Alms is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “charitable relief of the poor, originally and especially as a religious duty.” As such, it is equivalent to the Islamic term sadaqah. However, sadaqah stresses the voluntary option. In Arabic, the term sadaqah is derived from a root, which means “being true, or telling the truth.” Thus, in its religious sense, the term sadaqah adds the connotation of proving one’s commitment to one’s faith and one’s community by providing help to the poor to relieve their poverty.

Zakah is one of the major Islamic duties. It is indeed one of the five duties the Prophet (peace be upon him) describes as the pillars upon which the structure of Islam is built. Scholars describe it as “an act of worship that is financial in nature.” It means the allocation of a certain percentage of one’s property, other than what one needs for his own and his family’s living. It is paid out annually, at the standard rate of 2.5 percent, although certain types of property may have a higher rate. In an Islamic state, the government should establish a department or a ministry that takes care of its administration, i.e. collection and distribution. The contributors are Muslim men, women and children who own a certain threshold, which is equal in value to 85 grams of gold over and above their living needs. Its beneficiaries are eight groups defined in the Qur’an. These are: the poor, the needy, the people working in zakah administration, those whose hearts are to be won over, slaves, insolvent debtors, serving God’s cause and stranded travelers. The first four are given zakah money in their hands and they become owners, free to spend it as they like. The other four define a specific purpose for which zakah funds are used: setting a slave free, repaying the debts of someone who is insolvent, buying a travel ticket for someone stranded away from home. The category of “serving God’s cause” covers a wide range of activities that is dedicated to the purpose.

Mehr, or rather mahr, means the dowry a man pays to his prospective wife at the time when the marriage contract is made. It becomes her property and she has full control of it. It is a condition of marriage, but it can be as little or as much as the two parties agree. From the Islamic point of view, there is no virtue in asking for a large dowry. Therefore, it can be symbolic. If a marriage contract is made with no dowry given or specified, it remains a duty, which the wife can claim from her husband after their marriage. She does not forfeit her right to it for the rest of her life. They can still agree its amount. If they cannot agree, then a judge may decide the matter on the basis of the average paid in the couples’ community for women in their social standard.

Kalimah and shahadah are often used as synonyms, although the second has another meaning which I will explain presently. In their linguistic sense, the first, kalimah, means ‘word’ or in this instance, ‘the word’, while the second means “witness or testimony.” They refer to the first article of faith, which is a declaration that one believes in God’s oneness and in the message of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In Arabic, it is Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah, wa ashhadu anna Muhammad rasool Allah, which translates as “I bear witness that there is no deity other than God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is God’s messenger.” When a person makes this declaration expressing his genuine belief, that person is a Muslim. Unless he believes in both parts of the declaration.

Shahadah has another meaning, which is martyrdom for God’s cause. When a person is killed in defence of Islam, he is a martyr, or shaheed. A martyr is rewarded with forgiveness of all his sins and admission into heaven. Thus, it is a position to be aspired for.