Concept of Ownership

The property relationships define, to a large extent, the contours of an economic system. The two dominant systems of the present age differ from each other, largely, by the extent of freedom of an individual to own private property. Islam offers a third point of view: Everything in this universe belongs to God Almighty. He is the real Owner of everything and has the right to determine the mode of utilization of all forms of property. Man is His vicegerent (khalifah), who has been entrusted with certain responsibilities. To carry out his responsibilities, he has been endowed with requisite facilities. These facilities are only a trust with him and are strictly meant to be deployed for the purpose they have been granted. The purpose has been defined in elaborate details in the Shari‘ah revealed to the Holy Prophet (may ace be upon him).

Thus, subject to the sovereignty of Allah, man has been granted right to own property. As man is not its ultimate owner, so the mode of its utilization has also been defined by the real Owner (i.e. God Almighty). At the termination of this worldly life everyone shall have to account for the resources provided to him in this worldly life and placed at his disposal as vicegerent to Allah. Man can withstand the test of accountability only if he has certain discretion to use these resources; therefore although the requisite mode of utilization of these resources has been laid down in the Shariah, man has been granted the freedom to act in any other way, if he so chooses, at the risk of severe punishment on the Day of Judgement. To ensure an uninterrupted discretion to use these resources, the Shari'ah has recognised the right to own property as legitimate and authentic, this right has been con­ceived in the overall framework of God’s sovereignty.

The Holy Prophet (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) has declared the sanctity of private property but this sanctity is in man’s position of being Allah’s vicegerent.

Islam has also recognised a right of common ownership in certain things such as water, grass and fire. They are for common good and cannot be owned by anyone including the state. Instead everyone is equally entitled to derive benefit from them.

In the present day context, it may well be inferred that the resources that may be required by the general public may not be owned privately to relieve people of the possible hardships. This does not necessarily mean that such resources would be owned by the State. In­stead the ownership in this case lies with the whole of Ummah and the State may manage them on its behalf, as a trustee and accountable to them.

1) Abu Huraira reported, A person came to the Messenger of Allah (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) and said: “Messenger of Allah (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam), what do you think if a man comes to me in order to ap­propriate my possession?” He (the Holy Prophet) said: “Don’t sur­render your possession to him.” He (the inquirer) said: “If he fights with me?” He (the Holy Prophet) remarked: “Then fight (with him).” He (the inquirer) again said: “What do you think if I am killed?” He (the Holy Prophet) observed: “You would be a martyr.” He (the inquirer) said: “Messenger of Allah, What do you think of him, if I kill him.” He (the Holy Prophet) said: “He would be in the Fire.”

2) Ja‘afar b. Muhammad reported on the authority of his father. The Messenger of Allah (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam), however, passed on till he came to ‘Arafa and he found that the tent had been pitched for him at Namira. There he got down till the sun had passed the meridian; he commanded that al-Qaswa should be brought and saddled for him. Then he came to the bottom of the valley, and addressed the people saying: “Verily your blood, your property are as sacred and inviolable as the sacredness of this day of your, in this month of yours, in this town of yours. Behold! Everything pertaining to the Days of Ignorance is under my feet completely abolished. Abolished are also the blood revenges of the Days of Ignorance. The first claim of ours on blood revenges which I abolish is that of the son of Rabi‘a b. al-Harith, who was nursed among the tribe of Sa‘d and killed by Hudhail. And the usury of the pre-Islamic period is abolished, and the first of our usury I abolish is that of ‘Abbas b. ‘Abd al-Muttalib, for it is all abolished. Fear Allah concerning women! Verily you have taken them on the security of Allah, and intercourse with them has been made lawful unto you by words of Allah. You too have right over them, that they should not allow anyone to sit on your bed whom you do not like. But if they do that, you can chastise them but not severely. Their rights upon you are that you should provide them with food and clothing in a fitting manner. I have left among you the Book of Allah, and if you hold fast to it, you would never go astray. And you would be asked about me (on the Day of Resurrection), (now tell me) what would you say?” They (the audience) said: “We will bear witness that you have conveyed (the Message), discharged (the ministry of Prophethood) and gave wise (sincere) counsel.” He (the narrator) said: “He (the Holy Prophet) then raised his forefinger towards the sky and pointing it at the people (said): ‘O Allah, be witness. O Allah, be witness’, saying it thrice....”

