The shahada (testimony), or declaration of faith, is the central doctrine of Islam and the first and most important pillar of the religion. The shahada is where Islam begins and ends; it is a Muslim’s anchor and ultimate destination. The four other pillars of Islam – prayer, fasting, charity, and pilgrimage to Mecca – revolve around the profession of faith and have significance only in relation to it.
The shahada shines by its profound simplicity as the Muslim testifies (Ash hadu) that there is no God but God and Mohammad is His messenger.
In fact, the other pillars can only exist because of the shahada. They depend upon a Muslim’s conviction in mind, body, and soul of the fact that there is no God but God, and Muhammad is His Prophet (Ashhadu anna la ilaha ill’Allah, wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan Rasul Allah). The shahada shines by its profound and awesome simplicity as the Muslim professes and mindfully testifies (Ash hadu) that there is no God but God and Mohammad is His messenger.
Bearing witness to God’s Oneness (tawhid) is the only requirement for becoming a Muslim. In order to grasp the weight and profundity of the shahada, we must understand the meaning of this word. The word shahada “represents a statement that springs from knowledge gained through observing something with one’s eyes or with mental insight.” The Quran explains that it means to testify to what one knows: “We did not testify except what we know” (Quran 12:81). It is thus clear that a prior knowledge is intrinsic to the word shahada because bearing witness to something presupposes a firm knowledge and conviction about that to which one is attesting.
To center one’s life in the shahada means to be free, to be a slave to nothing and no one but God. It is an acknowledgement that nothing has the right to be worshiped except God. This is not for God’s benefit, but for our own. God needs nothing from us. He is Perfect, Complete, and Self-Sufficient, unlike created beings. We need to worship God alone in order to liberate ourselves and become self-actualized.
When we put people or things on a pedestal, our values can only be false. We are ascribing power to essentially powerless beings because the only real Power belongs to God. Furthermore, our soul revolves around that which is impermanent and thus can never give us true and lasting fulfillment or peace because everything changes and perishes except for God: “And call not, besides Allah, on another god. There is no god but He. Everything will perish except His Countenance. To Him belongs the Command, and to Him will you all return” (Quran 28:88).
Giving away our power to others, worshiping idols, whether it be people, wealth, fame, or other such things leads to misery.
Anything we put before God becomes a false deity because it dominates our attention—one of the most compelling human attributes. Our attention is in essence the main component of the free will God created us with. What we “worship” influences our decisions and determines how we spend our time and resources. Giving away our power to others, effectively worshiping idols, whether it be people, wealth, fame, or other such things leads to misery. In Islam, deifying false gods is the biggest sin, and there is deep wisdom in this principle.
Islam’s main aim is to protect our overall well-being and when we worship people or objects we suffer tremendously and live tormented, anxiety-ridden lives that are far from the peace that is possible for us. But what does the central tenet of Islam – “there is no God but God” – mean in practical terms? It means that no person, no possession, no job, no financial situation, no government, nothing in this world has power over us: only God does.
When we internalize this principle, we are empowered and live in inner strength and peace, grounded in God and therefore, in our higher selves. Many evils come from looking to another person or to a material thing as one’s god; when we make a created being the foundation of our lives, or subserviently surrender to another human being’s false authority, we lose ourselves. It confuses our minds and makes us dependent on that person for things that no human can ever give us. It also makes us intellectually lazy and unable to think for ourselves.
Venerating people causes us to follow and imitate ideas and behaviors that may be right for that person, but wrong for us. It prevents us from following the Quran’s repeated instructions to think and decide for ourselves.
Venerating people causes us to follow and imitate ideas and behaviors that may be right for that person, but wrong for us. It prevents us from following the Quran’s repeated instructions to think and decide for ourselves: “If you follow the greater majority on earth they would lead you astray. They follow nothing but the conjectures of others and mislead those who follow them. Your Lord knows best who stray from the path of Truth; He knows best who are the rightly guided” (Quran 6:117-18).
Adoring people shows lack of faith because we are effectively saying we don’t believe God can satisfy our needs and instead look at another human being to do so. While God employs people to help us, we have to always remember that the Source of people’s qualities is God. Without God’s Will, Power, and Mercy, nobody can be kind, brilliant, noble, or even alive. God blesses people with sublime qualities, and it is appropriate to thank them when they use them in our favor, but we must mainly thank God for those qualities we are benefiting from because He is the Source of their existence.
