The Economic Sharī‘ah
The economic sharī‘ah has been revealed by the Almighty through His last Prophet (sws) for the purification of the economy. It is based on the Qur’ānic philosophy of creation. According to this philosophy, the Almighty has created this world as a trial and test for man; every person has therefore been made to depend on others for his living. No one in this world can live independently as regards his needs and requirements. A person of the highest rank is dependent on others and people have to turn to even the most ordinary to fulfill them. In other words, every single person has an important role to play and no person can live a life independent of others as far as his needs are concerned. The Almighty has blessed people with varying abilities, intelligence and inclinations as well as with varying means and resources. In fact, it is because of this variation that a society comes into being. In such a society, if, on the one hand, there are scholars and sages whose knowledge enlightens the whole world, writers whose works give eternal life to words and their meanings, researchers whose unique researches are praised by the whole society, leaders whose acumen resolves many problems of the collectivity, reformers whose efforts create self-awareness in mankind and rulers whose resolve and determination change the course of history, then on the other hand, the same society also has workers whose hard work produces marvels from machines, tillers of the soil whose relentless labour results in bumper crops, cooks whose adept cookery savours our taste-buds, artisans whose craftsmanship builds astounding sky scrapers and janitors with whose efforts the whole society breathes in a healthy atmosphere.
By creating various classes of people, the Almighty is testing whether the big and the small, the high and the low form a noble and healthy society or go about trying to create utter disorder in the world by showing foolishness and creating mischief against one another and in this way are humiliated in this world and also becoming worthy of punishment in the Hereafter.
It is to salvage man in this trial that the Almighty has guided him through His Prophets and revealed this economic sharī‘ah to cleanse and purify him.
Following is a summary of this sharī‘ah:
1. Sanctity of Ownership
If a Muslim has paid his zakāh dues, then his rightfully owned wealth cannot be usurped or tampered with in any way, except if on account of some violation sanctioned by the religion of God and his Prophet (sws). So much so, a government has no authority to impose any tax other than zakāh on its Muslim citizens without their consent.
2. National Assets
Wealth and assets which are not in the ownership of an individual or cannot be in his ownership should remain in the ownership of the state so that this wealth should not get concentrated among the rich and that it be directed to those sectors of the society which are dependent on others for their needs. Similarly, certain obligations of the state can also be fulfilled through this means.
3. Usurpation of Wealth
It is prohibited to devour other people’s wealth and property by unjust means. Gambling and interest are some horrendous forms of usurpation. Other economic activities should also stand permissible or prohibited in the light of this principle.
4. Documentation and Evidence
In affairs such as various financial transactions, making a will and acquiring a loan, the parties involved should write down a document and call in witnesses on the contract written. An indifference to this can at times lead to great moral misconduct.
Following are its directives:
i. Whenever a loan is acquired for a certain period, the transaction should be written down in the form of a document.
ii. This document should be written down in a just manner by some scribe in the presence of both the parties.
iii. The responsibility of writing down the document rests on the borrower. He should mention in the document the name of the person from whom he has borrowed and the amount he has borrowed from him.
iv. If the borrower is naïve, feeble or is not in a position to write down the document, then his guardian or attorney should have it written down on his behalf with justice and fairness.
v. Two male witnesses should testify over this document. These witnesses should be those who are known to or have a close link with the parties and should be honest and trustworthy and of sound character.
vi. If two male Muslims having the said qualities are not available, then one man and two women can be selected to fulfill this responsibility. The requirement for two women is because a woman who is generally used to the environment of a home may become nervous in the environment of a court room and it is in order to protect her evidence from doubt and uncertainty that another woman comes to her help and support.
vii. People who have borne witness to a document should not desist from giving their testimony when they are called upon to do so.
viii. Everyday loans and transactions are not required to be written down. Witnesses, however, should be called upon important deals and transactions to resolve any disputes that may arise.
ix. It is not proper for a party to harm the scribe or the witness if a dispute arises.
