An important guiding principle mentioned in the Qur’ān for regulating the economic life of Muslims in an equitable manner is that in an Islamic society wealth should not be allowed to circulate among the rich of the society alone. After announcing that the wealth Muslims have obtained by way of fay1 belongs to Allah and His Prophet (sws), the relatives of the Prophet (sws), the orphans, and the needy and the wayfarers, the Qur’ān says that this has been done so that ‘it (wealth) may not concentrate in the hands of those who are rich among you’ (59:7). In other words it is one of the objectives which the Qur’ān wants to see achieved that instead of allowing wealth to remain concentrated in a few hands, it should be made to flow in society as widely as possible so that the distinction between the rich and the poor can be narrowed as far as is natural and practicable.
If this verse of the Qur’ān is carefully considered, on the one hand, it sanctions the existence of rich people and, on the other, it definitely disallows them from unjustifiably going on increasing their share of the total wealth of the society. In fact, if the true spirit of the verse is followed, their share should, if anything, gradually fall in a society which regulates its affairs according to Qur’ānic guidance.
Islam definitely recognizes natural economic differences among human beings. However, according to the verse under consideration, those differences should not be allowed to be the basis of further expansion of the gulf between the rich and the poor. To put it simply, any system which results in the rich getting richer because of the peculiar nature of the system and which allows the poor to remain poor cannot be deemed Islamically acceptable. In fact, Islam believes in striking at the roots of inequality rather than merely alleviating some of the symptoms. If, on the contrary, in an economy all segments of the society experience economic improvement although the poor much less than the rich, then, according to the spirit of the verse, such a situation can only be considered less unacceptable; it is certainly not desirable. Therefore, if the effects of any two economic policies for the eradication of poverty are similar, it is necessary to prefer the one which reduces income disparity.
It needs to be understood that there is a difference between economic progress of an individual attributable to his hard work and intelligence or good fortune and progress by virtue of a position of advantage offered to him by the favourable customs and laws of the society. Whereas, generally speaking, there can be no objection from the Islamic point of view to the achievements of a person in the former case, undue advantage in the economic race in the latter case would never be acceptable to the letter and spirit of Islamic teachings.
1. Fay is the wealth and property of the enemy which Muslims are able to get without facing any military resistance from them.