The New World Order

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 2: The Economic Problem

Islam has not only laid down sure foundations of a peaceful World Order by creating a vital faith in God, thus deepening the roots of God-consciousness in human heart, and by bringing about a reconciliation among the irreconcilable elements of humanity, thus welding together diverse races and nations into one human race and one human nation; it has also worked out the essential details of that order, and furnished the guiding principles of a healthy social system and a sound political organisation, these being the two chief needs of a stable and lasting human civilisation.

In the social order, the economic problem occupies the first place as being the most burning question, a question which agitates every mind. The material civilisation of the West has brought about, on the one hand, a state of chaos in the international relations of humanity, and, on the other, a class-war within every nation. Whatever the basic defects, we find the socio-economic system of the Western world to have gone to two extremes, owing to its inability to meet the requirements of the new conditions. It has taken the form of either the war of capital on labour—the war of bourgeois [middle-class] upon proletariat [lower-class], or the war of labour on capital—the proletariat arrayed against bourgeois. This unending war may be seen going on in every European country when the war of destruction by sword comes to an end and, apparently, the world is at peace. As a matter of fact, the war current disappears on the surface and takes the form of an undercurrent in national life. The sword is undoubtedly sheathed, but there is little difference so far as tyranny and injustice of man against man are concerned in this class-war and the international war of destruction.

The war in the social domain has divided the West into two camps. While in most Western countries capitalism has the upper hand and labour is the victim of tyranny, Russia has gone to the other extreme, and there the proletariat is wreaking vengeance on bourgeois with unmitigated fury. The matter does not, however, end there; the victory of labour in one country has raised hopes of similar victories in other countries, and from a war within one nation it is now assuming proportions of a world war, the Soviets being arrayed in this fight against the rest of Europe. It is true that the exigencies of the Great World War now going on have compelled new unions and Russia is today the ally of England and America, but in the class-war that is bound to follow the establishment of peace, the present allies will again find themselves in opposite camps.

Real alliance between England and America, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other, which is supposed to be the new foundation of peace in the world, cannot be brought about unless a reconciliation is effected between the economic ideals of these countries. So long as the economic question is not settled, there can be no real peace; and while sitting at the peace table, these powers would be preparing for another war. If this war is not to go on forever, means and ways must be found to effect: a reconciliation between these two warring classes spread over the whole world. Neither Christianity as a religion, nor the material civilisation to which it has given birth, can effect such a reconciliation. Peace proposals in this case are again in the hands of Islam, as it is only through the social order established by Islam, occupying as it does a middle position between the conflicting interests of capital and labour, that a reconciliation can be brought about and real peace established in the world.

That Islam occupies a middle position in the European war of economic ideals is admitted by many European writers. Thus Gibb, in Whither Islam, says towards the end:

“Within the Western world Islam still maintains the balance between exaggerated opposites. Opposed equally to the anarchy of European nationalism and the regimentation of Russian communism, it has not yet succumbed to that obsession with the economic side of life which is characteristic of present-day Europe and present-day Russia alike.”

And then, quoting Professor Massingnon:

“Islam has the merit of standing for a very equalitarian conception of the contribution of each citizen by the tithe to the resources of the community; it is hostile to unrestricted exchange, to banking capital, to State loans, to indirect taxes on objects of prime necessity; but it holds to the rights of the father and the husband, to private property and to commercial capital. Here again it occupies intermediate position between the doctrines of bourgeois capitalism and Bolshevist communism” (pp. 178–79).

Islam, therefore, occupies the position of a peace­maker between the warring economic factions of different nations of the West. Its social order has several characteristics not to be met with elsewhere. In the first place, Islam does not allow the economic phase of life to so engross man’s mind as to make him forgetful of the higher values of life, as the Muslims’ first lesson is that duty to God takes precedence over all other duties. Whatever work he may be doing, he must give it up when he receives the call to bow before his Maker, and this call is given not only in the early morning or when one is going to bed but also in the midst of the rush of man’s daily work. In obeying this call, the Muslim certainly feels the reality of the Divine presence. He knows that to earn his living he must devote his whole attention to his work, but he knows at the same time that man does not live by bread alone, and that life has a higher value to which the economic value must be subjected. Unless this truth is realised, economic competition between individuals and nations will ultimately bring woe and destruction instead of happiness of the mind. The civilised nations in their race for economic advantages have just forgotten this lesson, and hence they are working for the ruin of each other.

