Islam’s compatibility with socialism is an oft-debated topic. The oil boom in the Middle-East, American cronyism and globalism, and a handful of motley clerics denouncing marxism, over the course of the past century have contributed to mass conception of the flawed (scripturally unfounded) notion that Islam somehow doesn’t champion economic equity and class justice, and is averse to revolutionary socialism.
Socialism is ingrained in the very tenets of Islam. One of the fundamental principles, i.e. The Five pillars of Islam, is Zakat i.e. charitable imposition (alms-giving). Zakat, unlike other faith’s prescription of voluntary charity and big-heartedness as an oft quoted, seldom enforced prescriptive ethic or distant, subjective theoretic is instead, a concrete religious obligation for all Muslims who meet the requisite criteria of wealth. It is a mandatory charitable contribution, often considered to be a tax, that automatically enacts a substantiation against social rifts and disparity, and procludes plutocracy.
The brilliant foresight of Islam, almost anachronical to its origin and the instatement of this provision, is reflected in the fact that unlike modern governmental taxation schemes of most major democracies, Zakat is not only based on a person’s income but his possessions (interpreted contemporarily as movable and immovable assets or net worth) as well. Most modern taxations, predominantly in the capitalist occident, fail to actually accomplish any socioeconomic justice, let alone liaise the abyssal gaps between classes, because they are exclusively income-based; A devious ploy employed by trillionaire CEOs, barons and magnates is taking nominal, often single dollar salaries, under a twofaced guise, a pretentious show of nobility, when they actually employ more profitable bypasses as stakeholding, shareholding, strategic liquidation, bonding and motley schemes of percentages of owning, hidden behind umpteen veils, far beyond the unassuming layman can fathom or probe. Thus, by not being taxed relative to their assets, the wealthy of the first world fool their governments and people. Islamic systems of governance, are effortlessly equitable and just with their proportionate and holistic taxation, generous towards the poor yet benign towards the earner.
Abu Zar Al-Ghafari, one of the Prophet’s (Peace Be Upon Him) prime companions, was the founding father of Islamic socialism. Socialism by definition, seeks redemption of human labour and upholdment of individual dignity thereof. He canvassed against the concentration of wealth by the ruling class during the Uthman’s caliphate and urged the equitable redistribution of wealth. The first Caliph Abu Bakr introduced a guaranteed minimum standard of income, bestowing upon each man, woman and child ten dirhams annually, which was later incremented to twenty dirhams.
Perhaps the single most remarkable trait of Islam, that poses a detriment to unfettered capitalistic bourgeoning, is the absence of riba i.e. Interest mongering on lent credit. This systematic prohibition, although seldom obeyed today, proved to be quite successfully and satiatingly implemented in the early middle ages. The sinfulness and outlawing of various manifestations of avarice, and its strict observance, helps stitch a closeknit society and foster a global fraternity among Muslims, until perhaps, the discovery of oil.
Preceding the advent of Islam, India was a land plagued by abysmal economic rifts, the destitute dwelling in resigned ignominy, accepting subjugation and exploitation as a natural scheme and grand order. However, Islam’s arrival ushered in an end to the hegemony of the Brahmin-Kshatreey-Vaeshya socioeconomic complex, and to a large extent curtailed obligatory Labour. Islam was also instrumental in curbing the influence of plutocrats as the prevalent and exploitative dhannaa seths and saahookaars.
In the latter half of the second decade of twentieth century, Allied subjugation of the Ottoman Caliphate coupled with the Bolshevik Revolution against Monarchical Imperialism in Russia, as well as the same Imperial Occidental oppression echoed in colonial India, inspired and united Muslims all over India. It was instrumental in mobilising mass sentiment, prominently Muslim but fostering a nationwide prevailing mood of solidarity, regardless of religion. The inculcation of this momentum shook the foundations of the Raj and had it not been for the abrupt voluntary closure in wake of the Chauri-Chaura incident it would have further subducted the Empire’s grip over the populace.
