We are living in the era of industrial feudalism. Large capitalist corporations own and control almost everything on which the society depends. Building blocks of economy like oil, gas, electricity, sources of industrial raw materials and metal ores as well as human intellect are privately owned by large capitalist corporations.
What good can we expect when such basic things are monopolized in a few hands? This freedom of the capitalist to own whatever suits his profiteering transforms bulk of the society into a peasant worker class.
Islam does not allow this freedom to enslave the whole society. The Messenger of Allah (S.A.W) provided comprehensive guidance about who can own what. Sharia rules of ownership protected Islamic society against feudalism for more than ten centuries, until European powers colonized and enslaved Muslim ummah into the clutches of both agrarian and industrial feudalism.
Allah (S.W.T.) is the Creator and therefore He is the true owner of everything. He is the king of all what He created. Allah (S.W.T.) says:
“And to Allah belong the east and the west.” (Al-Baqarah:115)
“To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and the earth.” (Al-Baqarah:116)
“To Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth.” (Al-Baqarah:284)
Only Allah (S.W.T.), the Kindest and the most Merciful, knows the purpose of each of His creations. Only He can guide which of His gifts for the mankind are meant to be possessed and owned by individuals. Similarly only He knows which of the resources belong to the society and are to be kept in collective ownership, free from anyone’s monopoly. Humans can have ownership only according to His guidance.
This article reminds that Islam is not limited to a set of rituals or ways of praying, Islam provides solutions to all problems that mankind shall ever have to face. Ownership is among the most fundamental concepts on which human society is built and I intend to fully expose how capitalism distorts and misuses the notion of freedom to trap humanity into its hegemony and how Islam frees mankind towards the way of prosperity. Islam is the only solution for correct social, economic and political interactions to satisfy human instincts in this world and the way of success in the hereafter.
Slaves are made in the name of freedom
Freedom of ownership is like a pillar of today's capitalist economic system. Europe celebrates its freedom of ownership due to the historic political and ideological struggle European public went through in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries against feudalism. Monarchs in Europe had monopolistic control over land, which was the means of production in the agrarian societies of that time. Monarchy in Europe worked through dictatorial man-made laws that enabled lords and feuds to control large pieces of land in order to serve their monarch. This created a wealthy and rich upper class, which dominated almost all economic activity through their feudal land-holdings, while commoners served them mostly as peasants.
Since land was the main resource of production, control over land was all that monarchs needed to run their dictatorship and keep the society pinned under their thumb.
Private ownership of one’s means of living is exactly fitting to human instinct. European common man was deprived of this basic right for centuries. While most Europeans will never even imagine going back to the dark ages when they were not allowed to freely utilize their means of production, most Muslims will not understand why this right is such a blessing. That's because the right of an individual to own his land, his business, his house and his common belongings was granted by the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (S.A.W) and Caliphs of Islam protected the right of private ownership of both Muslim and non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic state according to the Islamic Sharia obligations imposed on Caliphs.
Moreover, according to the guidance of Islam, uncultivated and undeveloped land was free for people to cultivate, develop and use for agriculture. Therefore means of production and economic activity were spread all across the society. Islamic society never faced domination of an upper class over means of production.
No Caliph of Islam ever resembled anything similar to the European monarchs or emperors. That's why the Islamic state was always referred to as the Caliphate, while European monarchies are referred to as Empires. Muslim ummah never faced the European style of persecution before getting colonized by the West.
That's the reason most Muslims don't fully comprehend the love of freedom by the Westerners.
However this romance with freedom comes with a cost for all freedom-lovers. The cost of freedom is the freedom itself, resulting in total slavery and persecution of the society at the hands of the Capitalist.
Freedom of ownership allows an individual to purchase, own and trade anything. The only limit on freedom is the freedom of other individuals. As long as an individual does not violate the freedom of other individuals (e.g. by illegally taking over someone’s property), everything is considered fine. How about enslaving the entire society as a WHOLE in one go without touching an individual's freedom? That's exactly what capitalist policy makers are so good in doing. They achieve this by monopolizing the means of production and controlling the entire economic activity as a whole.
Means of production in industrialized societies of today are factories and machines. Natural cost of industrial production is the cost of processing naturally occurring raw materials (like metal ores from mines or wood from forests) to make finished products. The journey from raw metal ores to useful end-user products will include a diverse range of industrial and engineering activities like discovering and developing ore extraction sites, metallurgical processes to produce useful materials (such as metals and alloys) out of ores, and the steps to manufacture, assemble and build machines, gadgets and consumer items (ranging from ordinary kitchen and household products to automobiles and airplanes) out of metals and alloys.
