Why we have to pray
five times a day? Why dogs and hogs are regarded
unclean (najis)? Why an animal slaughtered in a
non-Islamic way is forbidden (haram) and unclean?"
These are but a few of the many questions asked by
our youngsters about the laws of the shari'ah. They
want to "rationalize" each and every law of the
shari'ah; they want to know the reason and purpose
of the legislation of these laws. Before explaining
the validity or otherwise of the "rationalization"
of the shari'ah, it seems necessary to clarify the
fundamental attitude of a Muslim towards the
Islam is a din-religion. Din means a complete system
of life consisting of beliefs and laws. To know the
Islamic attitude of the Muslims towards the laws of
the shari'ah, we have to study the Qur'an and hadith.
In the Qur'an and hadith we find two different
attitudes towards two different aspects of din.
These two aspects of din are: a) the fundamental
beliefs known as usu-lu'd-din-the roots of religion;
b) the laws of the shari'ah known in general as
furu'd-din - the branches of religion.
In regard to the "roots of religion-, Islam expects
the Muslims to hold their belief in the fundamentals
of their religion after attaining conviction of
their truth through examination and reflection. The
Qur'an clearly condemns those who follow others
blindly in matters of beliefs:
There is no compulsion in [accepting the] religion
[of Islam because] truly the right way has become
clearly distinct from error. (2:256) Again the
Qur'an says: And when it is said to them, "Come to
what Allah has sent down, and the Messenger," they
say, "Enough for us is what we found our fathers
doing." What, even if their fathers had knowledge of
naught and were not rightly-guided? (5:104) This
strong condemnation of the idol-worshippers is
repeated elsewhere: And when it is said to them,
"Follow what Allah has sent down," they say, "No,
but we will follow such things as we found our
fathers doing." (2:170 and 31:20) Islam says that
one may consider the views and opinions of others,
but that one should only accept that which is
reasonable to believe: "So give thou (O Muhammad)
good tidings to My servants who give ear to the word
and follow the fairest of it. Those are they whom
Allah has guided, and those are men possessed of
Likewise, in the books of ahadith we find the
Prophet and the Imams of Ahlu 'l-bayt using
intellectual arguments in matters of beliefs to
convince their opponents or the seekers of truth.
This itself is an example and sunnah for the Muslims
to base their beliefs on understanding and
conviction. But when it comes to the "branches of
religion", Islam expects absolute obedience from the
Muslims. The reason of this expectation is very
obvious: Once a Muslim has believed, by his own
free-will, in Allah as the Creator and the Wise
Author of laws, in Muhammad as the infallible
Messenger of Allah, and in the Qur'an as the message
of Allah-it follows as a necessary consequence that
he must adhere to the shari'ah. This absolute
obedience regarding the shari'ah can be inferred
from the following verses:
It behoves not a believing man and believing woman
that they should have any choice in their affairs
when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter;
and whosoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he
surely has strayed off a manifest straying. (33:36)
O you who believe! Do not take presidence before
Allah and His Messenger [in matters of the shari'ah]
and fear Allah; surely Allah is Hearing, Knowing.
(49:1) O you who believe! Obey Allah, obey the
Messenger and those who are in authority among you
(i.e., the Imams). (4:59) We have not sent a
Messenger but to be obeyed. (4:64)
To summarize: In Islamic beliefs, a Muslim is
expected to believe only after reflection; and in
Islamic laws, he is expected to follow them without
Now we come to the problem that why such and such
law of the shari'ah was legislated. Considering the
reasons and purposes of the laws, the shari'ah can
be divided into four categories:-
The laws whose reasons and purposes are self-
evident, like helping the needy is highly
recommended (mustahab), killing is forbidden (haram),
paying taxes like khums and zakat is obligatory (wajib).
One does not need any expertise or extra-ordinary
intelligence to know that helping the needy is good,
paying taxes is neccessary for preserving the
financial equilibrium in the society; and that
killing and lying is evil.
The laws whose reasons and purposes have been
explained in the Qur'an and hadith, like intoxicants
are forbidden, interest is prohibited, fasting in
the month of Ramadhan is obligatory and prayers is
The Qur'an and the hadith have said that intoxicant
is one of the main causes of evil because an
intoxicated person is no longer in control of
himself. Although it took the world a long time and
a bitter experience to realize the harm of
drunkenness, Islam declared its harm and evil 1400
years before by saying that "its sin is greater than
its [financial or other] profit." (2:219).
