Muslims also recognize ijma’ and ijtihad as sources of authority. Ijma’ is often translated as “consensus” and refers to the authority of all Muslims collectively, at least theoretically. In practice, ijma’ is more often the consensus of Islam’s religious scholars and highly educated Muslims. The consensus reached by either all Muslims or Islam’s religious scholars is then used to interpret various pieces of the hadiths or the Quran. Ijma’ is often credited, or blamed, for allowing non-Muslim practices into areas under Sharia Law.

Ijtihad is often translated as “analogical reasoning.” Islam has no priests and is based upon an individual’s relationship with God. As such, it is sometimes up to an individual Muslim to determine what a passage in the Quran or a hadith means. Both ijma’ and ijtihad have come under fire within the wider Muslim community. Some see ijma’ as an excuse to legitimize otherwise non-Islamic practices while others say that ijtihad is the rationalization of individual opinion.

The Five Pillars of Islam

All Muslims are required to observe the five pillars of Islam. The obligation is said to be absolute, but it should also be a joy and a pleasure for a Muslim to hold to the pillars. The five pillars are as follows:

Shahada—The shahada or profession of faith is the most important pillar of Islam. The shahada is translated as “I testify that there is no god but God. I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” The first half of the shahada declares that Islam is a monotheistic religion. To claim that any entity or person can share God’s unique “oneness” is a grave sin in Islam. The second half of the shahada sets Islam apart from the other Abrahamic religions. Without the emphasis on Muhammad, the shahada is incomplete.

SalatSalat is ritual prayer and is different from ordinary prayer. Salat is conducted five times a day facing Mecca and comes with prescribed movements that epitomize submission to God. Salat must be done in Arabic, and a Muslim must be ritually pure before taking part. Private prayer is referred to as du’a’ and can be done any time and any place, and no specific movements or purity is required. The famous Islamic Call to Prayer tells Muslims that it is one of the appointed times for salat.

ZakatZakat is obligatory charity or almsgiving. Zakat is meant to remind Muslims that what they have in life is a loan from God and to purify Muslims of greed. Zakat is a way of thanking God for what He has given Muslims and is best done in secret to avoid any sense of self-righteousness or pride. Only adults can give zakat, and they must donate a certain percentage of their wealth. Voluntary almsgiving is known as sadaqa.

SawmSawm, or fasting, refers to the fasting that all Muslims partake in during the month of Ramadan. During this holy time, Muslims obtain from all sensual pleasures and do not eat from dawn to dusk. Muslims try to read the entire Quran during the month of Ramada and believe that it was during the last 10 nights of this holy month that the Quran was revealed in full to Muhammad. The Laylat al-Qadr, or Night of Power, takes place during these ten days and is the holiest day of the Muslim calendar.

All Muslims are required to partake in Ramadan, though some people are exempt from the fasting requirement. The sick, the elderly, pregnant or breastfeeding women, children who have not yet reached puberty, travelers and those engaged in heavy labor are allowed to break their fast during the day. If a Muslim must break a fast during Ramadan, they are to fast for the equivalent number of days later in the year or to feed a hungry person.

Hajj—The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are called to undertake. The pilgrimage must take place during the Islamic month of Dhu’l-Hijja and must be conducted in a state of ritual purity. Once a Muslim has begun the Hajj, they may not cut their hair, trim their nails, use perfume, shave or have sex. After the completion of the Hajj, men will shave their heads, and women will cut of a lock of hair. The sacred rites undertaken during the Hajj must last no less than five days and not extend longer than six. The highlight of the Hajj is circling the Ka’ba. The Hajj is difficult and can be dangerous, but Muslims believe that dying during the Hajj is equivalent to being martyred and cleanses a person of their sins.