12 – Economic Freedoom In Islam

Economic Freedom in Islam

In the name of Allah, the all-Beneficent, the all-Merciful.

Allah the all-Wise has said in His book:

و انفقوا فی سبیل الله و لا تلقوا بایدیکم الی التّهلکة و احسنوا انّ الله یحبّ المحسنین

Spend in the way of Allah, and do not cast yourselves with your own hands into destruction; and be virtuous. Indeed Allah loves the virtuous. (Surah al-Baqarah, 195)

In the continuation of our discussion on the various types of freedoms in an Islamic society and the responsibilities of the Islamic government to safeguard these freedoms, we have reached the topic of economic issues, activities and endeavours. This discussion is one that is very important and also quite sensitive. It can perhaps be said that within the last twenty to thirty years, during which Islamic issues and new Qur’anic thoughts were spread among groups of Islamic intellectuals and gradually among the public, this topic is one of the most critical and controversial topics that has been discussed. The topic of economic freedom in Islam has aslo been widely misused. On one hand, the supporters of the leftist schools of thought misused it by saying that Islam supports a free economy and therefore is in favour of exploitation. They attacked Islam under this pretext. On the other hand, some, who desired to defend Islam, but did not possess a depth of Islamic thought, have also misused or made a mistake in their fear of being attacked by leftist groups. They completely denied freedom of economic activity in Islam and refused to accept that Islam has something called economic freedom. Some people have abused this topic in practice. In the name of economic freedoms in Islam, they filled their own pockets, both before the victory of the Revolution, which of course the regime of that day encouraged, and even after the victory of the Islamic system. They abused the freedoms that existed and amassed wealth and property at their will. Anyway, it is a sensitive issue, and this discussion will go on for the next couple of sessions. I do not want to discuss this issue in detail here as it is not the appropraite setting for having detailed, deep and argumentative discussions. And secondly, looking at the time, suitable place and eloquence that this topic requires, discussing all of the details is not required. As for right now, some discussions have greater priority. Here, I am going to discuss a few points regarding the issue of economic freedom, and maybe in the next one or two sessions, we will discuss some general issues around this topic. It can perhaps be said that on these topics there is a consensus, and even if some disagree with regards to the particular instances of these general concepts, they should not have any doubt with regards to the general principle.

As we said, this discussion can be looked at with regards to different aspects. The first thing that needs to be mentioned, although very briefly, is that if we assert and believe that economic freedom exists in Islam, this economic freedom should be in no way compared to the economic freedom in the Western capitalist world. There are two kinds of freedom, two kinds of economic endeavors that exist. What exists in the West today, which I will explain in more detail, is not acceptable to Islam. Capitalism, in its Western sense, has not been approved by Islam at all; rather, Islam opposes and confronts it seriously in many of its rulings. This is the first point. Those who wish to ponder more about it and those who listen to discussions on free economy and private property, both, should be aware from the beginning that the model in the Islamic view is not found in the Western capitalist system. These two models are different from each other.

The next point is that the best way to ensure economic freedom in an Islamic society is that the Islamic government and the Islamic state should adopt a policy and enact laws that enable everyone in Islamic society to perform economic activities freely. And, all sections of society can benefit from their economic activity. This point is one of the differences between the Islamic system in economics and Western systems. In Western systems, even though according to common law, people are free to engage in economic activity; in reality, this freedom does not belong to everyone. These vast sources of wealth, waters, natural resources, fertile plains, mines – all these facilities that are counted as the public wealth of society, are not easily available to all sections of society so that anyone can work on it and benefit from it. Instead, only those who have accumulated wealth in abundance and control the economy of society in actuality have this freedom. And, I would even say that these people are the ones who control the politics and administration of society as well. They are the ones who have access to sources of wealth and dominate them; they are the ones who benefit from these resources, and they created the situation such that it is difficult for the general public to use them. So in capitalist societies, whether advanced or lagging, like the majority of developing countries, most people are in extreme poverty,  especially in these lagging countries. While large sections of people suffer from poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and are deprived of most of the necessities for life, a small number work freely, are able to have economic activity, and amass wealth. They have mines and buy into others’ mines. They possess industries and create and establish other industries. They have lands and add to their lands. They use the seas. In reality, only a small group of people in society are benefitting from all the natural resources.  Others, whether small businessmen, laborers, miners, agricultural workers, or factory workers in reality eat the leftovers from their vast wealth and from the corners of their dining table. They themselves do not have the opportunity for economic effort, the opportunity for manufacturing, the opportunity for utilizing, the opportunity for creative work, the opportunity for generating wealth in the true sense. Therefore, the path for us to create a free economy in society, in its true sense, is to prevent this monopoly. The possibility should be created in society whereby most people of society, large sections of society, or all those who have the ability to work can use the natural resources, land, sea, anfāl[1], plains and pastures.

