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Books Section > The Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad by Maulana Muhammad Ali > Chapter 9: Wealth

Chapter 9:

The Prophet aimed, from the first, at establishing a world-wide order affecting all phases of human life. The foundations of this order rested on two main principles, a vital faith in one God and the oneness of humanity. After adopting the necessary methods for deepening the roots of God-consciousness in the human heart and welding together diverse races and nations into one human nation, the Prophet applied himself to the working out of the essential details of that order. In any order relating to human life, the question of wealth undoubtedly occupies a very prominent place, and this question finds a detailed discussion in the Prophet's teachings. All questions affecting the acquisition of wealth, its possession and its proper distribution are fully discussed. In the first place, wealth was not a thing to be discarded, nor was its acquisition prohibited. Nature's gifts were the gifts of God:

Say, Who has prohibited the adornment of Allah and the good provisions which He has brought forth for His servants? Say, These are for the believers in the life of this world, purely theirs on the Resurrection-day; thus do we make the communications clear for a people who know. Say, My Lord has prohibited only indecencies, those of them that are apparent as well as those that are concealed. (7:32,33)

O you who believe, Eat of the good things that We have provided you with, and give thanks to Allah if He it is that you serve. (2:172)

And He it is Who produces gardens of vine, trellised and untrellised, and palms and seed-produce, of which the fruits are of various sorts, and olives and pomegranates, like and unlike; eat of its fruit when it bears fruit and pay the due of it on the day of its reaping ... And of cattle He created beasts of burden and those which are fit for slaughter only; eat of what Allah has given you. (6:141,142)

And He it is Who has made the sea subservient that you may eat fresh flesh from it and bring forth from it ornaments which you wear, and thou seest the ships cleaving through it and that you might seek of His bounty and that you may give thanks. (16:14)

The Prophet even taught his followers to pray to God for the good things of this life:

Our Lord! Grant us good in this life and good in the Hereafter. (2:102)

The possession of wealth was further pointed out to be a necessary condition of life on this earth:

And do not give away your wealth, which Allah has made for you a means of support to the weak of understanding and maintain them out of the profits of it. (4:5)

Wealth was thus a means of support for man; its wastage had to be guarded against, and those who were likely to squander away their wealth had to be restrained from doing so by placing their wealth in the control of guardians who were required to maintain them out of its profits. It had to be earned and acquired and men and women were in this respect placed on one level:

Men shall have the benefit of what they earn and women shall have the benefit of what they earn. (4:32)

Wealth could also be acquired by inheritance, and men and women were again placed on the same level:

Men shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, and women shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave. (4:7)

It could also be acquired as a gift:

But if they (that is, the women) of themselves be pleased to give you a portion of it, then eat it with enjoyment and with wholesome result. (4:4)

The only restriction on the acquisition of wealth was that it could not be acquired by unlawful means:

And do not swallow up your wealth among yourselves by false means, neither seek to gain access thereby to the judges, so that you may swallow up a part of the wealth of men wrongfully while you know. (2:188)

O you who believe! Do not devour your wealth among yourselves falsely except that it be trading by your mutual consent. (4:29)

The Companions of the Prophet did all kinds of work; they were engaged in trade; they cultivated land; they carried on different professions; they worked as labourers; but they were enjoined not to be so engrossed with these occupations as to forget their duty to God:

Men whom neither merchandise nor selling diverts from the remembrance of Allah and the keeping up of prayer and the giving of poor-rate. (24:37)

O you who believe! When the call is given for prayer on Friday, hasten to the remembrance of Allah and leave off business; that is better for you if you know. And when the prayer is ended, disperse abroad in the land and seek of Allah's grace, and remember Allah much so that you may be successful. (62:9,10)

O you who believe! Let not your wealth and your children divert you from the remembrance of Allah; and whoever does that, these are the losers. (63:9)

The possession of wealth was subject to the same condition; there was nothing wrong in having wealth but wealth was not to be placed above duty to God:

Say, If your fathers and your sons and your brethren and your mates and your kinsfolk, and the wealth which you have acquired, and trade, the dullness of which you fear, and the houses which you love, are dearer to you than Allah and his Messenger and striving in His way, then wait till Allah brings about His command, and Allah does not guide the transgressing people. (9:24)

It did not matter if a man had more or less of wealth. Inequality in wealth was just a condition of life. There is inequality throughout nature:

And in the earth there are tracts side by side and gardens of grapes and corn and palm trees having one root and others having distinct roots -- they are watered with one water and We make some of them excel others in fruit; surely there are signs in this for a people who understand. (13:4)

