Asghar Ali Engineer

A few days ago a press conference was held in Mumbai by some Muslim organizations including some Muslim theologians claiming that Islam is against capitalism and imperialism and that we would launch a campaign against both. It is indeed a crude attempt to compare or contrast modern political ideologies with Islam which originated in 7th century Arabia. Islam has its central values like truth, justice and equality of all human beings. But these are core values of Islam which very favourably compare with modern concept of human rights, human dignity and social justice. But modern economic conditions and political ideologies have their own origin which has nothing to do with the economic conditions prevailing after Islam appears on the Arabian scene.

On my visit to Cairo a few decades ago I found a book Al-Yamin wa Al-Yasar fi’l Islam (the right and left in Islam). I found this book quite interesting as the entire discussion in the book is with reference to the then prevailing conditions and how the first four rightly guided Caliphs followed different economic policies which had deep impact on social conditions in the Islamic world. Another book in this respect was published in 1977 by Prof. Khurshid Ahmed Fariq, who taught Arabic in Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi. The title of the book is Khilafat-e-Rashida ka Iqtisadi Jai’za i.e. economic survey of the period of Rightly Guided Caliphs. This book also discussed economic conditions then prevailing without any reference to modern ideologies.

Undoubtedly Islam tried to create a just society in every respect as justice happens to be its core value and it was this core value of Islam which made W.C. Smith, a noted Islamic scholar who taught at Government College Lahore in thirties of last century that Islam was the first systematic attempt in human history to create a socio-economically just society. But soon, this attempt failed as much depended on personal inclinations of the Caliphs rather than on any systematic ideology.

According to the Egyptian author of Al-Yameen wa al-Yasar fi’l Islam Hazrat Abur Bakr and Hazrat Umar in the early period of his Khilafat followed centrist economic policies but in the later period he took advice of Hazrat Ali seriously and became rigorous in enforcing economically just policies. However, it was rather late as soon after that he was assassinated by his slave. But Hazrat Usman, being a lenient administrator, came under pressure and changed land policy which Hazrat Umar had followed and allowed companions of the Prophet to exchange their border land for land in Hijaz and this caused much turmoil and also as Hazrat Uthman, according to Khurshid Ahmed Fariq, gave generous gifts to his relatives and friends from Bait al-Maal and this too led to much unrest and ultimately civil war broke out. Of course there were more factors to it then only the policies of Hazrat Uthman. Dr. Taha Husain, another eminent historian and scholar of Islam from Egypt discusses these factors in his book Al-Fitnat al-Kubra (The Great Insurrection).

Some companions of the Prophet like Hazrat Talha and Hazrat Zubayr had accumulated lot of wealth. Thus we find in Tabqat Ibn Sa’d that when they dies they left behind great deal of Gold and silver and more than 1000 horses and large number of slaves. Prof. Khurshid Ahmed Fariq, quoting sources estimates that Hazrat Uthman left behind 1 crore and 60 lakh dirhmas when he was assassinated and all this was looted by the insurrectionists who had surrounded his house. Let us remember that this wealth was generated from two sources: one, from trade and two, by way of ghanima i.e. loot in the wars of conquests and Baladhuri has given figures in his Futuh al-Buldan i.e. Conquest of Countries. With these conquests the whole economic scenario especially of Bedouin Arabs changed and they began to lead comfortable life. We should also remember that the then Arab economy was basically mercantile economy which depended on trade and production of date palms from few oases.

Thus it cannot be compared with modern industrial economy and its problems. And with development of monarchy with Yazid the economy underwent further change and it became more feudal than mercantile. Thus one must understand these specificities of the then Islamic society before comparing it with modern political and economic ideologies. However, one can say that the greatest contribution of Islam was the concept of welfare state and establishment of Bait al-maal in its early stages. But with establishment of monarchy and feudalization, Bait al-Maal also ceased to be as source of welfare of people.


Filed under Islam, Left, Philosophy, Politics, Religion


  1. Mustafa Shaban

    Interesting analysis. In my opinion Hazrat Ali (A.S) has the best policy for an Islamic government which is laid out in his book Nahj ul Balagha (Peak of Eloquence). This is a very good book for understanding his ways of thinking. The Prophetic Sunnah is also very important when talking about domestic and economic policy. A just and prosperous islamic government is very possible.

