ISLAM AND PRIVATE OWNERSHIP
Is private ownership a natural
Communists and their likes insist that it is not.
They claim that there was no private property in the earliest societies where the
"first communism" prevailed. All things, they say, were public property
shared by all people who were guided by a spirit of affection, co-operation
and brotherhood. They sadly regret that such “an angelic era" did not last
because the discovery of agriculture involved disputes over the cultivated land
and the means of production. This inevitably led to war. The Communists allege
that humanity can put an end to this dreadful evil only by returning more to “the
first Communism" where no one had a property or one's own and all
production was equally shared by all people. They believe that this is the only
way to restore peace, affection and harmony to the world.
On the other hand, psychologists and sociologists do not agree upon
a clear distinction between natural and acquired human emotions, concepts and
manners. Likewise they differ regarding private ownership. Some psychologists
and sociologists maintain that private ownership is a natural propensity born
with man regardless of the conditions of his environment. Others believe that it
is acquired through man's environment. A child, they say, refuses to part with
any of his toys either because they are too few or because he fears that
another child may take them. When there is just one toy for ten children,
quarrel is sure to break out, but, they say, where there are ten toys for ten
children everyone will have a toy of his own and there will be no conflict.
Our answer to the arguments put forward by communists
and other psychologists and sociologists is as follows:-
1. No scientist has been able to prove beyond all
doubt that private ownership is not the outcome of a natural instinct. All that
the leftists could say in this regard is that there is no conclusive evidence
available that it is the outcome of a natural instinct. But that is another
2. The example-about children and their toys-which
the communists give in support of their stand cannot lead to the conclusions
they aim at. That quarrels do not break out when ten children are given ten
toys does not rule out the existence of a natural desire for ownership. It
means that the desire for ownership may, in healthy cases, be satisfied by
absolute equality. The aforesaid example does not rule out the existence of
such desire but it may help to define its nature. Besides, no one can deny that
many children would not hesitate to usurp the toys of their friends unless they
are prevented from doing so for reasons beyond their control.
3. As to "the angelic era" which the
communists suppose to have accompanied the earliest societies, it may be said
that there is no real evidence that such an era did really exist. Even if there
had been such an era, there could have been no means of production at the time.
How could disputes arise over something that did not exist? At that time people
got their food easily and directly from trees. When they went hunting
they had to go in groups for fear of wild animals. It was impossible to store
slain animals for they would soon go bad. So they had to be eaten up as soon as
possible. The absence of conflict in that case does not rule out the existence
of a natural desire for ownership. As a matter of fact, absence of conflict is
due to absence of anything worth the strife. This is why the discovery of
agriculture brought about conflict. The said discovery stimulated a hitherto
dormant tendency which till then lacked the incentive for action.
4. No one could firmly deny that at such an early era
a conflict could have existed among a number of men for the possession of a
particular woman. In spite of the existence of sexual communism in that era no
one can say for sure that it was prevalent throughout society or that its
existence prevented men from fighting each other for possessing a woman whom
they considered very attractive.
This leads to an important conclusion: where all
things are equal and similar the possibility of a conflict may be ruled out.
But as long as things are different, conflict and struggle are bound to break
out even in the imaginary "angelic society" upon which communists
build their future prospects.
5. Finally, no one could rule out the fact
that some men who lived in that early era desired to achieve personal
distinction either by showing their bravery and physical strength or by any
other means. Some primitive tribes-examples of the so-called "first
communist society"-do still refuse to give their daughters in marriage
except to those men who would endure a hundred lashes without showing any signs
of weariness or pain. There is no doubt that the only reason that invites young
men to set out for such a painful ordeal is their desire to achieve personal
If it is true that all things follow a state of
absolute equality, we must then search for a reason that leads some people to
assert that they are not equal to but even better than others. This leads us to
the conclusion that if private ownership is not the outcome of a natural
tendency it must be closely connected with another natural tendency namely the
desire to achieve personal distinction present in man from time immemorial.