Secondly, the social order of Islam is an expression of Divine will, and has, therefore, a stability which man-made systems can never enjoy. Every social system of the world stands in need of a temporal power for its enforcement, but the social system of Islam works independently of rulers and governments. Communism does not exist in Russia because of its appeal to the public mind but because of its compulsory enforcement by the Soviet. Fascism too exists so long as there is a temporal power at its back. Capitalism in Europe generally retains its hold because of its great financial resources and the so-called democratic governments at its back. Real power there does not rest in the hands of the people generally but in those of the great capitalists, be they Jews or non-Jews. Not so the social order of Islam which being based on religion is an appeal to the mind, not an appeal to the arms or political power. Muslims all over the world, whether occupying the position of the rulers or the ruled, are governed by the same social laws. This is due to the fact that the social system of Islam has taken root in the minds of the people. It does not stand in need of a temporal power to enforce it.

Thirdly, the social order of Islam is the only order which has proved itself to be a World Order through the thirteen centuries of its existence. Not only are the social ideals of the numerous Muslim nations, from the far East to the farthest West, with all their racial, colour and linguistic differences, the same all over the world, but the more marvellous is the fact that while numerous changes have taken place in the social ideals of other nations during the past one thousand years, the social order of Islam has remained unchanged with all the changes in the fortunes of the Muslim nations of the world. This shows only too well that the social order of Islam has in it an inherent power which makes it indifferent to all changes and vicissitudes of fortune of the nations comprising it. It is not only a World Order; it is the only stable World Order.

The fourth peculiarity of the social system of Islam is that it aims at attaining equality, so far as equality is possible, for all members of a community by raising the low to the level of the high and enriching the poor. In this respect, it stands in marked contrast with Bolshevism which seeks to equalise by impoverishing the rich and bringing the high to the level of the low. A cursory glance at the Quranic revelations of the early period of the Holy Prophet’s mission makes it clear. Islam came not only to deliver the oppressed and help the poor but to raise the poor to a higher level where they could breathe as the equals of possessors of wealth.

To attain this end, it first impressed on the minds of the rich and the poor alike that possession of heaps of gold and silver did not raise the dignity of a man, nor did poverty degrade him. Such turns of fortune did not count as anything with God, and should not count with those who believe in Him. Here are a few quotations:

“As for man, when his Lord tries him, then gives him honour and favours him, he says, My Lord honours me. But when He tries him, then straitens to him his subsistence, he says: My Lord has disgraced me” (The Holy Quran, 89:15–16).

“And were it not that all people would become one (disbelieving) community, We would provide for those who disbelieve in the Beneficent, roofs of silver for their houses and stairs (of silver) by which they ascend, and (of silver) the doors of their houses and the couches on which they recline, and of gold. And all this is naught but a provision of this world’s life; and the Hereafter is with thy Lord only for the dutiful” (The Holy Quran, 43:33–35).

The first thing which Islam does in introducing a new social order is, therefore, to place the possession of wealth before the human mind in its true perspective. It is not a thing to be discarded. It is God Who grants the good in this life (The Holy Quran, 2:201). Nor has He prohibited to any

“the embellishment which He has brought forth for His servants and the good provisions” (The Holy Quran, 7:32).

Wealth is expressly stated to be

“a means of support,”

and it must be placed in the hands of

“the weak of understanding,”

who should be maintained out of its profits (The Holy Quran, 4:5). But at the same time there is a warning that it is only a means to an end, not the end. There are higher values of life than wealth, and these must not be lost sight of in the pursuit of wealth.

“The mercy of thy Lord is better than what they amass” (The Holy Quran, 43:32).

The highest place in human heart should, therefore, not be given to wealth, it must be reserved for God.

