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 sixth part of the series, the difference between the economic system of Islam and that of Communism and the major flaw in the Communist model are discussed. To read the first five parts, visit our website, www.reviewofreligions.org.
Communism is an economic system that provides a sharp contrast to the economic system discussed above. Because it has become prominent in discussions, I would like to make a few observations about this system.
Communism claims that:
1. Everyone must work to the best of their capacity.
2. Everyone must be provided with income sufficient to meet the normal needs.
3. The remaining surplus belongs to the State as a trustee for the people.
These principles are based on the notion that there should be equality among all people. As long as a person worked to the best of his capacity, he was entitled to payment on the same scale as all others, who, too, worked up to their capacity. Thus no one was entitled to possess wealth in excess of others; any excess wealth would be appropriated by the State.
This is the economic side of Communism. But this viewpoint has also a political dimension, which falls outside the scope of my discussion for today. I would therefore not touch it.
As far as the basic principle is concerned, it is entirely correct that all must be properly fed, clothed, and housed; all must have access to facilities for education and health. In brief, the basic needs of all should be fulfilled. On this point Islam is fully in accord with Communism. But there is a fundamental difference. While Islam leaves the door open for individual enterprise and due development of individual capabilities, Communism shuts that door completely.
Fundamental Difference Between Islam and Communism
In fact individual freedom is indispensable not only for the proper development of human capacities, but also to allow individuals to freely choose their actions so that they can provide for the life to come. Communism blocks the avenues of individual initiative and destroys personal freedom of choice. And that is a major flaw of that system. Thus, Islam and Communism share common objectives with respect to meeting the basic needs of everyone, but differ with respect to the means adopted to achieve that end.
Undoubtedly, Russia has made remarkable economic progress with the programme it chalked out under the influence of the Communist philosophy. The general public, at least in European Russia has become materially better off than before. (Communist leaders might dispute that the progress is confined only to the European part). We have to admit that the poor people in Russia are better fed, better clad, better housed and provided with better facilities for education and medical relief. Thus, as far as these achievements are concerned, they are very much in accord with the Islamic spirit of fairness in economic treatment. But as noted, Islam does not approve of the means adopted by the Communist Party to achieve this.
Objections Against Communism on the Basis of Religion
As I represent the Islamic point of view, I take up first those aspects of the Communist economic system that bear on religion.
1. No Scope for Voluntary Efforts
My foremost objection against Communism—an objection which all believers in life after death must have—is that it leaves little scope for individual voluntary effort, which alone is the basis for earning merit for the life to come. Instead of withholding some reasonable portion of his wealth for the State, and leaving the individual free to spend the rest as he wishes, a person is left with nothing more than what suffices for his needs. This deprives him of the means to provide for the life to come. He is given food, he can clothe himself, he is assured of shelter, his education and medical care, but he has not a penny left to provide for the life Hereafter. In other words, Communism looks after only the material side of a person’s life—which may span forty to fifty years—but entirely ignores the life Hereafter that is believed to be everlasting.
This is something to which no one who is convinced of the truth of religion and wishes to follow its teachings could ever be reconciled. Islam, for instance, expects, as some other religions do, that its followers spread out and carry its message to the world’s four corners so that mankind can seek deliverance. Anyone who remained away from Islam would miss this deliverance, and on the day of judgement he would face God as a guilty person. You may call a Muslim mad or a fool for holding such beliefs, but as far as he is concerned and as long as his convictions remain what they are, missionary activity devolves upon him as a duty that he may not shirk in any circumstances. After all, if he wished well for mankind, he would feel obliged to deliver the message that he believes is for its benefit. No one would like his friend to fall in a ditch or be shot to death. How, then, can one reconcile himself to his friends being given the everlasting punishment and be deprived of Paradise and God’s nearness and pleasure. Call it what you like, for a person attached to his religion, it is a strong desire to help his brother improve his moral and practical life. There is no room for this sort of work under Communism; any such efforts would be politically curbed.
I speak on this point from actual experience of the conditions prevailing in Soviet Russia. Some time back, I had sent an Ahmadiyya Missionary to this country. But, far from letting him preach his message, the government threw him into prison where he was mercilessly tortured for a long time, and was forced to eat pork. (At this point, Huzurra [His Holiness, the Second Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Community] pointed to the missionary in question, who was present in the audience and asked him to rise from his seat so that others could see him.) For almost two years this missionary was kept in captivity in various places – Tashkent, Ashgabat and Moscow – and while in prison, he was subjected to so much torture that he lost his mental balance. Then he was pushed across the border into Iran from where the British Embassy informed the Government of India about him and the information was sent to me, and at our request he was repatriated to India at our expense.
There are political reasons why the Communists disallow religious missionary work, which we need not pursue here. But the issue remains that a minority needs to make tremendous sacrifices to win over the majority to its religion. It certainly involves great personal sacrifice as well as the expense of making available the religious literature, etc. But the Communist system leaves no margin for people to spend anything at all on such things.
