In the civilised societies of the pre-Islamic world labour was mainly provided by the slaves were the real back-bone of the production Sector. There were two distinct Classes in the Society; masters and Slaves. Slaves would work in agriculture, commerce, and house-holds. The condition of slaves in those days was miserable. They were ill-fed, ill-clad and mal-treated. Not to speak of having any rights, they were a tradable commodity. The masters would flourish on the work and effort of these slaves. In this background, the Holy Prophet (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) initiated a comprehensive programme for the emancipation and welfare of the slaves. Although a simple and obvious conclusion from the Prophet’s instructions for a human and benevolent attitude towards slaves may be his desire to improve the condition of slaves in the Society, yet it also suggests a deeper and structural change in the basic economic relationships.
The slaves, who would work for their masters without any reward, were raised to the level of brethren and colleagues. They were made to share the resources of the masters. The masters were advised to maintain their slaves at the same level at which they themselves lived. It was a major change in the basic economic relationships. Instead of declaring the slaves as wage-earners, the Prophet (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) made them partners and Share-holders. This reform carried the seeds for the future development of the economy. Had these slaves been made wage-earners, the pre-Islam Arabian society, which had a rudimentary basis to bloom into a, capitalist Society, would have moved in the direction of capitalism. But the Prophet (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) laid down the basis for an economy in which capital and labour had to join as partners and not as employers and employees, It also provides us clue to the question as to why Muslim economies of the Medieval era did not develop into capitalist economies.
A very small segment of the economy was also served by wage-earners. They were mostly craftsmen who would work for small wages. The wage earners were not employees of any individual but would charge for their services. The Holy Prophet (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) could not abolish the wage labour as the services sector of the economy could not be run without it. But in the production sector the workers were made to share the resources of the masters.
In the last days of the Prophet (Sall Allah-o-alaihe wa sallam) when the Islamic state had been established, we come across instructions about government servants as well. These instructions indicate the rights and obligations of state employees.
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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