The Economic System of Islam

No Comments | March 2016

We continue with the serialisation of the epic lecture delivered by the Second Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmadra later published as a book titled, The Economic System of Islam. In this eighth part of the series, the difference between the economic system of Islam and that of Communism with regard to property rights are discussed. To read the first seven parts, visit our website, www.reviewofreligions.org.

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2.Communism Interferes with Property Rights

Russia under the Czar was not an industrial country. It consisted of large country estates owned by hereditary nobles. Land therefore was the first concern of Communism in Russia, not industry. Whatever Karl Marx wrote about Capitalism concerned mainly big money and industry, as he was born and educated in Germany, which was far more industrialised.

Property rights under communist rule allow the rich nobles to gain land and property and push the poor into more poverty. © Vitaly Raduntsev | Shutterstock.com

Property rights under communist rule allow the rich nobles to gain land and property and push the poor into more poverty.
© Vitaly Raduntsev | Shutterstock.com

When Lenin and other Russian revolutionary leaders adopted his philosophy and tried to apply his theories to Russian conditions, they came up with the following principles:

All land belongs to the State.

Land must therefore be taken over by the State and be redistributed to those willing to till the soil.

Each land-holder should have just enough land that could be cultivated by him alone, and no more.

Land, as property of the State, must be utilised to its full potential. The cultivator, as agent of the State, must accept the decisions of the State regarding the use of the land.

Right to Own Land

Islamic teachings, the broad principles of which have already been explained, are that all land belongs to God who recognises just titles to portions of it, subject to the condition that, at the death of the titleholder, the land should be divided among stipulated heirs in specified proportions (one share for each boy, one-half share for the girl and one-third share for the parents) and that in no case must it be passed on to any single heir by excluding the others. In the absence of children, the land would be divided among brothers, sisters, and parents and, if there were no legitimate heir, the land would revert to God’s representative, which is the State in this case. No one may bequeath more than one-third of his inheritance, with the condition that none of the stipulated heirs have any share in this one-third. This teaching is full of wisdom, because:

The right of ownership is recognised; therefore, every owner would be inclined to put their land to best use, as his livelihood depends on it.

The owner’s children know that one day they too would be cultivating the land, so they would strive to gain expertise in farming.

Even where there are large landholdings initially, they would be subdivided into smaller lots over time because of the law of inheritance.

Finally, because Islam maintains that all land belongs ultimately to God, no one may acquire it through illegitimate means.

Under non-Islamic systems, conquered territories are given away to the companions of the conqueror or to those with influence. It is because of this system that the Norman conquerors were able to parcel out land in certain areas of England, Scotland and Ireland to chosen nobles, while leaving the inhabitants landless, with no place even to build their own homes. This situation persists in several areas to this day, where large owners rent out their buildings, but retain their power and influence. The same thing happened in France, Germany, Austria and Italy, though some improvement in the situation occurred following the Napoleonic wars. In the United States of America too, as the country developed, a group of big land owners emerged through the simple expediency of dispossessing as many of the original inhabitants as they could manage and then continued to hold on to what they had gained, or rather usurped. And the same story repeated itself in Australia and Kenya, where English settlers took possession of hundreds of thousands of acres, leaving the natives landless.

As a result of the Islamic conquests in Arabia, the conquerors were given a portion of the land. Since in Arabia proper, arable land was limited, there was little danger of large illicit landowners to emerge. In Yemen and Syria however, both of which had a long established agricultural tradition, land was left in the possession of the original owners. Iraq, in contrast, was a sparsely populated but fertile country that had been evacuated when the Persians moved back to their own country. Although some generals in the victorious Islamic army did initially try to redistribute the land among the conquerors, Hazrat Umarra disapproved of the idea. His reason was that he could foresee the harm it could do to succeeding generations. He therefore retained the vanquished land as government property. Similarly, in Egypt, original landowners were left in possession of the land.