  2. Majumdar

    In my opinion Hazrat Ali (A.S) has the best policy for an Islamic government

    I am sure Milind babu will enthusiastically second this.


  3. Mustafa Shaban

    Despite the problems that occured during the Caliphate, an Islamic Caliphate system is the best system.

  4. Majumdar


    Despite the problems that occured during the Caliphate, an Islamic Caliphate system is the best system.

    I have no issues with that provided you guys dont impose it upon us.


  5. Mustafa Shaban

    @Majumdar: I dont want anything to be imposed on anyone. Everybody has thier own choice of what they want

  6. vajra


    Haven’t we been through this before? Quite fruitlessly?

  7. AZW


    “Despite the problems that occured during the Caliphate, an Islamic Caliphate system is the best system”

    I am sure that millions of Shias will enthusiastically give thumbs up to the first three Caliph’s rule as a rule to be heartily emulated.

    Or the fact that Hazrat Abu Bakr explicitly told Ansars after Prophet’s death that Caliphate is designated specifically to the tribe of Qureish; or that Hazrat Umar, despite his heroics and frequent noble examples of just rule, managed to burn thousands of books at the library in Alexandria after the conquest, or that his rule marked the invasion of far away lands that had never threatened the Arabian penninsula, or Islam for that matter, resulting in hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians death; or the extensive nepotism charges against Hazrat Usman, which even his supporters agree did have merit; or the fact that two of the caliphs died quite violently and there were heavy insurrections going on against specifically the last two of the caliphs.

    But then those were medieval times, and those were the norms then, which probably explains lots of these instances that we have looked above. Invading foreign lands happens quite regularly in modern times, and we never cease to condemn the modern powers when they invade unjustly. Yet we never cease to think of a bloody period spanning almost 30+ years marked by civil wars, distrust and questionable rule as a period to emulate in modern times, completely unquestionably. This utopian thinking of a caliphate has spawned so many of failed movements that have brought nothing but misery for the masses (especially the Muslims). Yet every self-professed empty rhetorical firebrand never ceases to pronounce that “golden” period as a shining example that should trump every modern mode of governance.

    Bravo for uttering utterly empty words with so much conviction, for something that have brought so much misery in the Muslim history.

  8. yasserlatifhamdani

    Islamic history has been distorted beyond recognition. If the believers could stop distorting it maybe we could talk of Qarmatians, of Mutazilla, of Ismaili orders the forerunners of freemasonry.

    Qarmatians for example believed in workers guilds, common property, and complete equality for all human beings regardless of religion or race.
    They were the early communists in the world…

    But ofcourse we have people like Mustafa Shaban and crooks like Zaid Hamid who interpret everything religiously never honestly.

  9. Mustafa Shaban

    @AZW, YLH: The thing is we need to discuss Islamic history with inter sectarian dialogue which unfortunately has taken place very few times in our history. There is a lot of dispute about what took place during the time of the first 3 Caliphs. However all sects of Islam see Hazrat Ali (A.S) model of ruling as just and they see it as the best so we can use that. Also some shcolars will dispute some of the points you made. Many scholars are of the opinion that muslims were seen as liberators and did nt kill innocent men, women and children when conquering foriegn lands. A few Shia scholars are of the opinion that what took place during those times was not as bad as it seemed, and that some of the things that some scholars claim that took place never actually took place. What took place 1400 years ago is still unclear and that is why people need to sit down and come to an agreement on what took place. However I also believe that some scholars from both sides have played a role in twisting history and spreading hatred among muslims.

    I understand your point of view and where you are coming from. You have some strong points. My advice to you is that in order to effectively put forth your argument you should not get emotional like you did just now. If you do then it automatically weakens your stance. Also I see some level of hatred in you. this is not good, Shia should not hate Sunnis and vice versa, we are all brothers. You have some good points so we should discuss and invite others to dialogue like the Prophet Muhammed (SAWW) did. I used to be like you, very emotional, used to become really angry when reading about those times and started hating the other side and stuff. I dont do that anymore.

