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The Islamic state is required to guarantee a minimum level of living for those whose own earnings fall short of fulfilling their basic needs.



The economic objectives of the Islamic state are derived from its definition and functions.



Muslim scholars talk about the following functions of the Islamic state:


1. Public administration, law enforcement and protection of internal and external security;


2. Defense of religion and its territory and the promotion of righteousness, and God fearfulness;


3. Guaranteeing a minimum level of living for all those whose own earnings fall shorter than satisfying their basic needs;


4. Working towards improving material welfare of the society and its individuals as much as possible within the limits of available resources. This includes objectives of economic stability, equality, increasing of employment, social and economic development, etc.


5. Management of public properties for the benefit of all members of the society;


6. Ordaining that which is good and preventing that which is bad in general and protection and reservation of moral commitment and requirement of members of the society.



From these functions one may derive the essential economic objectives of the Islamic state as follows:


Economic Objectives of the Islamic State

1. Achieving of economic capability necessary for strengthening the Islamic state in such a way as to allow it to be a safeguard of religion, the protector of the society and its values and a vehicle of spreading Islamic da’wah in the world. This includes adequate level of performance especially in areas of economic development, science and technology and military might.


2. Working towards securing economic satisfaction of the society in general and promoting general material welfare while guaranteeing the basic needs of its individuals.


3. Maximization of the benefits of public properties, their expansion and use for the benefit of all people.


4. Obtaining necessary financial resources to run the government and spending them in accordance with Shariah.


5. Protecting the moral and legal framework and promoting a work environment conducive towards success in the hereafter. This includes ordaining what is good and preventing what is wrong.


6. Maintaining economic justice by preserving social and economic balances, achieving adequate employment for all members of the society and preserving the wealth and income of the people.



material performance should always be coupled with spiritual and moral uplift.


Some of the above mentioned objectives may require more elaboration. For instance, attaining maximum level of benefits for the society does not necessarily mean maximum production nor contradicts it.



Attaining quantitative maxima is undoubtedly an essential ingredient of the benefits of all people although alone, it is not sufficient; because the Islamic state is also charged with the safeguard of religion and observance of its moral and ethical standards. In other word, material performance should always be coupled with spiritual and moral uplift.



It may be noted that the concept of asceticism in Islam which is urged in many verses and sayings is only an individual practice which does not interfere with actions meant to affect other people. For instance, a guardian of a minor may not practice asceticism with regard to the guardian's duty of protection and promotion of the minor's material welfare.



A guardian is required to achieve maximum preservation, protection, and promotion of a minor's material interests. By the same, the Islamic state may not proclaim asceticism in its promotion of people's interests.



Consequently, achieving highest possible quantitative production is an important element in achieving the interests of Muslims; although it must not encroach on the distributive and moral aspects of the present as well the future generations. This implies that maximization of interests to people includes the moral, social, material and religious interests of the present and future generations taken all together. On the other hand, this objective also covers matters related to economic stability in general and stability of the value of money in particular, economic equilibrium and creating job opportunities sufficient to achieve full employment for all labor force in the society.



Minimum Standard of Living


With regard to the second objective, there is a difference between guaranteeing a minimum standard of living and working toward economic sufficiency. The Islamic state is required to guarantee a minimum level of living for those whose own earnings fall short of fulfilling their basic needs and who could not secure bare necessities through individual means of intra-personal solidarity. One has to distinguish between a minimum level of living and an adequate one. There is a lot of discussion among Muslim thinkers and Muslim economists on this concept. What is required, by all means, from the state, from the society, and from the neighborhood is to guarantee the minimum level of living that must be served to everyone and if it is not, i.e., if there is shortage for any person, as you find it in many statements by some companions and others, then there would be no recognition of any private property i.e. all private properties should be made available towards servicing this objective regardless of any other consideration.



the government, as a guardian of the resources of the nation, must utilize them in going beyond guaranteeing a minimum level of living.

All other considerations become secondary in relation to the objective that all individuals or persons in the Islamic society regardless of their race, religion, and what not, should be guaranteed a minimum level of living, which is a subsistence level. Subsistence level of living can be defined in basically biological terms, adding to them some Islamic refinements which includes for example, clothing that is required for the Islamic way of life, protection from the heat of the sun in summer and coolness of the wind in winter etc. Going beyond that minimum level depends on resources.