In the Divine scheme of social order revealed to man there is another very important consideration. There is variety throughout Nature; there are differences notwithstanding uniformity. No two men are alike; nor are their brains alike. There are differences also in the human capacity to work; nor have all equal occasions to work. Some have got better brains than others; others have a greater capacity for work; still others are placed in better environment in which their work bears better fruit. These differences cannot be obliterated. They must be accepted as one of the conditions of life:

“We apportion out among them their livelihood in the life of this world, and We exalt some of them above others in rank, that some of them may take others in service” (The Holy Quran, 43:32).

“And Allah has made some of you excel others in the mean of subsistence” (The Holy Quran, 16:71).

There are no means to obliterate these differences. Even Bolshevik Russia has not been able to do away with them. Stalin and a lowly peasant: or a worker in the mines are not alike. This world cannot go on if some men are not held in subjection by others. If there were no differences, there would be no State, no organisation, and the whole thing would be a chaos. Differences in brain and differences in the capacity of work are recognised even in the socialist order which starts with the supposition that there must be perfect equality. The State may bring about an equal distribution of wealth by depriving the wealthy of their riches and tyrannising over them, as some States tyrannise over the poor, but this is not a solution.

The social order of Islam aims at a just and proper distribution of wealth. It introduced a unique system of doing this. To destroy capitalism—in other words, to take away forcibly the wealth of the rich and to make it the property of the State, nominally that of the community—would have been an act of the greatest injustice, and it was quite foreign to the spirit of Islam. It introduced a compulsory system of charity; compulsory not in the sense that any force was employed in its collection. The compulsion was moral. The individual’s mentality was changed. What a man earned was the fruit of his labour, and this he could not be denied. But when he had spent what he needed out of this and saved a certain amount, this saving was treated as his capital and a fixed portion of it was to be made over to the State for the benefit of his less fortunate brethren. That share was such that it benefited the poor without impoverishing the rich. It was a Divine ordinance and man must bow before the will of God.

The amassing of wealth was regarded as carrying a certain degree of uncleanness with it, because it affected the heart of man with the love of wealth; but the uncleanness could be washed off by giving away every year one-fortieth of it for the benefit of the poor. Hence it was called Zakat, an act of purification. If there were a Muslim State, it had the right to collect this due from a man’s savings to be distributed among those who needed help. If there were no Muslim State, the Muslim community was still to be so organised as to be able to collect the Zakat to distribute it among the poor. Man’s own conviction that the amassing of wealth was an impure act, and that purification could only be effected by paying two and a half per cent out of it, played—and to this day plays—a great part in the payment of this tax. This was only one way how Islam effected distribution of accumulated wealth. Such an attempt has not been made by any other system existing in the world.

The problem of the distribution of wealth, with which is also bound the question of political power, is undoubtedly one of the greatest problems facing humanity. The system of capitalism which is the foundation-stone, so to say, of the material civilisation of the West, has led to the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands and to the growing impoverishment of the masses. Political power has followed in the wake of wealth, and at the bidding of the capitalist the politician has to declare peace and war. The insatiable thirst on the part of the capitalists, who are the real controllers of political power, has reduced many nations of the world to a state of slavery, and regular plunder has been legalised under different high-sounding phrases such as colonisation, occupation, mandate, sphere of influence and so on. The great powers are only great capitalists on a national scale; at the same time, they help capitalism by their huge borrowings to wage war against other nations. Islam remedies this evil by prohibiting usury, which will, however, be dealt with further on.

The reaction against capitalism set in towards the middle of the nineteenth century, almost a hundred years ago. It came under the name of socialism, and gradually developed into what is known as Bolshevism. It holds Russia in its grip, perhaps as severely as capitalism still holds other European countries. Outside Russia it has made very little headway, though a very strong propaganda has been carried on by Russia. Whether it has come to stay in Russia itself is a question which only the future can decide. But there is one thing that strikes one as very strange. Bolshevism, which had come to liberate the people, is as much of a bondage as capitalism. The autocracy of Czardom has only given place to the autocracy of the Soviet.