Dost thou not see that Allah sends down water from the cloud, then We bring forth therewith fruits of various sorts; and in the mountains are streaks, white and red, of various hues, and others intensely black. And of men and beasts and cattle are various sorts of it likewise. (35:27,28)

There is variety throughout; no two blades of grass are alike, nor are any two men alike. There are differences in their brains, in their capacity for work, in their environment and in the circumstances in which they have to work, and therefore also in the fruit which they reap for their work. These differences could not be obliterated, and men were therefore told to accept them as one of the conditions of life:

We distribute among them their livelihood in the life of this world, and We have exalted some of them above others in degrees that some of them may take others in subjection. (43:32) 

And Allah has made some of you excel others in the means of subsistence, so those who are made to excel do not give away their subsistence to those who are under them that they should be equal therein. (16:71)

But it was impressed on the minds of both the rich and the poor that the possession of more wealth did not raise the dignity of a man, nor did poverty degrade him. Such turns of fortune did not count as anything with God, nor should they count with those who believed in Him:

Then, as for man, when his Lord tries him and gives him wealth and makes him lead an easy life, he says, My Lord has honoured me. And when He tries him and straitens to him his means of subsistence, he says, My Lord has disgraced me. By no means! (89:15,16)

And were it not that all people would become one (disbelieving) community, we would certainly have assigned to those who disbelieve in the Beneficent God to make of silver the roofs of their houses and the stairs by which they ascend, And the doors of their houses and the couches on which they recline, And of gold; and all this is naught but provision of this world's life, and the higher life is with thy Lord only for those who have regard for their duty. (43:33-35)

The most honourable of you with Allah is the one among you who has the greatest regard for his duty. (49:13)

The Prophet himself, who was honoured both as the spiritual and temporal head of the people, had not any wealth in his house, and he did not leave a single coin to be inherited. The mentality he wanted to create was that wealth was not a criterion of greatness or honour. He viewed the question of wealth in its right perspective; it was needed for the subsistence of man but its possession did not raise the dignity of man.

Wealth was necessary for man to live on this earth, but it was only a means to an end; not the end. There were higher values of life and these were not to be lost sight of in the pursuit of wealth:

The mercy of thy Lord is better than what they amass. (43:32)

The love of desires, of women and sons, and hoarded treasures of gold and silver, and well-bred horses and cattle, and tilth, is made to seem fair to men; this is the provision of the life of this world; and Allah is He with Whom is the good goal of life. Say, Shall I tell you of what is better than these? For those who have regard for their duty are gardens with their Lord in which rivers flow to abide in them and pure mates and Allah's pleasure ... The patient and the truthful and the obedient and those who spend in charity and those who ask for Divine protection in the morning times. (3:14-17)

In the following verse, as also in some other places, the hereafter stands for the higher life or the higher values of life:

Whoever desires this present life (i.e., makes wealth the goal of his life), We hasten to him therein what We please for whomsoever We desire ... And whoever desires the hereafter (i.e., makes the higher life his goal) and strives for it as he ought to strive and he is a believer, their striving shall be gratefully accepted. All do We aid -- these as well as those -- out of the bounty of thy Lord, and the bounty of thy Lord knows no bounds. See how We have made some of them to excel others, and certainly the hereafter is much superior in respect of degrees and much superior in respect of excellence. (17:18-21)

On the other hand, the amassing of wealth led to some evils, which are repeatedly pointed out. In the first place, inordinate love of wealth diverts a man from the higher values of life:

The desire of increasing riches diverts you, until you come to the graves. (102:1-2)

A man who runs madly after wealth, whose avarice for possessions of more and more wealth knows no limits, cannot devote any attention to the higher values of life. There is no place for the love of God in a mind in which the love of wealth reigns supreme, and by and by he forgets God altogether and loses the contentment of mind, which can be found only in the remembrance of God:

Those who believe and whose hearts are set at rest by the remembrance of Allah; now surely, by Allah's remembrance are the hearts set at rest. (13:28)

The love of wealth, if no check is put upon it, ultimately becomes a burning fire in the heart:

Woe to every slanderer, defamer, Who amasses wealth and considers it a provision (to keep off evils); He thinks that his wealth will make him abide. Nay! he shall certainly be hurled into the crushing disaster. And what will make thee realise what the crushing disaster is? It is the fire kindled by Allah, Which rises above the hearts. It shall be closed over upon them, In extended columns. (104:1-9)