Similarly, wood from forests is processed in at least a couple of steps to form paper. First pulp is extracted from wood, which is in turn converted into paper. Paper produced from pulp is then converted into a variety of writing, printing, publishing and packaging products for end use.
This journey from raw natural resources (whether metal ores or forests or other forms) to finished end-user products is commonly referred to as a supply chain, in which industrial activities always start with raw natural resources, join in a chain one step after the other, each step adding a small value and the entire supply chain ending at useful end-user products.
A healthy industrialized economy will have industrial and business activities spread all across the society. The most important feature of healthy industrial activity is that the cost of production is the cost of human effort to perform each industrial step (e.g. from discovering a metal ore to making the finished end product). Spreading economic and business activity across the society will create a healthy and competitive economic atmosphere for a rich and diverse exchange of products and services. The benefit of rise and fall of prices will be shared across the society.
In fact, cost of human effort in every step of the supply chain is the only natural component of production cost.
The processing of natural resources is carried out by industrial workhorses (like engines, turbines and motors) that need to be fuelled by an energy resource like petroleum. And the industrial process itself is a manifestation of human intellect. Therefore almost entire industrial activity is driven by naturally occurring resources like minerals, forests, petroleum, etc. and human intellect.
However, if natural resources and human intellect are monopolized in a few hands or the entire business activity is controlled by a rich class, then an artificial cost component will be added to the natural cost of production.
The artificial cost is the cost of natural resources in their raw form. Similarly if human intellect is at the mercy of large corporations, they can artificially add to the cost of an industrial process by charging for the use of intellect.
This way the Capitalist can control cost of production of all necessities of life and profiteer from the efforts of all individuals to meet even the most basic needs. Look at the top among Fortune 500 companies, Exxon Mobil and Chevron for instance, to see how large corporations own and control energy resources across the globe and therefore have the capability to play with prices.
Control over energy and mineral resources and human intellect results in monopolization over means of production. In order to ensure a free, open and competitive economic atmosphere, it is important to keep mineral and energy resources free from profiteering or monopoly by any individual, group or class.
These resources are meant for the benefit of the people and should remain available for everyone. Any price tag, profit or monopoly imposed on the raw form of natural resources results in the persecution of the whole society (interestingly, without touching the freedom of any particular individual, thus ensuring the so-called human rights and democratic values in an enslaved society!).
Since freedom of ownership allows to buy, sell and privately own anything including human intellect, there is nothing in a Capitalist society that can stop the capitalist from owning and monopolizing all modern means of production. With control over means of production, capitalist has the power to keep the society under the oppressor’s thumb.
Control over means of production is exactly the way of feudalism. That's what the West was running away from in their quest for freedom and they have ended up in the same trap. Capitalism is nothing but industrialized feudalism, and even one step worse: the peasant commoners of this industrialized version of feudalism are being persecuted, every aspect of their lifestyle is being controlled and manipulated by the Capitalist and they still live in the misconception that they are free!
Communism: another ditch of slavery
Communists strongly reacted against monopoly over means of production, opposing both agrarian and industrial forms of feudalism. Communist reaction to the capitalist hegemony resulted in intense ideological debate and fierce political struggle against capitalism.
While capitalists monopolized over means of production and established their domination by using the notion of freedom of ownership, the extreme communist over-reaction was to deny private ownership altogether.
Communist ideology only allows common (or public) ownership. Nothing can be privately owned by an individual in Communism, not even the common belongings of a person like his house, his means of transport, and his means of earning, his small business or his own factory. All men and women are treated as part of a society just like the mechanical component of a machine, which has no purpose but to fulfill his role as a component of the machine. Simply another form of slavery!
Although world has seen several flavors of both capitalism and communism (like the strong socialist version of capitalism in Scandinavia and Canada and more right-wing oriented capitalism in the USA), but the basic capitalism-communism debate is always about freedom of private ownership of an individual vs. collective ownership by the commune.
The capitalist-communist debate is now more than century and a half old. All along this debate and conflict between capitalist and communist thinkers, both sides always showed narrow and one-track minded extremism. Capitalist thinkers focused on the freedom of an individual and never discussed the freedom of the society as a whole. Communists, on the other hand, cared about the society and debated as if the individual was totally banished from life. None among the genius philosophers from both sides was ever able to decipher the actual reality of an individual human being living in a society.
Divine solution to the question of ownership
Islam does not get stuck with narrow, single track questions such as whether individuals need freedom or the commune should own everything. Islam guides while treating humans as humans.
Allah (S.W.T) is the Creator of the universe and everything therein. Therefore He provides guidance to humans according to the purpose of each of His creations.
