The Fifth Pillar: Hajj (Pilgrimage of Makkah)

Another duty incumbent on all Muslims who are able to undertake it is the hajj or pilgrimage.  Although often referred to by Muslims and non-Muslims alike as the pilgrimage to Makkah, it is more accurately described as a pilgrimage that begins in Makkah at the Ka’ba or House of God, which the Qur’an speaks of in terms of deep reverence.  When Makkah was taken by the Muslims, the Ka’ba was cleansed of idols and resanctified in the name of the one God.  This structure has forever since been maintained to serve as the focal point of all prayer, the center of the pilgrimage, and the House of God.  All Muslims who have journeyed there to worship God with sincere intent (and within the constraints of a reasonable capacity) are welcomed to its precincts, as it was in the days of Abraham.

The first House of worship appointed for men was that at Makkah.  Full of blessing and of guidance for all kinds of beings.  In it are Signs Manifest, for example, the Station of Abraham.  Whoever enters it attains security.  Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to God, those who can afford the journey.  But if any deny faith, God stands not in need of any of His creatures.  (003:096-097)

Behold, We gave the site of the Sacred House to Abraham, saying, “Associate not anything in worship with Me; and sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or stand up, or bow, or prostrate themselves therein in prayer.  “And proclaim the Pilgrimage among men.  They will come to you on foot and mounted on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways, “that they may witness the benefits (provided) for them.  (022:026-028)

The conduct of the pilgrim is of great importance considering that the entire journey, every step taken, every act performed, is carried out with the express purpose and inner intent of pleasing and worshipping God.  Therefore, along with the previous verses prohibiting certain activities, the Qur’an further adjures all pilgrims to behave in a fitting manner, which includes avoiding quarrels, sinful acts, and the use of obscenities.

For Hajj are the months well known.  If any one undertakes that duty therein, let there be no obscenity, nor wickedness, nor wrangling in the Hajj.  And whatever good you do, be sure God knows it.  And take a provision with you for the journey, but the best of provisions is right conduct.  So fear Me, O you who are wise.  (002:197)

For those who are unable to complete the pilgrimage, God provides alternate means for them to worship Him in relation to the pilgrimage, such as by offering a sacrifice to be enjoyed by those on the pilgrimage.

And complete the Hajj or ‘umra in the service of God.  But if you are prevented from completing it, send an offering for sacrifice, such as you may find, and do not shave your heads until the offering reaches the place of sacrifice.  And if any of you is ill, or has an ailment in his scalp, necessitating shaving, he should in compensation either fast or feed the poor or offer sacrifice.  And when you are in peaceful conditions again, if any one wishes to continue the ‘umra on to the hajj, he must make an offering, such as he can afford, but if he cannot afford it, he should fast three days during the hajj and seven days on his return, making ten days in all.  This is for those whose household is not in the precincts of the Sacred Mosque.  And fear God, and know that God is strict in punishment.  (002:196)

The Qur’an offers several descriptions which together constitute a framework outlining the appropriate stages of the pilgrimage to be followed by the worshippers, stages which are referred to as the “holy rites”.  Following their arrival in Makkah, the pilgrims enter the precincts of the House of God, the Ka’ba.  There they circumambulate around the House, praising God constantly.  Afterwards, they leave the House and journey outside of the city proper to Mount Arafat, where again they praise God in the proper manner (which is not specified in the Qur’an itself).  Leaving Arafat, the pilgrims follow the footsteps of the Prophet in offering a prayer at the “Sacred Monument,” presumably the Muzdalifa.  After this, the pilgrims should quickly move on, rather than continuing to cluster about Mount Arafat, as there are many pilgrims who need to complete these rituals. 

Then when you pour down from Mount Arafat, celebrate the praises of God at the Sacred Monument, and celebrate His praises as He has directed you, even though, before this, you went astray.  Then pass on at a quick pace from the place whence it is usual for the multitude so to do, and ask for God’s forgiveness.  For God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.  So when you have accomplished your holy rites, celebrate the praises of God, as you used to celebrate the praises of your fathers, yea, with far more heart and soul.  There are men who say, “Our Lord! Give us Your bounties in this world!” but they will have no portion in the Hereafter.  (002:198-200)

During this time, while the pilgrim is in a state of ritual purity, he must take special care concerning the foods he eats, as suggested by the following revelation.  All food must be halal or permitted by being properly sacrificed with name of the God spoken over the animal during sacrifice.  Sacrificial animals, the Qur’an states, have been required of each of the peoples to whom God sent a Message.  Muslims should take quite seriously the rites of sacrifice and perform them with true piety.  Indeed, the Qur’an instructs, it is not the meat nor the blood of the animal which reaches God, but the piety of the act.  With the sacrifice complete, God commands the pilgrim not only to eat of such sanctified food, but also to share that food with those in need.  The suggestion from this injunction seems to be that, while the pilgrimage is performed for God, it should also be performed with consideration for the Muslim community, so that all may participate in this ritual of worship.

