I-Distinctive Features

            Every economic system has its own peculiar features, which form its foundation and by which it can be distinguished and recognized. Modern capitalism, which has emerged due to rapid industrialization facilitated by unprecedented human advancement in science and technology, is based on free market economy, non-intervention or very limited intervention of state in economic affairs, interest and banking. Socialism, which has emerged as a reaction to capitalism, believes in complete control of state on economy and full ownership of means of production by the state or community. Feudalism stands for ownership of land by few persons or families and makes majority of people tenants or serfs who work on lands either as servants of the landlords or for meager share in the produce of land.

            Islam, on the other hand, believes in justice and fairness in the economic field. According to it, the man is God’s viceroy or deputy in overall divine scheme and he has been given limited rights of ownership of means of production. It recognizes intervention of the state in the economic activity for the purpose of ensuring welfare of its citizens. Abolition of interest, institution of sadaqat and Zakat, distinction between lawful and unlawful, equitable distribution of wealth, prohibition of hoarding and stress on circulation of wealth, and concern for well being of the poor are the distinctive features of the Islamic economic system. We will elaborate and discuss some features of Islamic economic system as follows:

God provides sustenance

One of the major features of Islamic economic system is the concept that Allah, the Almighty God of universe, is the sustainer and provider. Allah provides livelihood and subsistence to all of His creatures in the universe. It is Allah who has created all means and resources through which man earns his livelihood. Allah, in fact, has committed Himself to feed, sustain and nourish all creatures including human beings. It is Allah who expands or curtails ‘rizq’ (sustenance). The Qur’an says: 

·        And surely, We have established you (O mankind) in the earth and provided for you therein the means of your sustenance.   (7:10)

·        Certainly, your Lord enlarges the sustenance for whom He wants and straitens it (for whom He wants). Verily, He is ever Knower, Seer of His slaves.   (17:30)

The conception of God’s dispensation does not, however, suggest that one should sit idle and wait for sustenance which would automatically come down to him. Instead of giving up struggle, Islam rather inspires a person to do his best in order to earn his livelihood by using all lawful (Halal) and fair means.

God is Real Owner of everything while man is merely a trustee and beneficiary

The heavens and the earth and everything in the universe belongs to Allah. God is the real owner of everything, although He has given some rights to man for use of things required by the latter for his existence on the earth. However, the rights given to man are very limited, the real position of man being that of a trustee and a beneficiary. The Qur’an highlights this concept in its following verses:

·        Unto Allah belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth.   (3:109)

·        Believe in Allah and His messenger, and spend of that whereof He hath made you trustees; and such of you as believe and spend (aright), theirs will be a great reward.   (57:7)

The underlying wisdom of the above injunction is that in respect of the wealth which God has given him, the man should not consider himself as its absolute owner and waste it as he likes, rather he should consider himself a trustee and spend it in God’s way on the poor and the needy persons.

Distinction between Halal (legal) and Haram (illegal)

Islam has introduced concept of Halal (lawful) and Haram (unlawful) in its economic system. In fact the foundations of the Islamic economy have been laid on this concept. This concept reigns supreme in the realm of production as well as consumption. Certain means of earning livelihood and wealth have been declared unlawful such as interest, bribery, gambling and games of chance, speculation, short weighing and short measuring, business malpractices, etc. Unlawful means of earning are strictly forbidden and a follower of Islam is permitted to earn only through lawful and fair means. Similarly in the field of consumption, certain items of food are unlawful such as dead animals, blood, swine-flesh and animals slaughtered in the name of other than that of Allah. Even expenses on unlawful things like drinking, fornication, pornography, things that promote obscenity and vulgarity, lotteries and gambling are strictly disallowed.


Equity and not equality in distribution

Islam establishes equity, fairness and justice in the production and distribution of wealth, and in ownership of means of livelihood. However it recognizes that like other natural things there is no equality among human beings as regards the economic means and possession of worldly wealth. This inequality has been presented by the Qur’an as a part of Divine economic order. The Qur’an does not consider these disparities in the distribution of Divine sustenance as punishment or reward and does not try to eliminate them, because no two individuals have been blessed with hundred percent equal mental and physical abilities.