Islamic solution caters for all aspects of life, whether individual or collective, for this generation or the next or coming generations, whether economic issues or spiritual requirements of human personality and so on. The comprehensive guidance provides simple answers to solve the problem at its core, once and for all, without hurting the society for the sake of the individual or vice versa.
Absolute ownership of everything, according to Islam, belongs to Allah (S.W.T). Only Allah is the owner of everything and no one else, individual or society, owns anything. Allah then allows the use of resources to humans according to Sharia rules revealed by Allah (S.W.T) to His Messenger Muhammad (S.A.W). Therefore, the question of ownership in Islam will not be resolved by discussing freedom of an individual. It will be resolved by discussing the Sharia rules that define ownership of different types of resources.
Islam on one hand provides liberty to the individual to privately own, sell and purchase his personal belongings like his house, his business, land or factory, his means of transport as well as other essentials of everyday life of an individual. Islam also allows individuals to start, promote, expand and enhance their own privately owned businesses, be it related to trading, industry or agriculture. Moreover, it is a Sharia obligation on the Islamic state to protect the private property of individuals.
On the other hand, Islam forbids private (individual) ownership of resources on which the society or community depends as a whole e.g. mines, petroleum and mineral reserves, all forms of energy resources, rivers and other natural sources of water, roads and highways etc. These resources are considered public property and are to be kept available for all Muslim and non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic state, free from profiteering by any individual, group, or class of the society.
Caliph is the custodian of these public resources and it is a Sharia obligation on the Caliph to ensure that public property is neither privatized nor monopolized. Being a custodian of public property, the Caliph has to make policies to spread economic activity across the Islamic society so that people can participate in industrial and business activity to create a competitive, diverse and rich exchange of products and services and not just act as industrial peasants serving the rich class.
This way Islam keeps the whole society free from monopolization (unlike the Capitalist system, which monopolizes means of production) and also provides a competitive economic environment for capable, creative and hard-working entrepreneurs to grow and excel ahead of the others (unlike Communism, which does not allow liberty for individuals to grow and excel).
Islamic thinking, from its very basics, is totally different from any man-made ideology like capitalism or communism. This is depicted in the way the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) guided about private and public property: Abu Dawud narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas (ra) that the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) said: “Muslims are partners (associates) in three things: in water, pastures and fire,” and Anas narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas adding, “and its price is Haram (forbidden)”. Similarly, Ibn Majah narrated from Abu Hurairah (ra) that the Prophet (S.A.W) said: “Three things are not prevented from (the people); the water, the pastures and the fire.” These Ahadith explain that the three things i.e. water, pastures and fire are in the ownership of the community and therefore individuals cannot privately own any of these. The additional comment from Ibn ‘Abbas “and its price is Haram (forbidden)” further explains that putting a price tag on these collectively owned commodities in their natural, raw form is forbidden.
However, the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W) did allow private possession of water in At-Taif and Khaybar by individuals, in cases where the water resource was only for the irrigation of a farm owned by an individual while the community did not depend on the particular resource of water. This permission of private ownership of water by the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) establishes that an individual can own water (or other resources) as long as public or community does not depend on the resource.
The combined meaning of the Hadith “Muslims are partners (associates) in three things: in water, pastures and fire” and the permission for an individual to own water for private use establishes the rule that communal utilities are to be kept in public ownership and cannot be privately owned or privatized. However if something is not of communal utility, it can be privately owned.
Another Hadith narrated by Tirmidhi from Abyadh ibn Hammal adds further clarity to the Islamic understanding of private and public ownership. Abyadh ibn Hammal states that upon his request, the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W) gave him a piece of salt-laden land. It was later pointed out that the land holds uncountable amount of salt, which means it was a salt mine. Upon hearing this, the Prophet (S.A.W) took the mine back. Then ibn Hammal requested to grant him another piece of land. The Prophet (S.A.W) granted him the ownership of that other land by putting a limit to the privately held property so that it did not include any part of the pastures used for camel grazing.
This explains it is all right for an individual to own a piece of land, however if it is a mine (uncountable mineral), individuals cannot privately own it. Moreover, the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W) was supportive of ibn Hammal’s wish to own a piece of land, but did not grant anything that is of communal utility (like pastures used for camel grazing in the time of the Prophet (S.A.W) or energy resources in today’s age).
If someone has read and knows about the infinitely endless narrow-minded capitalist-communist debate over the issue of ownership, he would be amazed at the simplicity of Prophet’s ahadith, how effortlessly and flawlessly Allah’s apostle guided about most complex of human issues.