If there are resources available, definitely these resources belong to the owners, i.e. members of the ummah (nation); and the government, as a guardian of the resources of the nation, must utilize them in going beyond guaranteeing a minimum level of living. That is, whenever we talk about adequate level and improvement of material welfare of people, that depends on resource availability. Even Omar ibn al Khattab distributed money to people; and they did not need to work, instead of guaranteeing full employment. But that was only when the state has those funds available. If the state does not have them and if it has to infringe on private property it can do that only for guaranteeing the minimum level of income, but not for the adequate level.



The objective of working toward improving material welfare of individuals and society, in as much as the available resources permit, includes economic objectives like stability, improvement of employment both quantitatively and qualitatively, social and economic development, etc. All these come after that.

Who is Responsible for Education?



Now would we consider, for example, education as part of the minimum level of living requirements? My own answer is: “I don't know since I can't be sure”.



As a matter of fact, I expect many people would say:


"Yes", obviously. Let me then give you some details. In Shari'ah it is a well known fact that teaching even Quran and prayers is essentially the responsibility of the father or the parents, and not the society. Even teaching the basics of Islam is essentially the responsibility of the parents.



Teaching a handicraft to earn income is also the responsibility of the father or the parents and not the state. This has been known in fiqh throughout history and we have an example from the time of Omar. When a man came to Omar having conflict with his father; and in solving that conflict Omar asked: "What was the problem?" The man told him: "Well, whose responsibility is it to teach me Qur'an?" He said: "Your father's". The man said: "But he did not teach me. Whose responsibility is to teach me a craft to earn my living through?" He said: "Your father’s”. So, the man said: "But he did not teach me that. Whose responsibility is to select for me a mother and a name I feel proud of or at least not be insulted by?" He said: "Your father's". "But he did not do that for me", the man said. So, he said: "He didn't do all that and how would you expect me then to be good to him?"



Turning to the father, Omar concluded: "You abused your son long time before he abused you"



On the other hand, one may argue that there may be circumstances where leaving education to individuals may lead to gross injustice in the society. This should definitely be taken into consideration. But I would not hasten to answer quickly that education, elimination of illiteracy; university education must -in Islam- be the responsibility of the state. One would rather say:



Throughout our history, education was very often offered free by the awqaf institution not by the state resources.

"The issue needs to be carefully studied and, perhaps, we may reach a conclusion that it is essentially the responsibility of the father, or the family, and only in those cases where they cannot provide it or they cannot provide it adequately or they cannot provide it with justice, then the state may step in and only in as much as required. In other words, I don't have to reach a definite conclusion. It looks that at least for those who are rich, there is no responsibility on the part of government to teach their children even from first grade or to eliminate illiteracy. For them, they should pay for education. It should be at their own cost and not at the society's cost.



Historical considerations tell us that in most cases education in the Muslim society was provided either by the family as the father who is basically responsible for its provision or by the third sector - the charitable sector., i.e., mainly the awqaf and sometimes the zakat too. Throughout our history, education was very often offered free by the awqaf institution not by the state resources.



In other words, if we consider the education as part of the minimum standards of living, then we permit the state to impose taxes to provide it; we permit it to take even from private properties by any means, and in any ways in order to fulfill this responsibility. But if we consider it as basically an individual responsibility of parents, families, or the voluntary sector, then we may not reach the same conclusion.



A third important objective of the Islamic state is to manage the public properties in order to maximize the interests of Muslims derived therein. When we discuss the public property in another lecture, perhaps there we will see whether Islam propagates a big state or a small state. It seems that to take a position whether we are for a big state or a small state before we look at the types of property that is provided for in Shari'ah would be like jumping to the conclusion before it is available. But I would say that there is a considerable size of the public property and administering it for the benefits of people is an important function of the Islamic state. So, one of its objectives is to maximize the benefits of people derived out of the public property.