And through the Days appointed, celebrate the name of God over the cattle which He has provided for them for sacrifice.  Then eat you thereof and feed the distressed ones in want. … Lawful to you for food in Pilgrimage are cattle, except those mentioned to you as exception.  …  And whoever holds in honor the symbols of God, in the sacrifice of animals, such honor should come truly from piety of heart.  In them you have benefits for a term appointed.  In the end their place of sacrifice is near the Ancient House.

To every people did We appoint rites of sacrifice, that they might celebrate the name of God over the sustenance He gave them from animals fit for food.  But your God is One God.  Submit then your wills to Him in Islam, and give you the good news to those who humble themselves, to those whose hearts are filled with fear when God is mentioned, who show patient perseverance over their afflictions, keep up regular prayer, and spend in charity out of what We have bestowed upon them. 

The sacrificial camels we have made for you as among the symbols from God.  In them is much good for you.  Then pronounce the name of God over them as they line up for sacrifice.  When they are down on their sides after slaughter, eat you thereof, and feed such as beg not but live in contentment, and such as beg with due humility.  Thus have We made animals subject to you, that you may be grateful.  It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches God; it is your piety that reaches Him.  He has thus made them subject to you, that you may glorify God for His Guidance to you and proclaim the good news to all who do right.  (022:028-037)

The pilgrimage is organized in such a way that these primary duties can be met within a span of two days.  Traditionally, many pilgrims remain in the vicinity of Makkah for a longer period or travel to nearby Madinah to visit the tomb of the Prophet.  However, the Qur’an seeks to assure those who are unable to do so that it is no sin on them for leaving the moment the pilgrimage is complete.  Again, one gets the impression that God is well aware that most who desire to go on the pilgrimage have families and work responsibilities which require their attention elsewhere, and so He tries not to make the pilgrimage itself too demanding; another aspect, if you will, of His great mercy and forbearance.  Similarly, those who decide to stay longer are reminded that they should not do so if they too have responsibilities requiring their attention; in other words, they may stay so long as their “aim is to do right.”

Celebrate the praises of God during the Appointed Days.  But if any one hastens to leave in two days, there is no blame on him, and if any one stays on, there is no blame on him, if his aim is to do right.  Then fear God, and know that you will surely be gathered unto Him.  (002:203)



Qur’an.  Trans. Yusuf ‘Ali.

as-Sayyid Sabiq, Fiqh us-Sunnah: az-Zakah and as-Siyam.  Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1991.


The Fourth Pillar: Zakah (Regular Charity)

Charity is another aspect of proper Muslim conduct, one which both assists the community of Believers and which is pleasing to God.  The Qur’an speaks of two kinds of charity – alms or sadaqa and regular charity or zakah.  The administration of an organized zakah is left up to the community; God does not direct us how to deal with this issue, only that we must do it.  Zakah is another obligation, in other words, like prayer and fasting.  Presumably this would take the form of a state-organized tax, which would be collected and distributed to the needy.  Sadaqa, in contrast, is to be performed by the individual as he or she sees fit, although the Qur’an stresses how important it is that each Muslim do so to the extent that they are able.

And be steadfast in prayer, give zakah, and bow down your heads with those who bow down in worship.  (002:043)

And be steadfast in prayer and give zakah, and whatever good you send forth for your souls before you, you shall find it with Allah, for Allah sees well all that you do.  (002:110)

Charity, whether individually implemented or state organized, is an act of generosity and humanity which will not go unrewarded in the life to come.  In the Qur’an, God speaks often in general terms of charity as a religious duty, one which benefits the community, but which is also pleasing to Him.  He urges Muslims to spend what they have in His Way and for those who are in need.  This is far more pleasing to Him than those who horde their wealth, who will be rewarded with eternal suffering in the life to come.