x. If a person is on a journey and no scribe is available to document the transaction of loan then the borrower can place something in possession of the lender as a security. However, this permission to the lender to accept such pledges is strictly dependent on the fact that the lender does not find himself in a trustworthy situation. As soon as such a situation arises, the Almighty has directed the lender to return the pledged item and call in witnesses over the transaction of loan.
xi. If death stares a person in his face and he has to make a will regarding his wealth, then he should call in two just witnesses from among his Muslim brethren.
xii. If death approaches him during a journey, and two Muslim witnesses are not available there, then as a last resort he can call in two non-Muslim witnesses.
xiii. If there is a possibility that those selected from among the Muslims as witnesses might show some bias to someone by altering their testimony, then as a precautionary measure, they can be held back after a congregational prayer in the mosque and be asked to swear by Allah that they will not alter their testimony for some worldly gain or in partiality of someone even if he be their close relative, and, if they do some alteration, then they will be sinners.
xiv. The witnesses should know that this testimony is the testimony of Allah. So even if they are dishonest in the slightest way, it would mean that they are dishonest not only to their brethren but also to the Almighty.
xv. In spite of this, if it comes to surface that contrary to the will made by the deceased these witnesses have shown bias to someone or infringed upon the rights of someone, then two persons from among the people who have become the victim of this injustice should stand up and swear that they are truer than the previous witnesses; that they have not committed any excess in this regard and that they will be wrongdoers before the eyes of Allah if they do so.
xvi. It is likely that after this further measure of accountability, the witnesses will not give a false testimony for they will have the fear hovering over them that if they commit any wrong, others will negate their oaths and in spite of being given preference, their oaths will be refuted.
5. Distribution of Inheritance
The wealth of every Muslim must necessarily be distributed after his death among his heirs in the following manner:
If the deceased has outstanding debts to his name, then first of all they should be paid off from the wealth he has left behind. After this, any legacies he may have bequeathed should be paid. The distribution of his inheritance should then follow.
No will can be made in favour of an heir ordained by the Almighty except if his circumstances, or the services rendered by him or his needs in certain situations call for it.
After giving the parents and the spouses their shares, the children are the heirs of the remaining inheritance. If the deceased does not have any male offspring and there are only two or more girls among the children, then they shall receive two-thirds of the inheritance left over, and if there is only one girl, then her share is one-half. If the deceased has only male children, then all his wealth shall be distributed among them. If he leaves behind both boys and girls, then the share of each boy shall be equal to the share of two girls and, in this case also, all his wealth shall be distributed among them.
In the absence of children, the deceased’s brothers and sisters shall take their place. After giving the parents and spouses their shares, the brothers and sisters shall be his heirs. The proportion of their shares and the mode of distribution shall be the same as that of the children stated above.
If the deceased has children or if he does not have children and has brothers and sisters, then the parents shall receive a sixth each. If he does not even have brothers and sisters and the parents are the sole heirs, then one-third of his wealth shall be given to the mother and two-thirds to the father.
If the deceased is a man and he has children, then his wife shall receive one-eighth of what he leaves, and if he does not have any children, then his wife’s share shall be one-fourth. If the deceased is a woman and does not have any children, then her husband shall receive one-half of what she leaves and if she has children, then the husband’s share is one-fourth.
In the absence of these heirs, the deceased can make someone an heir. If the person who is made an heir is a relative and has one brother or one sister, then they shall be given a sixth of his share and he himself shall receive the remaining five-sixth. However, if he has more than one brother or sister, then they shall be given a third of his share and he himself shall receive the remaining two-thirds.
The basis of this distribution of inheritance is the “benefit of kinship” and the reason for the difference in the share of the heirs is also because their benefit for the deceased varies. Since the benefit of a girl after her marriage is transferred to her husband, similarly, a wife gives companionship to her husband whereas the husband not only gives companionship to her, he is also responsible to provide for her, hence the share of a boy is twice of a girl and the share of a husband is twice that of a wife.
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