Taking the existence of inequalities as a part of divine scheme, the Qur’an advises its followers not to covet those things in which Allah has made some of them excel others. By exalting some of you over others in rank or by favouring some of you over others in provisions, God in fact tries and tests the human beings whether they are thankful to Him in good circumstances and patient in bad ones. The Qur’an says: And covet not the thing in which Allah has made some of you exceed others. (4:32) He it is Who hath placed you as viceroys of the earth and hath exalted some of you in rank above others. That He may try you by (the test of) that which He hath given you.   (6:165)

Although, Islam does not believe in hundred percent equality in distribution of economic means, yet it does not allow the difference between the rich and the poor to reach an uncontrollable limit where the rich role in luxury and the poor live in misery, hunger and deprivation. Islam in fact stands for socio-economic justice and ensures fair and equitable distribution of wealth and income.

Elimination of Exploitation

Elimination of economic exploitation of the weak by the strong is another element of Islamic economic system. Many steps have been taken by Islam in this direction. Riba or usury is one of the worst instruments of human exploitation and this has been abolished root and branch. Other means of human exploitation such as bribery, gambling, speculative transactions, fraudulent practices, prostitution, embezzlement, etc. have also been prohibited in Islamic society. Interest of the weaker classes of the society like women, orphans, slaves, labourers consumers, etc. have been protected through detailed legislation by Islam.

The women were treated as chattel and were denied the status of human being before emergence of Islam. Islam restored their human status and gave them equal social and economic rights along with men. In the economic field, for example, women have been given rights to own property, to acquire property and to dispose it off at their discretion. They are given right of inheritance from their parents, their husbands, their children and near relatives. They are allowed to work to earn their livelihood through any dignified profession or vocation of their choice. The orphans are another economically exploited class in society as their property is generally devoured by their guardians and near kindred. Islam has declared devouring the property of the orphans a major sin. The Qur’an warns the devourers of orphan’s property in these words: “Lo! Those who devour the wealth of orphans wrongfully, they do but swallow fire into their bellies, and they will be exposed to burning fire” (4:10). The slaves were perhaps the most exploited class in human history. Islam declared the emancipation of slaves as the most pious act and enjoined upon its followers to set the slaves free and thus earn God’s pleasure. The Qur’an has made emancipation of slaves an expiation of some kinds of sins of the believers. The Muslim men and women were encouraged to marry the believing maids and slaves in preference to non-believers even if the non-believers were very rich and good looking. Islamic state is obliged to financially assist the slaves for their manumission out of its Zakat revenues.

Islam has protected the labourers against the economic exploitation by the capitalist by providing that fair wages should be fixed before employing the labourers and that they should be promptly paid their wages before their sweat dries up. To eliminate the exploitation of the tenants by the landlords, Islam almost abolished Jagirdari (feudal) system. Interests of consumers have been protected by ordering ban on certain exploitive business malpractice like hoarding, monopoly, speculation, and short-weighing and short-measuring.

Principle of moderation

Islam prescribes policy of moderation to its followers in every walk of life and enjoins upon them to avoid extremes. In economic system the believers are recommended the principle of moderation in earning of wealth as well as in expenditure of money. The believers should be neither too greedy for wealth so as to spend all their times and energies for acquiring it through all legal or illegal means nor they should be too lazy and lethargic to earn wealth through lawful means for their lawful needs. Similarly they should be neither too miser in spending wealth for their needs and needs of the poor around them nor they should be too extravagant to squander wealth on luxuries and illegal and immoral acts. Rather they should follow middle course in earning wealth by lawful means and in spending wealth on their needs and needs of the poor in the way of Allah. Moderation is the best policy in the sight of Islam.

The Qur’an and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on moderation are:

1)     And let not thy hand be chained to thy neck nor open it with a complete opening, lest thou sit down rebuked, denuded.   (Al-Qur’an 17:29)

2)     And those who, when they spend, are neither prodigal nor grudging;   (Al-Qur’an 25:67)

3)     Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Moderation in expenditure is half of livelihood, and love for people is half of wisdom, and good questioning is half of learning.   (Bukhari)

4)     Matref-b-Abdullah reported that the messenger of Allah said: The best of affairs is their mean.

II-Means of fair and equitable distribution

            For fair, just and equitable distribution of wealth, Islam prescribes positive as well as prohibitive measures. Positive measures include Zakat, laws of inheritance and other compulsory and voluntary contributions (Sadaqat). Prohibitive measures comprise abolition of interest, prohibition of hoarding, and above all prohibition of all immoral, unfair, unjust and unlawful means of acquiring wealth which, in fact, are the major cause leading to concentration of wealth in few hands. However in this section we will discuss positive means of distribution only as the prohibitive measures are unlawful means which will be discussed separately.

