The Secondary Heads of the Distribution of Wealth
So far our discussion has been concerned with those who have a primary right in the distribution of wealth. A significant characteristic of the Islâmic theory of the distribution of wealth is that, in order to strengthen the weaker elements of society and to make those who have no work to do capable of useful work, it has prescribed, beside the factors of production, a long list of those who have a secondary right to wealth, and has laid down a regular system for gaining this objective.
In the introductory part of this article, it has already been indicated that wealth is in principle the property of Allâh Himself, that He is the real creator of wealth, and it is He who has bestowed upon man the right of ownership over it. Man is, no doubt, the owner of the reward which he gets in return for his endeavour, but it is Allâh who, in His grace, gives him the ability to make this endeavour and it is He who has created wealth. So, man is not altogether free to put his property to any use he likes, but is bound by the Commandments of Allâh. Man is hence under the obligation to spend this wealth where Allâh commands him to spend.
This basic idea automatically leads to a second category of entitlement to wealth outside the factors of production that is to say, according to the Islâmic point of view every such person is entitled to wealth to whom the primary owners of wealth are bound under an obligation laid on them by Allâh to convey it. Thus we arrive at a long list of the secondary heads in the distribution of wealth, under each of which there are persons entitled to a share in wealth.
In laying down these categories, Islâm in fact wants that wealth should be given as wide a circulation in society as possible, and that the restrictions that have been imposed on the concentration of wealth through the prohibition of interest should be further extended. It is not possible to give a detailed account of these categories in this short article. We would, however, enumerate them briefly: -
( ) The first and the widest of these heads is Zakât. The Holy Qur’ân has mentioned this obligation in numerous places along with Salât (the daily prayers). Every person who possesses silver or gold or cattle or merchandise in a certain prescribed quantity and above it is under the obligation to spend, after the passage of one year, a certain part of his possessions on other needy persons. And with regard to the man who does not fulfil this obligation, the Holy Qur’ân has this to say:
“Those who treasure up gold and silver, and do not spend them in the way of Allâh - give them tidings of painful chastisement, the day this (wealth) shall be heated in the fire of Hell, and their foreheads, their sides, and their backs shall be branded with it. (It will be said to them,) ‘This is what you had treasured up for yourselves; now taste of what you were treasuring.’”
Then the Holy Qur’ân itself has laid down eight items where this Zakât is to be spent. By prescribing eight items of expenditure under the single head of Zakât, the Holy Qur’ân has opened the way to the widest possible circulation of wealth.
The common factor among these items of expenditure for Zakât which entitles a person to receive it is “poverty” and “neediness”. And this head (Zakât) is chiefly meant for the eradication of poverty. An indication of how wide the distribution of wealth among the poor and the needy can be made under the head of Zakât, is provided by the fact that the national income of Pakistan was nearly Rs.15,300,000,000 in 1965; now, if we levy Zakât on this national income at its lowest rate (that is 2.5%), it comes to mean that at least Rs. 302,500,000 can be distributed among the needy and the poor annually. One can easily see what a huge amount of money will every year pass from the pockets of the Capitalists to the hands of the needy and the poor, if all the factors of production pay the annual Zakât regularly, and how soon the glaring inequality in the distribution of wealth will thus be done away with.
( ) ’Ushr is in fact a form of Zakât which is levied on land produce. But, since human labor is comparatively less involved in this kind of production, the rate of the levy here is 10%, or in some cases 20% instead of 2.5%. This levy is due only on the produce of those lands which, according to the expositions of the Fiqh, come under the special category of ‘Ushri lands. ‘Ushr is spent on the same items as Zakât.
( ) Islâm has prescribed another regular mode of transmitting wealth to hundreds of individuals in a society - and that is the mode of “Kaffârât” (expiation money). If someone breaks his fast during Ramadân without a proper excuse, or kills another Muslim unintentionally, or compares his wife with the back of a female within prohibited degrees of relationship ( - which amounts to taking an oath not to have connubial relations with her), or breaks a vow after having taken it, he has been enjoined to spend (compulsorily in some cases, and voluntarily in others) some of his wealth over the needy and the poor. This can be done in the form of cash, and also in the form of food or clothes.
( ) Besides this, it has been made compulsory for those whose possessions come up to a certain specified quantity that on the occasion of the Î’d-ul-Fitr they should, before going to the prayers, distribute among the needy, the poor, orphans and widows, wheat or its price at the rate of 1 3/4 seers per number of the family. Everyone has to pay this sum not only on his or her own behalf, but even on behalf of one’s minor children. To make such charity obligatory this condition too is not necessary that the possessions which give rise to the obligation should consist of objects of growth or should have been held for one complete year. So, the sphere of this obligation is even wider than that of Zakât, and it can lead to the greatest possible demonstration of the principle of brotherhood, particularly on the occasion of a collective festivity.
These four categories are intended to distribute wealth among the needy and the poor. Beside them there are two more categories which are intended to provide help to one’s relatives and to give them a share in one’s wealth. One of them is the category of “Nafaqât” (Maintenance) and the other is that of “Wirâsat” (Inheritance).
