The Economic System of Islam

We continue with the serialisation of the epic lecture delivered by the Second Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, later published as a book titled, The Economic System of Islam. In this fifth part of the series, Hazrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmadra speaks about the responsibilities of the government towards its citizens. To read the first four parts, visit our website, www.reviewofreligions.org.

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Responsibilities of the Government: Curb on Spending in Favour of the Rich

Allah the Almighty directs in the Holy Qur’an:2015-December-Arabic_Inserts-Finalised_Uploaded_pdf__page_3_of_3_

Meaning, Whatever Allah has given to His Messenger as spoils from towns, is for Allah and for the Messenger, and for the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarers who are travelling to convey the Word of God. These commandments have been given to ensure that the wealth may not circulate only among those of you who are rich.

These verses illustrate how God has protected the rights of the poor and thereby greatly strengthened the foundations of the Islamic economic order and ensured that the economic condition does not worsen. If the economic system had been left alone and the rights of different parties had not been specified, all money would have accumulated in a few hands and the poor would have continued to suffer in deprivation. The Qur’an, therefore, mandates that the money the government collects must not return to the rich, but instead be used for uplifting the less privileged sections of society.

Islam emphasises the equal distribution of wealth between the rich and poor for a stable and fair economy.
Islam emphasises the equal distribution of wealth between the rich and poor for a stable and fair economy.

The share allotted in this verse to Allah and His Apostle is, in fact, also a share intended for the poor. The names of God and His Prophetsa are used because at times the state is called upon to build places of worship, schools and hospitals. If the rights of only the poor had been mentioned, some might have objected to government spending on places of worship, hospitals, roads or schools. By specifically mentioning the names of God and his Prophetsa, any grounds for misunderstanding have been removed. It goes without saying that Allah’s share in reality is also for the poor since God does not need any money and similarly the Prophet’s share belongs to the poor as the Prophetsa is a mortal who would one day leave this world. Mention of the Prophetsa by name here implies that the reference is to the system he put in place.

The expression dhil-qurba (near of kin) occurring in these verses is sometimes incorrectly held to imply that the family of the Holy Prophetsa have a right in government revenue. However, the Holy Prophetsa has categorically declared that his descendants are not permitted to accept charity or a share of the zakat. Thus, the Qur’anic expression does not refer to blood relatives of the Holy Prophetsa, but signifies those people who are exclusively engaged day and night in the devotion and worship of God and thus become part of the family of Allah and His Prophetsa. The expression dhil-qurba is intended to imply that those devoted to the service of religion should not be considered worthless people, for by striving for the nearness of Allah and by facilitating the attainment of His nearness for others, they are entitled to the resources from public funds.

People who are engaged in teaching the Holy Qur’an and Hadith (sayings of the Holy Prophetsa), or are working for the propagation of faith, will not be able to make a living, and are, according to this verse, entitled to have a share in these revenues. If the government did not provide them with the necessary funds, it would result in either their moral standard suffering because of the strain of constant want, forcing them to beg, or they would be forced to give up the service of religion in order to earn their livelihood. The Holy Qur’an contains an express injunction that among the Muslims there should always be people dedicated to the service of religion for all hours of the day and night. Therefore, dhil-qurba refers to people dedicated to the service of religion and according to Islam this class of people has a definite claim on the State’s resources.

To emphasise further that essential point is reiterated in the concluding portion of the passage, “Accept what the Prophet allows you but desist from claiming that which he has forbidden.” The rich should not try to get back the wealth taken from them by Islam in the interest of the poor, for this is essential for the peace and prosperity of society.

State Obligated to Provide for Primary Needs of All

The Islamic state, on gaining the resources, implemented the above-outlined precepts and assumed responsibility for meeting each person’s needs for food and clothing. In the time of Hazrat Umarra, when the new order was completely established, a census was taken involving registration of the individual’s name, in order to facilitate the task of providing food and clothing to everyone. Even European writers acknowledge that it was Hazrat Umarra who first held census and initiated the system of registration. In order to carry out the responsibility of providing food and clothing to everyone, the government needed to know the number people living in the country. It is generally believed today that the Soviet state was the first to recognise its responsibilities towards its people in meeting their primary needs, but the fact is that Islam had done this more than thirteen hundred years ago. Registers maintained by Hazrat Umar’sra administration were thorough and complete. They listed the members in each family, their ages, needs, and the quantity and kind of food sanctioned.

