The New World Order

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 2: The Economic Problem (Appendix 2: Summary of Islamic Teachings: Economic Aspect)

In the Islamic social order, the highest place of honour is given to labour.

“No one eats better food than that which he eats out of the work of his hand,”

the Holy Prophet is reported to have said (Sahih Bukhari, 34:15).

And he added:

“The Prophet of God, David, ate out of the work of his hand.”

Even the tending of goats for remuneration is considered honourable, the Holy Prophet himself doing this work

“for some carats”

in his earlier days (Sahih Bukhari, 7:2). His Companions did not disdain the work of a porter (Sahih Bukhari, 24:10), and they were advised to earn their livelihood, if necessary, by bringing

“a bundle of firewood”

on their backs and selling it in the market (Sahih Bukhari, 24:50). The humblest work carried with it a dignity; those who followed the profession of a butcher or a seller of meat, a goldsmith, a blacksmith, a tailor, a weaver or a carpenter were looked upon as honourable members of the society (Sahih Bukhari, 34:21, 28–32). The Holy Prophet himself did the work of mending his clothes and his shoes, milking his goats, cleansing his utensils with his own hands; and though he occupied the high dignity of a spiritual teacher and a king at one and the same time, yet within his house, he helped his wife in her house-hold work (Sahih Bukhari, 10:44). Women, too, did work of labour like men.

Withholding the remuneration of a labourer is denounced in the strongest terms:

“On the Day of Resurrection I shall be the adversary in dispute of a person … who employs a servant and receives fully the labour due from him, then does not pay his remuneration” (Sahih Bukhari, 34:106).

On the other hand, it is an act of great virtue to invest the unpaid remuneration of a labourer in a profitable business, so that it should become abundant wealth (Sahih Bukhari, 37:12). The basic rule is laid down in the Holy Quran that the servant shall do his work faithfully and to the best of his ability, and that the master shall pay him fully for the service rendered (Sahih Bukhari, 28:25, 26). The servant must be treated on a perfect basis of equality in all other matters, so much so that he may dine on the same table with his master (Sahih Bukhari, 42:18). The master and the servant are, in fact, considered to be two contracting parties, and the one is not considered to be higher in status than the other, simply on account of this relation (Sahih Bukhari, 37:14).

The outlook of Islam on wealth is quite different from that of the modern civilisation which considers it as the be-all and the end-all of life. Economic gains have a secondary place in Islam, duty to God taking precedence of all other duties.

“People used to buy and sell and carry on trade,”

we are told in a hadith,

“but when it was the turn of a duty out of the duties imposed by Allah, neither merchandise nor selling diverted them from the remembrance of Allah” (Sahih Bukhari, 34:8).

The Holy Quran speaks of the activities of Muslims in similar words (The Holy Quran, 24:37). Islam gives wealth its rightful place as the means to an end:

“Your wealth, God has made if for you a means of support”

and it is therefore not to be wasted by handing it over to the weak of understanding (The Holy Quran, 4:5); it should not be squandered wastefully (The Holy Quran, 17:26) or spent extravagantly (The Holy Quran, 25:67). But possession of wealth does not necessarily carry honour with it, nor does any disgrace attach to being in straitened circumstances (The Holy Quran, 89:15, 16). The amassing of wealth, on the other hand, takes away contentment of mind and ends in disaster (The Holy Quran, 104:2–4).

Again, wealth is considered to be the fruit of labour, and everyone, man or woman, has a right to earn wealth by his or her labour:

“Men shall have the benefit of what they earn and women shall have the benefit of what they earn” (The Holy Quran, 4:32).

In fact, to deny possession of wealth to anyone earning it is to deny the fruit of labour. Wealth may also be inherited by both men and women (The Holy Quran, 4:7). It may also be given or taken as a gift (The Holy Quran, 4:4; Sahih Bukhari, 51:1). There is no limit to the wealth which a man may possess (The Holy Quran, 4:20); but everyone who possesses about Rs. 50 or more is required to pay Zakat, i.e., two and a half per cent of his savings annually, which goes to a common fund for the help of the poor (The Holy Quran, 9:60; Sahih Bukhari, 24:1, 4; Mishkat al-Masabih, 6:1). This fund is to be managed by the Muslim State or the Muslim community. Zakat is not charity in the true sense of the word; it is a tax payable to the State or an organised body; only one-third may be left, if necessary, with the individual, for distribution according to his choice (Mishkat al-Masabih, 6:1).

