Unlike many socialistic or capitalistic economies, the Islamic economy is the one in which all kinds of people have their own right to financially benefit from their society. Therefore, a typical feature of this kind of economy is essentially social justice in which poor people are not neglected or excluded from the beneficiary circle of society. Accordingly, Islam, the religion that even cares about animals and plants let alone human beings [i], has established some rules with regard to people who are suffering from deprivation; one of the most important of which is called “Zakat” (Alms Tax).
Alms-tax (Zakat) is an obligatory rule, which is considered one of the foundations of Islam [ii]. In a literal sense, Zakat means growth and purification while technically it is defined as “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”  in order to purify and cleanse one’s money or his incomes. Its significance becomes evident through many verses in the Holy Quran, which sometimes consider it along with prayer (Salat) as a sign of true believers .
Despite the fact that the concept of Zakat had never existed in the full form that Islam offers, it is not the first religion that introduces Zakat as a kind of task that should be done for the benefit of the individual as well as the society. According to the text of the Holy Quran, Jesus Christ and Moses, as well as Ishmael, are among the prophets who recommended their followers to carry out this advantageous task .
In the Bible, Christians are advised to help the poor financially: “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42) and “But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you” (Luk 11:41). Moreover, the act of “Tzedakah” in Judaism, is a religious obligation that includes almsgiving as one of its manifestations . However, in Islam Zakat is a compulsory rule while in others it is just a recommendation .
The performance of this vital task is accompanied by many definite and specific criteria:
A person will be obliged to pay Zakat if he is grown-up, of sound mind, and in possession of something.
A person is considered a good recipient of Zakat if he is living in poverty, in debt, and cannot pay for it. Also, it can be used for public jobs such as building schools, hospitals, etc.
The amount of money that should be paid depends on the kind of the material through which Zakat has become obligatory; these are two kinds of metal- gold, and silver-, four grains- barley, wheat, date, and raisin- as well as three kinds of animal - cow, sheep, and camel. Each of the aforementioned products has its particular amount and time of payment which have been specified in detail in the sharia of Islam . Nevertheless, under certain circumstances and based on the needs of people at every time, other things – whether an object or a concept (e.g., Knowledge) – may be included to which Zakat is ascribed.
There are certain manners that should be carefully observed when giving someone Zakat; for instance, it should be given with complete contentedness, respecting the person who is receiving it, and also should be from the best materials at hand .
Aside from its financial benefits - purifying one’s money, preventing the economy to be manipulated by a certain group of society, and enabling neglected people who are taken care of to act as advantageous agents of society and have a job-, it will also purify and elevate one’s soul.
This happens through collaborating and helping other members of the society which spread the spirit of kindness and affection, causes people to feel more attached to one another, form an unbreakable bond together, and finally direct one’s attention to others’ needs rather than his own. Also, it would relieve him from greediness and eventually make him a better person.
It is noteworthy that Zakat has been ascribed to those products that are provided for human beings through nature; most of the work has been done by nature for free and with the least effort of human beings. Of course, his mental and practical effort is involved, but the main part is accomplished by nature. So in order to make up for this generosity, we would give away a very small amount of money to the ones in need.
[i]. It is known through a hadith said by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) that watering a thirsty tree is like quenching thirsty Muslims with water .
[ii]. There are many hadiths that consider the skeleton of Islam to be founded on five practices: prayer (Salat), holy pilgrimage (Hajj), fasting (Sawm), alms-tax (Zakat), and guardianship (Velayat) .
- Sheikh Al-Hur Al-Aamili. Wasail Al-Shia. Vol. 7.
- Muhammad ibn Yaqub Al-Kulayni. Al-Kafi (The Sufficient Book). Vol. II. Tehran: Masjed Publication.
- Mohsen Qaraati. Khums and Zakat. Ahl al-beit's Maaref research and publication institute.
- Holy Quran 2:177,277- 4:162- 9:71
- Morteza Avini website
- Holy Quran 19:31, 55 – 2:43
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) , Prophethood (Nubuwwah), and Afterlife (Ma’ad) – to practical principles in Islam? Are they even related? If yes, how is this relationship justified? What comes next will hopefully provide an answer to these questions.
To have a better understanding of the relationship between the axioms and practical principles in Islam, 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.
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 prior, 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&HP) and the coming of the Judgment Day; that no one deserves worshiping other than Allah Almighty, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) 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.
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 relationship 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: 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 between 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.
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 the 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  duty” – i.e., the duty that will lose its obligation if a group of Muslims has 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 and requires its followers to exhibit specific behaviors; these actions root back in those axioms, and the axioms are prior to them.
Let’s have a brief look at the ten practical principles of the religion of Islam:
Prayer (Salat): The performance of the daily prayer five times a day with a specific form.
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) until Dusk prayer(Salat al-Maghrib).
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.
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.
Khums: A money proportional to one fifth that every person should pay based on some certain criteria.
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.
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.
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.
Expressing Love towards Good (Tawalla): To have a feeling of affection and love, affirmation, submission, and acceptance toward guardianship of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), and the twelve Imams.
Expressing disassociation from Evil (Tabarra): having a feeling of disassociation and dislike toward the enemies of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and twelve Imams.
 That God exists and He is one.
 It is enough for this duty to be performed by some people and then be followed by others.
Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. The root of the word in most of the dictionaries refers to strong heat or burnt earth. Some commentators use this meaning to refer to the heat and hardship that people endure during Ramadan fasting. However, there is another meaning for the root of the Arabic word “Ramadan” which refers to the clouds and the rain at the end of summer and beginning of fall.  Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) says: “Indeed, it is called Ramadan because it burns the sins”.  In this narration both meanings can be adopted, since based on the first meaning it burns the sins, and based on the second meaning, it quenches the fire that is the consequence of sins.
Contemplating on the verse of the Quran “The month of Ramadhan is one in which the Quran was sent down as guidance to mankind, with manifest proofs of guidance and the Criterion…” (2:185), one can conclude that the second meaning that was mentioned for the word “Ramadan” is more suitable to describe this month; a month in which blessings and bounties of Allah (SWT) shower on His servants. One of those blessings as mentioned in the above verse is the Holy Quran which was revealed in Ramadan on the greatest night of the year: “Indeed We sent it down on the Night of Ordainment” (97: 1). In another verse, Allah (SWT) mentions, “We sent it down on a blessed night.” (44:3)
The three mentioned verses have some points that can help us think and discover if the month of Ramadan became a holy month after Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) brought Islam, or was it always a holy month throughout history?
As mentioned in the above verses and other verses of the Quran, Allah (SWT) tells us that:
1- The Quran was revealed in the Holy month of Ramadan. (2:185)
2- The Quran was revealed on the night of decree. (97: 1)
3- The night of decree is so high in a position that no normal human being can understand its status and value: “And what can make you know what is the Night of Decree? The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months.” (97:2-3)
4- According to verse 44: 4, every firm ruling is dispatched on that night. These rulings are the decrees concerning the way the affairs of the world should run until the same time next year. Such a concept which is related to the creation should have been an eternal matter and could not have come about just by the advent of Islam.
By doing simple math on the above verses, we can conclude that before the Quran was revealed, the night of decree existed as a blessed night, and by Allah’s will the Quran was revealed in this blessed night. Therefore, Ramadan always existed as a blessed month in which the night of decree has always been a prominent night.
The word fasting is mentioned a few times in the Quran when Allah orders Prophet Zachariah (PBUH) and Saint Mary to avoid talking to people: “Then if you see any human, say, ‘‘Indeed I have vowed a fast to the All-beneficent, so I will not speak to any human today.’’ (19:26)
The above verse shows that there have been different traditions of avoiding specific things, which has been called fasting. However, the verse of the Quran that makes fasting an obligation on Muslims says: “O you who have faith! Prescribed for you is fasting as it was prescribed for those who were before you, so that you may be Godwary.” (2:183)
The commentators of the Quran have disagreed about the purport of this verse. Some argue that the phrase as it was prescribed for those who were before you is referring to the concept of fasting only. It means that the previous nations were told to fast like you are told, however, the verse is silent about the time or the way of their fasting. Others, say that as it was prescribed for those who were before you means that the fast of Ramadan was prescribed for them exactly in the same way that it is prescribed for you.
Looking into the rules and descriptions of fasting in Christian and Jewish traditions would certainly support the first view since neither of these religions have fasting in Ramadan as part of their traditions. However, some commentators, quoting Hasan al-Basri have argued that the verse refers to Christian fasting which was originally ordained to be in Ramadan but they changed it over time. They say that fasting during the Lent season which in Christian tradition is related to the testing of Jesus in the wilderness is not the original concept of fast in Christianity. Rather, what was originally prescribed for them was the fast of Ramadan, but since as a lunar month it circulated over different seasons, the leaders of the church decided to fix it in the spring and add ten days to it as an atonement for such a change. It was then called Lent and related to the 40 days of Jesus’s tests in the wilderness.
However, we have to regard this as an odd view, since nothing in history can support such a development. Thus, as most of the commentators say, as it was prescribed for those who were before you, means that people of previous Scriptures were also told to fast, although not exactly in the month of Ramadan.
However, there is a third view here which can be regarded as a combination of the above two views, and as a view that makes the sanctity of Ramadan of a primordial nature. It is narrated from Imam Sadiq (AS) that “Allah (SWT) has not made fasting of Ramadan compulsory on any nation before Muslims.” He was asked about the interpretation of the verse “as it was prescribed for those who were before you”, where he replied: “Allah had made fasting of Ramadhan compulsory on the Prophets before you, but He prioritized this nation by it and made fasting an obligation on the Prophet and his followers.”  This means although fasting of Ramadan was not prescribed for previous nations, the past prophets used to honor Ramadan by fasting during the month. Something similar to this is reported about Hajj too. It is narrated that although Hajj is an exclusive obligation of the nation of Islam, however, prophets of the past nations including Moses and Jesus performed Hajj.
It is also narrated that the first Prophet who fasted was Prophet Adam: “when Adam ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, that fruit remained in his stomach for thirty days, and it was then that Allah made the thirty days of fasting obligatory on Adam and his generation.” 
In conclusion, what could be firmly said, is that fasting is not an obligation specific to Muslims only. All nations who received Scriptures were also told to fast like Muslims are told to fast, although the details about how and when they must fast may have been different.
- Mizan al-Hikmah, Hadith No. 7441
- Man- la- Yahzuruhul faqih, vol. 2, p. 99
- Man- la- Yahzuruhul faqih, vol. 2, p. 74
- Imam Fakhr-e Razi, Tafseer Surah Al-Baqarah, P. 59