The foundation of Islamic religious practices is the Five Pillars. These basic duties -- belief, worship, fasting, almsgiving, and pilgrimage -- guide Muslims in their daily life and their worship of God. Through the materials presented in this lesson, students will explore and understand the basic beliefs of Islam and the Five Pillars. They will view segments from Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and information from Internet sources to look closely at each pillar. Then, as a culminating activity in groups, students will create posters about the Five Pillars for classroom display.
- Describe the basic beliefs of Islam;
- Explain the meaning of each of the Five Pillars of Islam;
- Compare and contrast the Five Pillars of Islam with the duties of other religions with which they are familiar.
Three to four 45-minute class sessions
Use these resources to create a simple assessment or video-based assignment with the Lesson Builder tool on PBS LearningMedia.
Handouts for each student:
- Student Response Sheet 1: The Five Pillars of Islam
- Student Response Sheet 2: The Five Pillars of Islam
- Major Beliefs of Islam
This page from the PBS FRONTLINE Teacher Center gives a clear description of the basic beliefs of Muslims and the Five Pillars of Islam.
- Islam's Customs (The Five Pillars)
This BBC website clearly defines each of the Five Pillars, and offers a detailed description of each.
Before The Lesson
Prerequisite: Before beginning this lesson, be sure to do the Introductory Activity from the Religion and the First Amendment lesson with your class.
Part I: Introductory Activity
The Basic Beliefs and Practices of Islam
Explain to your students that they will be learning about some of the basic beliefs and practices of Islam, the religion followed by Muslims. Ask students to begin by brainstorming a list of things that they know about Islam. Have students record their thoughts about Islam privately, without discussing the responses as a class. Ask students to hold on to their responses (or you may collect them). Explain to them that throughout the course of the next activity they will learn more about the basic beliefs and practices of Islam, and that after they complete the activity they will have time to review and revise their responses.
Explain to students that in this lesson they are going to learn about the basic beliefs of Islam and focus on learning about the core duties of Muslims, the Five Pillars. Divide the class into pairs and direct students to the Muslims Teachers Guide FRONTLINE PBS website. Provide them with a focus for media interaction, instructing them to read the sections: "Beliefs of Muslims" and "Major Practices/Duties of Muslims" and record, on their Student Response Sheet 1: The Five Pillars of Islam, the six major beliefs and the name of each of the Five Pillars and a description of that pillar. After students have recorded this information, review the major beliefs and the Five Pillars as a whole class, addressing any questions, such as vocabulary and definitions, during the discussion. Record a list of the Five Pillars on the board during the class discussion so students have a clear visual reference to all of the pillars throughout the rest of the lesson.
Part II: Learning Activity #1
Explain to students that you will be looking at each pillar in detail beginning with the first pillar, which is Shahadah or belief. To begin, go to the BBC website www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/customs/shahadah/index.shtml. Have students read about what it means to proclaim faith or belief as a Muslim. Have students, individually, silently read the Shahadah. Ask the students to think about what the Shahadah means. Why do they think that this statement is a significant part of being a Muslim? Record their thoughts on their Student Response Sheet 2: The Five Pillars of Islam handout, and discuss these questions as a class.
- How is this statement of belief similar to other religions? How is it different? Some examples are the Shema Israel and the Thirteen Articles of Faith in Judaism or the Nicene Creed in Christianity.
Part III: Learning Activity #2
Next, students will look more closely at the second pillar, which is Salat or prayer. Have students watch the Muslim Prayer video as well as read the information from the BBC at www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/customs/salat/index.shtml and www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/worship/index.shtml and watch the two streaming video segments about prayer preparation and the set of movements for prayer. Provide them with a focus for media interaction, instructing students to view the segments and record answers to the following questions on their Student Response Sheet 2: The Five Pillars of Islam.
Describe the process that Muslims go through to prepare to pray.
Describe the process of praying in Islam. How many times each day, and when, do Muslims pray?
What do the prayers sound like?
What do the movements look like?
In which direction do Muslims pray?
Why do they face this way?
What are some of the things Muslims say during prayer?
Why do Muslims pray?
How is prayer in Islam similar to prayer in other religions?
How is it different?