3) Abu Bakra reported that (in the Farewell Address) Allah’s Apostle (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) said: “Time has completed a cycle and come to the state of the day when Allah created the heavens and the earth. The year is constituted of twelve months, of which four are sacred; three of them consecutive, viz. Dhu’l-Qa‘da, Dhu’l-Hijja and Muharram, and also Rajab the month of Mudar which comes between Jumada and Sha‘ban.” He (the Holy Prophet) then said: “which month is this?” We said: ‘“Allah and His Messenger know best.” He (the narrator;) said: “He (the Holy Prophet) remained silent for some time until we thought that he would give it a name other than that (by which it was known). He said: “Is it not Dhu’l-Hijja?” We said: “Yes.” He (the Holy Prophet) said: “Which city is this?” We said: “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He (the Holy Prophet) remained silent until we thought that he would give it another name. He (the Holy Prophet) said: “Is it not the Balda (the city of Mecca)?” We said: “Yes.” He said: “What day is this?” We said: “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He (the Holy Prophet) remained silent until we thought that he would give it another name. He said: “Is it not the Day of Sacrifice?” We said: “Allah’s Messenger, yes.” Thereupon he said: “Your blood, your property Muhammad, one of the narrators, said: ‘I think, he also said this)’ and your honour are sacred to you like the sacredness of this day of yours, in this city of yours, and in this month of yours. You will soon meet your Lord and He will ask you about your deeds. So do not turn after me unbelievers (or misguided), some of you striking the necks of the others. Behold! let him who is present convey to him who is absent, for many a one whom a message is conveyed has a more retentive memory than one who hears.” He again said: “Behold! have I not delivered (the message) to you?”  This hadith has been narrated through another chain of transmitters, but with a slight variation of words.

4) Rafi‘ b. Khadij reported that the Messenger of Allah (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) said: “One who cultivates on the land of other people without their permission, has no right on the yield except to the extent of his expenses.”

5) This hadith has been narrated through five different chains of transmitters and all of them are narrated on the authority of Mustaurid, brother of Bani Fihr, that Allah’s Messenger (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) said: “By Allah, this world (is so insignificant in comparison) to the Hereafter that if one of you would dip his finger – (and while saying this Yahya pointed with his forefinger) – in the ocean and then he should see as to what has stuck to it.” This hadith has been narrated through another chain of transmitters also but with a slight variation of wording.

6) Jabir b. ‘Abdullah reported that Allah’s Apostle (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) happened to walk through the bazar coming from the side of ‘Aliya and the people were on both his sides. There he found a dead lamb with very short ears. He took hold of his ear and said: “Who amongst you would like to have this for a dirham?” They said: “We do not like to have it even for less than that as it is of no use for us.” He said: “Do you wish to have it (free of any cost)?” They said: “By Allah, even if it were alive (we would not have liked to possess that), for there is defect in it as its ear is very short; now it is dead also.” Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) said: “By Allah, this world is more insignificant in the eye of Allah as it (this dead lamb) is in your eye.”

7) ‘Abdullah reported: The Messenger of Allah (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) slept on a mat and he got up while marks of the mat were appar­ent on his side. We said: “Messenger of Allah, would that we could prepare a mattress for you.” He [the Holy Prophet (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam)] said: “What have I to do with (the pleasures of) this worldly life?  My stay in this world is like that of a wayfarer who stopped to relax under the shade of a tree (for a while) and then moved on and left it.” In this connection, a tradition is transmitted on the authority of Ibn Umar and Ibn Abbas. This is Sahih hadith.

8) Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) had said: “Richness does not lie in the abundance of (worldly) goods but richness is the richness of the soul (heart, self).”


Source: Economic Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): A Select Anthology of Hadith Literature on Economics, Muhammad Akram Khan. Republished with permission.
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