The Way to God (1/2)

The Way to God (1/2)

Heaven rests on five pillars. Five mandatory practices. The five pillars of Islam are: the attestation of faith (divine uniqueness and Mohammadian model); there salat (unitive thanksgiving; canonical prayer); there zakat (purifying alms); fasting in the month of Ramadan (inner purification), and hajj (ritual pilgrimage to Mecca) “for those who can”.

There are two ways of understanding the derogation clause of the fifth pillar. The pilgrimage is obligatory “for those who can” perform it, or who have, in other words, the financial means and physical condition required to go there: Muslims who are too poor or too ill are legally exempt. This is why the treaties of Muslim canon law always match the mention of the fifth pillar—the pilgrimage—with this little derogatory clause: for those who can… (“idha tustata'”)

But I think there is another way to understand this. The Five Pillars are in fact the foundation upon which rests not only the sky itself, as Tim Winter observes, (1) but also the way to it. And this way (“Sharia”) is traced, delimited, oriented, established by a system of rules. So it is the Law—which, by tracing the way—guides the believer to eternal bliss. The philosopher Paul Ricœur observes that eternity is a category of the present. (2) The Law guides, therefore, also, also, and above all—it is necessary to understand this well to avoid misinterpretation—toward the bliss of the present moment. Thus it is a seam between the two worlds; the present and the eternal.

In other words, the sacred Law of Islam is a privileged way for the mystical contemplation of divine realities. (“haqa’iq”). Islam, in no way reducible to its formalist approach, is in fact part of a liberating internal state; liberating because rooted in our natures. (3) Islam beckons towards the sentinel soul evoked by Rimbaud. Each practice or pillar has an obvious meaning and a multitude of symbolic meanings. And it is these symbolic readings that give the pillars of Muslim praxis all their consistency. They are what animate the heart of the believer who himself animates these practices.

Take the example of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is a highly coded ritual practice; a number of rules govern the movement of the crowd of pilgrims from the Holy House to the Plain of Arafat. The pilgrimage takes place every year during the lunar month following that of Ramadan. One of the obvious objectives of this practice is, for example, to perform ritual rotations around the Kaaba. There are many more, I won’t list them all.

Let us now dwell on a symbolic exegesis of the verse of the Pilgrimage Surah in which God prescribes the practice of it to believers. We find this commentary from the pen of Ibn Ajiba, an 18th century Moroccan Sufi master:

God established the Kaaba for the pilgrimage of forms. Just as He established attention (or “presence”) for the pilgrimage of the spirits. So that whoever establishes a connection with attention (or “presence”) never interrupts his ritual pilgrimage. (4) Thus, those who can, through their practice, achieve mindfulness, achieve “presence”, truly benefit from their practice. On the first four pillars of the practice then rests an inner edifice, host to the Divine Presence—the heart—which then becomes the Center around which gravitates all the events of the practical life of the “permanent pilgrim”.

Each verse, pillar or rule of the Law has an inner dimension and an outer dimension; a visible dimension and another invisible one. An obvious meaning and a symbolic meaning. All the provisions of the cult, all the cult acts have the common function of repatriating the attention in the mind, the presence in the heart of the practitioner. The ultimate purpose of the Act is therefore to update the “Remembrance of God” in the hearts of practitioners. Just as the raison d’etre of congregational practice—or of its visibility in the public sphere—is to actualize the memory of God in the City. “For those who can… “Remembrance of God” permanently, through their practice—those who are attentive to the signs, the gaze of the spirit oriented towards the Center—these, God diverts them from adventitious phenomena, thereby giving them the power to concentrate on the essential: prayer, the intimate bond by virtue of which they remain in communication with their Lord.

To return to the example of the pillars of Islam, it appears that each of them falls under the legal category of “acts of worship”. (“ibada”). The canonists (“fuqaha”) divide the acts of the practical life of Muslims into two distinct spheres: that of “ibada” (individual adoration) and that of the “mu’amalat” (the affairs of social life). Legal alms, despite its transactional aspect, which at first glance would tend to fall within the legal sphere of the affairs of social life, is generally classified under the rubric of “ibada” (prayer, pilgrimage, etc.), jurists ultimately believing that legal alms (“zakah”) is an act of individual purification. And so, therefore, a work of worship. Thus the five pillars of Islam refer respectively to as many individual acts of devotion whose aim is to actualize an intimate connection with the transcendent Absolute.

The raison d’être of the Law is to blossom in the interiority of the practitioner a space of attention to the Absolute—a space of interior communication adjusting a dialogical relationship with oneself with the transcendent Absolute—through which, the faithful, turned away from the world (or, to be more precise: turned away from the ego in the perspective of which the world stands as an insurmountable obstacle on the spiritual path), turns body and soul towards the Kaaba—symbol of the divine presence —and thus speaks to God, and God speaks to Him…


1.; Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad: Restraints 3, Aphorism 24.

2.Paul Ricoeur; Being, essence and substance in Plato and Aristotle. (part III). Threshold. 2011.; Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad: Restraints 9, Aphorism 97.

4.Ahmed Ibn Ajiba. Al-bahrû al-madîd fi tafsîr al-qur’an al-majîd. (Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyah, III, 2005).