Economic System of Islam- Property Rights

Summary 8.1 “Introduction”
The first program was basically and introductory program.’ We covered what the relevance of religion is in the matter of economics.’ We indicated that economic behavior is part of the overall behavior which is regulated by religion.’ This applies in the case of other religions but in the case of Islam it is clearer.’ Second, we made the distinction between economics as a field of study which concentrates on the study of economic phenomena and trying to regulate the laws supplying them like that of supply and demand and an economic system.’ We covered how different economic systems can be established with different philosophies, objectives and principles.’ In both of these aspects Muslim jurists made several contributions which preceded Adam Smith by nearly 1000 years.’ We find writings by Muslim jurists on the economic system in Islam that date back to the 8th century.’ We discussed briefly some of the problems faced in carrying through some of this research and implementing these principles on a contemporary seam.’ We also discussed some of the basic difficulties such as the compilation of sifting through information from a variety of sources and trying to go back to the main sources of Islam.’ In order to make distinctions between conclusive texts and interpretation they may have to be revised by qualified scholars.’ Finally we looked briefly into some of the basic aspects of the methodology and principles in Islamic economics and how these principles (broad as they may be) have deep rooted and strong influence on how the system is structured and operates.

8.2””” Property Rights

Host:’ Can you shed some light on the right to own property?

Jamal Badawi:

The right to own property is an instinctive matter.’ It is related to survival and self preservation.’ However throughout history one finds that the nature of that right and its limits have undergone certain changes.’ For example in certain periods of history the property right was owned by a tribe as a common property.’ Even in Canada today in some of the Western provinces like Manitoba and Alberta there is a particular Christian sect who believe that they own the land jointly and that everything is owned jointly by the whole group and they share everything.’ In some areas we find that this has been narrowed down to properties which are owned by one particular family.’ More development made the recognition of property as being owned by single individuals.’ The nature of property rights depends on the type of ideology that is followed in any particular society and time.

Host:’ What position does Islam take on the extent of property rights?

Jamal Badawi:

If we look at the Quran before we even get to the definition of it being my right or your right to property it puts it in the proper framework.’ In numerous verses in the Quran we find that it gives clear indication that everything is owned by Allah, God.’ For example a verse says Unto God belongs the domain of Heaven and Earth and everything in between.’ In (3:26) it says ‘O Allah. Lord of Power (And Rule).” There many similar references to this in the Quran which give us a clear indication that the right of ownership in the absolute sense belongs to God and to God alone.’ The admission to God as the owner of the universe doesn’t mean that we as human beings do not have the right to own property.’ It simply puts this right of ownership within the broader context.

As we indicated last time, ownership is part of our responsibility as trustees of God on earth.’ The clear evidence of this are numerous as found in (9:104) it says ‘receives their gifts of charity.” It uses the term ‘their’ property which shows that there is no contradiction between the ownership in the absolute sense which is in the Hand of God and our human right to own within these boundaries and to dispose and use them within the restriction that God has provided.’ This is not only found within the Quran but we find that in the Prophetic Tradition, the practice of Prophet Muhammad and his companions shows clearly that property rights are to be acknowledged and respected.’ There are also different levels of property.

Host: What do you mean by types of property?

Jamal Badawi:

One jurists divided it by saying that there are certain things that are owned by God and no human being has had any access to it.’ For example Mars is created by God but no one has any access to it.’ Then there are certain property that are owned by the entire human race or is a common property of the human race.’ Oceans for example, no one can say they own the oceans but of course certain areas can be claimed but no one can claim ownership of the oceans.’ Within a given country or society there may be property owned jointly by the community which is sometimes called the Crown Land which is not owned by a particular individual or corporation.’ Then there is the type of property which is in the position of one individual or a number of individuals.’ This is again something which is owned within the duties and responsibilities which are imposed on this property and within the particular legal restrictions that Islamic Law provides.

Host:’ What are some legitimate restrictions on property rights?

Jamal Badawi:

These restrictions are all non-excessive, because under the term restrictions various systems go into great length trying to restrict this basic instinctive right, which is determined by Islamic Law and God’s revelation.’ The first restriction is that the acquisition of this property should be through legitimate means.’ Of course Islam recognizes the sanctity of property, the right to defend one’s property but this property should have been obtained through legitimate and lawful means.’ Second, when one uses their property they have to use it in a way that does not cause harm to other people.’ The concept of harm is interesting in Islam and has two angles.’ One basic rule established in a saying of the Prophet was that one should not harm himself or others.’ This means that if one has a piece of land in a residential area one can not say this property is theirs and they can do with it as they wish and build a factory on it.’ As we know in many countries there are regulations that restrict zoning.’ In Islamic Law, a long time before these laws cam into effect, during the days of the Prophet this principle was established.’ One can not say that because they own certain property that they have the right to monopolize the basic necessities of people by withholding basic needs like food or milk because they decided not to sell while letting people starve.

Another concept in avoiding harm is that Islam says that private harm could be tolerated if it is necessary to prevent a greater harm which would effect a larger number of people.’ For example if one has a house and it was decided that for the benefit of all a road had to be widened or a utility has to be established and there is no other way but to cut into one’s property.’ In this case with fair compensation one should not be defensive about their property.