( ) Islâm has placed on everyone the responsibility of supporting his close relatives, some of these relatives are such as must be supported in any case compulsorily, whether one is well-to-do or poor does not matter - among such relatives are, for example, one’s wife and minor children. Then, there are other relatives who have to be supported only if one possesses the means to do so. The Islâmic law provides a long list of such relatives. This injunction gives rise to a very fine arrangement for the maintenance of the helpless and weak members of a family.
( ) The Islâmic system of inheritance has a basic importance in the Islâmic system of the distribution of wealth. It is not really necessary to expatiate upon the inequity produced in the distribution of wealth by the restricted forms of inheritance. One of the greatest causes of the inequity that is found in Western countries in this sphere is just this, and many economists have admitted this fact.
The system of inheritance that is generally prevalent in Europe is the rule of primogeniture– that is to say, all the property of the deceased goes to the eldest son and all the other children are totally deprived of it. Moreover, in certain places, a man can, if he so wishes, dispose of his whole property by will to any person, thus depriving even his male offspring of a share in the inheritance. As a result of this system, wealth gets concentrated instead of being circulated. On the other hand, according to the Hindu code, the male members of the family jointly inherit the property, and the females are totally excluded from inheritance. This is an obvious injustice to women. Moreover, the sphere of the circulation of wealth is even here narrower than what it is under the Islâmic system.
On the contrary, the system of dividing inheritance laid down by Islâm does away with all these evils. The characteristics peculiar to this Islâmic system are as follows: -
(a) A long list of inheritors has been prescribed in accordance with the degrees of relationship, because of which the inherited wealth gets a very wide circulation. It should be noticed here that, in order to give a wide circulation to wealth, it could be as well enjoined that the whole inheritance should be distributed among the poor or be deposited in the Bait-ul-Mâl (Public Exchequer). But, in that case, everyone would have tried to spend all his wealth during his own lifetime, and this would have only upset the economy. It is for this reason that Islâm has laid down a system which requires that the inheritance should be divided amongst the relatives of the deceased- an arrangement which should be the natural desire of the owner of this wealth.
(b) As against all the other systems of inheritance in the world, Islâm has given to woman also the right to inherit property. The Holy Qur’ân says:
“There is a share for men from what is left by parents and kinsmen, and there is a share for women from what is left by parents and kinsmen, whether it be little or much- and it is a determinate share.”
(c) The deceased has not been given the prerogative to deprive a legal heir of his or her share, nor to make any kind of modification in the prescribed share of any heir. This injunction puts a complete end to the possibility of a concentration of wealth resulting from inheritance. The Holy Qur’ân says:
“You do not know which one of them, among your fathers and your sons, is nearer in profit to you. This is the law laid down by Allâh.”
(d) No distinction has been made among children on the basis of priority of birth. An equal share has been allotted to the elder and the younger.
(e) It has been forbidden to make a bequest in favour of an heir, in addition to the prescribed share. Thus, no heir can receive anything from the estate of the deceased over and above his or her own share of the inheritance.
(f) A part of the property can be bequeathed to one who may not be an heir. This also helps in the circulation of wealth, for a part of the property is given away as legacy before the sharing of inheritance takes place.
(g) But a testator cannot dispose of all his property by will. He is allowed to bequeath up to one third of his property, and has no legal right to exceed this limit. This injunction thus serves to avoid that danger of the concentration of wealth which would arise if a man were allowed to dispose of all his property by will. At the same time, it also safeguards the rights of the near kindred.
( ) Beside the above categories, there are two more which require the owners of wealth to pay a part of it to the government of the country - one is “Khirâj” (tribute) and the other is “Jizyah.”
Khirâj is a kind of levy on land which is imposed only on those lands which come under the category of Khirâji according to the expositions of the Fiqh, and the government can spend it on community projects. Jizyah, on the other hand, is received from those non-Muslims who are citizens of an Islâmic state and the protection of whose life, property, and honor is the responsibility of the state, and also from those non-Muslim states with which peace has been made on the condition of their paying the Jizyah. This sum as well is to be spent by the state on projects of collective unity.
The secondary categories of the distribution of wealth outlined above are only those in which it has been enjoined upon the primary owners of wealth to spend a part of it as a matter of individual responsibility. Besides these categories, there are, in the Qur’ân and the Sunnah, exhortations to spend wealth on the poor and the helpless and for the collective good of the Muslims. Says the Holy Qur’ân:
“They ask you as to what they should spend. Say ‘What is left over.’”
This verse makes it clear that what is commendable in the eyes of Allâh is that a man should not confine himself to spending only as much as he is under an obligation to spend, but should consider it to be a great blessing for himself to give everything that exceeds his own needs to those members of his society who are destitute of wealth. The Holy Qur’ân and the Traditions of the Prophet ( ) are full of exhortations on the subject of “spending in the way of Allâh.”
Last modified 08/12/05 09:25 AM - Iqra - ISSN #1062-2756