The question before us, however, is: Has Bolshevism, by State-ownership of industry, finally solved the great problem of the distribution of wealth? To say that because the Five-Year Plan in Russia has accelerated production to an extent which could hardly be imagined, and that therefore the State-ownership of industry is the solution of the problem, is to show overhastiness in drawing a conclusion. Who knows that the people entrusted with the carrying out of the scheme, the State agents, may not tomorrow degenerate into an oligarchy similar to the oligarchy of capitalism! Human nature is too prone to such tendencies and Bolshevism hardly offers any remedy to check them. But there is more than this. Bolshevism which came as the friend of labour defeats its own end by denying to labour its fruits. The rigid system of doling out the necessaries of life to all alike, to the indolent and the hard worker, to the stupid and the intelligent, will undoubtedly foster conditions which must soon become unbearable; it is going directly against Nature and Nature’s recognised laws. Its evil results cannot be seen in a day. It took centuries to make manifest the evils of capitalism, and it will take a long time to make prominent the evils of Bolshevism.

To Islam is due the credit of not only solving the wealth problems, but at the same time, developing the higher sentiments and building up a character, on which alone can be laid the foundation of a lasting civilisation for the human race. The rigid laws of Bolshevism, which care only for the body, giving it sufficient to live on, will kill the higher sentiments of sympathy and love, qualities which not only make life worth living but lacking which humanity must degenerate into the worst barbarism. Islam accomplishes both objects by Zakat, its State institution of charity. Zakat acts not only as a levelling influence, but also as a means of developing the higher sentiments of man, the sentiments of love and sympathy towards fellowmen, while the rigid system of State-ownership helps to kill man’s higher instincts. By this means, too, wealth is made to circulate in the body politic of Islam, just as blood circulates in a living organism; a fixed portion of the wealth of the richer members is drawn to the centre, whence it is sent forth to those parts of the body politic which need it most. The institution of Zakat thus helps not only a proper distribution of wealth but also becomes a means of the uplift of the nation as a whole.

It should be borne in mind that Zakat is not simply an obligatory charity; it is a State institution, or, where there is no Muslim State, a national institution. The individual is not at liberty to calculate and spend the Zakat as he likes. It must be collected by the State or by a national organisation, and then spent on the community. The donor is not required to give a certain portion of his savings to deserving persons as charity, but to contribute the same to a fund which must be used for the uplift of the community.

State-ownership of industry and property, which is the only alternative to the Zakat or tithe system of the Islamic social order, is sometimes glibly talked of as being the best economic solution for this world. The first question is: Does it increase the wealth of the country? The harder a people work and the greater their intelligence in labour, the richer would they be in commanding the resources of Nature, which, in other words, is wealth. But State-ownership of industry and absence of all private enterprise precludes all competition and all incentive to hard and intelligent labour, and, in the end, it will, by promoting habits of indolence and apathy, lower the standard of productiveness and impoverish the nation which adopts it. National consciousness, the desire to live as a separate, powerful and independent nation, may for some time act as an incentive, but this too because of the presence of competition on a national scale. In times of war, this incentive may even be very great when there is fear of being destroyed by a more powerful nation, as it has been in Russia. But that the absence of private enterprise and private ownership in peaceful times will promote habits of indolence and sloth, is too patent a fact to be denied, and even the Soviet has been compelled to modify its first views and to introduce competition in some form.

State-ownership of property, however, which is only a natural corollary to State-ownership of industry, will result in worse conditions than those which capitalism has brought about. The evils of capitalism become more intense as the number of capitalists decreases. The less the number of competitors in the field, the greater the evil which capitalism brings in its train. And when there is only one capitalist in the field, be it the State or individual, the evils of capitalism would appear in the intensest form. Nay, a single individual as the sole capitalist in a nation would be more bearable in comparison with the State as the owner of all property and industry. An individual could be easily criticised, and he may have to mend his ways in his own interests; not so the State which can, and often does, stifle all criticism which it thinks to be adverse to its interest. There is a remedy in this world for every tyranny but there is no remedy for the tyranny of the State, more particularly of a State which is also the sole capitalist in a country. To say that such a capitalist State will work for the benefit of the masses is as baseless an assertion as the other one that an autocrat works only for the benefit: of those who are under his sway. The State is, in fact, a necessary evil to curb the dangerous elements in society; its tyranny is now and then fearful. But it will be most fearful when it holds in its hands all the financial resources of which all others are deprived. To invest the State with the sole ownership of industry and property is, therefore, to give in its hands a most dangerous weapon of tyranny, and its devastations would be much more terrific than the devastations of the world wars with which humanity is faced today.