This famous narration from Amir al-Mo’minīn (as) – although I don’t have exact information on the chain of narrators – says: I haven’t seen a plentious blessing except that there be an usurped right beside it.[2] This narration has a deeper and subtle meaning in reference to this very discussion. According to some people, the meaning of this narration is that wherever there are ample facilities, that means that theft or usurpation has been done by a few people; so, alongside these usurpers, you will see a group of weak people. Then, they object to this narration, by saying that we see affluent people who have not earned their wealth by stealing and misappropriation; rather, they have earned it with their efforts. This is not what is meant by this narration. According to what comes to my mind regarding the meaning of this narration, when there are excess comforts, excess wealth, excess facilities, theses wealths and facilities themselves create more economic opportunities for the owner of said wealth, and in the same proportion, it keeps others away from these opportunities. He who has a great deal of wealth in society is more likely to generate wealth, and he is more likely to benefit from the meagre wealth of ordinary people than someone poor. So whenever someone has excess benefits, opportunities are at their disposal; facilities are at their disposal; the arena of economic endeavors is at their disposal; and even laws, in most countries, are crafted according to his opinion or the opinions opinion of those belonging to this class fo society. In this manner, economic opportunities are taken away from the majority of people who do not possess such wealth. So this narration, regardless of whether it is from Imam Ali (as) or not, its content is correct. Therefore, the correct methodology of a free economy in an Islamic society is that we grant this freedom to only those who have the ability to do economic manoeuvres. Rather, in addition to those who have the ability to carry out economic activities – who should be able to do those activities, the condition of society, the social system, the laws of society, and the social relationships among people should be such that all people, meaning all those who can work, should be able to have the freedom to economic activity and benefit from their own work. This is the first point.

The next point with regards to economic freedom is that all kinds of freedom within society should be checked, directed, and supervised by an Islamic authority. This control is required so that freedom does not result in corruption. This freedom should not deprive others of their freedoms. The same is the case with the freedom of expression, political freedoms, and cultural freedoms, which we have already discussed in detail. The same is valid for economic freedom. Suppose the freedom of economic activity is interpreted in such a way that those who have the power to do economic activity are free to do it. They can produce, supply, distribute, sell, and consume as they want. In that case, this view is certainly not the view of Islam. Islam, in addition to the economic freedom and ownership rights that it has granted to all members of society, has also considered it necessary for the state to monitor and have precise control. That means that the state apparatus should be vigilant so that these freedoms are not abused. Even in consumption, care must be taken to avoid wastage. Of course, wasting to a certain extent is only a personal sin. If you use something wastefully in your house, it is religiously unlawful and wrong, because wasting is unlawful and a sin. But, suppose this act is performed to the extent that it becomes a threat to society’s economy, causes the spread of poverty among people, causes the deprivation of a large section of society, threatens to ruin the goods produced by ordinary people’s combined efforts. In that case, it is the responsibility of the Islamic government to keep a check on such extravagances and excesses. Of course, this is Islam’s view at a global level, meaning that it is not specific to a particular society. Countries with a problem of wasting food, some of the wealthiest countries, developed countries, consume about 70 per cent of the global amount of food while they themselves consist of approximately 35-36 per cent of the world’s population. If there exists a just global economic system, if there are strong and dominant enough international organizations, they should stop them. Suppose there are organizations in the world and governments with an awakened conscience who want to use their power for the benefit of the people and nations. In that case, they must prevent things such as what occurs in the United States. It restricts the cultivating millions of hectares of arable land each year to stop the falling of prices, while several thousand children under the age of five die of hunger and malnutrition every day in the world, while ten to fifteen per cent of the world’s population suffers from famine, while thirty per cent of the world’s population is malnourished. Or, they should prevent the European Joint Markets, for example, from dumping large quantities of its own food into the sea – which they did a few years ago to avoid the falling of prices and prevent prices from breaking in international markets. So, the issue of combating extravagance, wastage, and excesses in the global economic system has a strong presence in Islam. Of course, this importance therefore exists at the level of a particular society as well. So, a free economy or private ownership does not mean that one has the right to consume as much as one wants, even if one’s excessive consumption causes people to starve, to get afflicted with disease, and basic and important goods for people’s consumption become unavailable. This definition is not valid from the Islamic perspective.

Another point regarding economic freedom in Islam is that freedom of economic activity is never allowed in a manner that would interfere with the political will of society and interfere in the political fabric and political organization of society, i.e. a capatilistic government.  This phenomenon is what exists today in the capitalist countries of the West in a very robust manner. The powerful capitalists are the real rulers and hands behind-the-scenes in the political systems of the large governments. Of course, some of these people also find their way into governmental roles. Like the systems that exist today, such as in America and other countries, in which members of their government are capitalists. They themselves are major shareholders in oil or non-oil companies and other large companies. Even when they do not participate in governmental roles, behind the scenes, the elections are in their control; the president is selected with their influence; the rise and decline of a figure in the political arena, in the senate, in the House of Representatives is at their will; and the laws passed are in their interest. This phenomenon is what exists in the Western world today, which, in my opinion, should be called the “Capitalist-controlled” world. Defining capitalisim as the central role of private capital may not be very accurate; rather, it can be said to be the control of capitalists and rich over the affairs of society. This is the main feature that created the world of Western capitalism today. Islam rejects this, and whatever leads to this must be prevented.

