entire body of teachings, instructions, moral commandments and ethical ideals that all religions have issued throughout human history. We might call this body the common denominator of all existing heavenly religions on earth.

A person who ‘does what is righteous’ is a muslim assenter per se regardless of whatever specific creed he or she upholds on condition that this is based on belief in the existence of God and the Hereafter. Such general, absolute teachings and moral commandments were conveyed through the books and messages of previous prophets, starting with Noah and ending with Muhammad,

A chain of prophetical instructions that absorbed a steady growth of ethical norms and an increasing accumulation of moral values. The reward for acting in accordance with these ethical ideals will be, as the Book promises, blissful life in the gardens of Paradise. In terms of their hierarchy, these ethical ideals are placed as the third pillar of al-Islam after the statements of belief in God and the Hereafter. Ethical ideas are referred to by the quranic phrases ‘do worship God’ (a’budu Allah) and the ‘straight path’ ( al-sirat al-mustaqim),  insofar as the worship of Allah (ibada) is the ‘straight path’. Ethics incorporate a system of human values that has binding force upon believers of every religion.

Consider the following verse:

In matters of faith [al-din], He has laid down for you [shara’a lakum] [the people] the same commandments that He gave Noah, which We have revealed to you [Muhammad] and which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus: ‘Uphold the faith and do not divide into factions within it’—what you [Prophet] call upon the idolaters to do is hard for them; God chooses whoever He pleases for Himself and guides towards Himself those who turn to Him. (Al-Sha’ra 42:13,) From this we learn that the religion (al-din) which Allah ‘has established for you’ is Islam, authorized by Him. It is the only religion that Allah will ever accept. It is a religion of guidance, of truth, and of moral values, finally revealed to the Prophet Muhammad but with a history of constant maturation via previous prophets the first of which was Noah.

We hear in this verse that Allah enjoined this religion on Noah, then on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus—He wanted them to ‘remain steadfast in it’. We also learn that this enjoinment, or better these enjoinments, were jointly shared by all prophets, including Muhammad (‘the same religion has He established for you’). And yet, each of their enjoinments had been adapted to the historical circumstances in which the prophets lived, as a result of which their messages underwent a process of acculturation and proliferation. What exactly were these enjoinments? According to the Book they came down in the form of commandments that are summed up by the term al-furqan, to be rendered as ‘moral guidance’. Over time, the commandments increased in number, from Noah to Moses, until they reached ten. The ten commandments are called the ‘general or universal ethics’ (al-furqan al-aamm) and form the foundation of islam. From Moses onwards they matured further and accumulated more commandments, until they were finally perfected in Muhammad’s message. They are what we call ‘particular ethics’ (al-furqan al-khass) and form the ethical foundation of Eman (and also of Islam since Islam is the general type of religion for Eman).

Islam and Universal Ethics

I will now explain both types of ethics. Let us first focus on what we call the general or universal ethics of Islam and quote from the Book: Say: “Come, I will rehearse what God has (really) prohibited you from”:

1-Join not anything as equal with Him;

2-be good to your parents;

3-kill not your children on a plea of want. We provide sustenance for you and for them.

4-Come not nigh to shameful deeds, whether open or secret;

5-take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus, does He command you, that you may learn wisdom.

6-And come not nigh to the orphan’s property, except to improve it, until he attains the age of full strength;

7-give measure and weight with (full) justice. No burden do We place on any soul, but that which it can bear.

8-Whenever you speak, speak justly, even if a near relative is concerned;

9-fulfil the covenant of God: thus, does He command you, that you may remember.

10-Verily, this is My way, leading straight, follow it; follow not (other) paths: they will scatter you about from His (great) path; thus, does He command you that you may be righteous. ( Al-An’am 6:151–53).

These verses provide us with ten commandments of which nine are moral orders and one a religious creed. Although many will know these ten commandments by heart it will be worth listing them one by one in order to emphasize their importance for the religion of Islam and Eman because Eman is the particular religion of al-Islam. The tenth and last moral commandment urges people to follow the path of God and to fulfil the divine commandments unharmed by friction, animosity, and sectarian strife. It implies that unity, agreement, and concord between religions and denominations is a law of human nature and that it is a great offence to violate this law stirring up animosity and hatred between religious communities. As the tenth commandment it comprises all other nine commandments as it urges the muslimun to fulfil them all and not to be content with only adhering to a few of them. These are the commandments, or universal moral laws of islam, which we call general ethics (al-furqan al-amm). Revealed long before the seventh century they were further elaborated and fully perfected in the form of Muhammad’s messenger hood.

In the next part We will turn to the moral values that constitute what we call the particular ethics (al-furqan al-khass) of Eman and that were revealed to seal the chains of messenger hoods. They fully established ‘faith’ (Eman) and completed Islam.

Eman & Particular Ethics is next.