The Islamic approach to the economic issues of mankind is that wealth is like lifeblood and must not simply be allowed to accumulate and clog the economic arteries of the state. What Islam seeks from those members of the society who succeed in acquiring a better position and wealth by virtue of their competence or good fortune is to spend their money generously in schemes of public welfare, so that these benefits filter down to the lowest strata of the society, to those who have not been so lucky as these people. With this end in view, the Islamic system generates, on the one hand, a spirit of magnanimity and genuine cooperation through its most effective means – its grand moral teachings, persuasions, and exhortations – in order to inspire the people to develop the inclination to shun the lust for money and enjoy using it generously for the public good. On the other hand, Islam makes it obligatory for every member who has money to contribute a prescribed amount for the welfare and uplift of society.
This is what the Shari’ah terms Zakāh. The institution of Zakāh is the Muslim community’s version of the ‘Cooperative Society’. It is their ‘Insurance company’ and their ‘Provident Fund’. It is a subsidy for the unemployed. It is the scheme of social security for widows, orphans, the handicapped, and all those without the means to sustain themselves. Zakāh ensures that no member of a Muslim society should remain unprovided for and, to top it all, it takes away any worries concerning a person’s future. Zakāh is the cornerstone of the Islamic economic system.
Here again, Islam and capitalism stand in sharp contrast to each other in their fundamental principles and methodologies. Capitalism demands that money be saved and invested, and to multiply these savings, interest is charged in order to divert the capital flow to the capitalist’s own pool. Islam, on the contrary, enjoins that the free flow of capital must not be checked in the first place and, in case of clogging, any blocked capital should be released through the channels of Zakāh. In the capitalist system, the exchange of wealth is restrained, while in Islam it is unchecked.
By their nature and temperament, these are evidently two different models of the economy that are diametrically opposed to each other, and no sane person could ever think of bringing the two together under a single economic system.
Law of Inheritance
The wealth that a person has after satisfying his personal needs, contributing to noble causes, and payment of Zakāh, is distributed through the law of inheritance. The philosophy governing the Islamic Law of Inheritance is that property and wealth, whether they are small or large, should not be monopolized by one or two of the deceased’s descendants, but should be distributed according to an elaborate, pre-determined system among their heirs and relatives, both distant and close. In the case of no legal heir or relative, the Islamic State’s Bayt al-Māl (public treasury) is empowered to take care of the deceased’s property so that it can be used in the public interest.
War gains and Division of a Conquered Land’s Revenue
The same philosophy with the same intention governs Islam’s approach to war gains and the revenue from a conquered land. The material gains of war are to be divided into five equal parts. Of these, four are to be distributed among the fighting forces and the fifth is to be kept in Bayt al Māl for the social objectives of public welfare, which the Islamic State has the responsibility for safeguarding.
Injunctions about Economy and Balance
Islam has arranged, on the one hand, to let the wealth circulate among everyone in the community, so that the have-nots are shareholders in the affluence of those with money, and on the other hand, it enjoins every Muslim to observe economy and balance in his spending so that no individual can unbalance the economic scale by their intemperance in making use of his income. Islam offers not only moral precepts but has also laid down rules and regulations to check the extreme forms of both niggardliness and extravagance. It has taken measures to forestall any imbalance in the equitable distribution of wealth. The wealth, of which one is a custodian has to be spent in such a way that it fulfills not just one’s own requirements, but also the essential needs of so many of one’s less affluent brothers and sisters. In short, the lifestyle that Islam guides humanity to adopt through its moral and legal instruction is one of simple living, which does not let the sphere of human needs and desires expand beyond the limits of a decent and affordable standard. It makes it easier for everyone to live within their means, without becoming indebted to others because of intemperance. If someone has more than he needs for a modest living, he should feel encouraged to shed the extra load of his wealth to serve his fellow humans in society who may be in greater need of it.