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Conference 'Economics of Non-violence...' - Report [4.05] - Justice P.K. Shamsuddin (1)

Published: 01.06.2006
Updated: 15.02.2008
Fourth Plenary Session:
Indian Ancient Model of Economic System - Is it relevant today?

Justice P.K. Shamsuddin

He presented a paper titled “Spiritual Foundation for Developing a New Model of Economic System - An Islamic Perception”

He addressed the problem of distribution of wealth by saying that at a time when the population of the world was small; the distribution of wealth was not a problem. Now conditions have changed with the exponential rise in population and with no proportionate increase in the arable land. The problem has escalated to unmanageable heights. As a solution to this problem two secular philosophies have emerged, namely communism and capitalism. While Communism seeks to bring all economic activities within the state control, Capitalism advocates free needs of people. Both lacked spiritual content and proved ineffective to serve the basic needs of people. In communism, people's incentive to carry on economic activities is curbed. Capitalism leads to exploitation of labour and other resources by a few and concentration of wealth in a few hands. This naturally results in the increase of gaps between haves and have-nots. Islam conceives of an economic system, which adopts a middle path. While encouraging the individual's incentive to carry on the economic activities, it prevents concentration of wealth in a few hands and helps to bridge the gap between the rich and poor and tries to establish an egalitarian society, which would lead to an everlasting peace in this world.

Asserting the importance of wealth, he maintained that wealth is inevitable for sustaining and progressing on a continuous basis. It is the sole source of satisfying all the basic needs of humanity. Therefore, it will be unreasonable and irrational to look down upon wealth. The Holy book of Islam, the Quran clearly recognizes the importance of wealth in the life of mankind, but with a warning:

You should not hand over wealth, that is given to you by God as the very basis of your life, in charge of those who lack power of understanding"

This brings forth two important points

  1. Wealth is the main life support.
  2. It must be handled with utmost care.

According to Islamic concept all resources belong to God and a human being who is in possession of these resources is only a trustee with the limited right of spending it according to the dictates of his Creator. Chapter 2 verse 29 of the Holy Quran says,

“He the creator of the universe has created for you everything that is on the earth”.

As pointed out by Allama Maumud Hassan Dev Bandhi,

‘None has the right to possess anything more than he requires and he must be prepared to part with the rest for the sake of others. If a man possesses more than what is necessary for him, it is clear that he has taken goods belonging to others into his custody and is enjoying it unlawfully'

The principle is applicable to land also. The Holy Quran, Chapter 7, verse 128 says,

“The Earth belongs to God” (Acharya Vinoba Bhave also used to say 'Sabhi Bhumi Gopal Ki').

It means earth and all the resources therein belong to him. Chaper 15 again says ,

“In it (the earth) we have provided with the means of livelihood for you as well as for those whom you do not provide”.

There are millions and billions of living creatures on earth and the reference to “those whom you do not provide relates to them. That means these resources are intended not only for the use of mankind but also for all living beings. This is further clarified in chapter 6 verse 38 of the Quran,

“All creatures on the earth including the birds that fly with two wings are communities like yours”

The Quran also makes it clear that it would be unlawful to deny the right to enjoy these resources to any section of society.

The chapter 7 verse 32 of the Quran says,

“Say who can declare unlawful the articles of splendour and good food stuffs created by God for his servants”

The Quran further clarifies in chaper 59, verse 19,

“In their wealth, there is a portion for the needy and for those who are denied livelihood”

Imam Ibn Jabeer, the famous commentator of the Quran says that those who are unable to earn their living and those who have lost the fruits of their labour are included in the category of persons who are denied livelihood. In other words, the deprived and marginalized persons have a legitimate right in all material resources in your possession and you are bound to give their share, which is not really an act of charity, but an obligation.

Regarding the so-called private properties Abu Saidul Khudri quotes the following saying of the prophet.

“If any one has surplus of camels, let him give them to others without camels. If any one has surplus of foodstuff after making his requirements, let him give it to those who have no food”.

He continued,

“The prophet went on enumerating various items of wealth so that we began to feel that no one has a right on the surplus of wealth at all."
(Mullah of Ibn Hazam 6-157-158)

Every individual has the right to acquire wealth according to his ability, but then that should not be detrimental to the interest of the community as a whole. He must be prepared to part with the surplus in favour of others who are in need of it.

The Quran indicts those who do not discharge these obligations, “God has made some of you excel in the matter of food. Even then, those who have attained that excellence do not give it to those who are under their control. They (both of them) are equals in that. Do they deny the favour of God”?

The Quran warns severely those who hoard wealth, but are not prepared to share that wealth with people who are suffering from poverty and starvation,

“Those who hoard up Gold and do not spend it in the way of God, announce to them, the happy news of painful chastisement”
(Quran 9:31)

In order to make the principle that wealth is a common property of humanity a reality Islam has evolved a system of distribution of wealth.


Islam has imposed a levy called Zakath on cash, cattle, agricultural products, gold and silver and other forms of wealth. Zakath is based on income. If a farm is watered from any perennial sources, tax would be 10% of the produce and if the farm is watered by humans it would be 5%. Islam imposes a levy of Zakath on the reserved fund also. Any amount reaching taxable limit and remaining in one's possession for one full year is taxable. This includes wealth kept in kind also. In short, whatever remains in one's possession after meeting ones own expenses is taxable. Zakath has to be distributed to

  • Faqir (Those who cannot live without help from others).
  • Miskin (Those whose pecuniary circumstances are worse than the first category and are in the state of utter helplessness).
  • Officers who collect the levy.
  • Those who are to be befriended.
  • Emancipation of slaves.
  • Those who are in debt.
  • In the cause of God and
  • Travellers.

In its attempt to attain equitable distribution of wealth, Islam does not stop with Zakath, which is a compulsory levy. Islam also encourages giving of alms and charity voluntarily, which is richly rewarded by God. This is in addition to Zakahat.


Ashok Bapna, Director, JIILM Jaipur, Honorary Visiting Professor, CTI, CMS, HCM RIPA, Jaipur & SID Country Coordinator - India, Mobile: +91-93145-09414


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                1. Acharya
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