Zakat and other compulsory contributions

Zakat is the first such measure which helps the state and the Muslim community in fair distribution of wealth. It is collected from the rich and is distributed or spent on the poor and the needy. Other compulsory levies collected by the state also help the cause of elimination of poverty and fair distribution. Such levies and collections are in the form of taxes and compulsory contributions. Taxes collected by modern Islamic state also enable such state to spend for the poor.

Another levy is Sadaqat-ul-Fitr which has been prescribed by the Prophet on every well-to-do Muslim who possesses property equal to the Nisab of Zakat. It is to be paid for all the members of the family, even for servants and slaves, according to the rate fixed by the Prophet per head, before the prayer of Eid which is celebrated after the fasting month of Ramadan every year.

Laws of inheritance and will

Law of inheritance followed by a community plays a vital role in setting the pattern of distribution of wealth among its members. Those communities who adopt law of primogeniture, which makes the eldest son to inherit the whole of the property of his father, have concentration of wealth in few hands. Those communities who confine the inheritance to only male children and exclude the females also have a narrow base of distribution. Only those communities who confer the inheritance on a larger number of heirs without any discrimination between males and females have broad-based pattern of distribution.

Islamic law of inheritance is perhaps the only such law in the world which conceives a very broad-based distribution pattern. This law not only makes the male and female children of the deceased his legal heirs but also includes among his legal heirs his spouse or spouses and his parents. In case the deceased leaves no children and no parents, his estate goes to his brothers and sisters and sometimes even to his distant kindred. In case a deceased person leaves behind him no near or distant relatives, his property may go to the community or the state for benefit of all the members or the citizens.

Similarly law of will or bequest prescribed by Islam helps the cause of distribution of wealth. According to this law, a Muslim is allowed to bequest his property up to one-third of it in the favour of some charity, institution or a person other than his legal heirs. The law of will generally inspires rich and well-to-do Muslims to bequeath some fortune in the path of God for charitable causes like relief of the poor, education and medical relief, etc. This law has helped, in Islamic society, the establishment of waqfs, trusts, hospitals, educational institutions. This law, thus promotes jihad against poverty, misery, disease, ignorance and illiteracy and in this way it helps transfer of wealth from the rich to the poor.

Monetary atonements

Monetary atonements have been prescribed by the Qur’an for certain sins and faults such as failure to keep fasts of Ramadan, unintentional murder, failure to fulfil intentional oaths, putting away wife by Zihar, etc. Those who commit some sins, offences or omissions intentionally or unintentionally have been enjoined upon by the Qur’an to make prescribed charity in expiation of these sins. These prescribed monetary atonements are a channel of flow of wealth from the well-to-do to the poor people.

Charity and alms-giving

If Zakat and other compulsory charities fail to satisfy the needs of the poor, the state can either impose taxes or motivate the rich to donate voluntarily and gnerously to help eradicate poverty and want.

Voluntary charities to earn the pleasure of God Almighty are rewarded in this world as well as in the next one. They also help in flow of wealth from the rich of the community to the poor and the needy. Thus the cause of distributive and social justice is achieved through this voluntary measure.

The Qur’an commands the believers: Spend your wealth for the cause of Allah, and be not cast by your own hands to ruin; and do good. Lo! Allah loves the beneficent. (Al-Baqarah 2:195) The Prophet of Islam said:

  • Verily charity appeases wrath of the Lord and removes pangs of death.   (Tirmizi)
  • Surely the shade of the believer on the Resurrection Day will be his charity.   (Ahmad)

Islam does not prescribe any limit for charity. They Holy Qur’an says: And they ask you what they ought to spend. Say: That which is surplus” (2:219). Thus a believer is encouraged to spend all of his wealth in the path of God which is over and above his needs.

Feeding the poor

Feeding the poor is one of the voluntary charities and is a very common practice among the generous and God fearing Muslims.

Rewards for this act are very numerous and both the Qur’an and the Prophet of Islam exhort the believers to feed the poor and the needy. This measure is also a good step to mitigate want and misery from the Islamic society.

The Qur’an exhorts the believers: “And feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him” (76:8). The Prophet said: The best charity is to satisfy a hungry belly.   (Baihaqi)

Good Loan to Allah

It is Grace of Allah, the Almighty God, that any expense incurred by a Muslim in His path on charity or alms for the poor is regarded by Him as goodly loan to Him and He undertakes to repay it manifold. The rich are inspired to give loan to God in the form of helping the poor people and to earn many times big reward for this.  

