Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

Ashmolean − Eastern Art Online, Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art

The Five Pillars of Islam

A series of short films on the five pillars of Islam - the five duties obligatory for all Muslims - told through objects from Oxford collections.

Detail of a sitarah made for the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina, Egypt, 1791-1792


In this short film, the Yousef Jameel Curator of Islamic Art discusses the first of the five pillars of Islam: shahada, or profession of faith.



The first pillar is the profession of faith or shahada. It consists of uttering two phrases - 'There is no god but God' (la ilah illa Allah) and 'Muhammad is the messenger of God' (wa Muhammad rasul Allah). Reciting them with heartfelt conviction marks a believer’s conversion to Islam. The two phrases composing the shahada appear separately in the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, but were only later joined into a single statement. The association of the shahada with Muslim identity only occurred a few decades after the establishment of the Umayyad dynasty in the seventh century. Evidence of this can be found on the mosaic frieze decorating the interior of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, erected in 691 by the Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik, and on gold coins minted under the same ruler. On this coin [HCR6303], for instance, dated to the year 80 of the Islamic calendar, corresponding to the end of the seventh century AD, the central inscription states 'there is no god but God, He has no associate, Muhammad is the prophet of God', a statement which emphasizes God’s oneness and eternity and Muhammad’s prophetic mission. These concepts were essential in defining the position of Islam in relation to other faiths and in proclaiming its distinct character at this crucial formative time.

By the end of the first century of Islam, the shahada had developed into the formal ritualized profession of faith that we know today, and had officially become one of the five pillars of the faith.

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