The five pillars or most important practices of Islam are the shahadah (profession of belief), salat (prayer), sawm (fasting), zakat (charity), and hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). The shahadah, the profession Muslims make that there is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet is the core practice and belief of Islam. To declare that there is no god but God is known as tawheed. This is the central worldview of Muslims, and from it derives all Muslim action and belief. Salat refers to the five ritual prayers commanded by God to pray every day at designated times throughout the day beginning before sunrise and ending well into the evening. Sawm is performed during the month of Ramadan. It does not only consist in physically declining food, drink, smoking, and sex, but also includes abstaining from evil thoughts, actions, and speech. Zakat is the command to give to those in need rather than merely a generic admonition to be generous. Often an annual percentage is offered from one's savings and income as zakat. Zakat aims to achieve a more equitable distribution of resources in accordance with God's original design.
Hajj to Mecca is a special honor in Islam. Muslims are required to perform at least one hajj in a lifetime if they are able to go. Hajj involves an entire ritual of meaningful submission to God in which a person suspends his or her normal everyday activities to converge with the Muslim community on the most holy places in the world for Muslims.
There is no notion of salvation in Islam, or of an original and unavoidable sin nature in humans. Rather, people have been designed and created by God to do good, but have forgotten and neglected their original design. This is why God has regularly sent prophets to remind people of their original design and purpose. Muslims believe that everything that exists has been created by God at the beginning of history, and that the conclusion of history will be marked by the Day of Judgment. On the Day of Judgment each person will account for what they have done and what they have not done and these will be weighed on a balance. If the person's right actions outweigh his or her wrong actions or inactions, then the person will go on to live eternally in paradise. And if the opposite is the case they will spend eternity in hell.
Shariah is a set of principles or guidelines for Islamic action. Although it is usually translated as Islamic law, technically it is not. Islamic law grows and changes with the situation that Muslims find themselves in, while the generic principles of Shariah are eternal. Shariah helps to guide Muslims on the right path.
Jihad literally means struggle or effort. It refers primarily to the struggle every Muslim makes to overcome his or her tendencies to forget God's message, and to commit wrong and instead to accomplish right action throughout one's life. This is known as the greater jihad. The lesser jihad refers to the allowance for Muslims to defend themselves against attack and to oppose injustice in the world. There are many ways to do this, and physical violence is a last resort, but if the situation deteriorates to the point of violence, then there are strict ethical guidelines governing the rules of engagement that Muslims must follow in event of war. The attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon building on September 11, 2001 violate numerous principles of jihad. Therefore, many Muslims agree that these actions are not condoned by any principles in Islam. Moreover, the phrase "holy war" is actually a phrase coined by Christians to describe their own quest during their Crusades on Muslims in the Middle Ages. The phrase "holy war" in Arabic does not appear anywhere in the Qur'an. The two most important festivals on the Muslim calendar are the two eid festivals. Eid means feast. The Eid al-Adha is the Feast of Sacrifice that celebrates Ishmael's resistance of Satan's temptation to run away when God had commanded his father Abraham to sacrifice his son. God saw Ishmael's faithfulness and provided a sacrificial ram in his place. The Eid al-Fitr or Feast of Fast-breaking is celebrated on the first day after Ramadan, the month of fasting. Muslims often dress up in their best clothes, decorate their homes, and celebrate with elaborate feasts for up to 3 days for this holy occasion.
DIVERSITY WITHIN ISLAM
Islam is not monolithic; in other words, there are multiple versions of Islam. Although there may be enough agreement on the basic principles and history of Islam to observe continuity among most selfproclaimed Muslims worldwide, there is also a wide diversity of Muslim beliefs and practices among various Islamic groups.