According to Abul A’la Mududi: “Good loan” is that which is lent without any idea of personal gain or interest but is given with the sole intention to please God.

The Holy Qur’an says: If ye lend unto Allah a goodly loan, He will double it for you and will forgive you, for Allah is Responsive, Clement,   (At-Taghabun 64:17)

Circulation of Wealth encouraged

The Holy Qur’an says: They who hoard up gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah, unto them give tidings (O Muhammad) of a painful doom. On the day when it will (all) be heated in the fire of hell, and their foreheads and their flanks and their backs will be branded therewith (and it will be said unto them): Here is that which ye hoarded for yourselves. Now taste of what ye used to hoard. (At-Taubah 9:34-35) That which Allah giveth as spoil unto His messenger from the people of the townships, it is for Allah and His messenger and for the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer, that it become not a commodity between the rich among you.   (Al-Hashr 59:7)

Hoarding of wealth has been condemned by Islam with threats of severe punishment whereas circulation of wealth has been encouraged. This measure not only forces the hoarded wealth to come out of coffers of the rich but also ensures its flow into investment channels ultimately helping its natural distribution.

III-Prohibited means of earning

            Following means of earning income have been declared haram (forbidden) to a follower of Islam:

Interest (Riba)

            Islam has strictly prohibited riba (usury or interest) to its followers. According to the Qur’an, Riba, which is generally translated into usury, decreases one’s wealth whereas Zakat increases it. Charging of Riba in the sight of the Qur’an (2:279) tantamount to declaring of war against Allah and His messenger; while in the words of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), a dirham of usury a man devours with knowledge is greater (in sin) than thirty six fornications. During the times of the Prophet, Riba was not only charged on money loans but was also charged on exchange of commodities in barter transactions. So the Prophet prohibited Riba in both the forms. Some modern economists have tried to distinguish bank interest from Riba and have held that bank interest is not prohibited. But majority of the Muslim scholars are unanimous in holding that Riba in every form is prohibited including bank interest.


            Bribery eats justice and gives birth to many socio-economic evils. Islam has not only prohibited bribery but has also condemned both the parties to its transaction to Hell in the next world. Bribery is a major sin and a culpable crime in an Islamic state. Therefore, earning wealth through bribery is absolutely illegal (Haram). Let us see what the Qur’an and the Sunnah say about it.

·        And eat not up your property among yourselves in vanity, nor seek by it to gain the hearing of the judges that ye may knowingly devour a portion of the property of others wrongfully.   (2:188)

·        Abdullah-b-Amr reported that the Messenger of Allah cursed the bribe-taker and bribe-giver.   (Abu Daud, Ibn Majah)


Devouring wealth of orphans

The orphans are the weakest and the most exploited class in human society. They are generally the easiest targets of those near relatives and guardians to whose care they are left. Unscrupulous persons do not feel any moral compunction and devour the property of the orphans with impunity. Such persons have been warned by the Qur’an as follows:

·        Give unto orphans their wealth. Exchange not the good for the bad (in your management thereof) nor absorb their wealth into your own wealth. Lo! That would be a great sin.   (An-Nisa 4:2)

·        Lo! Those who devour the wealth of orphans wrongfully, they do but swallow fire into their bellies, and they will be exposed to burning flame.   (An-Nisa 4:10)  

Earning through dealing in wine and gambling

            Wine-drinking has been prohibited by the Qur’an and denounced as a great sin. The Prophet of Islam has declared manufacture, purchase, sale and transportation of wine illegal and unlawful. According to the Prophet, every intoxicant is unlawful (Haram) and thus, by implication, consumption of and trade in narcotics, wine, opium, heroin, etc. is illegal. Therefore, income generated through transactions connected with narcotics is forbidden.

            Earning through gambling and games of chance is also prohibited by Islam. The word used by the Qur’an for gambling is ‘maisir’ which literally means ‘getting something too easily’ or getting a profit without working for it’. Gambling can briefly be defined as wagering money or other valuable things upon the outcome of an event or making money upon some chance. Thus it is a game of chance by which you either win or lose.

            Gambling and all games of chance have been strictly prohibited by the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, gambling, as wine-drinking, is devil’s handiwork through which he seeks to cast enmity among the people and turns them away from remembrance of God.


