The five pillars are the most important practices of Islam: the shahadah (profession), 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, constitutes the core practice and belief of Islam. Islam literally means "submission to God," and to fully submit oneself to God consists in submitting to God alone and embracing the message of his final and most important prophet. The Arabic word Allah is not a personal name of a particular God like Jesus, Buddha, or Krishna; rather, it designates for Muslims the one and only supreme divine creator being much like the English word "God." Indeed,Arabic Christians and Jews praying in their native language invoke Allah when they pray. And even Jesus Christ whose native tongue was Aramaic would have referred to God as Allahah in his own language. The five pillars represent the practices that are the most influential in religious and spiritual development of Muslims around the world.
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. God is absolutely unified. God has no partners, children, or various manifestations or forms. The unity of God is reflected in the unity of, and therefore absolute equality of all people. To recite the shahadah is to bear witness to the most important Muslim belief, and the shahadah is recited during individual prayer, communal prayers on Fridays, and sacred holy times such as the eid festivals and the sacred month of Ramadan. Reciting, proclaiming, and embracing the tenets of the shahadah are expressed by Muslim children and adolescents both during special occasions and in everyday practice, and it establishes the very foundation of their religion. Salat or prayer refers to the five ritual prayers Muslims pray daily. The shahadah is repeated numerous times during each of the five daily prayers. Muslims also may pray generally for specific needs, issues, or just to spend time with God, but salat refers to the five ritual prayers commanded by God to be prayed every day at designated times beginning before sunrise and ending well into the evening. Each salat has a name and specific time of day or night when it is to be prayed. Each day begins with the fajr prayer at dawn. The dhuhr prayer takes place just after the midday sun has reached its zenith. The asr prayer is offered in the middle of the afternoon. Some Muslims believe this should take place when one's shadow is the same length as he or she is. Others believe the shadow should be twice one's length. As a result some Muslims will pray earlier in the afternoon than others. Magrib takes place at sunset, and isha is prayed after dark when the light of the sun can no longer be seen.
Many Muslims perform an ablution or purification before the ritual daily prayers known in Arabic as wudu. This ritual cleansing involves washing one's face including rinsing out the mouth and nose. Washing the hands and arms up to the elbows, then passing one's wet hands over the head, and washing one's feet completes the ritual. However, if one has been in contact with a dead body or human blood, engaged in sexual relations, or is menstruating, then a full-body wash known in Arabic as ghusl may be performed before prayer.
Muslim prayer is physical, verbal, and communal. Muslim prayer physically involves one's body in bowing, kneeling, prostration, and genuflection or ritual hand movements. The prayer begins as one cups hands behind the ears as if to listen more intently. The hands are then folded in front of the body with the right arm over the left, over one's chest or belly depending on his or her tradition. One then bows, hands on knees, and stands upright again. This is followed by a full prostration with legs folded underneath the body, and with one's forehead placed gently on the floor between the hands, which are also pressed down flat on the floor. The Muslim then sits up at the waist and prostrates again. Having kept one's toes in the same position as a kind of marker, the Muslim is then able to stand again in the same spot he or she was in before the prostration. Again the Muslim bows, stands upright, prostrates, sits up, prostrates, and this time sits up again (rather than standing). He or she then raises his or her right index finger either once or repeatedly depending on one's tradition, and turns his or her face to the right, and then to the left before standing again. During each of these movements and gestures a Muslim will recite phrases from the Qur'an and other ritual prayers.
This entire cycle is called a rakah. The morning prayer is prayed with two rakahs; the two afternoon prayers have four rakahs, the sunset prayer three, and the night time prayer four. Many Muslims will perform extra rakahs, especially on special occasions such as the 27th day of Ramadan, which is believed by many to be the night of power, when the Qur'an passed from a higher heaven to a lower heaven on its journey to earth, signifying Allah's decision to reveal the Qur'an to humanity. Although no one knows for sure which night is the night of power, it is believed that prayers offered on this night are worth more than a thousand prayers prayed on any other night.