15 – Economic Freedom and the Islamic Government

Economic Freedom and Islamic Government

The topic I will present here is in continuation of previous discussions regarding issues related to freedom, specifically economic freedom. As was mentioned at the beginning of this discussion, economic freedom within the system of the Islamic Republic is an issue that incites many questions and discussions. All those who encounter economic activity with various motivations rely upon this issue and are attentive to it. And so, the dimensions of this issue ought to be clarified more and more.

Two or three discussions have passed in this regard. Here, I want to emphasize more on one of the issues that was cursorily presented in the previous discussion and dedicate this short discussion to that matter. The matter was that, in the economy of an Islamic society, even though people have an open and expansive arena for economic activities and possess many freedoms and every one of them has the right to carry out economic activities and strive in this regard, there is also a right and power designated for the Islamic government and the ruling power of the Islamic society. That right is the right to control, the right to supervise and guard. If this right was not there for the Islamic ruler and people carried out economic activities without the supervision of the government and without observing the policies of the government, then society would end up with rebellion, injustice, aggression and corruption. The same situation will arise which exists in the world of capitalism in which the sultans of steel, gold, and oil and the owners of giant companies possess unlimited power and wealth, while a big stratum of the society are deprived of primary necessities of life (i.e. house, family, food, clothes that protect them from heat and cold). And even worse off are those countries who follow their policies in the third world, one of which was the previous lowly system of this country, monarchy. If supervision from the Islamic government is not present, and Islamic governance itself is not present, then Islamic law cannot perform any miracle by itself. Law is practical and effective only when a hand of power exists to enforce the law. That power is the Islamic government. Let me expand a bit on this matter.

As a preliminary, I will say this, that one of the pillars for the firm establishment of justice in an Islamic society is Islamic rulership and the Islamic government or, in clearer terms, the Islamic executive apparatus. Sometimes we use the word ‘government’ to signify the whole system of rulership, which includes everything: the legislative apparatus, the judiciary and the executive apparatus. Here, I do not intend his encompassing meaning. In addition to the legislative branch and in addition to the judicial authority – which stands against violations of the law, there is a branch of governance which is related to the executive power and apparatus. Through this power and with this authority, the government should have a constant presence in society – under the limits of Islamic laws and principles – and should be aware of violations and identify them and prevent them from happening. It should stop the oppressor from performing injustices, disallow aggressions, rebellions and transgressions. In short, it should be the manifestation of the Islamic rulership. The Islamic government, the Islamic executive apparatus, the Islamic ruler ought to have a comprehensive presence in all of society’s activities.

This is the view of Islam that can be established through an abundance of evidence and arguments, to the extent that perhaps nobody has any objection or doubt regarding this claim in itself. With respect to economic issues also, the exact same power and authority lies with the Islamic republic, it lies with the government and the ruler of the system of the Islamic republic. In this respect also, in addition to the legislative apparatus that devises the law and apart from the judicial authority that pursues the wrongdoer when a complaint is filed against him or when a law is violated and punishes the criminal when a crime takes place, the Islamic government, through the executive branch, should prevent violation from being committed by exercising power and constantly being present and in contact with different strata of society.

If this takes place in society, then freedom will exist in economic matters of society, and injustice, aggression, discrimination, disparity between different levels of society, and destruction of the life and comfort of a vast and poor section of society will not take place. If this does not occur, if the executor’s hands are tied and has no ability to exercise power, then the people would violate the law very easily.

That is why, during the rule of the Commander of the Faithful (a), we see that the person of the Commander of the Faithful himself was present within the Islamic society. It was not the case that only judges were present among the people – people used to refer to the judge, and judges would resolve their matters; if a murder, theft, or a crime was commited, the judges would pursue the violator of the law. Rather, the Commander of the Faithful himself, as per this narration which has been narrated in several places, would go into the marketplace of Muslims while carrying a whip[1]. Naturally, he did not take the whip with him to comfort people. The Commander of the Faithful (a) did not go there so that if he saw somebody commiting a crime in the marketplace, he would ask the judiciary to punish him; rather, he used to go there to exercise power himself, so that he himself prevents oppression from ocurring.

Another narration states this with further details:

كَانَ عَلِيٌّ ع كُلَّ بُكْرَةٍ يَطُوفُ‏ فِي‏ أَسْوَاقِ‏ الْكُوفَةِ سُوقاً سُوقاً وَ مَعَهُ الدِّرَّة[2]

The narration states that the Commander of the Faithful (a) would do this every day. It was not a one-time thing. Rather, he would visit all the centers of trade and business and the marketplaces while carrying a whip in his hand and over his shoulder as a constant and continuous action. He was ready to act, in that if he saw someone doing an act of oppression, at that very place he executes the punishment prescribed by Islam upon that person.