Those who spend of their goods in charity by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord.  On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.  (002:274)

In the sacred text, God offers further guidance concerning those to whom charity should be given.  During the period of revelation, such guidance was necessitated by the fact that there were apparently those who, although there were others in far greater need, nonetheless insisted on claiming a portion of the charity for themselves.  God was aware of their greed, and instructed the faithful concerning those who, in His eyes, were truly deserving of the assistance of the community.

Charity is for those in need, who, in God’s cause are restricted from travel, and cannot move about in the land, seeking for trade or work.  The ignorant man thinks, because of their modesty, that they are free from want.  You shall know them by their unfailing mark: they beg not importunately from all the sundry.  And whatever of good you give, be assured God knows it well.  (002:273)

If only they had been content with what God and His Messenger gave them and had said, “Sufficient unto us is God! God and His Messenger will soon give us of His bounty.  To God do we turn our hopes!” that would have been the right course.  Alms are for the poor and the needy and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of God; and for the wayfarer.  (Thus is it) ordained by God, and God is full of knowledge and wisdom. (009:059-060)

It is, however, important that such charity not be performed with an eye to self-aggrandizement or public approval.  Charity should be given humbly, whether in private or in public, with no thought attached to it other than that this is what God wishes and that this will benefit ones fellow creatures.  If one gives charity ostentatiously in order to win the admiration of others, then it were better he gave no charity at all.

Kind words and the covering of faults are better than charity followed by injury.  God is free of all wants, and He is Most-Forbearing.  O you who believe, cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury, like those who spend their substance to be seen of men, but believe neither in God nor in the Last Day.  They are in parable like a hard, barren rock, on which is a little soil.  On it falls heavy rain, which leaves it just a bare stone.  They will be able to do nothing with aught they have earned.  And God guides not those who reject faith.  (002:263-264)

By no means shall you attain righteousness unless you give freely of that which you love, and whatever you give, of a truth God knows it well.  (003:092)

The Third Pillar: Sawm (Fasting during Ramadan)

Fasting during the month of Ramadan, the month when the revelations to Muhammad began, is another of the five pillars of Islam.  The term sawm essentially means abstaining from something, and there are references in the Qur’an to abstaining from other things as well, although these are not among the pillars of the faith.  Some have even interpreted fasting to be unique among the pillars, and indeed among the righteous conduct of Muslims, in that fasting alone is meant only for God.  Abu Hurairah reports that the Prophet Muhammad said, “God has said, ‘Every action of the son of Adam is for him except fasting, for that is solely for Me.  I give the reward for it.’” (As-Sayyid Sabiq 107)

While fasting does not receive as much attention as does prayer in the Qur’an, the verses concerning it are fairly explicit, particularly concerning when to fast and the fact that this is an obligation on all Muslims.  Those who may not be able to complete the fast are not exempted from it, but only given a respite until conditions change in such a way as to allow them to fulfill their duty.  So, for example, the traveler need not fast while on the road, but is certainly expected to make up the lost number of days of fasting later when the journey is complete.

O you who believe, fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn self-restraint, fasting for a fixed number of days.  But if any of you is ill or on a journey, the prescribed number should be made up from days later.  For those who can do it with hardship is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent.  But he that will give more of his own free will, it is better for him.  And it is better for you that you fast, if you only knew.

Ramadan is the month in which was sent down the Qur’an as a guide to mankind, also clear Signs for guidance and judgment between right and wrong.  So every one of you who is present at his home during that month should spend it in fasting.  But if any one is ill or on a journey, the prescribed period should be made up by days later.  God intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties.  He wants you to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him in that He has guided you, and perchance you shall be grateful.  (002:183-185)

As-Sayyid Sabiq has summarized these exceptions to immediate fasting as follows: “People who are insane, minors, and those who are traveling, menstruating, or going through post-childbirth bleeding, and the elderly and breast-feeding or pregnant women do not need to observe the fast.” (As-Sayyid Sabiq 114)  Not all of these people are excused from fasting.  The insane are excused, not because they are physically incapable of fasting, but because they are not capable of understanding what they are doing.  This point is tied to the necessity of intention in all that a Muslim does.  The young (i.e., before puberty) are not required to fast, but are encouraged to try.  The elderly and chronically ill need not fast, but should pay a recompense for failing to do so by helping to feed someone who is indigent every day that the Muslim fails to fast.  (In fact, there is greater reward for such people to fast.  For a sick person to fast could bring them greater suffering, and that is forbidden by God.)  Those who may not fast due to temporary conditions are required to make up the fast later.

