Aug 24, 2011, 12:19 PM
(Friday, 30 August 2013, Issue)
Islam is not at all familiar with this type of serfdom or villains as it is in principle opposed to all forms of servitude save that rendered by man unto his God, the Creator of all life. There is no provision in it for the subjection of some creatures to other creatures like them.
Whenever such an abnormal state-subjection of some men to others is found due to certain external causes without any initiative from Islam, it always is a temporary or a transitional phenomenon, which it strives to do away with, with all the possible resources at its disposal, encouraging the slaves to earn their freedom besides holding the state responsible to render to them all possible help towards that end.
In economics too Islam does not recognize any bondage of man to other men like him. The system of slavery to which we have alluded above is an exception as there was no other economical alternative before Islam at that time. Islam tolerated it till the slaves were freed spiritually and till the time they were able to shoulder their responsibilities as free members of the community, whereupon Islam actively helped them in winning back their lost freedom.
Islam bases its economic structure on freedom of action coupled with a relationship of a complete co-operation and exchange of mutual services among all individuals. The Islamic government as such acts as a guardian and custodian of all such people as happen to lag behind in the struggle of life for some reason and are denied all amenities of a decent living. Thus with all resources of the state at his backing in an Islamic community no man needs let himself become a bondsman to the landowners. Islam provides for all his basic needs without degrading him or making him lose his independence, self-respect or honor.
Thus both spiritually and economically Islam is opposed to feudalism. It brought to men freedom from feudalism even before they were caught up in the shackles of serfdom.
So far as the obligations of the peasant towards his feudal lord are concerned there is no evidence whatever of their existence in the whole range of Islamic history.
It is quite free of such nonsense. In this respect, Islam stands quite unique. In case a peasant is found guilty of some crime, it allows the owner of the land to discard him and give away the land to another one. But this is not to encourage oppression; it is rather a step towards the eradication of serfdom. Islam aims at the establishment of a free relationship between the landlord and the tenant.
The other relationship that Islam recognizes as lawful between the peasant and the landlord is either that of contract or that based on tenancy. In the former case, the peasant is required to pay to the landlord a fixed amount as the rent of the land proportionate to its produce and after that he remains quits free in his cultivation and expenditure as in the acquiring of all the produce of the land for his own personal consumption. If he happened to be a tenant he will share the produce of the land at the expenses are borne by the landlord; the peasant provides the labor only. In both of these cases there is no place for forced labor, dictatorial privileges or any other obligation incumbent on the peasant to serve his master without getting anything in return. Both parties rather enjoy full equality in freedom, in their rights as well as duties with reciprocity of mutual give-and-take relationship. The peasant is, in the first pace, quite free to choose the land he would like to hire or the landlord he would prefer to work with as a tenant. Secondly, he is on a par with the landlord and enjoys as much freedom to decide or agree to the amount for the contract to be paid by him to the landlord. If he does not find the bargain profitable he is free to back out of it and not agree to the contract, the landlord having no power or right to right to take him to task for that. As a tenant the peasant enjoys as much legal privileges as his landlord. They divide the profit thereof equally between themselves.
Besides this, we also find that contrary to what happened in the history of European feudalism, the practice commonly prevalent in Islam was quite different. It was the rich landlord and not the poor peasant who gave present and bestowed bountiful gifts upon his tenants on the occasions of Eid and other festivals. This is especially true about the months of Ramadan, a month of great importance and religious significance in Islam. During this month, friends and relations paid visits of each other and were entertained with feasts along with bestowing bountiful gifts upon the poor and needy ones of their community. It means, in other words, that the rich and well-to-do people were wont to spend their riches on others rather than exact costly gifts from the poor people as was the custom in “civilized” Europe.
From this it is clear that the duties that the peasants were encumbered with in feudalism and which degenerates into forced labor have no place in the Islamic system of life. It established rather a free relationship between the landowner and the peasant with a reciprocal respect and perfect equality. As regards the duties discharged by the feudal lords in Europe towards their tenants as a recompense for their unjustifiable force labor and abject slavery to them in the form of defending them from others and safeguarding their rights, in Islamic society the rich people discharged voluntarily similar duties with regard to their tenants without expecting anything from them in return. In rendering these services to their fellowmen they sought nothing save God’s pleasure. This is what distinguishes a system of life based on a lofty creed and the one devoid of it. In the one the social services rendered by a man towards others assume the character of a worship whereby he is brought closer to his God, whereas in the other they are nothing more then a commercial enterprise, each party striving hard to get hold of the lion’s share and anxious to yield to the other nothing but that which is beyond its power to hold longer, with the result that in the end the most powerful party rather than the one rightfully deserving emerges victorious and gets away with all the profits.
The third characteristic of feudalism, that is, the right of the feudal lord to decide as to the extent of the land to be given to the tenant and prescribe the duties to be discharged by and expected of him, is a thing peculiar to the European concept of lordship and serfdom only. Such concept had never existed in the history of Islam which does not recognize the over lordship of the feudal lord or the serf hood of the peasant to him. The only factor which does restrict the choice of a peasant with regard to his acquiring a lease of land in Islam is his own free will and financial potentiality. The lesser enjoys no privileges against this save that of claiming the agreed upon rent of the land from the peasant. Similarly in tenancy the extent of the land to be farmed by a tenant is determined by his own physical ability or the number of the helpings hands (consisting of his sons generally) he can get hold of. The duties imposed on him in tenancy are no more than what the rehabilitation of the land acquired by him may necessitate. The land in such a case is considered as a common property of the peasant and the landowner till it brings forth its produce. As to the land of the tenant in tenancy, the tenant is not supposed to have anything to do with that, nor is he under any obligation to work therein whatever the form or nature of such a work or service might be.
The most striking point of difference between Islam and feudalism, however, is the judicial-cum-executive prerogative enjoyed by the landlord in feudalism. He alone in feudalism controls and regulates all social and political life within the bounds of his fiefs. Islam is diametrically opposed to such a prerogative as it aims at the abolition, rather than its retention, in the world of human relationships.
The European nations did not possess any law of the land in the real sense of the word with regard to the above-mentioned landlord-tenant relationship. The Roman Law, which later on formed the basis of all subsequent European legislation, conferred upon the feudal lords the right to become virtual dictators in their respective areas, make laws for the people, hold judicial powers among them, and enforce their decisions as they might think fit. Thus they held in their persons legislative, judicial and executive powers all in one and at the same time. Each one of them formed a government within a government. The government did not interfere with the internal affairs of the feudal monarchies so long as they continued to carry out their financial and military obligations towards it at the hour of need.
To be continued