  10. Mustafa Shaban

    Also YLH, my opinion is my own, you can attack my opinion but not my character. Me and Zaid Hamid have not forced our views on anyone, people are just discussing, eventually it is up to the masses to choose. People are free to choose, nobody is imposing anything on anyone.

  11. Milind Kher

    @Majumdar Saheb,

    The model of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) is good for an Islamic state.

    However, when we talk about a secular state, we need to evolve our own norms and models.

    It is pointless to have an Islamic rule now because there is no nation that even comes close to the ideal.

  12. yasserlatifhamdani

    Shaban mian,

    What I wrote was completely dispassionate. May I suggest instead of accusing others of being “emotional” you revisit the talks given by Zaid Hamid and see what rabble rousing and false emotionalism actually looks like. Adnan is giving you an impartial historical view.

    As for my post, you probably didn’t even understand it.
    As for your suggestion of letting the masses decide …absolutely. Zaid Hamid doesn’t want that. He wants to impose his will on others by the sword. His is no tolerant Islam. His Islam is of the Sword… He wants to recreate a theocracy which we the people of Pakistan will never allow.
    The good thing is that beyond a certain foolish class whose fancy he has actually caught, Zaid Hamid appeals to no one. His future is like that of a modern day Hitler loving Allama Inayatullah Mashriqi and his ill-conceived Khaksar Tehreek.

  13. yasserlatifhamdani


    Hazrat Ali’s famous letter to his governor is an example of secularism at its finest, where he advised him neutrality towards subjects and no preference of one subject over another merely because of his religion.
    And was it Hazrat Ali who in his tenure appeared before a Qazi in a civil dispute and lost to a jewish Citizen?

    These are the essentials of secularism.

  14. Milind Kher


    You are right on both counts. And indeed, that is the essence of secularism.

    Show me a Muslim ruler today that could do it so brilliantly..

  15. AZW

    Also YLH, my opinion is my own, you can attack my opinion but not my character. Me and Zaid Hamid have not forced our views on anyone, people are just discussing, eventually it is up to the masses to choose. People are free to choose, nobody is imposing anything on anyone.

    Now that the resident expert who embraced the most convoluted conspiracy theories, made a not so mature example out of his bland and empty comments over the past many months, eulogized Imran Khan without reservations, defended the misunderstood Taliban and blasted the evil West for playing havoc with the land of Pakistan, suddenly thinks that his character is being under attack by YLH.

    You are most welcome to play the village idiot on this forum. But this smiley innocent assertion that you mean well, even though you choose to believe some of the most vitriolic and bloody obfuscation of reality propounded by the likes of Zaid Hamid or Ahmad Qureshis of the world, will not save you from the ridicule that you rightly deserve . Hamid and Qureshi’s confusion is fine if it remains confined to that rather meaningless space between their ears. Yet when they seek to influence many of the impressionable VAs such as you may know who, they put our wretched country on a further path of international notoriety. Where all of our problems are masked away either under shadowy villains, or a deviation from our glorious path. Never have these so called experts seek to realize that we are the architects of our own misfortune. That our inability to strip out the religion from the affairs of the state has a huge part to play in our existing paralysis. Yet unless we realize our mistakes and stop blaming others, we are bound to perpetually remain in this wretched quagmire.

    “Also I see some level of hatred in you. this is not good, Shia should not hate Sunnis and vice versa, we are all brothers. You have some good points so we should discuss and invite others to dialogue like the Prophet Muhammed (SAWW) did.”

    I am not sure about the hatred, though the term pity seems quite apt. How about you telegram your noble intentions to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi head Akram Lahori, spending his time somewhere in a Pakistani Jail. Or make a trip to Quetta to put your noble ideas in front of Quetta Shura. I am sure a few hundred Shias who are going to get slaughtered in 2010 by Sunni extremists, might be quite grateful to you for your noble intentions.

  16. aliarqam

    Hazrat Umar, despite his heroics and frequent noble examples of just rule, managed to burn thousands of books at the library in Alexandria after the conquest….

    Verify this as an easy on this was part of te matric urdu text books….if U have studied Urdu at that stage….

