HOW WAS THE ECONOMIC LIFE IN THE TIME OF THE PROPHET (UPON WHOM BE PEACE)?

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From the start of Muhammad’s (upon whom be peace) prophethood, almost to the very end of his life—and especially in the Meccan Era—the Muslims suffered great economic distress. The Messenger of God had forsaken all his belongings, along with the wealth of his generous and compassionate wife, Khadija, in calling people to God. The first Muslims were, in fact, mostly the poor. As for the wealthy Muslims, they were constantly more than ready to sacrifice all they had for the success of the Islamic cause; and so they did. It could be argued, in fact, that economic encumbrances, by and large, endured until the victory at Hunayn.

In a further elaboration, an exceptionally simple and modest lifestyle prevailed during the time of the Prophet (upon whom be peace) although the dynamic monetary activity resulting from the treasury’s precise inflow and outflow balance was paramount.

In tandem with being enthusiastically active in the endeavor to get people to elevate themselves through the blissful path of iman, untainted faith in God, the Noble Messenger also intimately dealt with problems surrounding the society’s economic life. He worked tirelessly to cleanse it from the insidious residues of pre-Islamic life. As a culmination of this  precious struggle, the fresh Muslim society embarked on an elevating journey that was soon to reach its zenith.

Virtue, a fundamental principle of model societies, is an ideal that inevitably must be sought. In this sense, the era of the Prophet (upon whom be peace) provides us with a  splendid example of the revival and the consequential pervasiveness of virtue in all aspects of life, especially in the struggle to eliminate the unjust earning of money and other corrupt financial transactions, in order to achieve an uncompromising adherence to the Qur’an: “…and each can have nothing save what he strives for, and that his effort will be seen” (Najm 53:39-40).

In conformance with the Qur’an, the Noble Prophet himself illustrated the ideal method of earning money; “A person has never gained better sustenance than what he has gained through his own sweat. Indeed, the Prophet David earned his sustenance himself.”49 To cultivate the seeds of magnanimity in the souls of the Companions, the Messenger of God added: “It is much more beneficial for one to carry timber from mountains, to earn a living, than to beg off others, as those who are beseeched either give or refuse.”50 These words were of tremendous importance for a society whose members aligned their conducts according to divine regulations, and experienced enormous bliss and contentment from doing so. Most certainly, advice such as this had swift practical implications. Once, for instance, a Companion on horseback dropped his stick; yet he refrained from asking assistance from those standing next to him, opting instead to descend from his horse and gather the stick himself. Even asking for assistance, then, was interpreted as a form of begging.

Moreover, usury, a devastating burden fracturing the very backbone of society, was being abolished, thus granting each person a total economic emancipation. In a previously unseen race for virtue, many exemplary actions stood out, from people working in hard labor just to give their earnings to charity, to people voluntarily lending interest-free money to others in hope of benefiting from the blessings of such a praiseworthy act.51 The hadith “Muslims, in love and compassion for one another, are like a single body. If one limb is in agony, the whole body joins that limb in insurmountable pain and sleeplessness,”52 provided a practical guide for heroes sacrificing their comfort and luxury for the well-being of the whole community.

The economic purification did not stop there. An incredible balance was achieved in expenses and consumption,  and extravagance,  along with its destructive blemishes,  became remote concepts. On the other hand, abandoning even the necessary requirements for spending in the cause of Islam became habitual. These acts of virtue were all a dazzling culmination of the Companions’ exceptionally thorough comprehension of Islam, imparted to them by the Messenger of God. Along these lines, a Muslim’s life must be in absolute conformity with divine guidelines, keeping a sufficient distance from the type of dissipative spending that incurs the anger of God and the envy of others. A spending with no worthy result, one that neither acts as an instigator for a potentially beneficial movement nor serves as a catalyst to spark the dead wood of society, has no place in a Muslim’s life. The era of the Noble Prophet can thus be summarized as an epitome of this resuscitative spirit.

During this period, hatred and vengeance among Muslims w ere averted as  each person played a vital role in socially constructive activities. Because Islam was vividly being enforced in all aspects of life, class struggles became a thing of the past and there was  a  general diminution of communal vices until, ultimately, the wealthy experienced the utmost difficulty in even trying to locate poor individuals upon which they could disburse their accumulated sadaqa and zakat—quite simply, after a while, poverty virtually ceased to exist. This issue, in fact, figured prominently in the government’s agenda, as they had the increasingly difficult task of locating the poor lest the wealthy be deprived of the virtues of almsgiving.

The Meccan Era was, in a sense, filled with furtiveness. In the beginning, the call for Islam had not been undertaken overtly, thus there was no clear-cut information available regarding the financial status of the newly-forming “Golden Generation,” the Companions, as well as no system yet in place for systematically collecting or disbursing wealth. The Messenger of God (upon whom be peace) had hastened the disbursement of capital in required places during this period as the early Muslim community were incessantly suffering financial hardships that continued through the early years of the Medinan Period before times of abundant prosperity arrived in later years. The treasury became filled with zakat, sadaqa, and ushr in addition to the riches gathered from rapid conquests. Under these changing circumstances, the Noble Prophet (upon whom be peace), on behalf of the Muslim treasury, relentlessly maintained a perfect balance in financial activities, utilizing resources in the required places in a most delicate and efficient manner. Even when observing the horde of items granted to the muallafa al-qulub (those whose hearts are being reconciled with Islam) in the aftermath of the victory at the battle of Hunayn, this meticulous balance, remote from dissipation, can evidently be noted.53

It is also worthy to note that gold and silver, with their independent values, were then the most prevalent coins in circulation. Dinar and dirham were subordinate currencies used especially in trade and commerce, not to mention the additional widespread use of barter.

