Freedom of ownership between Communism and Capitalism

Written by Dr. Ragheb Elsergany


The ancient and modern world was bewildered in the issue of ownership or property[1]. Different schools of thought and ideas were made in this regard. Communism, for example, wasted individual’s value and freedom as no one has the right to possess a land, factory or real estate or any other means of production. S/he should work as wager for the state, which owns and possesses the resources of production and makes it impossible for him or her to have capital even if this capital is halal (lawful).

Capitalism was also there. It is based on making as holy private ownership without putting any restrictions. It gives the individual the right to possess what he wants, develop it or spend it the way he wants without any slightest restrictions on means of his ownership, development or spending and without any rights to the society in this regard.

Islam, freedom of ownership

And between the extremism of Capitalism in exaggerating the importance of private ownership and the extremism of Communism in scrapping this ownership, including the disadvantages of the two systems, Islam shows us the moderate way that combines both private and collective ownership. Islam has permitted private ownership with certain restrictions to protect others. It also prohibited right of ownership in certain cases to take care of people and encouraged collective ownership. This means that Islam has endorsed individual’s right to ownership and right of collective ownership in a balanced and moderate way.


Private ownership in Islam

Islam has given individuals right of possession and benefit of things as part of ikhtisas (appropriation) not only because this is not only one of the necessities of freedom and common sense, but rather humanity. Private ownership also urges people to increase production and improve it. Islam has also made this right a basis Islamic economy and this right entailed natural results such as keeping that right for its owner, preserving it from theft, embezzlement, looting and enacting deterring penalties for whoever transgresses on this right. All these measures are meant to guarantee that right and protect it from any threats. Islam has also entailed several results on this right including freedom of dispensing in it through selling or buying, renting, mortgage, hiba (gift), will or other forms of lawful dealings.

However, Islam did not leave private ownership as unrestricted, absolute form of ownership. Islam has put many restrictions so that that right does not clash with rights of others like preventing usury, cheating, bribery, monopolization, and others things that clash with it and waste the interests of the society. And there is no gender discrimination in this right. God Almighty says: “To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn.” [The Women: 32]

These restrictions also include continuous flow of capital investment because if this is not the case, owner of this money would be harmed and the fortune of the society would not prosper. They also include paying alms on this money if it reaches nisab (zakat-payable amount, which savings or capital or product must exceed in order for the Muslim owner to pay zakat) and a lunar year has passed on the money in your possession because zakat is right of money.

Collective ownership in Islam

Then, there is the collective ownership in Islam, in which the massive human society or some of its groups possess. Individuals of the society benefit from this ownership simply because they are members in the group without having certain appropriation for part of it such as mosques, public hospitals, roads, rivers, seas and others. It becomes a public utility that is used for public interest and the ruler or his deputy cannot individually run it. However, they are responsible for running it and steering it in the right direction in a way that achieves the interests of the Muslim community.


Manifestations of private ownership

Islam has set ways and means to acquire ownership and prohibited others. He made two manifestations for private ownership including: first, owned money ie money already in possession of someone and this money cannot be moved to anyone else except for legitimate reasons such as inheritance, will, or right of Shufaa (pre-emption), contract or heba or others. Secondly, allowed money, which is not in the possession of someone and this money cannot be owned by individuals unless they do something that allows them to own it such as reclaiming a mawat (uncultivated land), hunting or extracting minerals from beneath the earth or ruler’s dedication part of it to a certain person.

Manifestations of collective ownership

As for the manifestations of collective ownership in Islam, they are many and include:

First: Resources that are provided by nature, which all people can get without any effort or labour such as water, grass, fire and others

Second: Protected resources, which the state protects for the benefit of Muslims or people in general such as cemeteries, government departments, endowments, alms and others.

Third: Resources that were not tapped before or used but neglected for a long period such as Mawat land (which is considered dead and in need of revival for cultivation of crops).[2]

In order to protect ownership, God Almighty has ordered us to guard money. The Islamic Shari’a has also preserved freedom of ownership as God has ordained through enacting the Hudoud (penal code) such as cutting the hand of a thief and others.


Illegitimate ownership

Ownership should be from halal (lawful) sources and should not be at the expense of others, so that orphans are not cheated and their money taken from them. The poverty and need of the people should not be used to exploit their money through usury or gambling, which causes animosity in the society and helps disintegrate unity among its members. God Almighty says: “O ye who believe! Eat not up your property among yourselves in vanities: But let there be amongst you Traffic and trade by mutual good-will.” [Women: 29]

If ownership is a result of an illegal activity, Islam does not recognize or protect it. Moreover, it orders it to be taken away from its owner and returning it to its original owner such as stolen or usurped money. If there is no owner of this money, it should be put in the Bait Al-Mal (state treasury).

Islam has also decided on ways to collect money and develop it and put restrictions on it. Islam never recognizes increase of money through haram ways such as increase of money through selling usury, wine or drugs or opening gambling clubs. It also dedicated a right in ownership for the interest of the society represented in zakat and other expenses and not dedicating more than the third in the will in order to main inheritor’s right to two-thirds of the will.

It also restricted ownership through moderate spending that is between spendthrift and niggardliness. God Almighty says: “Those who, when they spend, are not extravagant and not niggardly, but hold a just (balance) between those (extremes).” [The Criterion: 67] Islam also put restrictions on ownership through making as haram spending on what was forbidden by the Islamic Shari’a and allowed stripping one of this ownership when it conflicts with collective interest provided that the one damaged gets a fair compensation such as stripping one of his land rights to expand the public road.[3]

Ownership for non-Muslims

Persons in the Islamic state enjoyed this unique system of ownership be they Muslims or non-Muslims. They managed to get a lot of money. The Christian doctor of Caliphate Al-Mutawwakil (tenth Abbasid caliphate), Bakhtishu Ibn Jabrail, who was very influential at the time, for example, used to dress like the caliphate. He was well-off[4], too. At the same time, those people used to enjoy the benefits of collective ownership. This is the freedom of ownership in Islam. It is an alienable right to all people, provided that this right does not harm public interests, individual interests or personal interests of others.

1. Ownership means man’s property of something or acquisition of it and his ability to dispense of and make use of it when there is no legitimate bars

2. Look freedom on Islamtoday website, link

3. Al-Huqail: Human rights p. 57

4. Mustafa al-Sibai: From the jewels of our civilization  p. 68

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