            Embezzlement means betraying of trust and unlawfully appropriating property belonging to others. Acquisition of wealth through embezzlement of public money or individual’s property has been strictly forbidden to a believer in Islam. The Qur’an says: O ye who believe! Betray not Allah and His messenger, nor knowingly betray your trusts.   (Al-Anfal 8:27)

Hoarding, monopoly and black-marketing

            Business of monopoly and hoarding of necessities of life has been condemned by Islam. Especially holding back or storing up of food grains, eatables and other articles of daily use for getting higher prices in times of scarcity and crises is absolutely unlawful (Haram). In times of scarcity and non-availability of food items, hoarding of such items becomes the worst type of human exploitation and hence a major crime and great sin. Making undue profits from such business of exploitation and black-marketing is illegal.

            Hoarding has been condemned by the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as follows:

1)     And let not those who hoard up that which Allah hath bestowed upon them of His bounty think that it is better for them. Nay, it is worse for them. That which they hoard will be their collar on the Day of Resurrection. Allah’s is the heritage of the heavens and the earth, and Allah is Informed of what ye do.   (3:180)

2)      Ibn Omar reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Whoever stores up food-grains for forty days, intending thereby a dear price, becomes free from Allah and Allah is free from him.   (Razin)

3)     Abu Omamah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Whoso stores up food-grains for forty days, and then gives it in charity, it will not be an expiation for his sins.   (Razin)

Short weighing and short measuring

            Business malpractices such as wrong measuring and wrong weighing have been very common in the nations of old as of today. This device of spurious weights and measures is adopted by unscrupulous traders to harm the interests of customers and earn undue profits. The practice of short measuring and short weighing while giving and over-measuring and over-weighing while taking has been condemned by the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet of Islam as under:

1)     And unto Midian (We sent) their brother Shuaib. He said: O my people! Serve Allah. Ye have no other God save Him! And give not short measure and short weight. Lo! I see you well-to-do, and lo! I fear for you the doom of a besetting Day. O my people! Give full measure and full weight in justice, and wrong not people in respect of their good. And do not evil in the earth, causing corruption.   (Al-Qur’an 11:84-85)

2)     Woe unto the defrauders: Those who when they take the measure from mankind demand it full, but if they measure unto them or weigh for them, they cause them loss. Do such (men) not consider that they will be raised again unto an awful Day: The day when (all) mankind stand before the Lord of the Worlds?   (Al-Qur’an 83:1-6)

3)     Ibn Abbas reported that the Messenger of Allah said to the owners of measurement and weight: You have been certainly entrusted with two affairs about which the former nations before you were destroyed.   (Tirmizi)

4)     Ibn Abbas reported: Treachery does not appear in a nation but Allah throws fear into their hearts, nor fornication becomes wide-spread in a nation but death becomes frequent in them, nor does a nation decrease weight and measure but provision is cut off from them, nor does a nation pass order unjustly but murder becomes prevalent among them, nor do a nation break a treaty but the enemy becomes powerful over them.   (Malek)

Prostitution and immoral professions

            Fornication and adultery have been banned by Islam and declared a major crime in an Islamic state. Therefore, earning income from prostitution and adultery is strongly prohibited. By implication, all professions and vocations which directly or indirectly promote adultery in society such as obscenity, pornography, blue films, dancing, and sex-songs become unlawful (Haram). The verses of the Qur’an and Ahadith of the Prophet of Islam concerning prostitution and adultery are:

1)     And come not near unto adultery. Lo! It is an abomination and an evil way.   (Al-Qur’an 17:32)

2)     And of mankind is he who payeth for mere pastime of discourse, that he may mislead from Allah’s way without knowledge, and maketh it the butt of mockery. For such there is a shameful doom.   (Al-Qur’an 31:6)

3)     Rafe-bin-Khadiz reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Price of dog is impure, earning of a prostitute is impure, and earning of a cupper is impure.   (Muslim)

4)     Abu Mas’ud al Ansari reported that the Messenger of Allah forbade the price of dogs, earning of prostitutes and fore-telling of a sooth-sayer.   (Bukhari, Muslim)

5)     Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah prohibited the price of dogs and earning of singing girls.   (Sharhi Sunnat)

Theft and Robbery

            Theft and robbery have been declared major offences by Islam and earning through such profession or practice is absolutely illegal and immoral. The Qur’an prescribes deterrent punishments for stealing (5:38) and robbing (which is like rebellion 5:33).