Interest is prohibited. The Qur'an and hadith have
explained the harm of interest. Interest leads to
destruction of the poor section of the society, and
all wealth-gravitates towards the already wealthy
Fasting is a physical and spiritual training which
brings the servants of Allah nearer to Him and makes
them more obedient to the shari'ah.
Prayers is a means of expressing our gratitude to
Allah- O you who believe! Eat of the good things
that We have provided you with and thank Allah.
(2:172); it is an important way of achieving peace
of mind-surely by Allah's remembrance are the hearts
set at rest (13:28); and it is also a very effective
method of making the believer more obedient to the
laws- surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency
and evil (29:45).
There are many ahadith of our Imams explaining the
reasons and purposes of many laws of the shari'ah.
Shaykh as-Saduq, the famous Shi'ite scholar (d. 381
A.H.), has collected many of these ahadith in his 'Ilalu
The laws whose reasons and purposes have not been
explained in the Qur'an or hadith, but the rising
horizons of human knowledge have helped in
understanding their purpose and usefulness: e.g.,
why the meat of hog is forbidden; why circumcision
is highly recommended by the shari'ah, and why only
the fish which has scales is permitted in Islam. 
For the benefit of circumcision, we quote Sherman
Silber who says that: "There are a number of reasons
why circumcision is beneficial and why it ought best
be performed in infancy. First, ... it prevents
cancer of the penis in later life ... Cancer of
penis generally occurs when there has been
carelessness in taking care of one's foreskin. . . A
second benefit of circumcision is that the wives of
circumcised men are less commonly afflicted with
cancer of the cervix. . . The most common benefit of
circumcision is that it prevents accumulation of
oils and secretions (called smegma) under the
foreskin, which lead to infection, swelling, and
sometimes contraction of the foreskin so the tip of
the penis is trapped inside." 
About the fish, it has been said that the fishes
that do not have scales are harmful to human beings.
Based on that research, American troops in the east
were directed that "tropical marine fishes without
scales were to be left alone."
It must be mentioned here that the reasons of the
shari'ah laws which have been discovered by human
knowledge cannot be regarded as the actual reason
(ratio legis) for the legislation of those laws,
because the human knowledge is still in its infancy
whereas Islam, the final shari'ah of Allah, is to
stay in practise up to the end of this world.
However, the scientific facts can be used to explain
the usefulness and benefits of the laws of the
The laws whose reasons and purposes have neither
been explained in the Qur'an and hadith, nor the new
advancement in human knowledge has been able to
explain them: e.g., why four rak'ahs in zohr, 'asr'
and 'isha' prayers while only three in maghrib and
two in subh. (Rak'ah means the bending of the torso
from an upright position in prayers).
As far as the first three types of laws are
concerned, there is not much problem in explaining
their reasons and purposes. The problem arises when
one starts to rationalize the laws which come under
the fourth category.
Regarding the laws of the fourth category, the only
thing which can be said is that a Muslim should have
complete faith that there surely are useful purposes
in these types of laws. The purposes can be of
material or spiritual nature, or both. Why we should
have such a confidence in these laws of the shari'ah?
Because we, the Shi'ah Ithna 'Asharis, believe that
all the actions of Allah have purpose, and that they
are for the benefit of human beings; and this
includes the laws of the shari'ah.  On basis of
this belief, we must have confidence that all His
laws (including the ones whose purpose are still
unknown to us) have a purpose and benefit for human
One more thing which must be clarified at this point
is that it is not the responsibility of the 'ulama'
(the scholars of Islamic religious sciences) to
discover and explain the purpose and reason
underlying the laws of the shari'ah. Their only duty
is to explain the laws of the shari'ah. The people
responsible for discovering and explaining the
purposes of the laws of the shari'ah are those
Muslim intellectuals who are experts of modern
science. Unfortunately, very few of them are
interested in this aspect of the shari'ah, and those
who are interested lack the knowledge of Qur'an and
The belief that although we might not know the
reason and purpose of a certain law of the shari'ah
it surely has a good reason and useful purpose
behind it, can be understood from the following
episode in the Qur'an. This episode also shows that
if we are made aware of its reason, we would readily
admit that it was the very right thing to do.
