Faith in the religion of Islam is based on rational thinking. Quranic teachings always encourage people to achieve faith through reasoning and do not consider mere devotional cognition as adequate. Hence one should accept the Islamic axioms (Monotheism (Tawhid), Prophethood (Nubuwwah), and Afterlife (Ma’ad)) logically.
The above-mentioned Islamic axioms are constant, immutable, and limited, whereas new events and issues of each time are changeable and infinite. Consequently, there needs to be some Islamic scholars or experts who know the Islamic teachings in general and are aware of the contingent issues of the time and their solutions in particular, which makes them responsible for inference of new laws from basic principles of Islam (Ijtihad) in accordance with the needs of changing times and the requirements of new phenomena of human civilization .
On the other hand, the Integration of different people to Islam with their particular way of thinking, living with leaders of various religions, the religious discussions between them and the Muslims, and the appearance of Islamic philosophy would always arise doubts and uncertainties. So it necessitated research on the principles of Islam and justifying them especially after the time of the last Prophet (PBUH) and the Imams.
Muslim scholars have always proved that the Islamic teachings are dynamic, compatible with the passage of time, and capable of fulfilling the requirements of each age, generation, and civilization; this would, in consequence, develop the Islamic society and lead it through the path of evolution and perfection in many parts of the world, especially in the first centuries.
The literal meaning of Ijtihad is to do one's utmost while striving and making effort to reach a goal which in this case is to endeavor to deduce the divine laws of Islam from the reliable sources and proofs, i.e. the Holy Quran, the historical tradition (Sunnah) [i], consensus (Ijma`) [ii], and reason (`Aql).
The term Mujtahid (the religious expert), derived from Ijtihad, refers to a person who endeavors in the way of Allah to derive laws and decrees regarding the religious fundamentals through all kinds of hardships and difficulties.
Ijtihad, which is of great importance in the religion of Islam, guarantees its persistence. Muslims have always been urged to study Islamic science and everything else which is necessary for the development and well-being of their society.
However, it is not compulsory (Wajib) for every single Muslim to become a religious expert (Mujtahid) due to its difficulty and some people’s inability to comprehend and derive Islamic laws all by themselves. It means that the obligation is on the community as a whole and so when a group of people devote themselves to the science of religion to guide the Muslims, then the obligation is lifted from the rest of the society .
Quran says: “why should not there go forth a group from each of their sections to become learned in religion, and to warn their people when they return to them, so that they may beware?” (9:122)
It is noteworthy that even though it is a sufficiency duty, every single person in the Islamic community can learn the science of religion and do Ijtihad individually. Therefore this science is not associated with a particular class of the society; rather, it only depends on acquiring the necessary knowledge and intellectual skills. So if a Muslim is not capable of attaining such level of knowledge that would enable him/her to deduce religious laws for himself/herself, it is compulsory for them to refer to an expert who has specialized in this field, i.e., Mujtahid.
A fully qualified religious expert (Mujtahid), who is supposed to study and deduce the practical laws of Islam according to the time requirements, needs to have specific features, the most significant of which are:
Being able to fully understand the Holy Quran and the other religious sources to discover practical laws from their origins.
Being equitable and trustworthy
Being capable of refraining from sins
Being able to keep away from earthly desires
It is also important to bear in mind that the religious experts (Mujtahids) do not ever issue a decree (Fatwa) unless they have found adequate and reliable proofs and evidence in the Quran, historical tradition (Sunnah), reason, and consensus; which is when they inform the people of God’s commandments.
Taqlid in Islam literally means "to follow or imitate someone" in the realm of religious do’s and don’ts or the religious laws one must obey. In Islamic terminology, it means to comply with the edicts of a religious expert (Mujtahid) regarding practical affairs of religion. Broadly speaking, imitation is classified into four different categories among people:
An unlearned following another unlearned
A learned following an unlearned
A learned following another learned
An unlearned following a learned
Quran, however, mentions two of the above; “an unlearned following another unlearned,” which is strictly prohibited:
“For when they are told, "Come unto that which God has bestowed from on high, and unto the Apostle" - they answer, "Enough for us is that which we found our forefathers believing in and doing." Why, even though their forefathers knew nothing, and were devoid of all guidance?” (5:104)
And that of “an unlearned following a learned” (the focus of this article):
“Ask the People of the Book if you do not know” (21:7)
In Islamic thinking, the latter is the only acceptable kind of Taqlid in Islam that appeals to man's rationale. According to common sense, we follow the guidance of a religious expert (Mujtahid) who knows the laws of religion, just as we voluntarily conform to the advice of a doctor when we need medical attention, or in the same way, we consult lawyers and comply with their recommendations. It is inherent in man's nature to resort to experts in fields wherein he lacks expertise.
Practical matters of faith are no different. We, therefore, comply with an expert in the field of practical religious affairs too . In this kind of Taqlid in Islam, which is permitted in Islam, two important elements are involved; firstly, the imitator (Muqallid) must completely trust and have confidence in the religious expert (Mujtahid). Secondly, imitation (Taqlid) must fulfill the imitator’s (Muqallid) demands and lead him/her to perfection. Clearly, this does not make sense in the other forms of imitation (Taqlid) but the last one.
