Islam attaches great importance to wealth and economic activity because they represent power and strength for Muslims. The more powerful Muslims' wealth and economic activity is, the more importance and prestige Muslims gain, the more internal solidarity they achieve and the stronger and the more invincible they become in the sight of their enemies. The power of the Islamic state and that of Muslims emanates from a number of factors including strong financial and economic power, hence the importance Islam attaches to them.
The Islamic view of wealth and economic activity
Islam observes a number of fundamental principles in this regard including the following:
a. Wealth belongs to Allah
Allah the Almighty says, "And give them out of the wealth of Allah which He has bestowed upon you." (Surah An-Nur, 24:33)
In the words of the Qur'an, people are 'heirs to wealth', which they should employ in accordance with Allah's commands and laws. Allah the Almighty says,
"Believe in Allah and His Messenger and spend [in the way of Allah] out of that to which He has made you heirs." (Surah Al-Hadid, 57:7) Here, spending of wealth is realized by spending it in lawful ways. Allah has made us heirs to wealth in all its forms, and thus we should spend it in ways that are pleasing to Him.
Scholars make a clear distinction between the words 'spending' and 'wasting'. They define 'wasting' as spending wealth in ways Allah has not commanded; thus spending in unlawful matters is a form of wasting wealth. Conversely, spending in accordance with the injunctions of Islam is in fact spending in that to which Allah has made us heirs, for in this case wealth is spent in ways that are pleasing to Him.
b. Guaranteeing sufficiency to all members of the Muslim society
Islam attaches great importance to the fact that sufficiency is to be guaranteed for all members of the Muslim society and families depending on their needs. This could be realized through the treasury of the Islamic state, as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did by allocating some money to the needy from the treasury. The rightly-guided caliphs Abu Bakr and Omar also followed suit. This could also be attained through the Islamic legislations such as zakah, charity, the obligation of spending on one's relatives.
c. Respecting private ownership
Islam respects private ownership and instructs that small private ownerships be developed before the big private ownerships. Islam attends to small capital owners before big capital owners, as opposed to capitalism and other unjust economic systems which either deprive the rich or place them in positions of complete authority. Islam encourages small business owners to work and be more productive so they can stand on their own feet. Allah does not approve wealth being circulated only among the wealthy. Allah says, "…that it may not circulate [only] among those of you who are rich." (Surah Al-Hashr, 59:7)
d. Granting economic freedom
The economic activity or power cannot be realised without a form of freedom. To this end, Islam encouraged lawful economic activities and limited many transactions and dealings which were prevalent before the advent of Islam. People in the pre-Islamic period, or Jahiliyah, used to engage in a large number of transactions; however, when Islam came it prohibited many of these transactions and considered the rest permissible.
e. Encouraging development
One of the fundamental principles of the Islamic economic system is that it encourages economic development, estate development, agricultural development and productive development. There is ample evidence that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as well as the rightly-guided caliphs engaged in each of these developments.
f. Encouraging moderate spending and forbidding extravagance and prodigality
g. Forbidding all transactions that lead to individual or communal injustice
Some businessmen my abuse their economic freedom and thus and thus act unjustly towards individuals or groups. That is why Islam has forbidden all forms of transactions that may lead to injustice and declared that justice be administered in all transactions when dealing with either individuals or groups. Islam has also encouraged the growing of capital for both small business owners and large business owners.
Some of the Fundamental principles of economic activity and wealth in Islam
a. All transactions are lawful unless there is evidence that states otherwise
Muslim jurists are unanimously agreed that all acts of worship are assumed to be forbidden except where there is evidence from the Qur'an or the Sunnah stipulating that they are permitted. The reason for this is that reason or opinion cannot be used in matters of worship. Transactions, on the other hand, are assumed to be permitted except where there is evidence from the Qur'an or the Sunnah stipulating that they are forbidden. Because transactions generally pertain to worldly affairs, people can use whatever forms of transactions and choose any financial and economic conditions they wish on the condition that they do not get involved in five forbidden acts, namely (1) usury, or riba, (2) gambling, (3) foolishness that generally leads to arguments and disputes, (4) deception and swindling and (5) inequity.
Once transactions are free from any of these forbidden acts, people are allowed, and even encouraged, in Islam to engage in any form of transaction and choose any financial and economic conditions or financial and economic institutions they wish.
b. The economic activity must have everyone's best interests at heart
The form of economic activity which Islam commands and encourages must realize the interests of the individual, those of the group as well as those of the state, and not the interests of certain individuals or a certain party. Allah the Almighty says, "…that it may not circulate [only] among those of you who are rich." (Surah Al Hashr, 59:7)
When the prices became high in the Prophet's time and people asked him to fix prices for them, he replied, "Allah is the One Who fixes prices, Who withholds, Who gives lavishly, and Who provides, and I hope that when I meet Him none of you will have a claim against me for any injustice with regard to blood or property." (Reported by Ahmad, Abu Daoud, al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah)
Thus, he created opportunities for everyone to benefit from and warned against controlling prices for personal benefits or creating an economic power in society that controls everything at the expense of other businesses.
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