As M.V.S. Koteswara Rao, in his ‘Communist Parties and United Front Experience in Kerala and West Bengal’ notes, Abdul Sattar Khairi and Abdul Zabbar Khairi went to Moscow, immediately on hearing about the revolution. In Moscow, they met Lenin and conveyed their greetings to him. The Russian Revolution also affected émigré Indian revolutionaries, such as the Ghadar Party in North America. The Khilafat movement contributed to the emergence of early Indian communism. Many Indian Muslims left India to join the defence of the Caliphate. Several of them became communists whilst visiting Soviet territory. Some Hindus also joined the Muslim muhajirs in the travels to the Soviet areas. The colonial authorities were clearly disturbed by the growing influence of Bolshevik sympathies in India. A first counter-move was the issuing of a fatwa, urging Muslims to reject communism. The Home Department established a special branch to monitor the communist influence. Customs were ordered to check the imports of Marxist literature to India. A great number of anti-communist propaganda publications were published”
As JNUSU Vice-President Shehla Rashid, an observant, practising Muslim and keen, devout Marxist, elegantly puts all such raised objections, reservations and inhibitions held about socialism down to a literal interpretation of a metaphor: She said that being Marxist doesnt mean one cant embrace religion. According to her, Marxs remark that religion was the opium of the masses was against fatalism. He felt religion was a hindrance to revolution. But that need not always be so, she said. He is speaking from a particular context; it is not the same as ours. ; the most prevalent of fallacies that lie at root of most conflict, controversy and supposed religious ambiguity. The misconception and the insinuation that (a scientific religion as) Islam is incompatible with scientific socialism (communism) is put down, when you consider the absurdity of this superficial misinterpretation of an idiom, innuendo or symbolism.
Moreover, the Premarxian forerunner of Scientific Socialism i.e. Utopian Socialism perfectly resonates, nay is embodied in the very corpus of Islamic texts. The essentiality with which the sentiment is captured, is perhaps, best reflected in tellings of Medina’s prosperity and satiaty, a veritable post-scarcity utopia, since the Prophet’s (PBUH) ascendance, and the depictions of firdaus (paradise) found in Islamic texts and popular renditions.
The first experimental Islamic commune was established during the Russian Revolution of 1917 as part of the Wäisi Movement, an early supporter of the Soviet government. The Muslim Socialist Committee of Kazan was also active at this time.
Muslims have forever been the single largest community within the Indian fledgling communist movement, second only to atheist adherents, with stalwarts as Maulana Hasrat Mohani (cleric, CPI co-founder and the coiner of the all-pervasive slogan Inquilaab Zindaabad), Shaukat Usmani a member of the émigré Communist Party of India, another co-founder of CPI and Co-conspirator in the Meerut Conspiracy Case and also the only candidate to the British Parliament contesting elections, while residing in India and being imprisoned, and eminent poet, writer and commentator Kaifi Azmi. His daughter, veteran Actress Shabana Azmi, has occasionally recounted her life in a commune, in tiny single rooms, and how devout and zealous an adherent to Marxism, was her father. Moreover, literati, most prominently Muhammad Allama Iqbal and Kazi Nazrul Islam were inspired by Marxist, French Revolution, and Russian Revolution ideals, transpirations, and transcultural solidarity.
As scholar Shadi Hamid recounts in his seminal paper in the reputed monthly islamic journal Renaissance, During the Rashidun Caliphate, various welfare programs were introduced by Caliph Umar. In his time, equality was extended to all citizens, even to the caliph himself, as Umar believed that “no one, no matter how important, should live in a way that would distinguish him from the rest of the people”. Umar himself lived “a simple life and detached himself from any of the worldly luxuries”, like how he often wore “worn-out shoes and was usually clad in patched-up garments”, or how he would sleep “on the bare floor of the mosque”.
Unlike other religions, Islam originated from fraternity and equality, as a grassroot anchorage, not an artifice or mere adoption as a distant ideal; Thus, affording Islam to be most compatible with economic-egalitarianist ideologies, of all faiths.
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