In short, the religious concepts and teachings of Islam fit into two main parts; the axioms and the practical commandments (practical principles). As for the Islamic axioms, i.e., Monotheism (Tawhid), Prophethood (Nubuwwah), and Afterlife (Ma’ad), no one is allowed to imitate; instead, each person is supposed to investigate and accept them individually since they are regarded as the main entrance to the religion of Islam.
But about Practical principles, which are obligatory practical commandments, Muslims are encouraged to investigate and find them out as individuals if they are able to do so; obviously, they are not allowed to imitate anyone. If they are not capable, though, they have to follow religious experts (Mujtahid) who have become specialized in Islamic science fully and deeply.
It is learned in this article that the cases in which Taqlid in Islam or imitation is allowed, are very limited in Islam. In fact, it is possible for every single Muslim to step on the path of investigation to attain knowledge and awareness about the truth and commandments of Islam themselves.
[i]. the primary source of law taken from the sayings, actions, and approvals of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
[ii]. acceptance of a matter by a specified group of Muslim scholars
One of the ten practical principles of Islam, The Holy Struggle, Jihad, is literally defined as “hardship, endeavor, exaggeration in work, reaching the height of something and capability”, while in the Sharia of Islam Jihad is 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.
The essence of Jihad lies in Defense, thus any violence which is shown with the intention of invading a country or a nation’s lives, property, etc. and for manipulating their economic potentials or human resources, not only is not called Jihad but also considered as the overt manifestation of injustice and cruelty which is strongly rejected in Islam.
If an individual or a nation participates in a struggle in order to defend their life, money, property, or independence, they have in fact committed a holy task since they have stood up against the injustice of the intruder who has questioned their legitimate human rights. Therefore, the act of Jihad is permitted in the following cases:
When the life and possessions of the people of a country are threatened by the invasion of the intruders and opportunists, they have the right to defend themselves against these threats and retain what has been taken away from them.
It is the whole nation’s responsibility to defend the personal and domestic privacy of its members, preventing the enemies to violate and invade the family units especially women and children.
To defend national independence and integrity is a totally legitimate action for a nation. Accordingly, if a government or nation tends to undermine or insult the independence of another nation and try to manipulate them, the latter is bound to defend itself in order to restore its legitimate rights.
The struggle to retain your rights is not limited to an individual or a nation; rather there are some values that are far beyond these and include the whole of humanity. In other words, Jihad is the act of defending the “right” that spans not only personal and public ones but also that of humanity.
Freedom is one of these human values that is precious for every single person on earth regardless of their nationality or religion, so when it is threatened or undermined in any place around the world every conscious soul finds it necessary and feels responsible to defend and retain it; if a group of people is being oppressed or treated unfairly, one cannot and should not remain indifferent to this injustice and is bound to fight for their freedom. There existed and still exist many freedom-loving people who are not just concerned about their own country or nation and instead strive for the freedom of all human beings around the globe.
To further illustrate this issue, let’s consider this example: nowadays, medical researchers are in a constant struggle to find a final and determinate cure for cancer, but they are still unsuccessful. Imagine the cure was found by a medical company, but its managers amassed it and prevented people from using it in order to increase their own interest, or even destroyed the formula so that no one would reach it, they have violated the rights of the whole humanity and should be fought with.
The answer is yes monotheism, and the concepts like this are of human values and need to be defended, but it does not mean that we are allowed to impose these beliefs on an individual or a nation since faith and belief is something that each person should reach and accept through his own intellectual and logical investigation and not through force; this is clearly reflected in this verse of Holy Quran: “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:256).
Nevertheless, if this axiom -or any other fundamental belief in Islam- is being threatened or insulted in order to arise enmity and to undermine Islam, it is every Muslim’s duty to stand up for this cause.
Up to this point, we understood that the keyword in the definition of Jihad is Defense in the four cases above. The religion of Islam is fundamentally the religion of peace and strongly recommends a peaceful relationship with others, as these verses explicitly reveal: “And if they incline toward peace, then you [too] incline toward it, and put your trust in Allah. Indeed He is the All-hearing, the All-knowing” (8:61), or “So if they [polytheists] keep out of your way and do not fight you, and offer you peace, then Allah does not allow you any course[of action ]against them”(4: 90).
However Islam makes a clear distinction between the idea of peace and surrender; while it encourages the former, it emphatically rejects the latter. In other words, peace is reached when both parties are on friendly terms, respecting each other’s beliefs and rights mutually, and live beside one another without intruding or violating each other’s rights.
But if one of the parties were to keep on invading the other one – either covertly or overtly -, and the one whose rights have been threatened did not react, this would not be called peace anymore, rather surrendering and yielding to their injustice which is totally unacceptable in Islam.
Finally, it should be noted that Islam is a religion that ranges all aspects of human’s life and has established rules for each; accordingly, it should include a rule which would protect individuals as well as the society against possible threats and guarantee society’s tranquility and harmony through retaining the social justice. Jihad is that principle that would practically provide these opportunities for Muslims.
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