            Begging is a curse for humanity and is below one’s dignity and self respect. It tantamounts to lack of trust in God and lack of confidence in one’s ability to earn through hard work. Begging is therefore, unlawful in Islam and adoption of it as a profession is strictly forbidden. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in his various Ahadith is reported to have said: “Man will continue to beg of men till he will come on the Day of Resurrection without any piece of flesh in his face” (Bukhari, Muslim). The upper hand is better than the lower, and the upper hand is that which gives and the lower is that which begs (Bukhari, Muslim). Begging are scratches with which a man scratches his face …. (Abu Daud). Whoever begs while he has got sufficient means begs of Hellfire (Abu Daud). Begging is unlawful for him who has food for a day or for a night and a day (Abu Daud). Begging is not lawful for the solvent, nor for one who is stout and strong, except for one who has got pressing poverty or destroying debt. And whoso begs of men to increase his wealth will have scratches on his face on the Resurrection Day and hot stone of Hell to devour   (Tirmizi).

Other unlawful means

Islam has prohibited earning of income through profession of singing and dancing. Income of magician, soothsayer, foreteller and a painter of life portraits is also unlawful. Earning of income through unfair trade practices like fraud, deception, misrepresentation and sale of defective things or the things which are yet not in possession of the seller is strictly prohibited. Speculation and forward transactions are also un-Islamic. The Prophet’s Ahadith are:

1)     Jaber reported that the Messenger of Allah forbade Mukhabarah, Muhaqalah and Muzabanah. Muhaqalah is a man’s selling corn for one hundred Farq or wheat, and Muzabanah is to sell dry dates upon the heads of date trees for one hundred Farq. And Mukhabarah is to let out land for one-third or one-fourth (of produce).    (Muslim)

2)     Abu Hurairah reported that the Holy Prophet forbad the sale by stone-throwing and the sale of unpossessed things.   (Muslim)

3)     Abu Hurairah reported that the Holy Prophet passed by a heap of corn. He thrust his hands therein but his fingers touched moisture. He asked. O owner of corn! What is this? He replied: Rain fell in it, O Messenger of Allah. He enquired: Have you not done so over the corn so that people may see it? Whoso acts with deceit is not of me.   (Muslim)

4)     Waselah-b-Asqa’s reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah say: Whoso sells a defective thing without disclosing it continues to be in the wrath of Allah.   (Ibn Majah)

5)     Abu Huzaifah reported that the Holy Prophet prohibited price of blood, price of dogs and earnings of a prostitute. And he cursed the devourer of usury and its giver, the tatooer and the tattooed and the painter (of life-pictures).   (Ibn Majah)

IV-Miscellaneous subjects


            The term labour in Economics is used in a very wide sense. Any work whether manual or mental which is undertaken for a monetary consideration is called labour. Thus it includes labour of highly educated professionals like scientists, engineers, doctors, economists, professors, lawyers, judges, accountants, diplomats, administrators, as well as that of ordinary workers in factories, agricultural farms, government departments, private sector, etc.

            In view of its importance in the production of wealth, Islam has laid great emphasis on human labour. Al-Qur’an, the revealed book of Islam, promulgates the fundamental principle regarding role of labour when it says: “There is nothing for man but what he strives for” (53:39). According to this verse, there is no royal road or easy way to success. The way to progress and success in the world is through struggle and effort. The harder a man or a people work, the higher reward they are likely to get. According to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), “God loves those who work and strive for their livelihood” and “to search lawful earning is obligatory after the compulsory things (like prayer, fasting, belief in God)”.

            Both physical and intellectual labour has been emphasized in Islam. The Qur’an refers to manual labour when it talks of construction of boat by Prophet Noah, manufacture of coats of mail by Prophet David, tending of sheep by Prophet Moses and building of wall by Zul-Qurnain. The holy Book also refers to intellectual labour when it relates the story of Prophet Joseph who was appointed incharge of treasures of Egypt by its king.

            Dignity and honour is attached to labour and work in Islam while the sources of unearned income and easy gains like usury, games of chance, etc. are despised and forbidden. Work is so much dignified and honourable that the Prophets who are the noblest of the human beings had engaged themselves in labour and work for earning their liveilihood. The Qur’an mentions the example of Prophet David and Prophet Moses who respectively worked as ironsmith and shepherd. Prophet of Islam himself pastured sheep. He did not consider any work as menial or below dignity.