Take the case of the Ahmadiyya Movement, for example. We are a very small community, but our aim is to win over the whole world for Islam. In order to convey Islam’s message to 170 million Russians, massive expenditure on missionary activity and preparation of literature is required. But we would be unable to fulfil our mission if Communists take away all earnings beyond what is needed to meet the barest necessities of life. Communism, besides, opposes religious missionary activity because, from its point of view, this does not constitute useful activity. Only operating a machine, tilling the soil, or working in factories, etc. – which yield an economic return – are regarded as productive work. It dismisses religion as consisting of superstitions and foolish fantasies, and, as such, does not recognise propagation of true faith as useful work. There is, therefore, no reason for the State to permit such parasitic activity.
Thus there is a direct clash between the Islamic conception of life and the communist viewpoint. To a Muslim, it matters little if he has to go hungry so long as he succeeds in improving his chances in the life to come. And, he wishes the same for his brethren – if they do not win God’s pleasure, their life would have been in vain no matter how much wealth they acquired in this worldly life.
Anyone who holds this belief would be duty-bound to help his misguided brethren to provide something for the Hereafter. But Communism takes away all surplus wealth in the name of protecting the country, thus leaving everyone to suffer a spiritual death. As noted earlier, Islam shares with the Communist order the principle of ensuring that everyone gets adequate food, clothing and shelter and has access to education and medical relief. The government must, therefore, have sufficient public revenues to discharge these responsibilities. However, apart from taking away surplus funds, Communism forbids propagation of our faith. In short, we give them our support and we do so because this is the teaching of the religion we follow; but Communism, instead of being thankful to this religion, repays the kindness by depriving it of all opportunities for growth on the pretext that it amounts to useless activity and is a burden on the national economy.
Had Communism openly and honestly clashed with religion, we would have differed with it but could have had little basis for complaint. But the Communists profess to be unconcerned with religion while, by indirect and underhand means, they try to minimise its influence and stifle its spread. They seek to enter our hearts and homes as trusted friends, but betray this trust by covertly destroying the objects that we treasure most. The reality becomes apparent only when it is too late. If Communism declared openly that it did not recognise a life in the Hereafter, it attached no value to this idea, and it would not permit individuals to preach their religion, whoever accepted Communism would do so with eyes open. But outside Russia these vital aspects of the system are deliberately kept out of sight, behind a fraudulent claim that Communism is only an economic philosophy that has no concern with religion and does not clash with it. Missionary activity comprises a fundamental and most vital part of religion, which could not be sustained when the public is denied the right to raise funds for maintaining it and religion itself cannot long survive. In short, Communism aims to strangle the propagation of religion and seeks to establish an irreligious social order.
Now consider another aspect of this question. Suppose a Muslim said that he wanted nothing from the Soviet State but be allowed to dedicate his life to the service of religion and to visit every Russian town and village to convey Islam’s message. Would the Soviet State permit him to do so? Would his activities not be stopped by straightaway throwing him in prison? There can be only one answer to this question. The Communist government of Russia would not hesitate to use force against such a person. He would be locked up in jail and told either to undertake some ‘useful work’ for his living or go without food or clothing. In other words, if I dedicated my life to God and the study of the Holy Qur’an and Hadith (a study indispensable for me if I desire to improve my life in the Hereafter), Communism would view this as a sheer waste of time and an excuse to live at others’ expense.
A Muslim must refuse to be tied down to the ultra materialistic theories of Communism in matters of such transcending spiritual importance. He must insist on his right to be guided by the Holy Qur’an, which deems it necessary that among the Muslims there should always exist a body of men entirely devoted to the task of calling people to the right path and dissuading them from the wrong. Allah the Almighty says:
That is: O Muslims there must always be among you a group of people who free themselves from the materialistic pursuits to oversee the religious obligations. The duties assigned to such people would be that they will enjoin piety, motivate people to carry out good deeds, and forbid them from immorality.
In other words, Islam requires that a group of Muslims must be totally dedicated for this task. It is true that Islam accords no special privileges to such devotees, but they are assigned certain specific duties that they must carry out. While there is no priesthood in Islam, it does call for a religious order to spread its message. Christianity gives to the priest some additional privileges. But in Islam even those who serve religion have the same rights as everyone else, though their work is well-defined and is of a religious nature – to spread Islam and to plant it deep in the hearts of people so that they live up to it and to regard this duty as their highest purpose in life. Deprived of the spiritual nucleus of such a body of men, the Islamic order could not survive, for it requires people who understand its rules and regulations and who are willing to spread its ideals.
We will continue with this serialisation in future editions.
- Sayings of the Holy Prophet of Islamsa.
- Holy Qur’an, Surah Aal-e-‘Imran, Verse 105.