Public utility structures: another victim of Capitalist hegemony
Capitalist approach to monopolize all resources does not stop at naturally occurring resources like minerals, oil and gas. They also extend their monopoly to man-made public utility structures like electricity or water supply systems, without which communities cannot survive.
Capitalist thinkers provide a very naive rationale to make monopolistic business out of public utilities. Since it is impractical to have multiple water pipes or electricity supply lines going through streets, they just allow one company to bring in investment and monopolize the business of public utility services under disgraceful arrangements such as publicly guaranteed rate of return for investors.
Once monopoly has been created and capitalist’s greed and profiteering starts hitting the public, they bring in the so-called “regulations” to add legitimacy to their monopoly. However regulations do nothing except fooling the public, since once monopoly has been established over necessities of public life, there is no way to save the society from persecution by the monopolist. The correct and sustainable solution is to nip the evil in the bud by stopping monopolies from creation in the first stance. This correct solution only comes from Islam, which makes it forbidden for individuals to own or monopolize any public utility.
It is worth pointing out here that Islam allows the government to give out service contracts to individuals or teams of professionals to provide specific services to the public such as building, installing, maintaining or operating utility services. Such a hire-for-service contract is allowed, although public infrastructure has to remain in public ownership. This solves both ends of the problem i.e. on one hand public is saved from monopolistic profiteering and on the other hand service providers will need to provide reliable and competitive services in order to keep serving, otherwise the government can always bring in new service providers.
These are examples of how the most genius of human minds completely fail to decipher different dimensions of human issues, remain stuck in single-track, narrow-minded, extremist debates, and always lead mankind right into traps of disaster like feudalism, capitalism and communism. Only Allah (S.W.T), the Creator and the true Owner, can provide correct guidance, which is His most precious gift to the mankind.
Capitalist’s profiteering with human intellect
Capitalist debate over Intellectual Property (or IP, as it is commonly called) is yet another example of how immaturely they argue to privately own everything of communal utility. Objective of capitalist thinkers is always to justify ruthless oppression. Human intellect, in this era of scientific discoveries, is an important ingredient of almost everything that human society needs, be it healthcare, industry, alternative energy, public utilities, telecommunication, or simple household.
Hegemony over human intellect is indispensable among Capitalist’s tools to keep the society pinned under its thumb.
Therefore intellect is also among top victims of capitalist’s tyranny, for which they have come up with patent laws to provide legal framework for private ownership of ideas like cure of a disease or an industrial process. Patents are the laws that establish private ownership of thoughts and ideas.
Imagine large corporations holding patents over information related to human genome. Any drug or cure based on genetic information will carry profit for the patent holder corporation. What amount of profit? This is not the profit that comes from competitive business activity. This is monopolistic profiteering as patents only establish monopolies over human intellect. Patent holder pharmaceutical companies can make whatever amounts they can squeeze from public.
It does not make much difference whether pharmaceutical companies squeeze their profit through taxpayer-funded public healthcare programs like the Canadian Medicare or through private healthcare insurance plans.
Use of monopoly over intellect for profiteering is not limited to healthcare. There are many other examples spanning all across different forms of industry, consider solar power generation for instance. Solar cells are made of sand! Apply intellect on sand and generate power. But there are a couple of dozen processing steps to make solar generation facility out of sand and each step carries the burden of IP. Corporations holding patent rights over solar cell technology do nothing except adding to the cost of every processing step. IP is what is responsible to make the technology barely affordable. If there were no IP laws, the processing steps would have freely spread all across the society creating lots of small private production facilities and competitive end-user prices.
It is estimated that amount of solar energy that hits the surface of earth in an hour is enough for a year’s needs of entire human population. There is no scarcity of energy resource as far as human needs are concerned. Just eliminate IP and the world energy crisis is solved. This points to the fact that Allah (S.W.T) has created enough resources to fulfill all needs of mankind. Then He also revealed the Sharia laws that are necessary if mankind is to enjoy resources created by Allah (S.W.T), for example the Sharia law to abolish all monopolies over things of communal utility. But freedom of ownership frees mankind from correct guidance and traps it into one form of slavery or another.
Not only this much, patent holders also have the legal right to deny a particular piece of technology to the public. They can purchase patents and keep them buried in patent files without using. If a company has already invested in a particular technology, they have the tendency to stop or delay the use of competing technologies. Large corporations commonly do this to maximize their profits.
And although the technology will exist and known to technical professionals, but the patent law does not allow the use of technology if patent holder (private owner of the patent) does not want to issue licenses for the use of patent.
