In the present time, many people have sought to reduce the entire meaning of Islam to the practice of the so-called ‘Five Pillars of Islam’. In doing so, they flatten and hollow out the theological and intellectual depth of the faith. As Islam has developed historically, the Pillars have never constituted the entirety of religion. The Pillars belong to a grander and more comprehensive religious framework which includes both theological truths and ritual practices. This framework traditionally consists of the Roots of Religion (Uṣūl al-Dīn) and the Branches of Religion (Furū‘ al-Dīn) and is articulated using the Qur’ānic metaphor of a tree:
Alam tara kayfa ḍaraba’llāhu mathalan kalimatan ṭayyibatan kashajaratin ṭayyibatan aṣluhā thābitun wa far‘uhā fī’l-samā’i tu’tī ukulahā kulla ḥīnin bi-idhni rabbihā wayaḍribu’llāhu’l-amthāla la‘allahum yatadhakkarūna
“Have you not seen how God sets forth the example of a Good Word like a Good Tree? Its Root firmly set and its Branch in heaven. Giving its fruit in all seasons by the permission of its Lord. And God sets forth examples for mankind so that they may remember.” (Holy Qur’ān 14:24)
The Furū‘ al-Dīn consist of the core religious practices and rituals. The word furū‘ (singl. far) means ‘branches’. The Furū‘ al-Dīn are to religion what the branches are to the tree. The branches are above the ground, exposed to the environment and bear the fruits of the tree. Similarly, the ritual practices of Islam are subject to the change and developments of human history and culture while serving as as a means of spiritual benefit for the community.
The Furū‘ al-Dīn are what people today call the “Pillars of Islam”. But the Pillars do not suffice in themselves – they must be accompanied by the knowledge of the Uṣūl or theological truths to bring spiritual benefit.
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