It is recorded in history that Hazrat Umarra, in his earlier decisions, had not provided for the needs of suckling babies because an infant’s due ration was granted only after it had been weaned. One night, while out on a round of quiet inspection, Hazrat Umarra heard the wailing sound of an infant, which made him pause. But the cries continued, even though the mother tried to put the child to sleep by patting him. At last Hazrat Umarra entered the tent and enquired of the mother, “Why do you not suckle the child?” The woman did not recognise the Khalifah and answered, “Hazrat Umarra has decreed that no ration be granted in the case of infants until they were weaned. We are poor people with hardly enough to make both ends meet. I have weaned the child early so that we should get a measure of ration that includes the child.” Hazrat Umarra was shocked when he heard this, and he hastened at once to the Baitul-Mal (public treasury) muttering painfully to himself, “You have weakened the coming generation of the Arabs by causing infants to be prematurely weaned; the responsibility for this lies on your head.” He opened the door of the store and lifted a sack of flour on his own back. When an attendant offered to carry it for him, he replied, “No. I failed to discharge my responsibility. I must make amends for it myself.” He then carried the flour to the woman and ordered the next day that a ration be granted for a child from the day it was born, because the nursing mother, in any case, needed better nourishment.

It is therefore beyond dispute that as soon as Islam was in a position to do so, it put into operation a fair and just economic system. In fact, it is evident from the Holy Qur’an that this system originated at the dawn of history, in the time of Hazrat Adamas, not with Hazrat Umarra. In the earliest revelation to Hazrat Adamas we find him directed by God to live in a garden wherein it was ordained that:2015-December-Arabic_Inserts-Finalised_Uploaded_pdf__page_3_of_3_

Meaning, “O Adam, We have ordained for you to live in the garden and it is provided for you that you will not hunger therein, nor will you be naked; and you will not thirst therein, nor will you be exposed to the sun.

Mother living in extreme poverty with no hope of nancial help from the government.
Mother living in extreme poverty with no hope of financial help from the government.

It is a mistake to assume, as many people do, that this garden was not located on this earth and that only when he entered paradise in the Hereafter, would man be free from want as depicted in this passage. The Holy Qur’an is clear on the point that Hazrat Adamas was raised as a Prophet in this world, as is said, “I am about to place a vicegerent in the earth.[3] And a person born in this world is undoubtedly exposed to hunger and thirst, and is in need of clothing and shelter. This verse therefore clearly means that Hazrat Adamas was given the law for the creation of a civilised society and its implementation was intended to ensure fulfilment of just needs of its members on the basis of a system of joint responsibility of all. Food, clothing and shelter were laid down as the primary needs, and the new society was made responsible for ensuring that all its members were properly provided for in these respects.

India has the largest number of people living below the poverty line of $1.25 per day. © Hung Chung Chih | Shutterstock.com
India has the largest number of people living below the poverty line of $1.25 per day.
© Hung Chung Chih | Shutterstock.com

This was the first revelation and the earliest dawn of civilisation established through Hazrat Adamas, and from the very outset Almighty God made it manifestly clear that He is indeed God not only of the strong and well-fed, but of all high and low, rich and poor. He never willed that a portion of humanity should wallow in luxury while the rest suffer from want of food and clothing.

This was the order that Islam came to re-establish. Unfortunately the system was in operation only for a brief period, but this is not unusual. Great upward movements in human progress are followed by decline as old customs and practices reassert themselves. Nevertheless, the achieved progress is not forgotten but remains in the people’s collective memory, and noble and fair-minded persons continue to strive to re-institute the earlier improvements. Thus, although the earlier Islamic order disappeared, it is now the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community that seeks to re-establish it in the world. This Community, when it gets the opportunity, would seek to prevent undue accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, while striving to improve the lot of the poor and ensuring that everyone gets the basic requirements of food, clothing and shelter.

To sum up, the Islamic economic system is based on:

  1. Exhortation against undue accumulation of wealth
  2. Curbing the motivation behind undue accumulation of wealth
  3. Insistence on expeditious redistribution of concentrated wealth
  4. Recognition that it is the state’s responsibility to spend money on meeting the legitimate basic needs of the poor and weak members of society
  5. It is only the Islamic system that is complete, comprehensive and satisfactory because:
  6. It allows individuals to provide for the life Hereafter.
  7. It fosters in man the habits of plain, simple and productive living.
  8. It is not based on force and compulsion.
  9. It does not crush individual capabilities.
  10. It provides for the comfort and progress of the poor and the weak.
  11. It removes the basis for the rise of opposition and enmity.

endnotes

  1. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Hashr, Verse 8.
  2. Holy Qur’an, Surah Ta Ha, Verses 119–120.
  3. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 31.