Karl Marx had a philosophy about landownership and the State, which suppressed individual freedoms and progress. (Accessed via Wiki Commons)

Karl Marx had a philosophy about landownership and the State, which suppressed individual freedoms and progress.
(Accessed via Wiki Commons)

In short, in the shape given to the Islamic order at the outset, it was recognised that vacant lands that came under Muslim authority in conquered territories were to remain in the State’s hands and be used in the general interest of all, instead of being distributed among the top leadership. This was done to avoid the emergence of a landed aristocracy, as happened in Europe. During later periods, it is true, the Islamic teaching was not fully observed, but Muslim rulers were never altogether freed from its influence. In India, too, when the Muslim rule came to the country, the land was left with the old owners whose tenure was preserved. Only vacant land was taken over by the State. All of the large estates found in India today were created later under British rule. The new rulers were eager to settle matters and gain influence in the country, regardless of whether this was achieved through favour or fear. In most cases, the new governments in Bengal and Uttar Pradesh bestowed titles to the tehsildars (tax collecting agents) over areas found in their jurisdiction. This was a terrible injustice to the real owners of those lands.

Thus, the Islamic system applies to land ownership in a manner similar to its application in other economic spheres, i.e., there is no place for large land owners and the government cannot create a class of large land owners by redistributing state land. It is another matter that a person might purchase additional land, but there is not much scope for this either. If it is a trader, he is unlikely to purchase land as he might make more money in trade. If he is already a landowner, his means to purchase additional land are in any case limited and not significant enough to harm the country’s economic condition. Furthermore, thanks to the laws of inheritance, the size of land ownership would decline within one or two generations.

The Islamic Approach to Reduce Landholdings as Compared to the Communist Approach

It should also be borne in mind that Islam does not allow anyone—not even someone who has no heirs and has made a will—to dispose of more than one-third of his property according to his own wishes. If he does have heirs, the land would be distributed in successive generations. If someone wishes to bequeath one-third to an heir for family prestige, Islam would not permit it—because none of the heirs are permitted to take any part of this one-third. Consequently, large land holdings under the Islamic system are virtually impossible. Even someone without an heir cannot bequeath more than one-third to anyone. The remainder will revert to the State, and thus be of benefit to the public at large.

Another strength of this system is that while it prevents a landed aristocracy from interfering with the uplift of the poor, it does not curtail individual freedom. In fact, it leaves everyone free to develop intellectually, promote his family life, and allows him to do whatever is necessary for the preparation for the life to come. In contrast, the measures adopted by Communism, to translate its ideology into practice, destroy individual liberty, kill domestic harmony, and deny any chance of serving one’s religion. What is more, Communism has utterly failed to implement what it originally sought.

The Tower of London, originally begun by William the Conqueror to control London. (Accessed via Wiki Commons)

The Tower of London, originally begun by William the Conqueror to control London. (Accessed via Wiki Commons)

In regard to land, Communism held that all land belonged to the State, an approach that made the State the sole landowner, while transforming the farmers into mere wage earners. Communism thereby placed landowners at a disadvantage compared to merchants and industrialists who, to a certain extent, were given property rights over what they possessed. Because the State was the sole owner of land, Communism held that the State was entitled to direct the farmer what to sow and where to sow it. Moreover, as some farmers had more experience in handling certain crops, the State was entitled to send them wherever their expertise was needed.

When these ideas were implemented country-wide, farmers came to realise that:

Their status had been reduced to that of mere labourers, lower than that of merchants or artisans.

Their family life had been deprived of all stability and the right of their descendants to enjoy the fruits of their labour had been usurped.

They were liable to be moved from their farms and sent off to unknown places at any time.

They were no longer able to choose their crops in order to stay self-sufficient. Instead, they were made to cultivate in accordance with the State’s dictates. This destroyed the previous system under which villages and towns were self-sufficient.

Because of these developments, the landowners rebelled and maintained their resistance for a number of years, resulting in a fall in agricultural output. Finally, Stalin abrogated that system and re-established the old system that provided for the right of private ownership over land, along with some latitude in cultivating what the landowners desired. Although the rebellion subsided, this decision on the part of the Bolshevik leader demonstrated once and for all that the Communist system was seriously flawed. Consequently, Stalin’s enemies accused him of betraying the Communist principles as laid down by Lenin. Stalin’s response to this accusation was that the key goal of Communism was the establishment of a proletarian regime. No harm was done if lesser principles were sacrificed in the attainment of the ultimate goal. In any case, this instance showed that as a permanent system of political economy, Communism failed to translate its policies regarding landownership into action, and that in tackling this question the Communists had to borrow ideas from other systems.