  17. aliarqam

    Encyclopedia Britanica says that the Alexandrian Library had, in fact, been destroyed much earlier, in the fourth century A.D, long before the advent of Islam: “The library survived the disintegration of Alexander’s empire (first century BC) and continued to exist under Roman rule until the third century AD.”
    The truth is that one half of this library was burnt by Julius Caesar in 47 BC. In the third century, Alexandria came under the domination of Christians. At another place the same work states that, “The main museum and library were destroyed during the civil war of the third century AD and a subsidiary library was burned by Christians in AD 391.”

    Phillip K Hitti states that the story “is one of those tales that make good fiction but bad history.” He goes on, “the great Ptolemic library was burnt as early as 48 BC by Julius Ceasar. A later one, referred to as the daughter library, was destroyed about AD 389 as a result of an edict by the Emperor Theodosius. At the time of the Arab conquest, therefore, no library of importance existed in Alexandria and no contemporary writer ever brought the charge about Amr or Umar.”

    Bernard Lewis, a vehement critic of Islam, has thus summarised the verdict of modern scholarship on the subject: “Modern research has shown the story to be completely unfounded. None of the early chronicles, not even the Christian ones, make any reference to this tale, which is mentioned in the 13th century, and in any case the great library of Serapenum had already been destroyed in internal dissensions before the coming of the Arabs.”

    I am sorry for this reference very irrelevant to the main article but I think most of the time when we are going to analyze sth, we ccome with the same set of arguments and stereotype remarks of point scoring and as a result the whole discussion goes on a narrow path beating the drums of two extremes…..
    Apart from all the debate as the prophet said< "in the worldly affairs U know better more than me and thus can make better decission"
    So Islam has nothing to deal with which set of laws or economical structure we have to follow…It only demands for peace, justace(social and economic as well) and Prosperity for the humanit….these goals can be achieved by Secularism, Democracy and Socialism…..

  18. aliarqam

    Hazrat Ali’s famous letter to his governor is an example of secularism at its finest….
    Excellent example…

  19. AZW

    @ Ali Arqam:

    You do have a good point here. You made me start thinking if the story of the burning of the Great Library of Alexandria was correct or not. I had read it over few different places, especially when I was reading about Luciano Canfora’s supposedly excellent book on the Alexandria’s ancient library, titled “The Vanished Library” a few years back.

    Turns out that story of Hazrat Umar ordering the burning of books in Alexandria is contentious. Hazrat Umar reportedly said to Amr-Bin-Aas (a not so pleasant personality during the early Islamic history) when he asked Hazrat Umar what to do with the books in the Library of Alexandria. Hazrat Umar purportedly replied “If these writings of the Greeks agree with the book of God, they are useless and need not be preserved; if they disagree, they are pernicious and ought to be destroyed.”

    Various scholars have doubted this story, due to timelines differences and the sheer number of books required to heat the bath houses in Alexandria. Bernard Lewis has argued quite well that this story is probably not true. His critique can be found at

    I don’t believe it is appropriate for me to cite this example that has been so contentious and ably criticized by respected sources. Thanks for pointing it out.

  20. hoss

    I am kind of skeptical of the claims that somehow the four musketeers of the early period developed some Islamic system. All four of them were barely educated in any field, hardly had any experience or knowledge of what had happened in the world outside of their own little peninsula. I doubt that any one of them was even able to read whatever social or historical knowledge was available in the small tribal belt which did not have more than 30K residents. Most of what they did can be summed as conventional wisdom that they derived from the tribal society they grew up in.

    The system in the tribal society then and still is all about some tribes and their leaders. The central structure was all about some tribal leaders agreeing to work with a central authority. The system of Bait or allegiance was a way to show that most of the tribes and their leaders agreed on certain leader primarily as mediator.

    So to talk about some Islamic system is nothing more than a joke perpetuated by some illiterate Maulvis and their equally or more ignorant followers. There never was and there never will be something called Islamic system…barring some heads in the sand types.

    For Pakistan and a few more countries that joke has exceeded all the boundaries of civilized behavior and has become so crude that it rightly belongs to sewerage.

    I think even discussing some books or some statements or some more nonsense that comes out of this group of ignoramus is below the normal human behavior.