Having established that fasting is an unavoidable duty on Muslims, and what part of the year that the faithful should fast, the Qur’an then goes on to explain exactly what part of the day a Believer should observe the fast.  The test applied in the Qur’an is to distinguish between a white and a black thread.  The fast begins in the morning when there is enough light in the sky for the Believer to do so, to distinguish between the two threads.  The fast ends in the evening when the light has so dissipated that such a distinction is no longer clear. 

One begins a day of fasting by expressing one’s niyyat or intention of observing this essential requirement as a duty to God.  The niyyat in this case is expressed as follows: Nawaitu sawma ghadin ‘an ada’i fardi Ramadana hazihis-sanati lillahi ta’ala. (“I intend to fast for this day in order to perform my duty to God in the month of Ramadan of the present year.”)  Likewise, there is a particular recitation with which one ends each of the 30 days of fasting: Allahumma laka sumtu wa ‘ala rizqika aftartu. (“Oh God, for Your sake have I fasted, and now I break the fast with the food that comes from You.”)

During the hours of darkness, one may break the fast.  One may also enjoy sexual relations with one’s spouse during these hours, but not during the daylight hours.  The regulations concerning the fast thus prohibit not only food and drink, but also sex during the day, presumably to establish perfect purity during these hours when one’s mind should be fully dedicated to thoughts of God.

Permitted to you on the night of the fasts is the approach to your wives.  They are your garments and you are their garments.  God knows what you used to do secretly among yourselves, but He turned to you and forgave you.  So now associate with them, and seek what God Has ordained for you, and eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appears to you distinct from its black thread.  Then complete your fast till the night appears.  But do not associate with your wives while you are in retreat in the mosques.  Those are limits set by God.  Approach not nigh thereto.  Thus God makes clear His Signs to men, that they may learn self-restraint.  (002:187)

Should the faithful follow these injunctions, they may hope for great good from God.  Islamic traditions suggest that during the month of Ramadan, the gates of heaven are kept open, while the gates of hell are shut and all demons are chained within.  In other words, it is now that the faithful have the greatest opportunity to receive God’s mercy for their sins.  Sa’id al-Khudri reported that the Prophet said, “Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan, obeying all of its limitations and guarding himself against what is forbidden, has in fact atoned for any sins he committed before it.” (As-Sayyid Sabiq 109)

The Second Pillar: Salat (Worship and Prayer)

The command to pray appears again and again in the Qur’an.  Ritual prayer or salat is indeed one of the cornerstones of Islamic practice and has been enshrined as one of the five pillars of Islamic worship.  It therefore comes as no surprise to read God repeatedly adjuring his people to “be steadfast in prayer.  Give Zakah and bow down your heads with those who bow down in worship” (002:043).  Of all man’s duties before God, prayer is perhaps the most important and the most beneficial.  He who prays regularly, prostrating himself before God, stands in God’s estimation far above the one who offers no worship to God.  God reminds man that, “Prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of God is the greatest thing in life without doubt” (029:045).  However, through the Qur’an God is equally fervent in His commands that prayer be offered as He wills – that is, with full submission and faith in God.  Proper intent is at the core of right prayer.  Prayer without faith, without the sincere intent or niyya of submission to God’s will becomes meaningless words.

For Him alone is prayer in Truth.  Any others that they call upon besides Him hear them no more than if they were to stretch forth their hands for water to reach their mouths, but it reaches them not, for the prayer of those without Faith is nothing but futile wandering in the mind.  (013:014)

In case there is any doubt as to whether or not God actually listens to the prayers of the faithful, He clarifies this point in the Qur’an.  God is always listening, not only to our prayers, but to our ordinary speech as well; nothing is beyond God’s awareness.  He therefore hears whenever someone speaks ill using the names of God, and so the Qur’an warns us to speak properly the names of God: “The most beautiful names belong to God, so call on him by them; but shun such men as use profanity in his names.  For what they do, they will soon be requited” (007:180).  The faithful must therefore guard their speech, and be assured that God hears them.