During the British Raj in India, the palatial British homes compared to the primitive huts of the natives highlighted the injustice and inequality in society. © Mikadun | Shutterstock.com

During the British Raj in India, the palatial British homes compared to the primitive huts of the natives highlighted the injustice and inequality in society.
© Mikadun | Shutterstock.com

This glaring failure of the Communist system demonstrates the inherent superiority of the Islamic economic system, and shows that Communism is not a principled philosophy, rather just a political movement seeking to strengthen Russia. To assert itself as an alternative to religion is a violation of truth and rectitude.

Stephen King-Hall, a member of the British Parliament, recently visited Russia and published an article in the Soviet Union News, in which he stated that Russia currently had two goals: First, the reconstruction of Russia, and second, to make it the best and richest country in the world. Communism is therefore basically a political movement with the primary objective of making Russia powerful.

3.Communism Stifles Growth of Knowledge

Although all are assured of food and clothing in the Soviet regime, its adopted measures also give rise to another grave fault in the system, i.e., intellectual progress will gradually die out because workers’ wages and salaries in this system are barely adequate to pay for food, shelter and clothing, leaving very little for foreign travel. This is a critical component of education that contributes to the development of scientific and technical knowledge and to the progress of civilisation. The Holy Qur’an has laid great emphasis upon sair-fil-ard, that is, travelling in various parts of the earth. When the Russian people had economic freedom, they saved a part of their income for travel to different countries. What they learned from foreign travels helped to enrich their country and contributed to national progress.

This is the path nature has established for promoting progress and many nations have benefitted by adopting it. The Holy Qur’an has also enjoined travel to different lands; for without it, one’s perspective remains constricted. But because of the Communist system, it is now impossible for Russians to freely travel abroad, and the same thing will happen wherever Communism spreads. The inevitable consequence will be an intellectual decline. Since the revolution, one does occasionally come across a Communist government representative, but it is extremely rare to meet an ordinary citizen from a Communist country.

Under communist rule, landowners were usurped of their land to fund their lifestyle and produce their own crops. This led to frustration and anger towards the government by the farming community. © Everett Historical | Shutterstock.com

Under communist rule, landowners were usurped of their land to fund their lifestyle and produce their own crops. This led to frustration and anger towards the government by the farming community. © Everett Historical | Shutterstock.com

As the Imam of a large and far-flung religious community, I have a wide network of contacts. I have not had the opportunity of meeting an independent Russian Communist, though one does occasionally encounter representatives of the Soviet government. This is the consequence of the Soviet policy of not leaving any money in the hands of ordinary citizens beyond what they require to meet the expense of food, clothing and shelter.

It is sometimes said that the country can have access to foreign ideas and inventions through visits of government officials, but this is in fact not so. For one thing, a government official is confined to pursuing only matters related to the purpose of his travel. Secondly, a person travelling on his own volition, interest and freely interacting with other people is quite different from someone travelling on official duty. Finally, people-to-people interaction can be a source of intellectual growth and instrumental in promoting peace and understanding. The Soviet system precludes that possibility altogether.

Ordinary Russians that one comes across outside of Russia are usually emigrants who left their country during the revolution, or are Russian agents engaged in propaganda for the Soviet State. The latter might claim to be independent citizens, unconnected to the government, but it is only a ruse to make their propaganda more effective. It only takes a little common sense to see that ordinary Russians cannot afford luxuries, such as foreign travel, because the State does not leave any spare money in their possession.

Some time back, during my travel from Karachi to Lahore, a friend informed me that a Russian—who was travelling in the air-conditioned compartment on the same train—was claiming to be a private tourist, but was speaking strongly in favour of Communism. I asked my friend to tell this gentleman that his claim was utterly false. In the Russian’s eyes, I would be considered to be a big landowner but I could afford to travel only in second class. As there were no landowners left in Russia, the traveller must either be a farmer or an ordinary labourer, which would suggest that he was most certainly not a rich man himself. In that case, how would he explain his travel in such luxury? If a Russian worker or a farmer could travel in an air-conditioned railway coach, how could he protest against landowners who could barely afford to travel in second class? All the pious wrath of Russian Communists against Indian landowners or capitalists was therefore just hypocrisy.

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