Of socialism and Islam

July 08, 2011

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IS Islam compatible with socialism? The question is asked because to many ‘socialism’ means an atheistic philosophy, and at the very core of Islamic teachings is the belief in one God. How can then Islam and socialism go together?

However, this is not the correct view. Many noted ulema had accepted socialism as an essential part of Islamic teachings. In India, Maulana Hasrat Mohani and Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi enthusiastically supported the communist movement. Maulana Mohani was one of the founders of the Communist Party of India.

Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi, who had migrated to Afghanistan during the Khilafat movement and had formed a transition government there along with Mahendra Pratap Singh, left for Russia when the king of Afghanistan came under pressure from the British to expel the members of this government. In Moscow they met Lenin and discussed with him the strategies to fight British colonialism. Maulana Sindhi returned to India only in the early 1940s.

Allama Iqbal also paid rich tribute to socialism in his Khizar-i-Rah which he wrote after the decline of Usmani power in Turkey and on the eve of the Russian revolution. He also paid rich tribute to Marx and called him ‘a man with a book’ without being a prophet (peghambar neest wali dar baghal darad kitab).

He also wrote an interesting poem, Lenin Khuda Ke Huzur Mein (Lenin in the presence of God). W.C. Smith, a noted scholar of Islam and a left-leaning Christian priest who taught in Government College, Lahore in the 1930s, writes in his book, Islam in the Modern World, that Islam was the first organised socialist movement in the world.

Islam showed not only deep sympathy for the poor and downtrodden but also condemned strongly the concentration of wealth in a number of Makkan surahs. Makkah, as an important centre of international trade, was home to the very rich (tribal chiefs) and the extremely poor. Thus, in surahs 104 and 107, we find such condemnations. In one of the Madinese verses, 9:34, we find condemnation for concentration of wealth: “…And those who hoard up gold and silver and spend it not in Allah’s way — announce to them a painful chastisement.”

Abu Dharr Ghaffari, one of the eminent companions of the Prophet (PBUH), used to recite this verse before those who would accumulate wealth; he would refuse to shake hands with such people. Thus, those whom Abu Dharr shook hands with would consider themselves proud and even boast about it. Abu Dharr was an uncompromising man when it came to principles, and because of that he died a lonely death in the desert of Rabza where he was exiled. His wife did not even have the money to buy a shroud for him and he was buried in his clothes.

The Quran even goes to the extent of advising the believers to spend all that which is more than one needs in Allah’s way. The word used by the Quran is ‘afw’, i.e. whatever is left after meeting one’s basic needs. Thus, this verse, 2:219, says, “They ask you as to what they should spend. Say what is surplus with you”.

The instruction comes very close to the socialist formulation ‘To each according to his need’. The Quran’s basic emphasis is on justice (adl), and in fact one of Allah’s name is Aadil, i.e. Just. Thus an unjust society cannot be an Islamic society.

Unfortunately, none of the Islamic countries today fulfill these Quranic criteria.

In the Quran, justice is so important that it says “Do justice, it is closest to being pious” (5:8). It also says that justice must be done even if it goes against you and in favour of your enemy. Thus the Quran says, “O you who believe, be maintainers of justice, bearers of witness for Allah, even though it be against your own selves or (your) parents or near relatives — whether he be rich or poor (4:135). And what is socialism but justice in a very comprehensive sense, including distributive justice. If these verses are read in conjunction with chapters 104 and 107 of the Quran, distributive justice cannot be excluded.The Quran also uses other terms to make its intention clear: ‘mustakbirun’ and ‘mustadifun’, i.e. the powerful and exploiters and the weak and exploited. These are really key terms in this respect. All of Allah’s prophets belonged to weaker sections of society, including Abraham, Moses and others, who fought against the powerful exploiters like Nimrod and the pharaoh.

According to the Quran, the struggle between mustakbirun and mustadifun will go on, and in the end it is the mustadifun who will triumph and will inherit this earth (28:5).

Thus the Quran is unmistakably in favour of the weaker section of society and predicts leadership (not dictatorship) of the proletariat. It is interesting to note that it was Imam Khomeini who drew our attention to this verse (28:5), and he also established Bonyaad-i-Mustazefeen (Foundation for the Weak) from the wealth of the rich, which he ordered to be confiscated.

But unfortunately, like other revolutions, the Iranian revolution was also hijacked by those with vested interests.

As soon as a political establishment comes into existence, vested interests develop around it and hijack it more often than not. Thus, a revolution needs constant vigilance by the weaker sections of society. The revolution that Islam had brought met the same fate within years of the death of the Prophet of Islam.

The writer is an Islamic scholar who also heads the Centre for Study of Society & Secularism, Mumbai.