When My servants ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close to them.  I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on Me.  Let them also, with a will, listen to My call and believe in Me, that they may walk in the right way.  (002:186)

And your Lord says, “Call on Me; I will answer your prayer.  But those who are too arrogant to serve Me will surely find themselves in Hell – in humiliation!” (040:060)

A reasonable question arises – when and how often should Muslims pray?  The most common indication in the Qur’an which responds to this question is that Muslims should pray regularly.  As a guidance to the believer, God reminds us that Abraham himself prayed to God, “O my Lord, make me one who establishes regular Prayer, and also raise such among my offspring, O our Lord, and accept You my Prayer” (014:040).  Apart from the injunction that man establish regular prayers, the Qur’an offers sometimes vague, sometimes detailed descriptions for the faithful concerning the correct form, type, and number of prayers, as well as when the faithful should pray.  One verses identifies the righteous as “those who spend the night in adoration of their Lord prostrate and standing” (025:064).  How long is this prostration meant to last?  The vagueness of this verse is typical of many verses related to prayer in the Qur’an.  While the text does not say straight out that Muslims must pray five times a day, for example, it does refer to prayers to be performed during certain times of the day, which together seem to add up to five, although the verses below could also be interpreted to refer to three or even four daily prayers.  These times, as in the following verses, seem to coincide with early morning “when you rise,” afternoon or late afternoon, early evening or dusk, and evening “when the day begins to decline.”

And establish regular prayers at the two ends of the day and at the approaches of the night.  For those things that are good remove those that are evil.  Be that the word of remembrance to those who remember their Lord.  (011:114)

Establish regular prayers – at the sun’s decline till the darkness of the night – and the recital of the Qur’an in the morning prayer, for the prayer and reading in the morning carry their testimony.  And pray in the small watches of the morning.  It would be an additional prayer or spiritual profit for you.  (017:078-079)

Patiently, then, persevere, for the Promise of God is true.  And ask forgiveness for your fault, and celebrate the Praises of your Lord in the evening and in the morning.  (040:055)

Of all prayer times, only one prayer is addressed by name in the Qur’an – the Friday Prayer.  Friday is distinguished by God as the Day of Assembly, and the following verse suggests that public attendance at the Friday Prayer deserves special attention, as is true in Muslim countries today.  The faithful are urged to leave off their current business in order that they may attend the Friday Prayer, which thereby becomes not only an act of obedience to God, but also an act of worship which binds the community together in common belief and practice.

O you who believe, when the call is proclaimed to prayer on Friday the Day of Assembly, hasten earnestly to the Remembrance of God, and leave off business and traffic.  That is best for you if you but knew!  And when the Prayer is finished, then may you disperse through the land, and seek of the Bounty of God.  And celebrate the Praises of God often and without stint, that you may prosper.  (062:009-010)

An important issue which arises in the Qur’an concerns the direction of prayer for the Muslim community.  It is clear that, while God initially directed the early Muslims to pray facing Jerusalem, he later tested their faith by redirecting their gaze to the Ka’ba or Sacred Mosque at Makkah. 

Thus, have We made of you an Ummat justly balanced, that you might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves.  And We appointed the Qibla to which you were used only to test those who followed the Messenger from those who would turn on their heels from the Faith.  Indeed it was a change momentous except to those guided by God.  And never would God make your faith of no effect.  For God is to all people most surely full of kindness, Most Merciful.  (002:143)

The First Pillar: Shahada (Testifying to the Oneness of God)

Previously, in writing about sufism, I made reference to the five pillars of Islam.  Perhaps I should step back now and offer a brief description of each of these pillars, which together constitute the foundation of a Muslim’s duty to God.  In a very real sense, for the faithful of Islam all behavior is informed and guided by their duty to God.  However, it is possible to identify in the Qur’an certain practices, some ritualistic, which are enjoined by God and which seem to have little direct bearing on family or society, but are rather intimately tied to our relationship with God. 

Five of these duties are described as the Pillars or fundamental principles of Islamic worship as manifested in both belief and practice.  In the Qur’an we are commanded to adhere to these principles.  Doing so pleases God and helps to reserve a place for us in the Eternal Gardens in the life to come.  Failure to perform these duties earns us God’s enmity and eternal suffering, but otherwise has no pertinent effect on those around us – on family or society.  Therefore, apart from the eternal punishment which awaits those who fail in these duties, the Qur’an specifies no earthly penalties for them, whereas violation of other Qur’anic injunctions – such as those related to theft or adultery – are condemned by God to earthly as well as eternal punishments.  However, it is one’s duty to God that forms the foundation of Islam.  Failure to uphold this foundation, to maintain these pillars, must of necessity exclude one from being a Muslim.  According to Islamic tradition, the Prophet Muhammad declared,

Islam is built upon the following five pillars: testifying that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger, the establishment of the prayer, the giving of zakah, the fast of Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to Makkah. (As-Sayyid Sabiq 108-109)

At the core of any form of Islamic belief, whether it be Sunni or Shi’i, orthodox or mystical, firmly stands the unshakable faith in the oneness of God, known as tawhid, which every Muslim affirms in the shahada:

Ash hadu an-lā ilāha illal lāhu, wa ash hadu an-na Muhammad an-‘abduhū wa rasūluh.