One day while preaching to his people, Prophet Musa
(peace be upon him) thought about himself that Allah
has given him a great privilege and that he is the
most learned among the mankind. Allah was not
pleased with even such a slight indication of pride
in the mind of Musa, and so Jibra'il was sent to
inform Musa that there is a person, among the
servants of Allah, who is more learned than him. He
was also given an address to go and meet this more
learned person. Musa, along with one of his
disciples, went to meet the learned person who is
named in our ahadith as Khizr. The Qur'an narrates
the details of their meeting:
Musa: "Can I follow you so that you may teach me the
right knowledge of what you have been taught [by
Khizr: "Surely you cannot have patience with me. How
can you have patience in [the things or actions] of
which you do not have a comprehensive knowledge?"
Musa: "If Allah wills, you will find me patient and
I shall not disobey you in any matter."
Khizr: "If you would follow me, then do not question
me about anything until I myself speak to you about
So they went their way until they reached a river
where they embarked in a boat. When they were in the
boat, Khizr made a hole in it.
Musa: "Have you made a hole in it to drown its
inmates? Surely you have done a grievous thing."
Khizr: "Did I not say that you will not be able to
have patience with me?"
Musa: "O Khizr, do not blame me for what I forgot,
and do not constrain me to a difficult thing in my
Then they went on until they met a boy. Khizr slew
Musa: "Have you killed an innocent person who had
not killed someone else?! Certainly you have done an
Khizr: "Didn't I say to you that you will not be
able to have patience with me."
Musa: *If I ask you about anything after this, then
do not keep me in your company; indeed you shall
then have found an excuse in my case [to dismiss me
from your company]."
They went on until they came to a township. They
asked food from the people of that town, but no one
accepted them as guests. In that town they found a
wall which was on the point of falling in ruin, so
Khizr repaired the wall and put it into the right
Musa: "If you had wished, you might certainly have
taken a payment for this work."
Khizr: "This shall be the parting between you and
me. But before you leave, I will inform you of the
significance of my actions which you could not
- As for the boat, it belonged to some poor men who
worked on the river. I wished to damage the boat
because a king was coming behind them who seized
every good boat by force.
- As for the boy, his parents were believers and I
feared lest he would oppress them by rebellion and
disbelief. And we desired that their Lord might give
then in his place a better one than him in purity
and nearer to having compassion.
- As for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in
the city, and there was beneath it a treasure
belonging to them, and their father was a righteous
man; so I rebuilt the wall because your Lord desired
that when they attain maturity, they should take out
their treasure, which was a mercy from your Lord.
"And moreover, I did not do it of my accord. This is
the significance of that with which you could not
have patience." (18:60-82).
If such a great Prophet of Allah like Musa could not
understand the significance of the actions of a
fellow human being who was more learned than him,
then how can we expect to know the wisdom and
purpose of each and every law which has been
legislated by Allah, the Wise, the Omniscient and
For a detailed discussion on interest, see 'Allamah
Tabataba'i's al-Mizan (translated by S.S.A. Rizvi),
vol. i, Wofis, Tehran 1982, pp. 295-303.
For a detail discussion on pork, see Pork by S.S. A.
Rizvi, published by Wofis, P.O. Box 2245, Tehran.
Sherman Silber, The Male. New York, 1981, pp.
Allamah Hilli, al-Babu 'l-hadi 'ashar, (translated
by W.M. Miller), Luzac, London 1958, pp. 45-46.
Some General Terms
Wajib - obligatory, necessary, incumbent. An act
which must be performed. You will be rewarded for
performing it and punished for neglecting it, e.g.,
the daily prayers, the fasting of Ramadhan.
Ihtiyat wajib - precautionarily obligatory. Its
significance is the same as that of wajib with the
difference that in the problems where a mujtahid
says it is "precautionarily obligatory", one has the
option of leaving his taqlid (following) in this
particular problem and following the rulings of the
second-best mujtahid in that problem.
Haram - forbidden, prohibited. It is necessary to
abstain from the acts which are haram. If someone
performs a haram act, he will be punished, e.g.,
Sunnat, Mustahab - recommendable, desirable. The
acts whose neglect is not punished, but whose
performance is rewarded, e.g., the call for prayers
Makruh- reprehensible, disliked. The acts whose
performance is not punished, but whose avoidance is
rewarded, e.g., eating in the state of janabat.
Ja'iz, Halal, Mubah-permitted, allowed, lawful,legal.
The acts or the things which are permitted and
lawful. There is no reward for performing it and no
punishment for neglecting it, e.g., drinking tea.
Mubah is exclusively used for lawful things not for
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