The five pillars of Islam are widely known in the Muslim world to refer to first, a declaration (literally “I bear witness”) that there is no God but Allah, and that Mohammad is His Prophet. The name Allah is the Arabic Word for God and does not mean some other “deity.” The second pillar is the establishment of daily salat, referring to a form of worship often translated as “prayer,” but with specific protocols such as a direction to face and exact times of day to be performed. The third pillar is the zakat, which refers to a portion of one’s income to be paid to charity set aside specifically for the poor. The fourth is to fast for the month of Ramadan, and the fifth is performance of the Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in one’s lifetime if able. But there is a sixth important pillar missing from this list: reading the Quran.
If a Muslim performs all of the actions required in the Five Pillars list, but does not read the Quran, s/he would be lacking in knowledge of the religion of Islam. Limiting Islam to five pillars does not, of course, mean Muslims shouldn’t read the Quran, and they are of course encouraged to do so. Often “read” means merely “recite”, or “mouth the words”, in Arabic, with no understanding. That is not what I mean by the sixth pillar. To read the Quran means to read for comprehension, to understand what one is reading. Because the Quran is in Arabic, it also means to question translations and seek the best of knowledge as much as possible. That may be difficult for non-Arabic speakers, although many mosques do have educational programs to teach Arabic.
Yet even in Muslim countries where Arabic is the mother tongue, Quranic Arabic is sometimes wrongly understood or interpreted, according to changes to dialects over time. Even more harmful, many Arabic speakers only recite mindlessly, thinking that each letter is a “hassana” or good deed regardless if the reader pays any attention to the meaning of what they recite, or not. Surely what is written in the Quran refers to listening to the meaning, not merely the sounds, the point being to comprehend and obtain wisdom.
From Surat Al-Araaf 7:204:
وَإِذَا قُرِئَ ٱلْقُرْءَانُ فَٱسْتَمِعُوا۟ لَهُۥ وَأَنصِتُوا۟ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ ﴿٢٠٤﴾
204. When the Qur’an is read, listen to it with attention, and hold your peace: that you may receive Mercy.
To “listen…with attention” means to listen for the meanings, not for the sounds alone, certainly not for the skill or voice of the reader, which is what often happens now that “reading” or “reciting” the Quran has come to mean “chanting,” due to an erroneous hadeeth claiming that whoever reads the Quran without chanting is “not from our (Prophet Mohammad’s) nation.” Here is where I would interject, afa la t’aqiloon?
أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ Will you not use your minds?
The Quran is first a message, not a work of art. But of course, it is not only a message, but a divine message, a revelation from the Most High. Taking this into consideration means listening carefully and deeply to the words as they are read. The Quran is in fact the basis for Islam. Faith in its veracity unites all Muslims, regardless to sect. And its language transformed Arabic into a far higher, more robust language, directing its tradition of poetry and rhetorical beauty into a sublime purpose.
We are enjoined to read and understand and indeed follow the guidance of the Quran. Without reading it, all the other forms of worship would lose their actual significance. For it is not a matter of going through motions and rituals or repeating certain phrases as a matter of habit. Without understanding the meaning and import of these acts of worship, they would be merely an empty show. We see many examples of this. So certainly this act, the act of reading the Quran, helps us use our minds and grow spiritually through engaging the higher intellect. Indeed, reading the Quran is the pillar that holds up the other five, if only we knew.
Allah Himself explains the Quran to us:
Holy Quran 2:242
كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ
This is how Allah explains His verses to you so that you may understand.
And understanding is not achieved by mere rote learning. Will you not use your minds?