The conception of charity is very broad in Islam, including the doing of any good to a fellow-man, or helping him in any matter, or refraining from doing him evil, or showing him the right way or meeting him with a cheerful countenance, and so on (Sahih Bukhari, 24:31; 56:72). Doing good to dumb animals is also charity (Mishkat al-Masabih, 6:6). Charity must be given and should not be asked; the humblest work is recommended as being more honourable than begging (Sahih Bukhari, 24:50). It may be given openly as in the case of a contribution to public charitable funds, or in secret (The Holy Quran, 2:271).

Among means of livelihood, trade occupies the most prominent place; the honest merchant is ranked with the righteous servants of God who devote their lives to the service of humanity (Tirmidhi, 12:4). The seller is required to be just in weighing or measuring (The Holy Quran, 17:35), generous in dealing (Sahih Bukhari, 34:16), giving respite even to those in easy circumstances and forgiving those in straitened circumstances (Sahih Bukhari, 34:16). If there is a defect in the thing sold, it must be made manifest to the purchaser (Sahih Bukhari, 34:19). The buyer should be given the opportunity to examine the thing purchased (Sahih Bukhari, 34:62). Special directions are given as to the sale of cereals, as they are the prime need of every man. They should be sold in the market so that they may be had at the price which the producer obtained (Sahih Bukhari, 34:49). Speculation in cereals is prohibited (Sahih Bukhari, 34:54). The withholding of cereals to raise their price artificially is forbidden (Mishkat al-Masabih, 12:8). Immoveable property, it is recommended, should only be sold if the seller intends investing the price in other immoveable property (Musnad of Ahmad, IV:307).

Cultivation of land and planting of fruit trees is spoken of as an act of great merit (Sahih Bukhari, 41:1); but the warning is given at the same time that a people who give themselves up entirely to agriculture neglecting other lines of their development cannot rise to eminence (Sahih Bukhari, 41:2). Impetus is given to the cultivation of wasteland by giving a preferential right to such cultivators (Sahih Bukhari, 41:15). Private ownership of land is recognised and the owner of land has a right to let it for cultivation to another person (Sahih Bukhari, 41:19); but it is recommended that those who possess vast tracts of land and can afford should allow their lands to be cultivated rent-free by their poorer brethren (Mishkat al-Masabih, 12:13). The State’s claim on produce of land is limited to one-tenth in the case of land watered by rain or by natural channels running on the surface, and to one-twentieth in the case of land watered by wells (Sahih Bukhari, 24:55). A man encroaching on his neighbour’s land is threatened with the severest punishment (Sahih Bukhari, 46:14).

All transactions relating to borrowing and lending must be put to writing and the interest of the debtor must be specially guarded (The Holy Quran, 2:282). A man must avoid contracting debts as far as possible (Sahih Bukhari, 39:3; 43:10). Contracting a debt when one does not intend to pay it is denounced (Sahih Bukhari, 43:2). Granting respite to a debtor and the remission of debt when the debtor is in straitened circumstances are laudable acts (Sahih Bukhari, 34:17). It is good to make payment in excess of the sum which a person owes (Sahih Bukhari, 43:7). Deferring payment of debt by one who has the means is not only unjust, it may even be punished (Sahih Bukhari, 43:13). Mortgaging of property as security for payment is allowed subject to certain conditions (The Holy Quran, 2:283; Sahih Bukhari, 43:1; 48:9). Usury is prohibited (The Holy Quran, 2:275).

Everyone possessing wealth is required to make a will for charitable objects to the extent of one-third of his property (The Holy Quran, 2:180; Sahih Bukhari, 55:1; 23:37). What remains of the property of a deceased person after payment of debts and execution of the will should be divided among the relatives, both male and female (The Holy Quran, 4:11, 12). If there are no near or distant relatives to inherit, the property of a deceased Muslim would vest in the Muslim State, or when there is no Muslim State, in the Muslim community.

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