Love of wealth is here spoken of as becoming first a fire that burns in the heart, and then this very fire turns into hell in the next life. The lover of wealth is here called a slanderer and defamer; elsewhere it is stated that the love of wealth ultimately leads to the basest morals:

And obey not any mean swearer, Defamer, going about with slander, Forbidder of good, transgressor, sinful, Greedy; besides all that, mischiefmonger; Because he is possessed of wealth and sons. (68:10-14)

The Prophet thus made it clear that inordinate love of wealth leads to moral degradation of the worst type. It further kills all noble feelings for the service of humanity:

But you do not honour the orphan; Nor do you urge one another to feed the needy; And you eat away the heritage with devouring greed; And you love wealth with exceeding love. (89:17-20)

The amassing of wealth is therefore condemned in the severest words:

Those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in Allah's way, announce to them a painful chastisement. On the day when it shall be heated in the fire of hell, then their foreheads and their sides and their backs shall be branded with it; This is what you hoarded up for yourselves, therefore taste what you hoarded. (9:34, 35)

To keep man's desire for wealth within bounds, and as a measure against wealth accumulating in fewer and fewer hands, in other words, to guard men against the evils of capitalism, the Prophet, guided by Divine revelation, laid down certain laws. Every religious reformer laid stress on charity and so did the Prophet, as already shown, but he went a step further. He made charity compulsory under certain conditions. What a man earned was the fruit of his labour and he was entitled to it. But he owed a duty to his fellow-beings. When he had spent what he needed out of his earnings and saved a certain amount, this saving was treated as taxable capital, and a fixed portion of this saving was to be collected and spent, under an organised system, for the benefit of the poor and the needy.

Charity was thus to be exercised in two ways, a voluntary charity out of one's income and an obligatory charity out of one's savings.

The obligatory charity was called zakat, meaning an act of purification. The amassing of wealth was regarded as carrying a certain degree of uncleanness with it, because it affected the heart of man with the love of wealth. This uncleanness could be washed off by giving away every year one-fortieth of it for the benefit of the poor. Hence it was called zakat. Though obligatory, the basic idea underlying zakat was man's own conviction that the amassing of wealth was an impure act, and that purification could only be effected by paying 2 1/2 per cent out of it for the benefit of the poor.

It was undoubtedly a tax, but a tax which had a moral sanction behind it. As such it stands unique both as charity and as tax. As charity it is obligatory, but the obligation is moral. As tax, the sanction behind it is moral, not the physical force of the State. Zakat was, however, not simply obligatory charity; it was a State institution; and in the absence of a Muslim State, a national institution. The individual was not at liberty to calculate and spend his zakat as he liked, or to give a certain portion of his wealth to deserving persons. He was required to contribute the same to a fund which was to be used for the uplift of the community. Collectors were to be appointed for the realisation of this tax and their wages were a burden on this very fund. Thus it was laid down:

Obligatory charity is meant only for the poor and the needy and the officials appointed for its collection and those whose hearts are made to incline to truth and the ransoming of captives and those in debt and for the cause of Allah and the wayfarer. (9:60)

The Prophet thus aimed at destroying the evils of capitalism, not capitalism itself. He did not interfere with private ownership of industry and property, nor did he deprive a man of the fruits of his labour. He left an open field for competition, for hard work and for the exercise of intelligence. He tried to bring about a just distribution of wealth by requiring the capitalists, the possessors of wealth, to give away a part of their wealth for the benefit of the less favoured members of society. By so doing, he in fact laid the foundations of a social system in which the number of capitalists went on increasing, so that competition being widened as much as possible might be healthier. The poorer members of the community were able to start business with a small capital provided from the zakat fund, and then to increase it by their own diligence and hard work. Wealth which has a tendency to get into fewer and fewer hands was thus made accessible to wider and wider circles.

Zakat was not, however, the only means by which it was sought to bring about a proper distribution of wealth. A law of inheritance was also laid down by which the wealth of one man was distributed at his death among many. The Prophet introduced a two-fold reform into the laws of inheritance as existing in his time. He made the female a co-sharer with the male, and he ordered the division of property among all the heirs on a democratic basis. One big capitalist was thus replaced by many small capitalists at every Muslim's death. The general law is thus laid down in the Holy Quran:

Men shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, and women shall have a portion of what the parents and near relatives leave, whether there is little of it or much. (4:7)

Under this general law, details were laid down that the property of the deceased person should go to daughters as well as to sons, to mothers as well as to fathers, to wives and to husbands, to brothers and to sisters, and so on. The heirs were divided into two groups, the first group consisting of children, parents and husband or wife, and the second consisting of brothers and sisters and other distant relatives. All the persons in the first group were immediate sharers, and if all of them were living they had all of them a right in the property of the deceased. The members of the second group inherited if all members of the first group or some of them were wanting. Both groups were capable of further extension; grandchildren or still lower descendants taking the place of children, grandparents or still higher ascendants taking the place of parents, and uncles and aunts and other distant relatives taking the place of brothers and sisters.