Ordaining what is Good and Prohibiting what is Wrong

With regard to the fifth objective, one may notice that imam Mawardi distinguishes between two kinds of "ordaining what is good and prohibiting what is wrong": public and personal. He says: "There are two meanings: One, intra-personal 'khas'; it applies between individuals that you find a person not doing right or doing wrong and you advise him/her to do the right; and you try to prevent him/her from doing wrong. But he adds: "There are also kinds of commanding the good and forbidding the evil that belong to the society. For example, drinking requires purified or healthy water. This is the responsibility of the whole people together. The state has that responsibility of ordaining this kind maruf (commanding the good) and preventing a public wrong such as infringing on a public road, polluting the environment, destroying forests or rivers, placing one's own shop or merchandize on a part of a road and using it as private property, in a way that hinders traffic, etc…



the Islamic economic system has a clear tendency towards more equitable distribution of resources

The last point with regards to the objectives of the Islamic state which may require some comment is preservation of overall social and economic balance. You may call it equity, or tendency towards equity.



Looking at the relevant texts that we have in the Quran, Sunnah and fiqh, the Islamic economic system has a clear tendency towards more equitable distribution of resources (wealth and income). It has a built-in mechanism to go into that direction. For example, Omar ibn al Khattab once preserved certain land, a lot of land, for the camels and herds that are collected as zakat (alms) and he instructed the officer on it that: "Well, if some poor man comes to you with his few sheep or few camels, let them graze in this land, that is ok. But if 'Uthman ibn 'Affan and Abd al Rahman bin 'Auf come to you with their herds, don't allow them in. These are rich people. Even if all their cattle are wiped out because of drought, they can lean back to their wealth that they have in the city. But those poor guys have nothing else to lean on. So, you let them in and don't ever let the cattle of 'Uthman and ibn 'Auf in".



This is a tendency toward more equity and there are many other indications in the Quranic verses and other sources of Shari'ah.



Basic Principles Related to the Economic Functions of the Government


While working towards fulfillment of these objectives the Islamic government is required to observe some principles that govern its operations the most important principles are the following:


1. Commitment to the terms of Shari'ah outlines a framework for action that determines what is permissible and what is not permissible knowing that there is a broad area left by Shari'ah itself for human mind to exercise its role is discovering that which is best within the broad guidelines provided by the divine revelation.


2. Commitment to the order of priorities given in general by the Shari'ah. Most Muslim scholars accept the order of priorities given by Imam Al Ghazali and Imam Al Shatibi. Both argue that all things of life may be divided in three categories:


a- Necessities that represent indispensable things and actions which preserve religion, life, mind, posterity and wealth.


b- The second category covers what they call needs. Needs are those things and actions without which there may be serious inconvenience in life, religion, mind, posterity and wealth.


c- The third category covers those things and actions that improve and refine the quality and the performance of human beings in those five areas. These two Muslim scholars also discussed priorities among five axioms related to human beings on earth: religion, life, mind, posterity and wealth. They argue that religion comes first then life then mind then posterity and lastly wealth.



Consequently, for necessities related to religion one may sacrifice necessities related to life or wealth whereas, for refinements in religion one may not sacrifice needs or necessities of life. The sacrifice of life and wealth for religion is called “al jihad fi sabil Allah”.




There is certain order in safeguarding these basic axioms and the state must observe that order in all its functions. For instance, if the state has some funds to be used for establishing a factory, and there is a need for baby milk in the society, and there is also a desire for perfume. Would the state build a perfume factory or a baby milk factory? It seems to me that it must start with those essential projects, those that can be defined within the necessities that safeguard and preserve the five basic axioms.



a private person is free and cannot be forced to alter his/her preferences that do not contradict a Shari'ah commandments.



Let us take the same example and put in front of private individuals. If an individual is interested in producing perfume because it is more profitable for him/her than producing baby milk or even basic food stuff, can the state force this individual to abandon his/her profitable perfume project in order to go into the baby milk? It seems to me that an affirmative answer to this question would be very difficult. It may run in opposition to the basics of Shari'ah, because a private person is free and cannot be forced to alter his/her preferences that do not contradict a Shari'ah commandments.



Let us remember in this regard, that on the individual level, people were using perfume and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) even ordained them on Friday to use perfume saying: "take some out of your wife's perfume before you go to prayers on Friday." He said this at the time when some companions and the Prophet himself were putting one or two stones on their stomachs to push it inside out of hunger, and a companion would sometimes fall down in the street out of hunger too. When it comes to forcing individuals against their own will, there is a lot of barriers before the state can infringe on the individual freedom and a lot of justification would have to be presented before such a limitation on private ownership may be permitted in Shari'ah. This is not the case, however with public funds. They definitely must be used in accordance with that priority of the people and to serve their best interests following the priority order mentioned earlier.