The last point, which I want to emphasize on more – albeit briefly, is that in a free Islamic economy, by virtue of said economic freedom, the responsibility and the weight of the economic affairs of the society is on the people. This is not the case in socialist countries. In socialist countries and in a government-controlled system where the government owns all the factories, lands, and tools of producing wealth and manufacturing and where the people are the employees of the government, nothing is expected from the people. If the people are employees of the government, for example, in a war or a disaster or earthquake or disease afflicting society, what can government employees do? Will they come and sacrifice themselves? But, this is not the case in the Islamic system. Giving alms, spending wealth, managing the economic needs, and fulfilling financial shortcomings are directly on the shoulders of the nation and the people, those from the public who can perform economic activities and have the freedom to do those activities within society. This is an Islamic principle.

In an Islamic society, if there is an incident in which the government needs money, people should provide this money. If there is a war or disaster or a disease or an extraordinary event, Islam’s view is that people should fill this gap to the best of their ability. However, because not all people are at the same level, those who have more benefits, more opportunities, would carry more responsibilities, and this is the point to which our people and our Islamic society should pay more attention to. Certainly, we have witnessed the strong and powerful help of the people during the revolution. There is no doubt about that. Even today, for expenses of the war, for various costs of the government, for deficiencies, for earthquake victims, flood victims, displaced people, and every incident that occurs, we see that people help and provide from what they have. They are from villages, from poor areas, from the lower and middle class. They help to the extent of their ability, their faith, their love, and compassion. They provide facilities for the public use. But, this is not enough. Those who economically benefit most in society, their duties are not the same as ordinary people. On a particular issue or in an incident, you see a poor woman from lower or middle class giveing away her gold, a souveneir from her youth, her unique jewlery, her wages, hard-earned from constant efforts of days of work. She makes it available to the public use and for jihad in the way of Allah, speding on the path of Allah. If this is the extent of effort and faith in our society, then those who have better facilities should help in the same proportion to fulfil these needs and gaps. It should not be that in our Islamic society, the society that follows the guidance of the Qur’an, walks the path of Islam, fights for Allah and the supremacy of the word of religion, and endures all those difficulties for the sake of these goals and standards, there exist people who, even while having resources, do not feel any responsibility for the needs of society. This irresponsibility is not acceptable at all from the point of view of Islam. The verse that I mentioned at the beginning states the same thing. It says: Spend in the way of Allah, and do not cast yourselves with your own hands into destruction. That is, if you do not give alms, you will destroy yourself. Today, the truth of the matter is that there is a portion of the people whose benefits from the Islamic society are more than ordinary people, but their contributions to the public needs are less than ordinary people. This is not acceptable. I am not saying that those who possess wealth do not help or take responsibility at all. There are a few who possess wealth – – and help, but the proportion is not reliable. A mother of a martyr gives away the only memorable thing of her child, or the coin she has saved for her young son’s marriage. Or, a woman-worker who is hardworking, writes a letter, sends some money – although small – and says that I was able to save this by working for a few weeks or a few months or more, deducting it from my usual expenses and giving it for the war and for public benefit. Or that young militiaman who collects his small wages, not even an amount worth mentioning, and gives it back for the war. Or, that worker or that employee or that businessman, spends part of his income for the war, for the public use. When this is the position of society and their faith among the middle and lower classes, then those who are in the upper classes and reap more benefits, have more income, have more opportunities, and were able to achieve more, certainly have more responsibilities. It is not acceptable that they keep themselves to the side. The point here is that Islamic society does not say this as a formality. This is a duty, an obligation, not just a moral advisory. All these verses of charity in the Qur’an are not simply an expression of moral advice; they are an expression of religious duty. You see, the tone of انفقوا in the Qur’an is the same as the tone of جاهدوا فی سبیل الله. The verses, Spend in the way of Allah[3], and the verse, they waged jihad in the way of Allah[4], are a similar kind of speech; they address the same type of audience. This is one of the crucial points that must be taken into account while discussing economics in Islam. It is the people’s responsibility to address the public needs, to defend the country, to protect the borders, to defend honor, to protect the Islamic system, and to defend from all attacks. This help should be provided in proportion with the resources and the benefits people have.

We hope that Allah gives us success in acting on this great Islamic responsibility.


[1] natural domains i.e.; rivers, mountains, jungles, etc. which are not owned by a specific individual, rather by God’s permission, they are the disposal of the Imam as part of the Islamic Government

[2] ما رأیت نعمة موفورة الّا و فی جانبها حقّ مضیّع

[3] Surah al-Baqarah, verse 195

[4] Surah al-Baqarah, verse 218

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