#Article (Archive)

Islam the Misunderstood Religion: Islam and private ownership

Nov 1, 2013, 10:26 AM

Under Islamic rule, the propertied classes will not be given the change to make laws which serve their interest only.Islam prescribes that all people must be treated according the same laws without any discrimination regarding human rights or dignity.

In case of any differences as to the interpretation of some provisions of law-which happens with respect to every law on earth-the jurisprudents will have the last world. It is to be recorded with pride that the great Muslim jurisprudents did never interpret any law in a manner which might serve the interest of the propertied classes at the expense of the poorer ones. One the contrary, they have always been especially inclined to satisfy the basic demands of the working classes and to give them their full due. In fact, some Muslim jurisprudents went so far to regard the workman or the peasant to be in partnership (as far as profits are concerned) with his employer.

On the other hand, Islam does not rate human nature so low as to take it for granted that ownership will always inevitable lead to injustice and oppression. In the field of refining and educating human nature, Islam achieved an unmatched success. Some Muslim owned property yet “they entertained no desire in their hearts for that which hath been given them but gave preference to others over themselves though poverty become their lot” (lix : 7). So they willingly shared their own property with others without expecting any return save forgiveness and recompense from God.

We should always try to remember such noble and lofty examples-rare as they may be. They should be regarded as a ray of light that guides our future steps and unfolds to us the noble achievements which humanity may aspire to realize in future.

It should be understood that Islam never wants us to live in a world of dreams nor does it make the public interest wholly dependent on uncertain “good intentions’. Despite its excessive care for the purifications and refinement of souls, Islam never forgets practical considerations. Islamic legislation ensures a fair distribution of wealth. By not only concentrations on the purification of the soul but also enacting just legislation, Islam lays the proper foundations for a healthy society. Perhaps this was Othman ibn Affan, the third Caliph, had in mind when the said: “God restrain by power what He does not restrain by the Quran”.

To return to the question of ownership, it can be said that ownership existed in certain ages without leading to injustice. Islam permitted ownership of land but never allowed it to lead to feudalism as it did in Europe. Islam took the necessary precautions by enacting economic and social legislations which precautions by enacting economic and social legislations which precluded feudalism and ensured a respectful standard of living even for those who did not own any land. It was such a guarantee that protected the poorer class from exploitation by the propertied one.

On the other hand, granting that capitalism might have existed in Islam, it must be understood that Islam would have permitted only such type of capitalism as would serve the public interest. By purifying and refining human nature and at the same time making the necessary legislations, Islam would not have allowed capitalism to grow into an oppressive and exploiting force. By so doing Islam in would have relieved the world from the evils which plague the present western world. Besides, the permission of private ownership under Islam was subject to certain restrictions. It was prescribed, for example, that public resources are public property. Where principles of justice required it, Islam prohibited private ownership and permitted it only when satisfactory guarantees had been made against injustice and oppression.

In order to make this point clear, we may borrow an example from non-Muslim countries i.e., the Scandinavian State. The English, the Americans and the French-staunch advocates of racial and national discrimination-admit that the Scandinavian peoples are the most civilized and affectionate people on earth. It is to be pointed out that such countries have not abolished private ownership but made necessary guarantees for a fair distribution of wealth. Such guarantees bridge the gap between the classes and at the time prescribes that wages should be proportionate to work. It can be said that the Scandinavian states have in this connection come closer than any other state in the world –to a realization of some aspects of Islam.

It is impossible to separate any economic system form the social and intellectual philosophies underlying it. If we review the three doctrines that are currently propagated-capitalism, communism and Islam-we shall realize how the economic system and the theory of ownership in each doctrine are closely related to their social background. As previously mentioned, capitalism is bases on the assumption that the individual is an in violable being whose freedom must not be subjected to any social restrictions. It follows the capitalism tends to permit unrestricted private ownership.

On the other hand, communism is based on the belief that the community is the base and that the individual has no separate existence of his own. Therefore, communism renders unto the state (as representative of the community) the ownership of all properties thus depriving all individuals of such a right.

Islam holds a different social concept and, therefore, it adopts a different economic system. With respect to the individual-community relationship, Islam maintains that an individual has two simultaneous capacities: his capacity as an independent individual and his capacity as a member of the community. His response to either capacity may at times be greater than his response to the other one but he will finally combine and harmonize both.

The social concept based on such a belief does not separate the individual from his community nor does it regard them as two conflicting forces trying to overcome one another. Since an individual has an independent existence and is at the same time a member of the community, it is required of legislation to establish harmony between individual and communal propensities as well as between the interests of each individual and those of others. But such harmony must be achieved without sacrificing either interest for the good of the other. Legislation should not aim at the crushing of individuals for the sake of society nor should it allow society to disintegrate for the sake of one or more individuals.

Why shall we abolish private ownership? For what ends shall we call upon Islam to do so?

Communism alleges that the abolition of private ownership is the only means to establish equality among people and to suppress the inherent desire for domination and power. Russia abolished ownership of the means of production but has it realized the objectives it hoped to achieve by such abolition? It will be remembered that Russia under Stalin had to introduce a voluntary overtime work shift for those who had the energy to do it in return for extra wages. By so doing Russia was creating differences in the wages paid to workers.

Do all people in Russia receive the same wages? Is it possible that doctors and nurses draw the same salaries? Communist propagandists often tell us that engineers get the highest wages in Russia and that artists collect the biggest income. By saying this they unwittingly admit the existence of differences in wages among the various classes in Russia. Such differences are noticeable not only among members of various classes but also among members of the same class.

Has communist Russia managed to wipe out the instinct of domination or the desire to achieve personal distinction? If so, how are trade union leaders, factory managers, senior administrators and commissars selected? How do they sort out active members of the ruling communist Party?

Apart from the question of the abolition or approval of private ownership, should we not admit that the desire for domination and personal distinction is inherent in human nature?

Since the abolition of ownership could not rescue humanity from what communism regards as a great evil, why should we follow its example by taking a course that conflict with human nature and thus attempt to realize an impossible end?

If the communists say that the difference among the classes and the individuals in Russia are too small to lead to luxury or deprivation we may say that-thirteen centuries before communism came into existence-Islam included among its principles the necessity of bridging the gaps among people, prohibiting luxury and wiping out deprivation.