(I testify that there is no god but God, and I testify that Muhammad is His servant and Messenger.)

It is no coincidence that all serious references to the pillars of Islam begin with the shahada, as this is the cornerstone of Muslim belief, a belief which the Qur’an repeatedly reminds the faithful to keep ever in their thoughts.  Developing in the presence of two communities of kitabiyya or People of the Book, one of whom insisted on the paternity of God as father of Jesus, the Muslim community must never forget that, “There is no god but God,” a theme that is humbly yet forcefully repeated throughout the Qur’an.  Through the Prophet Muhammad, it is revealed to the believers, “And your God is One God.  There is no god but He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful” (002:163).

God!  There is no god but He, the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal.  No slumber can seize Him nor sleep.  His are all things in the heavens and on earth.  Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permits?  He knows what appears to His creatures as before or after or behind them.  Nor shall they compass aught of His knowledge except as He wills.  His Throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them, for He is the Most High, the Supreme in glory.  (002:255)

The oneness of God is further affirmed in a particular form of warning against the sin of polytheism or associating other beings with God, a warning often expressed throughout the Qur’an.  Such is the warning delivered by God’s Messengers to those who would associate other deities with God or who would continue to worship non-existent supernatural beings in God’s place.  They must accept that there are no other creators, no other protectors, no other helpers to save them when the time of Judgment arrives.  Nor do His Messengers share even slightly in His Divinity.  There is only God, to whom all will have to answer.  The following Qur’anic verses are typical of this kind of warning.

Know you not that to God belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth?  And besides Him you have neither patron nor helper.  (002:107)

Say: “Truly am I a Warner.  No god is there but the one God, Supreme and Irresistible, the Lord of the heavens and the earth, and all between, Exalted in Might, able to enforce His Will, forgiving again and again.” (038:065-066)

Yet they attribute to some of His servants a share with Him in his godhead!  Truly is man a blasphemous ingrate avowed! (043:015)

The Trinity of the Christians posed a peculiar challenge to the Prophet.  The Christians certainly extended out from the line of the Abrahamic faiths, believing in the one God, but from the Islamic perspective they had sinned in associating others with God, primarily an equally divine son.  As a warning specifically to Christians and as a response to their concerns and criticisms, the Qur’an instructs the believers to acknowledge that Jesus was no more than a man.  If he is to be revered, it must be as a Messenger of God, not as a god.

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion, nor say of God aught but the truth.  Christ Jesus the son of Mary was no more than a Messenger of God, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him.  So believe in God and His Messengers.  Say not “Trinity.”  Desist, it will be better for you, for God is one God.  Glory be to Him.  Far exalted is He above having a son.  To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth.  And enough is God as a Disposer of affairs.  (004:171)

They do blaspheme who say, “God is Christ the son of Mary.” But said Christ, “O Children of Israel! worship God, my Lord and your Lord.”  Whoever joins other gods with God, God will forbid him the Garden, and the Fire will be his abode.  There will be no one to help for the wrong-doers.  (005:072)

Christ the son of Mary was no more than a Messenger.  Many were the Messengers who passed away before him.  His mother was a woman of truth.  They had both to eat their (daily) food.  See how God makes His Signs clear to them, yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth! (005:075)

The oneness of God is so fundamental to Islamic faith, that rejection of it appears in the Qur’an to be the ultimate sin.  While God is “Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful,” there is, the Qur’an records, one thing which even God could never possibly forgive – the attribution of partners to Him.  Those who persist in their polytheistic beliefs, who die in error, believing that God has partners, will suffer the worst torment in the life to come.

Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers, for that they joined companions with God, for which He had sent no authority.  Their abode will be the Fire.  And evil is the home of the wrong-doers! (003:151)

God forgives not that partners should be set up with Him, but He forgives anything else to whom He pleases.  To set up partners with God is to devise a sin most heinous indeed.  (004:048)

God forgives not the sin of joining other gods with Him, but He forgives whom He pleases other sins than this.  One who joins other gods with God has strayed far, far away from the right.  (004:116)