The Commander of the Faithful (a) advises his governor in Egypt, Mālik al-Ashtar, that: ‘After you prohibit people from hoarding things that are needed for people, if someone performs this sin, then be severe with him and take revenge on him’[3]. However, following that, he (a) says: ‘do not exceed your limits’.[4] This is the main condition. Those who are responsible for executing punishments and guarding the judicial limits among the Muslims ought to be careful not to exceed the limits. They must observe piety and should not overdo things, as advised by the Commander of the Faithful (a). This is because overdoing the execution of punishments in itself is a corruption similar to the corruption performed by that wicked person who hoards things. There is no difference; in fact, perhaps this one is worse than the oppression done by the individual, because it is happening from the side of the government.

In any case, the essential fact is that the Islamic rulership and Islamic government should be present among the people. At a place where corruption is not manifest, the government should detect hidden violations. At a place where the judicial apparatus has no information, the government itself should enter the arena directly and investigate.

On that day when the issue of governmental punishments was given over to the executive branch through the decree of Imam Khumaynī, some questioned why this was not a task for the judicial apparatus to carry out. Undoubtedly, it is the job of the judiciary branch. But, when the judiciary has some shortcomings and when the brothers in the judiciary, despite all their efforts, cannot look after all matters due to shortage of necessary manpower or absence of the required laws, at this time the people cannot be left unattended. It cannot be allowed for some people – who are opportunists and mischief-makers who create problems for the people around them, their colleagues, and for all believers and defame them – to do whatever they want, to create anarchy and disorder in the Islamic society. This cannot be allowed. The Islamic government must take action. That is why Imam Khumaynī issued this decree, which is within the discretion of the Islamic ruler, the Walī-e Faqīh. As I indicated previously, the execution of governmental punishments does not mean that those who are directly involved in implementing them can transgress the limits of justice, piety, and balance. No, if such a thing takes place, it must be definitively dealt with and shall be dealt with God willing. However, people should keep in mind that the issue of the presence of the executive branch of the government is a fundamental matter.

One should not think that perhaps the Commander of the Faithful (a) used to go to the marketplaces of Kūfah not because of his rulership, but rather due to the obligation [on every Muslim] to forbidding evil. No. Because, if it was due to forbidding evil, then it should have been performed throughout his life in Medina as well. The Commander of the Faithful (a) performed this act in Kūfah, in the capital of his rulership. It occured during the period of rulership. It was an act of the ruler. One also ought not to think that he did these actions due to being an infallible. The other Infallibles (a) never entered the marketplaces to perform this action as an act ordained for them due to their infallibility. It is manifestly clear and evident that the Commander of the Faithful (a) used to perform this action under the auspices of being the Islamic ruler, the leader of society, as someone heading the Islamic government.

The powers of the government should be employed in the service of the oppressed and the weak and for the sake of eradicating aggression and injustice from society. When it is found that in society, some people are being trampled upon and their rights are being wasted, this is where the government should exercise its power and should not permit the weak and the oppressed to be trampled. These are those rights that have been given to the Islamic government, the Islamic power of governance. All activities should be performed under its control and supervision.

To clear a few doubts in the mind of some people, it is appropriate that I talk briefly or this decree or ruling that Imam Khumaynī issued recently related to work, related to the relationship between the employee and the employer. It is one of the clearest decrees in Islam. Fortunately, after issuing this decree, a question was posed to Imam Khumaynī by the respected secretary of the Guardian Council, which further clarified the matter and barred the path for any misuse of what Imam Khumaynī had said. Imam Khumaynī says that the government can lay down binding conditions vis a vis the services it provides. The employer, in ordinary conditions and without the supervision of the government, can have an unjust relationship with his employee. He can increase an employee’s work hours; he can reduce his salary; he can refrain from giving them necessary welfare facilities; and pressure can be greatly increased on the employee. The government can make it necessary for the employer to observe a series of obligations and responsibilities. Such a thing is in the power of the Islamic government, by virtue of the services it provides to the employer. The government says to the employer that you utilise electricity, water, asphalted roads, jetty, ports, and various kinds of governmental facilities and services; the condition for using these services is that you provide so and so assistance to your employees, that you agree to so and so conditions vis a vis your employee. Why would the government do this? The fundamental purpose is so that the employee is not oppressed, so that discrimination does not become something widespread and commonly accepted, for the sake of protecting the rights of the deprived.