Why is prayer important in Islam
Part IV: Learning Activity #3
Next, students will examine the third pillar, which is Zakaat or almsgiving. Have students watch the Zakaat video and read the information about Zakaat at www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/customs/zakat/index.shtml. Provide them with a focus for media interaction, instructing students to view the video segment and record answers to the following questions on their Student Response Sheet 2: The Five Pillars of Islam:
What is Zakaat?
What is emphasized in Zakaat?
Why do Muslims make donations?
How much money is a person expected to give to charitable causes?
What is the relationship between prayer and money?
How is zakaat different from ordinary charity that Muslims might give?
After students have viewed the segment and the website, discuss what they have learned about Zakaat. What other religions ask believers to donate money? How is this similar to other religions? How is this different.
Part V: Learning Activity #4
Next, students will examine the fourth pillar, which is fasting or Sawm. Have students watch the Ramadan is Here video and read the information at www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/customs/sawm/index.shtml. Provide them with a focus for media interaction, instructing students to view the video segment and record answers to the following questions on their Student Response Sheet 2: The Five Pillars of Islam:
- Why is Ramadan described as "expecting a month long guest?"
Explain the guidelines for fasting during Ramadan. When is eating allowed? At what age does a Muslim begin fasting? Does fasting only occur during Ramadan? Are there other rules?
Describe some of the challenges one might encounter when fasting during Ramadan. Describe some of the benefits.
After students have viewed the segment and read the information on the website, discuss what they have learned about Sawm. How does fasting from eating and other activities affect people's spiritual state of mind? What other religions include fasting? How is Sawm similar to fasting in other religions? How is it different?
Part VI: Learning Activity #5
Finally, students will examine the fifth pillar, which is pilgrimage or Hajj. Have students view The Hajj: Islamic Sacred Pilgimage video from WGBH. Provide them with a focus for media interaction, instructing students to view the segment and record answers to the following questions on their Student Response Sheet 2: The Five Pillars of Islam:
What is the goal or focus of the Hajj?
What is the purpose of the special garments that the pilgrims wear?
How do these American Muslims react to the Hajj? In what ways is it a meaningful experience for them? What unanticipated responses did they have during their journey to Arabia?
2. After students have viewed the segments and recorded information, discuss this questions with the class. What do they think it is like to be a pilgrim in Mecca? Why do they think Hajj is one of the Five Pillars? What other religions incorporate the idea of pilgrimage?
Part VII: Culminating Activity
- After students have looked more closely at each of the Five Pillars, divide them into pairs. Instruct each pair to create a poster about the Five Pillars to be displayed in the classroom and around the school to help educate their schoolmates about Islam. Drawing on the information they gathered and recorded on their Student Response Sheet as a resource, each poster must include: a listing of the Five Pillars, a description of each of the practices and how people fulfill these obligations, and illustrations or images that relate to each of the pillars. (For the illustrations and images, it may be helpful for students to view the segments and Web sites again, looking specifically for prevalent visual images and symbols, if they do not remember what they have seen previously. They can also look at the sites below for imagery.) Have students share their completed posters with the class, discussing the information and images used on the posters. To visually enhance their poster, students can use PBS LearningMedia to search for images of Islamic Art. Alternatively, students may wish to create a PowerPoint presentation, infographic, or video.
- Ask students to take out the list they brainstormed in the introductory activity. Ask them to review and revise the list based on what they've learned in this lesson. How have their conceptions of Islam changed?
World Cultures/ Comparative Religion
Have students research other religions, such as Judaism and Hinduism, and learn about their basic practices and duties. Students will then create a project that illustrates the similarities and differences among these religions, and Islam, in relation to practices and duties.
Sociology/ Culture/ Religion
Leading a religious life and fulfilling religious duties can sometimes seem to conflict with modern life and society. Contact local mosques or community centers and have students speak with Muslims in their community about how they fulfill their duties as outlined in the Five Pillars and how these practices fit into their busy lives with work, school, and family. If students cannot speak with Muslims in their community, use resources such as Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, the BBC, and NPR, which have features on Muslims and their daily lives and practices.
If possible, have your students meet with Muslims in your community to learn about their religious practices and views. Interview Muslims who have participated in Hajj, and talk to Muslims during the month of Ramadan to learn about fasting and almsgiving. Contact religious leaders or scholars to learn more about prayer and belief. Be sure to clarify the difference between teaching religion and teaching about religion in the classroom for any presenters.