Islam, Politics and ownership worldly wealth


I have always believed that Western liberal democratic models are not suitable for Muslim majority countries because of their divergent views on the nature of human existence and its purpose. It is for this reason I took the courage to divulge on the subject and wrote a book Islamic Social Contract. This does not mean that Islam is not compatible with democracy as proposed by some Western scholars but rather that the way models of democracy are built is not compatible with Islamic political thought. Utopian view is that for any constitution to be most effective it has to be as close to human nature as possible. But the challenge in this is that whether we have a complete understanding of human nature and how does our behavior change as an individual and a collective. The western political scientist believes greed and maximizing of financial gains is a driving force in any human endeavor. The purpose of the state is to restrain this greed and provide level playing field to all citizens. Islamic view, on the other hand, is that existence in this world is temporary and all our endeavors should be driven by compassion and empathy for the other human being.

West has a materialistic view of the existence and maximizing its utility for the benefit of the individual and the society. It is because of this private property and its relations with individual and the community is at the center of all their political models whether it is communism, socialism, or capitalism. In communism, the individual property right is subjugated to the collective while in socialism a large portion of production from a property has to be shared with the community. Capitalism, on the other hand, attributes both rights of ownership and production to the individual with minimal interference from the state. Since there is absolute ownership of a property an enterprise is considered as a living entity which is an unnatural relationship as an enterprise cease to exist if there is no human agent behind it. This means that a trust owned by a family that holds property ensures that family is immune from a lawsuit. This has given rise to many financial crimes and economic hardships for the people. The financial breakdown experienced by the Western economies in last decades could be traced to these financial derivatives.

For all these models to work it is considered that a person or a community has absolute ownership. All laws relating to inheritance, charity and commercial transaction revolves around this concept of absolute ownership. The right of a citizen to have a voice in affairs of the state is also subjected to sharing or owning property. Sovereignty belongs to people in such state because they have right to own property. Similarly, no representation without taxation means that part of a property is shared with the state to earn the right to have a voice in its decisions.

Islam, on the other hand, proposes a totally different model. God as the creator has an absolute ownership of all that is in the universe. Man/woman is just a custodian for a limited time. But this custody comes with certain conditions that have to be maintained. For instance, God imposes zakat on the property to be shared with poor. It is not a voluntary but a mandatory tax on ownership of property. This tax is not on the production but assets owned. Transferring property through inheritance is also mandated by God as an absolute owner. Custodian of a property has to ensure efficient use of it and if he fails to utilize property then he loses the right of custodianship.

If we use the Western political thought that political rights emanate from the ownership of property then God as the absolute owner of the property is also the absolute sovereign in political matters. Many Muslim political thinkers that propose absolute sovereignty belongs to God uses this Western model of politics. This is a problem that needs to be reconsidered. Islam proposes that God at the time of creation of Adam (AS) granted him temporal sovereignty to manage affairs of the community during his term on earth. All sons/daughters of Adam (AS) whether they have any property or not have that right to exercise that authority. All Prophets and revealed books were tools to help in this endeavor of managing affairs of the people. This means that in an Islamic polity all citizens have an equal political right regardless of their ownership of property. In an Islamic political system, political right and custodianship of property are two separate and distinct matters. Politics pertains to collective will while custodianship of the property is an individual matter. State that emerges from this social contract has to ensure custody rights exercised by citizens are as per the guidance provided in Quran in terms of zakat, tax on production, and inheritance. Zakat is spent by an individual to help the downtrodden but state can impose a separate tax on production to meet expenses of the government. In the Islamic model, an enterprise does not have separate legal status but is rather an arrangement between individuals for some business purposes. This means that a financial crime committed by an enterprise will make its managers and owners subject to the penalty.

Western political models (socialism, communism, and capitalism) have shown certain weaknesses and may not be compatible with Muslim majority communities. Muslim political thinkers should come up with models that are more in sync with our own aims and ambitions and understanding of nature of existence.

By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi