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Socialism and Islam

By:
Shaykh Mahmūd Shaltūt
Document type:
Articles and Essays

Socialism and Islam

Shaykh Mahmūd Shaltūt

Commentary

Born in Minya, Mahmud Shaltut studied and then taught in Alexandria. In 1927 he joined the faculty of al-Azhar University and was among those who proposed the reform of al-Azhar. He was dismissed from his post in the 1930s because of his reformist views. However, he later returned and in 1958 became the Rector of al-Azhar (Shaykh al-Azhar).

Shaltut became known for his endorsement of a rapprochement between Shi‘ism and Sunnism and supported the Dar al-Taqrib bayna al-Madhahib al-Islamiyyah (The Mission for Rapprochement Among the Islamic Schools), which had been established in the 1940s and was attached to al-Azhar. A year after Shaltut became Rector of al-Azhar in 1958, he issued a fatwa (an authoritative religious opinion) officially recognizing Shi‘ism as a legitimate, fifth school of Islamic law. A chair in Shi‘i jurisprudence was established at al-Azhar University. In this brief selection, which appeared as an article in the Cairo newspaper, al-Jumhuriyyah, on December 22, 1961, Shaltut vindicates the argument that Islam is the ideal embodiment of the principles of socialism, given the status it accords to brotherhood, social solidarity, and equality among believers.

Islam and Society

Islam is not only a spiritual religion, as some wrongly imagine, thinking that it limits itself to establishing relations between the servant and his Lord, without being concerned with organizing the affairs of the community and establishing its rules of conduct. On the contrary, Islam is universal in character. Not only does it determine the relations between man and his Lord, but it also lays down the rules that regulate human relations and public affairs, with the aim of ensuring the welfare of society. . . .

Mutual Social Aid Among Muslims

Members of human society cannot be considered independent of one another. On the contrary, as a result of their existence in this world and the very conditions of their lives, they render each other mutual service and cooperate to satisfy their needs. . . .

This bond is, in Islam, the “religious brotherhood” among Muslims. It is in the “brotherhood” that rights and social duties are expressed in the most sincere fashion. It is this that constitutes the most powerful factor leading toward clemency, sympathy, and cooperation; and giving a sense of the idea, it leads society toward good and banishes evil.

Islam has established this “brotherhood” among Muslims. “The believers are a band of brothers” (Qur'ān 49:10), and the Prophet said, “Muslim is brother to Muslim.” Moreover, Islam has raised the religious brotherhood over and above the blood relationship.

Muslims have attained social solidarity to a unique degree in their Islamic society, which God has immortalized in His Book, which says, “Prize them above themselves, though they are in want” (59:9). . . .

Social Solidarity Among Muslims

Social solidarity among Muslims is of two kinds—the moral and the material. Moral solidarity derives from two factors. The first is recognizing good and virtue and inviting one's neighbor to conform to it with sincerity and fidelity. “You are the noblest nation that has ever been raised up for mankind. You enjoin justice and forbid evil. You believe in Allah” (Qur'ān 3:106).

The second allows one to hear the Word of God and receive it with gratitude and acknowledgment. “Give good news to My servants, who listen to My precepts and follow what is best in them, These are they whom Allah has guided. These are they who are endued with understanding” (Qur'ān 39:19–20.).

The interaction of these two forces makes cooperation between members of a Muslim society more sound.

Material solidarity consists of meeting the needs of society, of consoling the unfortunate, of helping to achieve what is in the general interest, i.e., whatever increases the standard of living and serves all individuals in a beneficial manner.

It is not to be doubted that all those foundations on which life rests, such as perfection, happiness, and grandeur, matters of science, health, greatness, dignity, civilization, power, and strength, cannot be attained without wealth.

In its attitude toward allowing man to assure his needs. Islam considers wealth realistically. Islam has made wealth an “ornament” of this life (Qur'ān 18:44). It also qualified it as the “support of man.” Wealth is not an end in itself. It is only one of the means of rendering mutual service and procuring what one needs. Used thus, it is a good thing, both for the one who possesses it and for society. Considered as an end in itself, and with the sole aim of being enjoyed, wealth becomes for its owner the cause of great harm, and at the same time sows corruption among men. . . .

That is why the Qur'ān regards wealth as a good thing, on condition that it is acquired legally and spent for the good of others, and that it remains not an end in itself but simply a means.

Agriculture, industry, and commerce, on which the material life of society depends, are the sources of wealth. Society needs agriculture for the foodstuffs that are produced by the soil. It also needs the various industries that are necessary to man. Clothing, housing, agriculture, machinery, roads, waterways, and railways are also necessary for the protection and defense of the state. All these can be acquired only through industry.

Agriculture, industry, and commerce must therefore be developed as much as possible. That is why the men of Islamic religious learning [‘ulamā’] teach that it is a collective obligation to learn to make all that one cannot do without, and that if this obligation is not fulfilled the sin that falls back on the whole nation can be effaced only if a part of the nation discharges the obligation.

There is no doubt that this obligation consists in working for the achievement of the principle that Islam imposes on its followers, i.e., the autarky [or establishment of self-sufficiency] that allows the Muslim community itself to meet all its needs. . . .

Muslim jurists are unanimous in recognizing the right of authorities to expropriate [land] in order to enlarge the place of prayer [i.e., the jurisdiction of Islam] until the whole world becomes a mosque. They also have the right to act likewise to enlarge a street or any other public service, in the interests of both individuals and the community. . . .

Worldly possessions are the possessions of God, given by Him to His servants for the benefit of the universe. God sometimes claims possession of these goods: “Allah gives without measure to whom he wills” (Qur'ān 24:38). At other times, He attributes them to their previous owners: “Do not give to the feeble-minded the property with which Allah has entrusted you for their support” (Qur'ān 4:4).

God has clearly established that the possessors of goods, who are the holders after Him, must preserve, increase, and spend them in a manner laid down by Him: “Give in alms of that which He has made your inheritance” (Qur'ān 57:7). God also has put his wealth at the disposal of all men equally: “Allah created the heavens and the earth to reveal the truth and to reward each soul according to its deeds. None shall be wronged” (Qur'ān 45:12).

If worldly possessions are the possessions of God, if all men are the servants of God, and if the life in which they toil and do honor to the possessions of God belongs to God, then wealth, although it may be attributed to a private person, should also belong to all the servants of God, should be placed in the safekeeping of all, and all should profit from it. “Men, serve your Lord, who has created you and those who have gone before you, so that you may guard yourselves against evil; who has made the earth a bed for you and the sky a dome, and has sent down water from heaven to bring forth fruits for your sustenance” (Qur'an 2:19–21).

Thus, to be rich is a social function whose aim is to ensure the happiness of society and satisfy its needs and interests.

So that all men may profit from worldly goods and their souls be free from all greed in this regard, Islam has opposed all who hoard and jealously watch over their wealth. . . . “Proclaim a woeful punishment to those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in Allah's cause. The day will surely come when their treasures shall be heated in the fire of Hell, and their foreheads, sides, and backs branded with them. Their tormentors will say to them: ‘These are the riches which you hoarded. Taste then the punishment which is your due’” (Qur'ān 9:36).

Similarly, Islam has fought the stupidity that leads to the squandering of goods uselessly: “The wasteful are Satan's brothers” (Qur'ān 17:29).

Islam has fought luxury, which has created hatred among the social classes, which menaces a peaceful and stable life, not to mention corruption and anarchy. . . .

Islam has traced the straight path of the ideal society; it is a path of solidarity by which the nation lives and which ensures the strength of society. With this end in view, Islam has abolished from the minds of owners [of property] and capitalists such vices as meanness, the taste for squandering the luxury. It has employed all means to encourage men to give generously and to be afraid of appearing miserly and of neglecting the right of the people and of society, to such a point that it has raised liberality to the rank of faith. . . .

“The true servants of the Merciful are those who walk humbly on the earth and say ‘Peace!’ to the ignorant who accost them; . . . who are neither extravagant nor niggardly but keep the golden mean; who invoke no other God besides Allah . . .” (Qur'ān 25:64–66.).

For Islam, avarice similarly is one of the traits that condemn the infidel: “‘What has brought you into Hell?’ They will reply: ‘We never prayed or fed the hungry . . .’” (Qur'ān 74:43–44.).

Islam has maintained this view for so long that it considers it a denial of the Judgment not to encourage giving to the needy: “Have you thought of him that denies the Last Judgement? It is he who turns away the orphan and does not urge others to feed the poor” (Qur'ān 107).

Briefly summarized, such is the doctrine of Islam regarding the relations among men from the point of view of the solidarity of members of society. It contains in detail all the solid foundations necessary to make our nation a magnificent stronghold, a haven of happiness for those who shelter there.

The doctrine also contains a clear statement of what the socialism of Islam is, for adoption by those who wish to adopt it. Can man find a more perfect, more complete, more useful, and more profound socialism than that decreed by Islam? It is founded on the basis of faith and belief, and all that is decreed on that basis participates in the perpetuation of life and doctrine.

Bibliography references:

From Kemal H. Karpat, ed. Political and Social Thought in the Contemporary Middle East (New York: Praeger, 1968), pp. 126–32.

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