3- Strong interrelation between the functions objectives of the Islamic government and availability of resources:


This means a strong link between public revenues and expenditures. It can be observed by looking carefully at the different kinds of public revenues in the Islamic system. Some of these revenues, e.g., zakat is strictly designated to fulfill certain objectives and it may not be diverted towards others.



On the other hand, there are certain public revenues whose utilization is not restricted and they can be utilized to achieve any of the objectives of the Islamic government. These include kharaj (a tax on agricultural land), and revenues from the public properties.



This kind of inter-relation is also found when one looks at the discussions of the Muslim scholars about the permissibility of imposing taxes, e.g., while all Muslim scholars agree that imposing of any taxes to fulfill wishes, pleasures and private interests of the rulers is strongly prohibited, many of them argue that if there are necessities for spending, the Islamic state may impose taxes to the extent of those necessities.



In other words, there are functions and expenses for which the government may use any available resources and if there are no available resources then it may take from the private resources.



But there are functions for which you cannot do that nor can you take from individuals in order to achieve them. For instance, if there are hungry stomachs in the society or defense needs, they must be fulfilled even if it were at the expenses of confiscating the private property of the rich. On the other hand, you cannot do that for other purposes, such as promoting employment or university education unless related to the security or the defense of the nation.


4- Adherence to the Principle of Economic Freedom and Protection of Private Properties:



Private ownership is protected in Islam vis-à-vis the government itself.

The Islamic Shari'ah emphasizes that human beings are authorized over their private properties; they dispose of them the way they like; and they are completely free to take their decisions with regard to their own properties. Private ownership is protected by Shari'ah itself and not left to the authority of the government to eliminate, restrict or limit. Private ownership is protected in Islam vis-à-vis the government itself. It must be noted that presence of a few prohibitions in Shari'ah restriction on economic freedom because any social order requires certain organization of transactions and inter-personal relationships; and those prohibitions are only imposed to the extent that is necessary to preserve the religious values, moral standards and social order.



After all, every society has to choose certain rules for a social organization that puts caps on certain individual activities one way or another.



Additionally, let us take a look at what is prohibited on the level of individual behavior, only a few things that at usually harmful. You can produce anything, you can enter any market, you can buy any commodity, you can quit producing, you can be employed, you may select to be self employed, etc.



5- General Interests have Priority over Private Interests:



This principle establishes that individual interests may be foregone if this is necessary for preserving the interests of all. However, a public interest for which such a sacrifice may be tolerable should be certain, indispensable and can only be achieved through this sacrifice.



6- The Principle of Social Duties:


Shari'ah introduces a unique concept for things that are needed in a society requiring collective action, whereby it establishes individual responsibility and accountability for fulfillment of these social duties, i.e., a social duty is coupled in Shari’ah with an individual responsibility of all those who are capable of discharging of the social duties. Until and unless a social need is fulfilled, individuals are personally responsible for its fulfillment. This personal and individual responsibility is only relieved if the social duty is achieved by any one. This concept is called “fard al kifayah” (a communal obligation); it allows the society to dispose of things that require collective action by means of political decision making.



Beyond those social necessities, any obligation that may be created by the government can only be justified by the individuals' acceptance and nothing else. That is, whenever you talk about say a traffic law that is not in Shari'ah, and you want to force people to stop at the red light, which is not obviously in Shari'ah, such an action can only be justified by the votes of people. It can only be on the basis of peoples’ acceptance either directly or by their representatives, i.e., by the public vote. This public acceptance was in the early Islamic state very much binding with regard to voluntary public revenues. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not collect any tax except zakat (alms). He depended on voluntary contributions, and whenever he had any project, he would call for people to volunteer to finance that project. Obviously, if no people volunteered to finance the project, it would have been scrapped, because people didn't like it. This is the principle that justifies any government-imposed obligations restrictions that are not already existing in Shari'ah.



7. Shura (Consultation):


Shari'ah also requires that decisions in the society be taken in accordance with principle of shura (consultation). This principle is based on the verses of the Quran and is applied in accordance with the sayings of Prophet Muhammad: “Human beings are like comb's teeth" (Al Albani). This requires that with regard to shura, people may only be treated equally; and in a metropolitan society of today's world, it can only be fulfilled by voting.


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