The spiritual resurrection in Islam had been reflected in the bazaars and markets and then onto the entire economy, imparting the gist of the Islamic spirit that attests to the potentiality of all things and thus fiercely rejects dead investments, usury and selfish accumulations of piles of gold and silver. The female Companions, unhesitant in donating all their precious jewelry in time of excessive hardship, provide an excellent example of this spirit and reality.54

 

HOW WAS ZAKAT ORGANIZED IN THE TIME OF THE PROPHET (UPON WHOM BE PEACE)?

The Qur’an’s emphasis on zakat collectors as being among the recipients of alms implicitly alludes to the prime role of governments in zakat collection.55 Muadh ibn Jabal’s official role in collecti n g zakat is a fact attested to by authentic sources. The general practice of the Companions was to hand the zakat over to the treasury via collectors, a practice that endured after the death of the Noble Prophet %(upon whom be peace), during the periods of Caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar.56 The following are some of the Companions who were given the duty of collecting zakat by the Messenger of God: Muadh ibn Jabal,57 Umar,58 Ubayy ibn Qa’b,59 Zayd ibn Haritha,60 Ibn al-Lutaybiya,61 Mahmiya b. Jaz,62 Abu Rafi,63 Qays ibn Sa’d ibn Ubada,64 Muhammad ibn Maslama,65 and Ubada ibn Thamit,66 may God be pleased with them all.

The likes of Anas ibn Malik,67 Abdullah ibn Sa’d,68 and Imran ibn Husayn69 also figure prominently as zakat collectors during the caliphates of Abu Bakr and Umar.

 

HOW WAS ZAKAT TAKEN CARE OF IN THE ERA OF THE RIGHTLY GUIDED CALIPHS?

The stern and unrelenting approach of Caliph Abu Bakr, in relation to zakat, emphasizes its compulsory nature as well as manifesting its social vitality. Maintaining an uncompromising stance against those evading the obligation under various pretexts, he even proclaimed war, if necessary, against those rejecting the scantiest amount of the minimum collected at the time of the Noble Prophet (upon whom be peace). Abu Hurayra, a close companion of the Messenger, narrates the subsequent conversation:

Abu Bakr, having assumed leadership after the death of the Beloved Prophet, vowed to wage war on those in defiance of zakat. Umar, a pivotal vanguard of the Companions, objected by reminding, “O Abu Bakr! How can you wage war when the Noble Prophet informed us he had been ordered with perseverance until people proclaimed, ‘There is no God but God,’ after which their lives and properties came under the protection of Islam and their reckonings with God.” Abu Bakr relentlessly insisted, “I swear by God that I will surely fight those who discern between salat and zakat, as zakat is the right of property. Even if they were to hold back a goat %(as zakat upon such animals as sheep or goats), that they consentingly gave at the time of the Prophet, I will fight to forbid them of such an act.” Umar, then declared in admiration, “By God, this is nothing but a divine inspiration in the heart of Abu Bakr. I have understood that these are the correct steps to take.”70

Abu Bakr’s admirable resolution and depth in regards to these issues successfully dispersed insidious notions that separated salat and zakat and culminated in the essential and continued functioning of this vital pillar of Islam. Companions such as Umar71 and Abu Ubayda72 took active part, during the period of Abu Bakr, in zakat collection.

The treasury, a relative nucleus in the time of the Prophet (upon whom be peace), was further organized and systemized as a result of escalations in general income and the size of the populace during the caliphate of Umar.

Abdullah ibn Arqam, placed in charge of the treasury by Umar, held this position through the early years of the next caliph, Uthman73, and then was succeeded by Zayd ibn Thabit.74 Abu Rafi is referred to as the minister of treasury during the period of the fourth pious caliph, Ali.75

The era of Umar ibn Abdulaziz, who was spiritually though not chronologically regarded as the fifth pious caliph, provided a period where zakat recipients ceased to exist, the ultimate result of the brilliant and thorough application of this institution. This was an exemplary time in history, in fact, miraculously heralded by the Prophet (upon whom be peace) decades ago: “Offer alms; as there will soon come a time when a person, carrying his zakat in his hand, will roam around in futility, in pursuit of a recipient as the intended recipient will refuse and say ‘If you offered this yesterday, I would have accepted, but now I’m in no need of it.’”76 “A time will come when a man carrying his sadaqa of gold, will roam around to find someone to give it to but in vain.”77

The Noble Messenger had further elaborated this issue by stating that the day of Day of Judgment will not commence until such a time of prosperity is realized.78 The era of Umar ibn Abdulaziz epitomizes this realization, announced beforehand by the Beloved Prophet himself. Zakat had, indeed, reached its functional goal, elevating the poor to a stable middle-class, liberating them in time from financial dependence. As a consequence, people in need of zakat were no longer to be found and therefore, as a final option, the government had to accept zakat on behalf of the needy during this time of unmatched prosperity.

 

Senturk, Omer Faruk. “Charity in Islam” Tughra Books Press. January 2007.