The culture of decima or tithe (old English teogothian) was common among the Babylon. The discovery of old clay tablets in 1966 however reveals that it was prevalent long before the civilization of the Babylon. Tithe or tenth part was a customary tax in ancient Egypt, Syria and Greece. Cyrus caused his soldiers to devote tenth of their booty to Zeus. Zoroaster imposed tithe on traders and market dealers for the welfare of the priests.
The practice of tithe is known from Mesopotamia, Syria, Greece and as far as to the west as the Phoenician city of Carhage. Early texts associated the tithe with support of the king and of temple of the royal house, vide Amos (4:4, 7:1, 7:13). The early Biblical reference of the tithe is in Genesis (14:20 and 28:22), and also in the time of Abraham and Moses, vide Number (18:21). The Bible states that the Israelites paid tithes to the Levites; the Levites in turn paid a tithe to the high priest and his family, while the entire tribe of Levi including the family of Aaron, are here represented by the apostle as paying tithe through Abraham to Melekizedek. In writing of the exalted priesthood of Christ, the apostle refers to that distinguished personage Melekizedek, saying, "Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils."
Clement, Justian Martyr, Cyprian Jerome, Herodotus, Zenophon and many other writers of the early centuries of the Christian era, testify that the tithing was known and practiced by ancient people through the apostolic age centuries following. Until the later times of the empire, it was the custom of Italy to devote tithe to their deity. The Saxons also religiously offered tenth of all their captives to the god Neptune. Zenophon on returning from his Asian expedition consecrated the tithe of his spoils to Apollo.
Tithe was a common practice of both Jews and Christians. "Pay tithe and be rich" was an old proverb quite current among the Jews. The Carthaginians acquired the custom of tithe from Tyre. The Arabian merchants were by law required to give one-tenth of their frankincense to the priest for sacrifice before their god. The primary purpose of the tithing was not to raise funds, but to build character; to put the Supreme Being, and not self, first in all transactions.
Its explicit reference is not found in the New Testament. It however became common among the early Christians during 6th century. The Council of Tours in 567 A.D. and the Council of Macon in 585 A.D. began to advocate it. We must pass the long list of testimony of the early Christian Fathers, except to mention that Clement of Alexandria wrote, "The tithes of the fruits and of the flocks taught piety towards the deity. For it was from these and the first fruits that the priests were maintained. We now, therefore, understand that we are instructed in piety, and in liberality, and in justice, and in humanity by the law." In sum, H.Grotius writes in Ancient World (London, 1968, p. 171) that, "From the most ancient days, one-tenth was a portion due to God."
The tradition of the tithe is found in the world religions. The Hinduism calls it dasas, Buddhism, dashans, Judaism, ma'asher, Christianity, tithe, Shikhism, dasam and ushr in Islam. The payment of ushr (tithe) is one of the most fundamental prescriptions of Islam, referred in the Koran on 31 different occasions.
Sources of revenue in Islam :
The principal sources of revenue in Islam are ushr, jaziya, zakat and khums.
Ushr : Ushr means tenth part, a tax levied only on the Muslims as a land revenue chiefly on agriculture.
Jazya : It is a poll-tax charged on non-Muslims in place of ushr.
It is a poor-tax @ 2½ to be levied on the Muslims only.
"It means fifth part levied on the Muslim soldiers on the ghanima (booty) they received in the battle.
As for the khums, the Koran says: “And know that whatever thing you acquire in war, a fifth (khums) of it is for God and for the Prophet and for the near of kin (ahl al-bayt); and the orphans and needy and travellers” (8: 41)
In the period of the Prophet, when the ghanima (booty) was distributed, each soldier was to pay khums (fifth) from it. The accumulated amount of khums was divided into two parts as follow:-
1st part : God - Prophet - Ahl al-Bayt
2nd part : Orphan - Needy - Traveller
For illustration, suppose a person received 100 dhirams as his share from the ghanima, the taxable khums was 20 dhirams @ 5%. The total khums was divided into two parts. In the first part, 10 dhirams were reserved for God, Prophet and Ahl al-Bayt, and remaining 10 dhirams were allotted for the orphans, needy and travellers. Thus, the shares of God, Prophet and Ahl al-Bayt were deposited in one wallet. In other words, khums in apparent means fifth part, but it becomes tenth part - a rate equal to the ushr. The Prophet said, “Out of what God has given to you nothing is mine but the khums, and that khums is given back to you” (mali ilal khums wal khums maru’ddu fiqhum).
When the jurists codified the Islamic jurisprudence in the period of Imam Muhammad al-Bakir and Imam Jafar Sadik, the followers were taught that the Imams after the Prophet were legitimate receivers of the khums. Soon after the period of Imam Jafar Sadik, the Ismailis paid 10% of their income as khums to the Imam of the time. In Egypt, the institution of khums continued. In Alamut and post-Alamut period, the Ismailis in Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia called it mal’e wajibat (levied amount) or dah-yak.
The Indian Ismaili Pirs adopted the term dasond in place of ushr and khums. The word dasond is said to have derived from dason (das means ten and an means food). In its frequent usage, the term dason became dasond, meaning tenth part of the food or income. In the old Hindi literature, the word dasvant was in usage in the meaning of tenth part. In Prakrit language, the word dassans or dasa’ns means one-tenth. Later, the word came to be pronounced as daswand, dasawnd or dasond under the same meaning. The Turkish word for the tithe is onda bir or osur.
The tenth part of the income is separated along with 2½ zakat, making the deduction of 12½ from the income. The tenth part solely belongs to the Imam, while 2½ part being zakat for the welfare purpose. Both parts (10 & 2½) are presented to the Imam. In sum, the dasond includes the ushr (one-tenth) and the zakat (one-fortieth), making a total of twelve and a half percent, i.e., one-eighth."
Suppose, a person pays dasond @ 10%, it means that he pays dasond irrespective of zakat. If he pays 12½% as dasond, it means that his payment includes both dasond and zakat. It is therefore incorrect to associate or mingle zakat with dasond, both are absolutely different religious dues. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah said, “Both khums and zakat were paid in the period of the Prophet. The people of that time understood that these taxes must be paid for governing the religious rule, and it could not be governed without it” (Tananarive, 8.6.1946)
Qadi Noman writes in Kitab al-Himma (pp. 59-61) that, “The khums and zakat which God has enjoined on you to pay does not belong to you. It is not a part of your property. It is the amanat of God and the Prophet in your hands. God has warned you in His Holy Book against the misappropriation of amanat. He says “O momins, do not deceive God or the Prophet and do not misappropriate the amanat in general. You know (the consequence)” (8:29). In this connection the Prophet says “The property does not decrease by the payment of zakat or khums. For, the property does decrease when the zakat or khums is taken away from it.” What the Prophet intends to say is this. The khums or zakat which is enjoined upon you to pay is not a part of your property which is in your hands. Since it is to be taken away it does not belong to you. What is left behind belongs to you. The zakat or khums is the amanat of God with you. He has ordered you to guard it. The Imams have every right to test their followers by asking them to part with their properties or to probe their loyalty by different means….Imam Jafar Sadik says, “None of the duties of God on man is more severe than the return of the amanat to Him from your property. Many people are ruined by the neglect of this duty. See that you put back this amanat in the hands of the Imam of your time. It is not a part of your property. With all this, if one does not pay the amanat and leaves it behind for his heirs, then he is the greatest loser. He loses everything. Not only does he lose his prestige but he also loses his faith.”