The social order of Islam does not interfere with private ownership of industry and property, does not deprive a man of the fruits of his labour, and leaves an open field for competition, for hard work and for the exercise of intelligence. But it tries to bring about a just distribution of wealth by requiring the capitalists, the possessors of wealth, to give away a part of their wealth for the benefit of the less favoured members of society. It also works to increase the number of capitalists so that competition, being widened as much as possible, may be healthier. The Zakat is in fact meant to enable the poorer members of the community to start business with a small capital and then to increase it by their own diligence and hard work.

In addition to Zakat, there is the Islamic law of inheritance by which wealth is sought to be distributed among larger numbers, and the number of small capitalists is thus increased. Even after paying the Zakat, one-fortieth of his accumulated wealth every year, a man leaves some wealth at his death, as every diligent and hard worker must. This wealth, according to the Islamic social order, does not become the property of one person, as in the generally prevailing law of primogeniture [the law of the first-born taking the inheritance]. Islam introduced a twofold reform into the existing laws of inheritance; it made the female a co-sharer with the male, and it ordered the division of property among all the heirs on a democratic basis. One big capitalist is thus replaced on his death by many small capitalists. The general law is thus laid down in the Holy Quran:

“Men shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, and women shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, whether there is little of it or much” (The Holy Quran, 4:7).

Before the advent of Islam, the Arabs had a very strong and, to all appearance, a very sound, tradition that he alone should inherit who could smite with the spear, and therefore no portion of the inheritance was given to such of the heirs as were not capable of meeting the enemy and fighting in battles. This tradition strongly appealed to a people among whom tribal fighting was carried on day and night. Woman, as in the Jewish law, was looked upon as a part of the property of the deceased, to say nothing of her inheriting the property. And just when a defensive war against the whole of Arabia was being carried on by a handful of Muslims, the prevailing law of inheritance was declared to be unjust, and a new law given which put widows and orphans on a level of equality with those who fought for the defence of the tribe and the country. So great was the faith of Muslims in God that the new order was accepted without demur.

The new order divided heirs into two groups, the first group consisting of children, parents, and husband or wife, and the second consisting of brothers and sisters. All the persons mentioned in the first group are immediate sharers, and if all of them are living they have all of them a right in the property. The members of the second group only inherit if all or some of the members of the first group are wanting. Both groups are capable of further extension, grandchildren, or still lower descendants, taking the place of children, grandparents or still higher ascendants taking the place of parents, and uncles, aunts and other distant relatives taking the place of brothers and sisters.

There is yet a third phase of the Islamic social order which regulates a just distribution of wealth. It is the relation between the debtor and the lender. Whereas the debtor is required to be very faithful in repaying the debt—

“Among the best of you are those who are good in payment of debt,”

according to a saying of the Holy Prophet—the lender is required to be very lenient, to have more regard for his fellowman than for his money. The basic outlook of Islam on human society is that one in distress must be helped. It is laid down in the Holy Quran:

“If (the debtor) is in straitness, let there be postponement till (he is in) ease. And that you remit (it) as alms is better for you, if you only knew” (The Holy Quran, 2:280).

This principle was worked out most liberally by the Holy Prophet as the head of the Muslim State which came into existence towards the end of his life.

“I am nearer to the believers,”

he said,

“than themselves; so whoever of the believers dies and leaves a debt, its payment is on me; and whoever leaves property, it is for his heirs” (Sahih Bukhari, 69:5).

A debt contracted for a right cause was thus to be paid by the State if the debtor could not pay it.