The communists allege that private ownership has been
coupled throughout the ages with injustice and, therefore, if humanity wants to
maintain peace and rid itself of bitter conflicts it must abolish private
But communists seem to forget two important facts:
that individual efforts contributed to the progress of humanity and that do
progress had been achieved during the so-called "angelic era" of
"the first communism". It can be said that humanity started to make
any progress only after the existence of conflict over ownership. This means
that such conflict is not after all an absolute evil. On the contrary its
existence, within reasonable limits, is a psychological, social and economic
In addition to this, it should also be borne in mind
that Islam does not take it for granted that private ownership underlies all
the injustice which afflicted humanity. The serious injustice that accompanied,
private ownership in Europe and other
non-Islamic countries in general was due to the fact that the propertied
classes in those countries were themselves the legislators as well as the rulers.
It was only natural that such a class should make the legislations that safeguarded
its interests at the expense of the other classes. Islam does not recognize the
existence of a ruling class. In Islam laws are not made by a specially
privileged class; these had been made by God who created all classes. It is
beyond imagination that God should favor some individuals or classes at the expense
of others. What reasons could He have for such favoritism? According to Islam,
the ruler is freely elected by all the Muslims. He is not nominated to office
by virtue of any class consideration. After assuming the duties of his office,
the ruler must follow a law which he did not make, a law that was revealed by
God Himself. In this connection we may quote a saying by Abu Bakr, the first
Caliph: "Obey me as long as I obey God in my rule over you but where I
disobey God you shall not obey me". A ruler in Islam has no legal power
authorizing him to confer upon himself or others any legislative privileges. He
has no power to prefer one class to another or to act in response to the
political influence of the propertied class by enacting legislations which
safeguard its interests while oppressing other classes.
It should be pointed out that
when we talk about Islamic rule we refer to that period in Islamic history
wherein the principles and instructions of Islam were fully applied in their
true sense. We do not refer to the periods when corruption changed the system
of rule into a monarchy. Islam does not recognize such governments nor can it
be held responsible for such rule.
That Islamic rule with all its justice and idealism
remained in force only for a brief era should not mean that it is an imaginary
system unfit for practical application. After all, what was successfully
applied once may be applied again, and it is the duty of all people to work
hard for the restoration of such an era. The present time, however, is more
propitious than ever for the re-establishment of Islamic rule.
Under Islamic rule, the propertied classes will not
be given the chance to make laws which serve their interests only. Islam prescribes
that all people must be treated according to 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 word. It is to be
recorded with pride that the great Muslim jurisprudents did never interpret any
law in a manner which might serve the interests of the propertied classes at
the expense of the poorer ones. On 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 as 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 inevitably lead to
injustice and oppression. In the field of refining and educating human nature,
Islam achieved an unmatched success. Some Muslims owned property yet "they
entertained no desire in their hearts for that which hath been given
them but give preference to others over themselves though poverty become their
lot" (Iix: 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 interests wholly dependent
on uncertain "good intentions". Despite its excessive care for the purification
and refinement of souls, Islam never forgets practical considerations. Islamic
legislation ensures a fair distribution of wealth. By not only concentrating on
the purification of the soul but also enacting just legislation, Islam lays the
proper foundations for a healthy society. Perhaps this was what Othman Ibn
Affan, the third Caliph, had in mind when he said: "God restrains 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 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 poor 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 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
In order to make this point clear, we may borrow an
example from non-Muslim countries i.e., the Scandinavian states. 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 peoples 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 same time prescribe 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 from
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 based on the assumption that the individual is an
inviolable being whose freedom must not be subjected to any social restrictions.
It follows that 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.
The economic system of Islam is based on the
above-mentioned concept of harmony which is some sort of a happy medium
between capitalism and communism. It combines the merits of both systems
without making the mistakes or deviations of either. It permits private
ownership in principle but subjects it to such restrictions as would render it
quite harmless. Islam authorizes the community and the ruler in his capacity as
the representative of the community to enact the necessary legislation
organizing ownership and to change such legislation whenever he deems that the
public interest requires it.
Islam approves of private ownership since it has ti1e
power to eliminate by various means any evils that may result from it. It will
be remembered that permission of private ownership in principle while vesting
the community with the power to organize and restrict it is a much better
arrangement than outright abolition of ownership on the uncertain assumption
that it is neither a natural propensity nor a human necessity. The fact that
Soviet Russia has had to permit a certain (small) degree of private ownership
is clear evidence that satisfying the propensities of human nature is the best
thing for both the individual and public interest.
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 the 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 conflicts with human nature and thus attempt to
realize an impossible end?
If the communists say that the differences 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.