  21. Mustafa Shaban

    @AZW: In your outrage you only ridicule yoursself. If you are so sure that my beliefs are so convoluted and ridiculous then why dont we debate them? Who are you to decide what is right or wrong? Who deserves what? You are just another person on this forum like me, nothing more or less. So stop getting worked up just because my opinion is different from yours and just accept that we all have our own views and that we are just stating them.

    And I will extend dialogue to my Sunni brothers around the world because unlike you I dont have a shia superiority complex and unlike you I believe in 1 Muslim Ummah and not a divided one. Unlike you I am willing to talk to them. Unlike you I consider all my fellow muslim brothers as equal and am sick and tired of this division and fighting. So you can stay with hardcore shia extremists and continue believing in your superiority over other people.

    @YLH: For the emotional part I was referring to Adnan not you, my apologies for that. Also you interpret Zaid Hamid as a mann of the sword, that is your interpretation of him, I understand him differently so lets leave it at that.

    AZW personally attacked me with his response and gave me a Shiite view of history, which is not biased but not completely impartial either.

    @hoss: I am only asking because I am curious, do you belong to the Islamic faith? In Islam we believe that the Prophet SAWW brought the completed message of Islam to the world from Allah. The Quran, Sunnah and the Ahlul Bayt teach us all the laws of the world and the hereafter including, economics, politics, health, ethics, morals, etc. After the Prophet Muhammed SAWW passed away there are some disputes that took place and led to a divide in the Ummah. Anywayz the first 4 Caliphs governed according to the Islamic system however there is a dispute on how good some of them did on that. There is a system. It is complete. You will need to read Hadith and Nahj Al Balagha to understand this system and will need to do a study of that time. There is not a chance that an unbiased person will look at the first four Caliphs and say it is not a system or that they are acting merely on tribal wisdom. No they acted as best they could on the laws of Islam which are concrete. Nothin primitive about it and historians and scholars remain amazed till this day on how the Prophet SAWW changed Arabia within 3 decades and brought about this wonderful religion and system. Just do a lil reading and you will see it. Ofcourse there were problems, and people have thier own point of view on what took place. That is why I alwayz encourage dialogue because it brings people together and bridges gaps.

  22. rex minor

    I would agree with your analogy, though not with the words you choose to describe it.

    @Mustafa Shaban
    The almighty God has blessed us with the human brain, and the commandment was to use it. I have great love for our forefathers but they were also humans, living in different times and what we know today was not known to them. The words of God have not been altered, but we have evolved and understand them better than in ancient times. I know that there are forces which are always trying to bring us back into the past wilderness, the question of division among muslims and other religions is a diversion simply caused by the nincompoop leaders of the countries.
    You have already frightened Mr Mujamdar and me too by saying that the Islamic Caliphate system is the best system. O’h for God’s sake, I have not even heard this from the so called Talabans and Waziris. I know that even Archbishop of Canterbury is in favour of some parts of Sharia, but to imagine that the life of a Beduin in the desert of Arabia living under a caliphate would be acceptable to a modern human? I am sure you did not mean that! In fact we have seen the performance of the political and military leaders in Pakistan. Most of them were trying to behave as if they were caliphates and the country was the Arabian desert. Then following the caliphate system they all should have been hanged.
    No sir, let us be reasonable. We are all from the human specie, and despite our different religion and cultural backgrounds we have gained enough knowledge and experience to build a Society with the humanity at the centre. The literary genious and the philosophers, the religious pundits and the kings and emperors of the ancient times were no better than the modern human. We are richer in our culture and knowledge and have better understanding of the Universe. We only quote ancient philosaphies to which we agree and treat Shakespear and Goethe to serve our thoughts. We are very critical of our leaders and fellow citizens, but we have the ability and the flexibility to reach beyond the boundries of the State, religion or ethnic divide. We must be aware of the time we are living and not forget the time when our ancestors lived in the ancient world!

  23. Milind Kher


    There is nothing wrong in adopting the system of Hazrat Ali (a.s.).

    Surely, had he been there today, he would have provided a brilliant Islamic perspective on how to deal with today’s problems.

    However, as of today, there is nobody who can really do that.

  24. AZW


    Stop crying here. You were not personally attacked, you just got called out on empty statements that you inject under various threads in the garb of posting comments. The title of Village Idiot is harsh, yet apt in terms of your statements like even though there were problems during the times of four caliphs, Islamic khilafat is the best system.