It is for this reason too that the social order of Islam does not allow usury. The prohibition of usury is clearly associated in the Holy Quran with charity, for inasmuch as charity is the broad basis of human sympathy, usury annihilates all sympathetic affection. The usurer is likened to one whom the devil has prostrated by his touch so that he is unable to arise. Such is, in fact, the usurer who would not hesitate to reduce the debtor to the last straits if thereby he might add a penny to his millions. He grows in selfishness until he is divested of all sympathetic feelings, and greed rules his heart. Islam is basically opposed to this.

Usury, moreover, promotes habits of idleness, since the usurer, instead of doing any hard work or manual labour, becomes like the parasite, living on the labour of others. In the great struggle that is going on between capital and labour, Islam sides with labour, and, by its prohibition of usury, tries to restore the balance between the two, not allowing capital to enthral labour. It is in reference to the honourable place that Islam gives to labour that the Holy Quran says that

“Allah has allowed trade and forbidden usury”,

for while trading requires the use of labour and skill and elevates the morals, usury promotes habits of indolence, cunning and oppression. To help the distressed one who is in straits is the object of the social structure of Islam, and to reduce him to further straits is the end of usury; hence usury is called

“war with Allah and His Messenger” (The Holy Quran, 2:279).

The prohibition is not limited to what may technically be called usury. It includes all kinds of interest, whether the rate be high or low, and whether the interest is or is not added to the principal after fixed periods. Indeed, all interest has a tendency to assume, ultimately, the form of usury, and becomes oppressive for the debtor, a fact which is borne out by the history of indebtedness in all countries. It is sometimes argued that the prohibition of interest would be a serious drawback in the carrying on of trade and business transactions and also in the execution of important national schemes. Even if this be a drawback, it would be more than compensated by making impossible the world wars which entail untold misery on the human race and which are due simply to usurious borrowings. But let us look at facts. Trade was actually carried on, on the vastest scale, and important national schemes were carried into effect, by the great Muslim nations of early days spread over vast territories, they being the vanguards of the great nations of the world in the march of civilisation. True it is that the prohibition does not fit in with the modern world conditions which have been brought about by the material civilisation of the West, but the high ideal which Islam sets before itself is not unworkable, and did practically work for centuries in early Islamic civilisation.

Interest on the capital with which a business is run differs a little from interest on ordinary debts. It is, in fact, a case in which capital and labour are sharers. Such a partnership is not disallowed, but the social order of Islam requires that both capital and labour should be sharers in profit as well as in loss. The payment of interest at a fixed rate means that capital shall always have a profit even though the business may be running at a loss. It is sometimes urged that to make capital and labour share in profit as well as in loss is impracticable because it requires the keeping of an account. But the keeping of account is really a necessity of trade. Moreover, accounts have to be kept for purposes of taxation; they are also kept by all joint stock companies which carry on trade on the largest scale. This method is more advantageous for the general welfare of the community than the method of charging interest on capital, which increases the evils of capitalism and is unjust to labour. Borrowings by a State or a company for the purpose of executing big projects, such as the building of railways and canals, etc., may follow the same principle; and the banking system generally, if moulded on a co­operative basis, such as the social system of Islam requires, would be a blessing for humanity.

There are some other arrangements too for minimising the evils of capitalism in the Islamic social order, but I would mention only one more. It is the injunction relating to bequests. According to the Holy Quran, everyone who leaves wealth after him is required to bequeath a certain amount of it—not more than one-third, according to a saying of the Holy Prophet—for charitable objects, among which the help of the poor, the widows and the orphans occupies a high place. This, according to the Holy Quran, is obligatory:

“It is prescribed for you, when death approaches one of you, if he leaves behind wealth for parents and near relatives, to make a bequest in a kindly manner; it is incumbent upon the dutiful” (The Holy Quran, 2:180).

The bequest, according to a saying of the Holy Prophet, was meant for charitable objects, and was not to exceed one-third of the property of a person, so that the heirs may not be left destitute. The bequest would be as profitable a source for the amelioration of the poor as the Zakat, and if the State makes it obligatory, it would be quite in consonance with the letter and spirit of the Holy Quran.