Another basic requirement is that a person can dispose of their property the way that he or she likes provided that the person is mentally capable of doing this.’ In other words if the person who owns the property is insane then for his own protection there must be a trustee appointed on him.’ One is entitled to their property rights provided that they fulfill their duties and obligations that emanate from one’s position in regards to the property.

Host:’ Are these claims on property specified specifically in Islamic Law?

Jamal Badawi:

Yes, there are some things which are specified and can give us information about the nature of these obligations.’ One obligation which we covered in great length on the series on the Social System in Islam is to maintain one’s family (spend on one’s wife and children and in some cases relatives).’ Another important duty is the payment of Zakah on property.’ Zakah is ruffly translated as charity but not in the common sense of it being voluntary.’ In Islam Zakah is compulsory as an act of worship and obedience to God which gives us the spiritual element in self control and the inner conscience being observant of his/her duty.’ But if people neglect to pay their Zakah it can be legally enforced.

The minimum Zakah is 2.5% of assets beyond the immediate needs of the individual which they have had for a year.’ It is not a direct income tax as we find in modern systems.’ Within this system we find that there are certain parts of one’s property which are non Zakatable which include personal clothing, primary residential home, transportation means, tools (used for a particular profession) but beyond this if one has extra means that they have had for a whole year then they have to pay Zakah on it.’ The minimum is 2.5%, there are other types of Zakah paid on agriculture which can go up to 5%, 7.5% and 10%.’ There are details which involve the nature of these Zakah payments.’ In other words the basic needs of an average family are exempt from the Zakah but beyond that one has to pay it.’ Islam allows for just rulers to impose additional taxes beyond the minimum Zakah if the amount of Zakah is not sufficient to meet the needs of society.’ In fact one of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad narrated in Al Tirmithi he says that in property there are claims beyond Zakah.’ If the country is in a state of war or famine and need the funds this additional amount can be imposed.

Host:’ How does Islamic Law define the legitimacy of the means property was acquired?

Jamal Badawi:

One of the legitimate means of property acquisition would be to own something as a result of your personal effort and labor.’ This may include salary, hunting, fishing, commercial operations etc.’ Second, one could own property based on rights that Islamic Law gives you.’ For example a wife is entitled by Islamic Law for full maintenance and this responsibility falls fully on the husband.’ Anything that he give to his wife is her own property.’ Another aspect is inheritance, according to the law of inheritance in Islam which have interesting elements and one can own property on the basis of inheritance.’ Third is if a person is unable, poor or disabled he can own whatever is given him by way of Zakah or charity.’ If someone receives a gift the item becomes their property.’ Exchange could be another source of property.’ An example could be a barter system.

There are also unlawful means of acquisition.’ This includes usurping the property of someone else without his or her consent which includes theft, extortion or embezzlement of public funds.’ Second, taking the property of others with their approval but through crooked means which are forbidden in Islam such as cheating, misleading contract, deception.’ Also, gambling in all its forms is illegitimate and any property gained in this manner is not lawful.’ To gain property through unlawful labor or work like sorcery or magic, prostitution, get paid for participating in a crime and bribery.’ Also, gaining property through an unlawful contract like usury or interest is also unlawful.’ The permissible and the forbidden are matters which are deeply ingrained and relate to the moral teachings of Islam and its ethical orientation for the protection to every member in society.

Host:’ Are there additional ethical directives relating to property rights?

Jamal Badawi:

Yes there are beyond what is enforceable even though in Islamic Law the legal and the ethical are interrelated.’ There is a discouragement from hoarding in Islam, we are not talking about saving for a rainy day, emergencies or future needs (one wants to buy a car without interest and one wants to save little by little they are able to buy) there is no problem with that.’ What Islam is against is hoarding wealth by keeping it away from circulation.’ For example in (9:34) ‘And there are those who bury gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah, announce unto them a most grievous penalty.” This is not only a matter of ethical teachings but also has a deeper economic implication.’ When people withhold wealth, we are not saying a person has to spend all of their wealth in the way of charity, but they do not invest the access wealth even from the view of modern economics it is harmful to society because one is keeping wealth from circulation and as such one is not contributing to the enhancement of economic activities which may be needed to provide jobs and to harness the various natural resources available.

Islam prohibits excessive expenditures and spending but it also condemns miserliness.’ A beautiful verse in (17:29) ‘Make not thy hand tied (like a niggard’s) to thy neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach, so that thou become blameworthy and destitute.” So it says not to have ones hand too close to one’s neck which means to be miserly and don’t over extend it which indicates being wasteful in spending.’ There should be some kind of moderation.’ In (7:31) ‘O Children of Adam! wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer: eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for Allah loveth not the wasters.’

A third teaching that addresses property is the obligation not to leave key resources that are available to a community idol.’ In a saying by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) he that a person who reforms land (that was barren) has the right to own it, but if he doesn’t make it productive and use it for three years then it will be taken away from him.’ If he uses it and then later on neglects it for three years it can be taken away from him so that someone else can make use of these resources.’ In other words we look at the basic notion of property as it relates to the ethical framework, principles or philosophy of Islam and we find that it stands in moderation between the right to own property without any qualification and having a totalitarian system where one owns very little and bureaucrats control the property for the sake of everyone.’ Islam has a moderate way of acknowledging the right of individual property while maintaining the interest of society while keeping the moral and ethical values in mind.

All articles published not necessarily the official points of view held by islamonline