The Relationship between Axioms and Practical Principles of Religion

After introducing the axioms of Islam and finding faith in them, the next step in this life-changing journey is to accomplish certain commands as a result of those beliefs which will lead us to a life of eternal satisfaction and bliss. Now one might wonder, what relates those fundamental principles or axioms – i.e. Monotheism (Tawhid) [1], Prophethood (Nubuwwah), and Afterlife (Ma’ad) – to practical principles of religion? Are they even related? If yes, how is this relationship justified? What comes next will hopefully provide an answer to these questions.  

What is religion?

To have a better understanding of the relationship between the axioms and practical principles, we should first fully grasp the meaning of religion. Religion, in one sense, is defined as the collection of a series of fundamental and necessary beliefs -axioms- along with some practical commandments. The beliefs are the foundations, and the instructions are the means of putting the axioms into practice that may include juridical, legal, social, ethical, spiritual and political rules and regulations.

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The Elements of Religion

Having the definition of religion in mind, we can consider two elements or constituent parts for it: 1. Beliefs (axioms), 2. The practical commandments and instructions (practical principles). Typically, since the instructions are devised with regard to the axioms, then these principal beliefs are considered as primary, a priori and foundational, while the practical commands become subsidiary, ancillary and as the pillars built on those foundations.

In addition, according to the Islamic doctrine, the prerequisite of this religion is one’s faith in the existence and Oneness of God as well as in the Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH) and the coming of the Judgment Day; that no one deserves worshiping other than Allah Almighty, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has been chosen for Prophethood by Him as the last prophet and that this life is surely followed by another one.  The first two are, as a matter of fact, the content of what we call Shahadatain or the two testimonies, that by uttering them, one will enter the world of Muslims. But, this is only a gateway to Islam and a platform for further practices that will ultimately make one a perfect Muslim and believer.

The Nature of Relationship between the Elements of Religion

We might suppose many kinds of relationship between the elements - Axioms and Practical principles - of religion, including: the pearl and shell relationship, the innate and parallel relationship, the root and stem relationship.

One case scenario is to consider the relation between these two constituent parts like a pearl and its shell; that is one of these parts is primary and the other secondary, and what matters is the primary one. In other words, it is enough for one to find faith in the axioms of religion and the practical principles are only there for us to reach those axioms; that being done, they have fulfilled their purpose and there is no need for them anymore. Analogously, the shell does not worth anything by itself, its only importance is to keep the pearl safe. Anyone who looks for a shell, is actually after the pearl in it and once he finds it, he will throw away the shell instantly.

Another case scenario regards this relationship of parallel and innate kind. It claims that religion has three aspects: the Islamic law, the path and truth. The axioms of religion are its truth, while the law and path - which are the practical principles of religion -   only provide the way to reach the truth. Thus, like the previous assumption, if someone reaches the truth, then he will no more need the law and the path. 

But what is the most proper relationship of these two? This association is neither like pearl and shell nor of parallel and innate kind. While we believe in the primacy of the axioms, we don’t consider the practical principles of religion as marginal and unimportant; there is a mutual relationship between practical doctrines of Islam and theoretical knowledge of religion. If there is any suitable way of elucidating this issue metaphorically, that would be through the relationship of the root and stem of a tree. In this kind of relationship, no part can be considered as independent of the other, they closely correlate. Believing in certain axioms, necessitates the manifestation of a particular demeanor which requires the reinforcement of the belief in those fundamental principles. Similarly, every root has its own kind of stem and fruit that will grow and be nourished by the sun and ultimately fortify the root.

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The Difference between Axioms and Practical Principles of Religion

From what we have said so far, it is crystal clear that practical principles require active practice whereas axioms need knowledge and firm belief. Accordingly, in case of the axioms imitation – no matter from who - is absolutely forbidden and they should be accepted through careful investigation and precise reasoning individually, while practical principles are mainly practiced with a degree of submission to God; the main purpose of these rules is the action itself. That is why it is said that knowing and understanding the axioms  is an “individual duty” – i.e. the duty that every single Muslim is bound to perform, e.g. performing Salat - for each Muslim, while being familiar with the practical principles  is a “sufficiency [2] duty” – i.e. the duty that will lose its obligation if a group of Muslims have performed it.   

It is noteworthy that the actions and behaviors that practical principles suggest will not result in our spiritual and psychological revolution and development, unless we have a thorough understanding of the axioms and have accepted them rationally. In other words, the religion is constituted of certain principles which are its intellectual basis, that require its followers to exhibit specific behaviors; these actions root back in those axioms and the axioms are prior to them.

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What are the Practical Principles?

Let’s have a brief look at the ten practical principles of the religion of Islam:   

  1. Prayer (Salat): The performance of the daily prayer five times a day with specific form.
  2. Fasting (Sawm): The act of voluntarily preventing oneself from eating and drinking during a particular part of the day – from the time of Dawn Prayer (Salat al-Fajr)
  3.  until Dusk prayer(Salat al- Maghrib).
  4. The Holy Pilgrimage (Hajj):  An annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, and a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by those who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence.
  5. Alms-tax (Zakat): Paying an exact amount of money that has become obligatory through the rules of Sharia in order to be used in favor of the people in need or for certain beneficial deeds in society.
  6. Khums: A money proportional to one fifth that every person should pay based on some certain criteria.
  7. The Holy Struggle (Jihad): Technically, a special kind of attempt, which includes sacrificing one’s life and property primarily for the sake of Allah, elevating and sustaining Islamic beliefs and standpoints. In this sense, Jihad is the act of Defending the Islamic territory against the assaults and intrusions of outsiders and invaders. Literally, this word is defined as the striving of one’s soul against the temptation of the devil and his own whim.   
  8. Enjoining what is right (al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf): To invite other Muslims to goodness and righteousness, with regard to certain conditions and through specific manners.
  9. Forbidding what is wrong (nahy ʿani-l-munkar): To dissuade other Muslims from doing what is wrong, sinful or immoral, with regard to certain conditions and through specific manners.
  10.  Expressing Love towards Good (Tawalla): To have a feeling of affection and love, affirmation, submission and acceptance toward guardianship of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the twelve Imams.
  11. Expressing disassociation from Evil (Tabarra): having a feeling of disassociation and dislike toward the enemies of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and twelve Imams

 

Notes:

[1] That God exists and He is one.

[2] It is enough for this duty to be performed by a number of people and then be followed by others.