Islam is founded on the five pillars. These pillars anchor a Muslim’s belief and establish the rituals that they must perform to demonstrate that belief. The first pillar of Islam is the shahadah, the proclamation of faith. The proclamation of faith comprises two statements, shahadatan, which encompass the core ideas of Islam. In Arabic, the proclamation of faith is ashhadu an laa illaha illa Allah wa ashhadu anna Muhammad rasul Allah. This translates as “I bear witness that there is no god but God and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Prophet of God.”
The first statement addresses the idea of monotheism. In Islam, the concept of tawhid, the oneness and unity of God, is central. He does not have any partner and there is nothing like Him or worthy of worship. Therefore, Islam does not accept the Christian concept of the Trinity or the belief that Jesus is divine.
The second statement deals with prophecy. In Islam, the Prophet Muhammad is considered to the be final prophet in a long line of prophets sent to humanity to preach monotheism. Thus, when a person utters this part of the proclamation they are acknowledging his prophethood as well as its part within the prophetic lineage. Moreover, by accepting the Prophet Muhammad as the final prophet, a Muslim must believe in the message he brought.
The two statements above make up the proclamation of faith for Sunnis. Shia have an additional statement: wa ashhadu anna Ali waliyyu Allah (“and I bear witness that Ali is God’s representative”). This highlights the importance of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, who the Shia believe should have been leader of the Muslim community after the Prophet’s death.
Muslims utter the shahadah many times throughout their lives. In fact, in order to become Muslim, a person must believe and say the proclamation of faith in front of witnesses. The shahadah is also said during prayer, the adhan (the call to prayer), and at the time of death. Some countries, like Saudi Arabia, include the shahadah on the flag. The proclamation of faith establishes a Muslim’s belief while the remaining pillars, which I will talk about in future posts, are rituals that demonstrate and strengthen that belief.
Have you heard the shahadah spoken? In what context? What is your understanding of the Muslim proclamation of faith? How does it relate to practices of other faiths? Please share your comments below.