Worshiping anything other than God serves as an escape, as an avoidance of self-responsibility for our lives. Coming to know our own soul is the most difficult task in life and so, we often evade it. Centering our lives in the Oneness and Unity of God, worshiping only Him, allows us to follow the right path. Tawhid is the groundwork of all righteous actions, of all morality in Islam.
The Unity of Allah means that: “He is the Infinite, the Eternal, and the Creator of the Universe which in turn implies that everything besides Allah is finite, ephemeral and created. It also means the Omnipotence of Allah, which in turn indicates that all things depend absolutely upon Allah, derive their total reality from Him and will ultimately return to Him. This utter dependence of all things on Allah makes [human beings] truly conscious of their origin and ultimate becoming.”
From the shahada, this profoundest of acknowledgements, salat, or prayer, directly and inevitably follows. If we believe God is the Owner of our soul, and the only One worthy of being worshiped, we will naturally want to connect with Him through prayer, which is the second most important tenet of Islam. Hence, establishing regular worship is the second pillar of this deen (religion/faith).
The obligatory prayers are performed five times a day, at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and after dark. Muslims face Mecca while praying and engage in prostrations and movements that, similarly to those of yoga, have been proven to have positive, soothing, and healthy effects on the mind and body.
Prayer grounds us, gives us time away from worldly concerns to reflect and meditate, and connects us with our own spirit.
The importance of salat is such that some scholars and sheikhs are of the opinion that a Muslim who does not pray regularly can no longer be considered a Muslim. Prayer is for our benefit and well-being. It is tremendously powerful. It grounds us, gives us time away from our worldly concerns and occupations to reflect and meditate, and connects us with our own spirit, the part of ourselves that is beyond matter and worldly attachments. It is our conversation with God, and therefore, a communion with the noblest part of our nature.
Mindful prayer is deeply transformative. Because of the tremendous power prayer has, the Quran warns us that it must be done in an attentive manner because “there is calamity for those who pray, who are unmindful in their prayer” (Quran 107:4-5). In fact, praying mindlessly, repeating words we don’t understand, or doing so out of a sense of obligation, instead of praying with our whole heart and a complete presence of mind, can damage our spirit and produce chaos in our lives.
Prayer moves us towards a purposeful, profound life, one that is closer to God and centered on higher, eternal values.
What we systematically focus our attention on expands and manifests in our lives. This is in fact the purpose of prayer: to move us towards a purposeful, profound life, one that is closer to God and centered on higher, eternal values. The words we use to pray symbolize our feelings and so, they are extremely potent. We pray with what is in our hearts. And if our hearts are absent from our prayers, the result will be a life that is correspondingly empty. It is therefore of utmost importance to understand the words we use in prayer and make praying a meaningful experience.
A good approach is to find a form of prayer that we connect to, and spend time in understanding the meaning and feelings associated with each uttered word and sentence. For example, we can take a verse of the Quran that we feel particularly attracted to, think about it, learn about it, reflect on how it relates to our lives, and what it means to us personally. Then go to the next one and continue this way until we have connected deeply with each Quran verse that we recite when we pray. We can also pray in our own language because our innermost thoughts and feelings are the essence of prayer. If we follow this advice, over time and with practice, our prayer will evolve and we will notice positive changes in our lives.
We can make every activity a form of prayer by offering it to God.
Besides the prescribed five daily prayers, we can pray at any time and in any form that connect us with God. In fact, we can make every activity a form of prayer by offering it to God. Our work can be a prayer. Preparing food for ourselves and our loved ones can be a prayer. If we invoke the name of God, and dedicate our daily activities to Him, praying for His guidance and help, and thanking Him for all He has blessed us with, our lives – even in their most mundane aspects – will be imbued with sacredness, meaning, and depth; and, we will live peaceful, fulfilled, and happy lives filled with love and purpose.
 Haq, Muhammad ‘Abdul. “The Meaning and Significance of the Shahadah.” Islamic Studies 23, no. 3 (1984): 171-87. Accessed May 17, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/20847269.
 Ibid, 174.