The real nature of wealth and property

The other fundamental principle, which can help to solve the problem of the distribution of wealth, is the concept of “wealth” in Islam. According to the illustration of the Holy Quran “wealth” in all its possible forms is a thing created by Allah, and is, in principle His "property". Allah delegates the right of property over a thing, which accrues to man, to Him. The Holy Quran explicitly says:

"Give to them from the property of Allah which He has bestowed upon you." (24:33).

According to Quran the reason for this philosophy is that all a man can do is invest his labor into the process of production. But Allah alone, and no one else, can cause this endeavor to be fruitful and actually productive. Man can do no more than sow the seed in the soil, but to bring out a seedling from the seed and make the seedling grow into a tree is the work of some one other than man. The Holy Quran says:

"Have you considered what you till? Is it you yourselves who make it grow, or is it We who make it grow?" And in another verse:

"Have they not seen that, among the things made by our own hands. We have created cattle for them, and thus they acquired the right of property over them?" (36:71)

All these verses throw ample light on the fundamental point that "wealth", no matter what its form, is in principle ”the property of Allah”, and it is He who has bestowed upon man the right to exploit it. So Allah has the right to demand that man should subordinate his exploitation of this wealth to the commandments of Allah.

Thus, man has the “right of property” over the things he exploits, but this right is not absolute or arbitrary or boundless, it carries along with it certain limitations and restrictions, which have been imposed by the real owner of the 'wealth'. We must spend it where He has commanded it to be spent, and refrain from spending where He has forbidden. This point has been clarified more explicitly in the following verse:

“Seek the other world by means of what Allah has bestowed upon you, and do not be negligent about your share in this world. And do good as Allah has done good to you, and do not seek to spread disorder on the earth.” (28:77)

This verse fully explains the Islamic point of view on the question of property. It places the following guidelines before us:

(1) Whatever wealth man does possess has been received from Allah.

(2) Man has to use it in such a way that his ultimate purpose should be the other world

(3) Since wealth has been received from Allah, its exploitation by man must necessarily be subject to the commandment of Allah.

(4) Now, the Divine Commandment has taken two forms:-

  1. a) Allah may command man to convey a specified production of "Wealth" to another      man. This Commandment must be obeyed, because Allah has done good to you, so He may command you to do good to others - "do good as Allah has done good to you".
  2. b) He may forbid you to use this “wealth” in a specified way. He has every right to do so because He cannot allow you to use “wealth” in a way which is likely to produce collective ills or to spread disorder on the earth.

This is what distinguishes the Islamic point of view on the question of property from the Capitalist and Socialist points of view both. Since the mental background of Capitalism is, theoretically or practically, materialistic, it gives man the unconditional and absolute right of property over his wealth, and allows him to employ it, as he likes. But the Holy Quran has adopted an attitude of disapprobation towards this theory of property, in quoting the words of the nation of Hazrat Shu’aib. They used to say:

"Does your way of prayer command you that we should forsake what our forefathers worshipped, or leave off doing what we like with our own property?" (11:87)

These people used to consider their property as really theirs or "Our property", and hence the claim of "doing what we like" was the necessary conclusion of their position. But the Holy Quran has, in the chapter "Light” substituted the term "the property of Allah" for the expression “Our possessions”, and has thus struck a blow at the very root of the Capitalistic way of thinking. But at the same time, by adding the qualification "what Allah has bestowed upon you", it has cut the roots of Socialism as well, which starts by denying man's right to private property. Similarly, ("thus they acquired the right property over them") - a verse in the Chapter “Seen", explicitly affirms the right to private property as a gift from Allah.

Source: Dr. Muhammad Imran Ashraf Usmani, Meezan Bank’s Guide to Islamic Banking.
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