This is one point. There is another point whose importance is not less than the previous point’s and has been clearly indicated or rather explicitly mentioned in Imam Khumaynī’s answer. That point is that this work, this initiative of the Islamic government, is not tantamount to disrupting previously accepted laws and accepted Islamic decrees and rulings. The question of the respected secretary of the Guardian Council was regarding this issue.

Apparently, some individuals wanted to misuse – or failings in their understanding and their lack of proficiency regarding Islamic sources and Islamic fundamentals caused them to think that – this ruling of Imam Khumaynī and conclude that he is saying that the government can put forth conditions upon the employer that you can utilise these services only if you do some particular action. Which actions? Things that are against the accepted regulations and the accepted rulings of Islam! Imam Khumaynī says no! These are rumours spread by biased and malicious individuals. When Imam Khumaynī said that the government can put conditions upon the employer, binding conditions, he meant those conditions which are within the framework of accepted rulings of Islam, not beyond that. This is a very important point in his answer. The questioner asked that some have concluded and inferred from your words that the laws of sharecropping contracts, rental contracts, the Islamically mandaed rulings, and accepted and indisputable equality can be contradicted, that the government can designate conditions that are against Islamic rulings. Imam Khumayni says, no, these are rumours, no such matter exists within the question of the Minister of Labor and Imam Khumaynī’s answer to him.

See how comprehensive and clear the matter is. When we say the accepted rulings of Islam, we mean the ruling of the ruling jurisprudent (Walī-e Faqīh). In the Islamic society, the criterion of the system regarding what is religiously permitted is the ruling of the Walī-e Faqīh. The rulings of the other jurisprudents are implementable and valid for themselves and their followers if they have followers; there is no doubt about that. In the case of prayers, fasting, ḥajj, and other acts of worship, and in the case of the individual actions that people perform, there is no problem if they follow the rulings of another authority, if such a jurisprudent exists. But regarding the general matters of the country, in those things which are general standards for the country, for those things which are foundations for the legislation of the law in the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the only valid ruling is the ruling of Imam Khumayni [i.e. the Walī-e Faqīh].

Therefore, let me present a summary. In all domains, one of which is the domain of economic activities, the hands of the Islamic government and the Islamic ruler are open. The Islamic ruler, Imam Khumayni, the Walī-e Faqīh, can endow the right and power which lies with him to the executive branch or the judicial branch or other elements and individuals that are present in the Islamic society. The Islamic government and the Islamic executive apparatus can exercise power within Islamic society by relying on the powers of the Walī-e Faqīh. This is how they can prevent injustice, prevent aggression. This is the criterion of the Islamic system as said in the Quran: ‘Indeed Allah enjoins justice and kindness, and generosity towards relatives[5]’ Allah, the Almighty, commands towards justice, doing good and assisting those who are close. ‘and He forbids indecency, wrongdoing, and aggression.[6]’ Aggression means comitting oppression, comitting violations, transgressing one’s limits, rebelling, usurping other’s wealth oppressively, violating the rights of those people who are in need of work, trampling the destitute, the deprived, and the oppressed stratum of society. The command of Allah is not just a verbal command. It is not just a prohibition in the form of a directive. The commanding and prohibiting by Allah means that the very existence and stability of the Islamic society, the Islamic system depends on it. And it is not possible without the power of the Islamic government, the power of the executive apparatus.

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[1] Muḥammad Bāqir Majlisī, Biḥār al-Anwār, Volume 100 (Beirut: Dār Iḥyā’ al-Turāth al-‘Arabī, 1403 A.H., Second print), 102, Ḥadīth: 46, Noor Software CD-ROM.:

كَانَ‏ يَخْرُجُ‏ إِلَى‏ السُّوقِ‏ وَ مَعَهُ‏ الدِّرَّة

[2] Muammad ibn Alī Ibn Bābawayh (Shaykh al-Ṣadūq), Al-Amālī (Tehran: Kitābchī, 1376 Iranian Calendar., Sixth print), 497, Ḥadīth: 6, Noor Software CD-ROM.

[3] Muḥammad ibn Ḥasan Sharīf al-Raḍī, Nahj al-Balāgah (lil-Ṣubḥī Ṣāliḥ) (Qom: Hijrat publication, 1414 A.H., First print), 438, Noor Software CD-ROM.:

فَمَنْ‏ قَارَفَ‏ حُكْرَةً بَعْدَ نَهْيِكَ‏ إِيَّاهُ فَنَكِّلْ بِه‏

[4] Ibid:

وَ عَاقِبْهُ [مِنْ‏] فِي غَيْرِ إِسْرَاف‏

[5] The Qur’an, 16:90:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاءِ ذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ

[6] The Qur’an, 16:90:

وَيَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ

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