    Also you interpret Zaid Hamid as a mann of the sword, that is your interpretation of him, I understand him differently so lets leave it at that

    Really. What peace rally was Zaid Hamid planning when he talked about waving the Islamic flag over the Red Fort in Delhi. What do you understand about Zaid Hamid that he is a man of peace? Let’s hear about it shall we.

    And I will extend dialogue to my Sunni brothers around the world because unlike you I dont have a shia superiority complex and unlike you I believe in 1 Muslim Ummah and not a divided one

    Great news for the Muslim Ummah where most Muslims are killed by… Muslims, in the name of Islam. Great news for the thousands of Sunnis and Shias that will die in sectarian clashes this year and coming few years. Make sure Taliban hear about your noble ideas; not more than a few months ago, they were the misunderstood ones according to you, Zaid Hamid and plenty of so called analysts gracing the air waves and the print media. And according to the learned folks, it was actually RAW, MOSSAD and CIA out there killing Pakistani people, only to malign the Taliban, right?

    And Shia superiority complex?? I happen to be a Sunni Muslim.

    Need I say more??

    Now you can resume your regular empty broadcast at PTH.

  25. yasserlatifhamdani


    One correction. According to Zaid Hamid, Taliban are zionists backed by the US.


  26. yasserlatifhamdani


    There were principles never a system.

    There is a difference.

  27. yasserlatifhamdani

    The only sect to give a system in Islamic history was the Qaramta or Qarmatians or Karmathians.

  28. Mustafa Shaban

    @Milind: I agree with you regardig Hazrat Ali. But we have some very good scholars and people who have given a wonderful interpretation to Islam.

    @rexminor: I understand what you are saying, thing is that the system 1400 years ago was very advanced, not a primitive one. We understand Islam better than we did 1400 years ago. Also if you look at Islamic history, muslims werent primitive nomads or bedouins lving a primitive life. The Islamic world was very advanced, it had the best military, massive amount of innovation and invention. Read the history of Islamic contribution to science, we wouldnt be living like this in the world today were it not for Muslim contribution to science, many of the sceintific discoveries were made during that age. Allah placed a system that was very well advanced, that is why it stands out 1400 years ago. The time is irrelevant. This is not a human concept but a Divince concept, that is why time is irrelevant, it doesnt matter whetther it was introduced today or 14 centuries ago, becuase it was Divine not human. It is not ancient nor is it antique. The modern economic systems cannot adress the needs of human beings as much as Islam can. This is my opinion, you have your own opinion , you have also made a great point regarding human experience and how it evolves over time. We are much better than our ancestors, so all the human systems that exist today are obviously much better than the human systems that were there before. However Islam is Divine. The Quran challenges the test of time.

    @AZW: I never called the Taliban misunderstood, I detest thier version of Islam and they are behind most of the problems we have today. And our enemies have used them against us. We need to remove the Takfiri ideology and extremist ideology from here so that we can have peace. I never said that the TTP were not behind the terrorism, neither did I sya they were misunderstood. Zaid Hamid says that the Takfiri Ideology and extremism is very bad for Pakistan and its foreign enemies fuel these extremist ideologies so that they can be used against us.

    I apologize, I assumed that you are Shia. I find it strage however that you accuse Caliph Umar of some things, I am not sure but I think it is not allowed to speak badly of the companions of the Prophet in the Sunni school of thought, maybe I misunderstood.

    YLH: correction Zaid Hamid says that the Zionist and the Indians fuel the TTP and extremist ideologies to hurt Pakistan hence we must get rid of those rightist extremists and fundamentalists. In any case we both agree that they need to go, isnt that so?

  29. Rizwan

    To my opinion, Islam has its clear values and rules. Capitalistic or Socialistic Economies are man-made. On contrary, Islamic rules are not made but they stands truth like the occurence of SUN and MOON everyday and night. Islamic economics cannot be changed on human desires, therefore it is purified from mistakes. We need to have thorough study of Islam before commenting false statements. Other systems have their own values but as i said before, they can change as per human desires which can be to prey but can also be to drink wine or bear. I am supporting Islam not just because i am Muslim but because it represents true picture of what an economy could be and how it can progress.