            Rights of labourer and worker include: that a labourer should be treated as a human being and not as a beast of burden; that dignity and respect should be attached to labour and work; that reasonable wages should be fixed at the time of employment, and that wages should be promptly paid.


Islam recognizes role of trade in acquiring fortune and greatness. There are many verses of the Qur’an about trade and sale. The Prophet of Islam also highlighted importance of trade. The Prophet himself adopted the profession of trade during his youth and worked as agent of Khadijah, a wealthy lady of Makkah, who was much impressed by his honesty, fair dealing and trust-worthiness and who later on became his wife. His companions Abu Bakr and Usman traded in cloth whereas Umar carried on trade in corn. The Prophet issued instructions to his followers to be honest and trust-worthy in their commercial dealings as the trustworthy merchant will be with the prophet, the truthful and the martyrs on the Day of Judgment. His followers not only carried on maritime and land trade throughout the then known world but also became the torch bearers of Islam to the darkest corners of the world causing the spread of message of Allah.

Tenancy (Muzara’a)

            Cultivation of land can be done in two ways: Either the owner of the land may cultivate his land himself, or he may give his land for cultivation to another person on the basis of share in produce or fixed rental in cash. If land is given by the owner to another person for cultivation, it is called tenancy or Muzara’a. Tenancy is of two types: one is share-tenancy in which the tenant and the landlord share the produce of the land in agreed proportions, and the other is cash-tenancy in which the tenant pays the fixed rent of the land to the land owner in cash.

            The Qur’an directly does not throw any light on the subject of tenancy but it indirectly mentions the cultivation of land when it enjoins upon the believers to pay the due (Zakat or Ushr) on the produce of the land on the harvest day. However, the traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) throw a lot of light on both types of tenancy and lay down comprehensive rules.

            Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in his traditions has discouraged both forms of tenancy and has enjoined upon his followers to give their spare agricultural land to their brother Muslims gratis i.e. free of any charge. Views of Muslim jurists regarding permission of tenancy, however, differ. According to some, both forms of tenancy are prohibited while according to others, both are allowed by Islam. The balanced view is that share tenancy is allowed but lease or rental of land i.e. cash tenancy is strictly forbidden as it tantamount to taking of usury or interest because the landlord charges his rent even though there is no produce or the produce is insufficient to meet the expenses. 

Debt or Loan

            Indebtedness has been discouraged by Islam as it ruins the individuals as well as nations. This can be easily known from the severe warnings that have been given in case of debts left unsatisfied. All the sins of a martyr are forgiven except debt. The Prophet did not offer funeral prayer of a debtor who did not leave behind provision for payment of his debts. The greatest of sins with which a man shall meet Allah on the Day of Judgment is his debt outstanding at death for payment of which he leaves nothing. Keeping in view these warnings, great precaution should be taken in contracting debt. Loan should not be obtained except in case of an extreme hardship to satisfy a genuine need.

            Since the verbal agreements regarding loans lead to disputes, feuds and litigations, the revealed book of Islam has made it obligatory on both the parties, creditor as well as debtor, to reduce the contract of debt into writing in the presence of two witnesses (2: 282) and settle terms and conditions regarding its payment.  Writing down of contracts of loan is so much important that the Prophet of Islam is reported to have said that those who lend money to others without any document or evidence are not helped by Allah when they cry for help in case of non-recovery of such loan.

            The lender can ask for some security in the shape of an asset or property from the debtor as a guarantee of repayment of loan. It is technically called mortgage or ‘Rahn’. The creditor is, however, strictly prohibited to make any profit out of mortgaged property because it would be usury. But he is allowed to drink the milk of or ride on the animal which is a pledge if he incurs expenses of its fodder.

            In the absence of any stipulation regarding interest in the contract, the repayment of debt voluntarily with excess amount is lawful. It is not riba. According to Jaber, the Prophet owed him some debt and when he paid it back he paid excess.

            If a debtor is in straitened circumstances and is not in a financial position of repaying his debt, then the creditor should postpone his demand to the time when the financial position of the debtor improves and he is able to repay it. However, if the creditor remits the debt as almsgiving, it would earn him high rewards from God.

            If a poor person dies with unpaid debt leaving no property for its discharge, Islamic state is responsible for its payment provided the debt is genuine and the Islamic state is financially in a position to do so. It can repay such debts from its Zakat funds also. The Prophet, as first head of the Islamic state, accepted this responsibility when the state under him attained sound financial position.


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