Ibn Taimiyah and Islamic Economics

10084177Muslim countries who are considering to Islamize their economic activities are turning to some of the best and experienced brains of the past, for inspiration and guidance. While considering the subject, I have now chosen to write about Ibn Taimiyah to give my views to the readers of my treatise.

The Holy Quran was revealed some over 1400 years ago and its revelation has received acclamation and acceptance in many Muslim countries today. History tells us that last third of the seventh and first quarter of the century after Hijra — Ibn Taimiyah had a firm grasp of the achievements of Islamic scholarship that preceded him. Although he followed the footsteps of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, the last founders of the four main schools of thought, Ibn Taimiyah had enough independence of mind and vision to draw upon other schools and scholars to arrive at his own opinion on a given matter. This gave him a status above of all other schools and of all the scholars and jurists who followed him meticulously. There is no doubt that Ibn Taimiyah remains unsurpassed in the comprehensiveness of his works and clarity of his vision on what constitutes Islamic way of life or Islamic living.

History will tell us that Ibn Taimiyah was a teacher, and circumstances forced him to put on a soldier’s uniform as they also pushed him into controversy and polemics. Ibn Taimiyah was born in an age of turmoil. The decay in Islamic society had already set in with all that it implied by way of stultification of creative thinking on law and society. His Fatawa reflect the nature of races and cultures and the fast changing political conditions that were creating a new scenario in trade and commerce, agriculture and industry. People were entering into new types of contracts and social relations were becoming increasingly more complex. With his intellectual roots having been secured in Shariah Law, Ibn Taimiyah answered many queries emanating from those complex situations with rare understanding and sympathy. Some examples are reproduced as hereunder:

Fatawa, Vol. 30 at P.311 is the authority for the proposition that, if due to migration of people in an area, the number of customers having declined due to fear or decay, or because the political authority shifts people elsewhere, or due to other reasons, then the rent due from the person hiring the premises will be decreased in proportion to the decrease in the conventionally expected benefits.

The borrower is obliged to repay the lender in the country in which he contracted the loan. He should not place the burden of traveling of lender to realize the loan. If the borrower says that “I will not repay you except in a different country” then he would be liable to defray, according to conventional standards, any cost incurred by the lender (in traveling and transporting). Fatawa, Vol.29 at P.530.

Yet there was another question so posed to Ibn Taimaiyah about a man lending more dirhams to another man to repay to him in another country and whether it was permissible for him to do so or not. In answer to this question Ibn Taimaiyah replied that it is permissible because the lender seeks the benefit of security in transporting his dirhams to that country. How the borrower too would have been benefited from repaying it in that country, being saved from the risks involved in the passage. Hence there are benefits to both of them in this transaction. It is clear that Law – giver did not prohibit what benefits them all. He prohibited only what hurts them. Fatawa, Vol.29 at P.530-1.

Fulus – In those days Fulus was extensively used to mean copper coin which used to be bought for cash paid on the spot and sold for credit at a higher price, and the question was whether this was permissible or not. Ibn Taimaiyah replied; “All praise be to Allah on this matter – of exchange of current copper coins with dirhams (of silvers) — there is a well-known controversy among scholars”.

The more authentic opinion is to prohibit it as the copper coins, when they have gained currency, take on the same position as the money proper and become a standard of value for people’s wealth. Fatawa, Vol.29 at P.468-469.

As a matter of fact, what contemporary Islam needs most with respect to the economy is a clear vision of what is desired and how can it be brought about. A perusal of the book will demonstrate how clear Ibn Taimiyah was on both these issues. He was off the opinion that the Muslims need a well provisioned society from which poverty is vanished and welfare is ensured for all. The way to realize this objective is freedom of enterprise and property, constrained by moral laws and supervised by a just State enforced by the Divine Laws i.e. the Shariah.

Therefore, those who seek a just regime must be ready and willing to enforce the Shariah, the whole of it. In so doing the authorities will be frequently called upon to apply the principles of Shariah to new areas arising from changing circumstances, especially in economic affairs. This is where the jurist faces the real challenge; not to lose sight of the real purpose of law — justice and human felicity — while applying his legal principles to new situations. Ibn Taimiyah met this challenge with rare competence and therein lies his message to the present generation of Muslim jurists and economists.

On the economic field, Ibn Taimiyah’s vision was not narrow in fact it was clear and filled with wisdom. According to him all economic activities are permissible in Islam except those prohibited by the Shariah. So everybody was allowed to have their avocation with the limit set by Shariah, because a person knew that if he did something of which he was prohibited in Shariah, he would refrain from doing so. What was good for them and the people they were allowed freely to make transactions, enter into contracts and conduct their worldly affairs in a just and fair manner observing the standard of fairness set by ‘urf and adah’. Here I must make clear the meaning of ‘urf and adah’ for the better understanding of my readers. ‘Urf’ meaning conventions and ‘adah’ meant customs. The Shariah intervenes only to ensure justice in human relations and to direct individual action to what was good for all. It sought to eliminate Zulm (injustice and oppression) from social relations. Riba (excess interest) and Qimar (gambling) were prohibited under Shariah Law. The essence of unilateral gains i.e. taking an increment without a quid was considered as unilateral gain. Fatawa, Vol. 20 at P.341.

Acquisition of another person’s property without a quid pro quo was also not permissible, because it was incumbent on the purchaser to pay the right price for the property he is buying and the seller to restore the property exactly of the value he has received. To be meaningful both the parties should base their agreement on adequate knowledge of what is involved in the contract. Nobody should take any advantage by coercion or deceptions or for that matter take advantage of dire circumstances or ignorance of a contracting party. When the contracting parties adhere to these rules, the resulting marketing prices are just and fair, provided there is no withholding of supplies with a view to raising prices. Normally State would not intervene in the free market economy or price or profits, wages etc. which was to be determined by the law of demand and supply. But a State’s intervention is called for when some of the above conditions are violated. As and when public authority did intervene it was guided by expert advice and sought to approximate the price of similar goods or services which was to be determined fairly.

Source: The New Nation

By: Tamizul Haque


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