Property Rights in Islam
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6874 2008/10/30 2022/10/05
the right to own property is a part of human nature t hat is related to the instinct for survival and self preservation. however, the nature of this right and its limits has undergone changes throughout history and in different places. for example, during some periods of history, property rights have been in the hand of a tribe as a kind of "common property". in some of the western provinces of canada today, a certain religious sect still believes in the concept of common property. generally, property right has been restricted or narrowed down to properties which are common to one particular family, or are in the hand of certain individuals. however the nature of property rights depends greatly on the kind of philosophy or ideology which is common in any particular society at any particular time. ultimate ownership vs. trusteeship numerous verses in the qur’an give a clear indication that everything is owned by allah (god) and that property in the absolute sense belongs to him, and to him alone. for example, one verse says what means: [to allah belongs the domain of heavens and earth and anything in-between] (al-ma’idah 5:120). another verse refers to allah as [the owner of the entire universe] (aal-`imran 3:26). however, the right of ownership being god’s alone does not mean that we as human beings do not also have the right to own property, it simply puts this individual right of ownership within a broader context. ownership is basically our responsibility as trustees of god on earth. it is clear in the qur'an that there is no objection on the individual right of property. for example god tells the prophet muhammad what means: [take from their property charity] (at-tawbah 9:104. in this verse, god uses the term "their property", showing that there is no contradiction between god's ultimate ownership to the universe and our right as humans to own within the restrictions that god has provided. levels of property rights in islam, there are several different levels of property rights. there are certain things owned by god that humans have no access to, such as the planets. other properties are "common properties", which are owned by the entire human race like oceans, which are not individual properties. within any country, community or society, there are certain properties owned jointly between the community at large, sometimes called "common land”. there is also the type of property which is in the possession of one particular individual or a number of individuals. these are all properties that people own with duties and responsibilities which are imposed on this property, and within the restrictions of islamic law. however, all these properties belong to god and the levels of property are just a matter of convenience and classification. limits of property rightsPrevious article Next article
one of the restrictions on property in islamic law is the legitimate acquisition of property, as the sanctity and right to defend property has to be recognized. another restriction is not to allow your use of your property to cause harm or problems to other people.
the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) once said: "one should not harm himself or others" (narrated by muslim). this requires considering other's benefit while using your property. for example, monopolizing people's basic necessities is restricted in islamic law.
in addition, there is a rule in islamic law that says: “private harm could be tolerated if it were necessary to prevent greater harm that would affect a larger number of people or the public at large.”
a third restriction is the mental capability of the person who owns property. for example, if a person is insane, it would be necessary for his property to be put under guardianship for his own benefit and for the protection of others.
claims on property
claims on property in islamic law are specified with certain obligations. one of these obligations is maintaining one's family which may sometimes stretch to the extended family.
another claim on property is zakah, or obligatory charity, which is compulsory as an act of worship and obedience to god, giving the muslim self control and inner conscientiousness in being observant of his duties.
one of the forms of zakah is on money. it is not a direct income tax as the case is in contemporary systems, but is a minimum of 2.5% of the assets beyond the immediate needs of a person that have been in the person’s possession for a whole year. there are of course certain properties that are not subjected to zakah, such as personal clothing, residences and transportation.
there are also other forms of zakah like the zakah paid on agriculture, or the additional tax which was referred to in the prophetic saying: "in property there is a claim beyond zakah" (narrated by at-tirmidhi). a just ruler or government imposes this extra tax if the amount of zakah is not sufficient to meet the needs of society in the cases of war, famine, or disasters.
legitimate acquisition of property
the means of acquisition of property has to be legitimate in order to be recognized in islam. one of the legitimate means of acquisition would be possessing property as a result of personal effort, which includes working for a salary, hunting, fishing, or commercial operations. another legitimate way of owning property is on the basis of rights that have been given to you by islamic law, rather than a result of your personal efforts. for example, a wife in islam is entitled to full maintenance by her husband, whose property then becomes hers. the qur’an also mentions that she has the right to obtain a marital gift from her husband when he seeks to marry her.
according to the law of inheritance in islam, a person is entitled to own property on the basis of inheritance. this also applies to “zakah” or charity, which is given by the able to the poor. another legal way is receiving a gift or exchanging property or services, as would happen in a barter system.
unlawful means of acquisition of property in islam includes theft, extortion, and embezzlement of public funds. in addition, taking someone’s property with their consent but through crooked means is also forbidden. this includes misleading a person in a contract or forcing him or her to sign it, cheating, bribery, usury (interest), and gambling.
earning money through unlawful labor such as practicing magic, prostitution, or participating in a crime is also forbidden.
ethics of property rights
legal and ethical teachings are interrelated in islamic law. for example, with regards to savings, it is permissible to keep some reserve funds for emergencies or for possible future needs. however hording wealth, in the sense of keeping it from circulation, is forbidden.
this is referred to in the qur’an:
[those who horde gold and silver and don’t spend it in the path of god, give them the news of their punishment] (at-tawbah 9:34).
this prohibition is not just a matter of ethical teachings; it also has a deeper economic implication in that it stops investments and deprives the community from job opportunities and harnessing natural resources.
another ethical teaching is the prohibition of excess expenditure along with the condemnation of miserliness. this is referred to in the qur’an in several places:
[make not thy hand tied (like a miser's) to thy neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach, so that thou become blameworthy and destitute.] (al-israa’ 17:29)
god also says what means:
[eat and drink: but waste not by excess, for allah loveth not the wasters.] (al-a`raf 7:31)
a third teaching is the obligation not to keep resources available to the community idle. this is mentioned by the prophet muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him): “a person who reforms land has the right to own it.” (narrated by al-bukhari)
therefore, islam acknowledges the right of individual property while maintaining the interest of society and moral and ethical obligations.
claims on property in islamic law are specified with certain obligations.
legal and ethical teachings are interrelated in islamic law.