Another remedy for the evils of capitalism was the regulation of the relations between the debtor and the lender. Faithfulness to agreements being one of the primary duties of a Muslim, the debtor was required to be faithful in repaying the debt:

Amongst the best of you are those who are good in payment of debt.

Whoever contracts a debt intending to repay it, Allah will pay it for him; and whoever contracts a debt intending to waste it, Allah will bring him to ruin. (Bukhari, 43:2)

Delaying the payment of debt by a well-to-do person is injustice. (Bukhari, 43:12)

Deferring payment by one who has the means to pay legalises his punishment. (Ibid., 43:13)

But if the debtor was in straitness, the lender was required to be lenient, even to the extent of foregoing the debt:

If the debtor is in straitened circumstances, then there should be postponement until he is in ease; and if you remit it as alms, it is better for you if you know. (2:280)

This principle was worked out most liberally by the Prophet as the head of the Muslim State:

I am nearer to the believers than themselves, so whoever of the believers dies and leaves a debt, its payment is on me; and whoever leaves property, it is for his heirs. (Bukhari, 39:5)

A debt contracted for a right cause was thus to be paid by the State, if the debtor was unable to pay it. A still greater remedy for the evils of capitalism was, however, applied in the form of the prohibition of usury. The Holy Quran deals with this subject after devoting two sections to the importance of charity, for inasmuch as charity is the broad basis of human sympathy, usury annihilates all sympathetic feelings. The usurer is described thus:

Those who swallow usury cannot arise except as one whom the devil has prostrated by his touch does arise. (2:275)

Such is, in fact, the usurer who would not hesitate to reduce the debtor to the last straits if thereby he might add a penny to his millions. It is on account of his selfishness and greed for money that he is spoken of as being unable to arise.

In the great struggle between capital and labour that has always been going on in the world, the Prophet sided with labour:

Allah has allowed trade and forbidden usury. (2:275)

While trading requires the use of labour and skill and elevates the morals, usury promotes habits of indolence, cunning and oppression. Hence it was laid down that trade was allowed but usury was prohibited.

Another arrangement to minimise the evils of capitalism in the social order established by the Prophet was the injunction relating to bequests. Everyone who left considerable wealth to be inherited was required to make a bequest for charitable objects to the maximum extent of one-third of his property:

Bequest is prescribed for you when death approaches one of you, if he leaves behind wealth for parents and near relatives, according to usage, a duty incumbent upon those who have a regard for duty. (2:180)

The Prophet also stressed the making of bequest in his sayings:

It is not right for a Muslim who has property regarding which he must make a will that he should sleep for two nights (consecutively) but that his will should be written down with him. (Bukhari, 55:1)

That this will was for charitable objects, and therefore limited to one-third of the property, is shown by what is related by Sa'd, the conqueror of Persia. He said:

The Messenger of Allah used to visit me at Mecca in the year of the Farewell pilgrimage, on account of my illness which had become very severe. So I said, My illness has become very severe and I have much property and there is none to inherit me but a daughter. May I then bequeath two-thirds of my property as a charity. He said, No. I said, Half. He said, No. Then he said: Bequeath one-third and one-third is much, for if thou leave thy heirs free from want, it is better than that thou leave them in want begging of other people; and thou dost not spend anything seeking thereby the pleasure of Allah but thou art rewarded for it, even for that which thou puttest into the mouth of thy wife. (Bukhari, 23:36)

To sum up, the Prophet's viewpoint regarding wealth was that both men and women should earn it because it was the means of their support, that it could be possessed but its possession did not raise the dignity of man, and that the amassing of wealth led to its love and the love of wealth led to moral debasement; and he, therefore, based his economic system on the democratic principles of zakat, the division of property at death among the heirs, and the prohibition of usury. He did not abolish capitalism but he remedied its evils; he did everything to widen the circle of small capitalists to make competition healthier and increase the wealth of the nation as a whole.


Books Section > The Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad by Maulana Muhammad Ali > Chapter 9: Wealth


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