Another common misuse of patents is to protect the market. Technologies that produce longer life products are in customer’s benefit, but will result in lowering the size of yearly market. Patents, being bought and sold like commodities, provide the opportunity to large capitalist companies to purchase and bury those patents that have the potential to lower the market size by providing longer life products.
How do capitalist thinkers justify this monopoly over human intellect? Freedom of ownership simply allows everything to be bought, sold and privately owned and therefore supports private ownership of everything including intellect, thus making it a tradable commodity. And since trading is always done at a price according to the benefit or value of the commodity, so a mechanism is required to determine the ownership of a particular piece of intellect, organize its exchange or trading from one hand to the other and its use. Patent laws provide the mechanism of doing this by granting ownership of an idea to the one who came up with the idea.
Once patent is granted, the idea becomes private property of the patent holder, ready to be bought and sold, thus allowing large corporations to purchase patents of their interest.
However this whole debate of freedom to buy and sell human intellect does not address the question under consideration. The question to be answered is: Do ideas, thoughts or human intellect belong to an individual? Does a new idea belong to the person who comes up with the idea? When someone comes up with a new idea, does it mean the idea becomes private property of the thinker?
In order to understand whether intellect or ideas can be owned by an individual or not, we have to understand the reality of an idea or a thought. Although thoughts and ideas are not limited to science and technology, but since my discussion is all about economics in an industrial society, so let me take the idea of an industrial machine as an example. Consider the design of a steam turbine, for instance. Steam goes into a turbine and its shaft starts rotating like a wheel. This rotating motion is of great value in many industrial applications.
Working of a steam turbine involves so many ideas. The foremost idea that comes to mind is that of a wheel. Man discovered usefulness of wheel’s rotating motion thousands of years ago and has been putting rotary motion into use for ages upon ages.
What about mathematical ideas used in the design of steam turbines. If there was no geometry, trigonometry and algebra, there would have been no steam turbines. Thanks to the work of great Greek and Muslim mathematicians like Pythagoras and Al-Khwarizmi who established the principles of basic mathematics on which modern engineering strongly stands today.
The third most important scientific concept used in the working of steam turbines are the laws of thermodynamics developed by brilliant European scientists and engineers like Sadi Carnot in the nineteenth century. There cannot be any steam turbines without the understanding of thermodynamics.
In addition, scientific understanding and laws related to the behavior of gases at different temperatures and pressures are also applied in the design and working of steam turbines.
Furthermore, metallurgical know-how is also required to select proper materials to manufacture a turbine.
These are just few examples of how many different mathematical, scientific, engineering and industrial concepts are used in a steam turbine. In fact when Charles Parsons made the first steam turbine in 1880s, he did not invent anything from scratch, he just did the last step of thousands of years long scientific journey.
All ideas and thoughts are based on previous human experience and that experience is integral part of every thought.
If Parsons was born in ninth century instead of nineteenth century it was impossible for him to build a turbine, simply because the required human experience did not exist at that time.
No scientific discovery or idea can be attributed to a single individual. Scientific development is a pure human thing and can only be attributed to the human mind in general which is capable of thinking based on previous experience. Ideas already known to mankind serve as previous experience for new thoughts, thus making it capable for scientific advancement and progress.
Scientific development is a human phenomenon and should be attributed to mankind, not to any individual.
This is why capitalist arguments to privately own ideas and intellect are all wrong and do not match the reality of actual thinking process. The idea of attributing a scientific idea to a single individual is so amateur and childish that only someone who is totally unaware of how science works and how scientific development occurs over time can claim that a scientific idea can belong to an individual.
Allah (S.W.T) the Creator has created the mankind capable of scientific development and He has sent correct guidance about keeping the scientific development (an important item of communal utility) free from monopolies, thus allowing everyone the access, use and further development of technology.
On the other hand, rubbish man-made laws justify hegemony of the oppressors. Capitalist ideology is Jahiliyyah (ignorance), which provides the freedom to deviate from the right path! Capitalism is oppression in this world and a curse in the hereafter.
Any judgment or law that is not according to what Allah (S.W.T) has revealed is a source of injustice and persecution. Allah (S.W.T) says in Quran:
“Those who do not judge according to what Allah has revealed are the unjust”. (Al-Ma’idah: 45).
Allah (S.W.T.) is the Kindest and He is the only source of true guidance. Islam, the greatest blessing and favor from Allah (S.W.T.), provides freedom from all forms of oppression in this world and success on the Day of Judgment. Quran says:
“Do they then seek the judgment of Jahiliyyah (Ignorance)? And who is better in judgment than Allah for a people who have firm Faith. ”. (Al-Ma’idah: 50).