An Islamic Perspective of Political Economy

Chapter 3 : the Islamic Theory of Distribution

The first step to end the contradictions in the economic structure of society begins with the distribution of economic resources among people. A just social system is one that allows all people to benefit from economic wealth. The Islamic economic system, accordingly, is based upon this criterion.

The first form of economic wealth is the natural resources of the environment. Unjust distributtion of economic wealth begins with the problem of ownership of these natural resources. One must know who has the right of ownership of these resources in Islam. Sadr, thus, must develop the theory of distribution of natural resources at two stages:

preproduction and postproduction stages, or what he calls primary wealth and secondary wealth, respectively. [^6] His endeavour is to dis­cover the doctrinal basis of Islamic teaching concerning economic ownership. For him, the study of economics in its empirical sense at this stage is irrelevant to the issue of social justice. In other words, he is building an ideological theory which addresses this issue. The empiri­cal study of economics comes much later to evaluate whether the application of the ideological theory in the realm of life has an ade­quate basis in reality.


[^6]. Al-Sadr, "al-Nazariyyah al-'Islamiyyah li-tawzi' al-masadir al-tabi'iyyah" (Islamic Theory of Distribution of Natural Resources) in Ikhtarnalak (Beirut: Dar al-Zahra', 1982), 136-137.

Chapter 4 : Distribution of Natural Wealth

In constructing the conceptual framework of his theory, Sadr also disagrees with political economists on the scope of economic resources. He disregards capital and labour as parts of economic resources.

It is only nature that can be taken into account in the theory of distribution of natural resources. "For capital is, in fact, a produced wealth and not a primary source of production, because it represents, economically [speaking], any wealth which is produced and generated through human labour that can be reinvested in the development of new wealth. [^7]

On the other hand, nature itself is classified into four categories: 1) land; 2) raw material; 3) water; and 4) other natural resources such as living species in the air, sea and on land. [^8] Although the laws of Islam seemingly contain different regulations for each one of these categories, Sadr used his ingenuity to discover the common ground between them, giving his interpretation of what he calls "The General Economic Theory of Islam."

The sole owner of land and raw materials is the Islamic State. People may gain special rights of ownership if they invest their labour to develop these natural resources, such as cultivating land and mining minerals.

Individuals may gain precedence over others for a piece of land or source of minerals which they work. The special right of owner­ship may be gained only through labour invested in developing that land or raw material, and such right expires as soon as that development ends. [^9] People utilizing these resources must pay property taxes for their use to the Islamic State.

Water, on the other hand, can be owned if it is possessed for economic development. Although the sole proprietor of the natural resource of water is the State, all people have access to it for their use. The only exception is underground water, where the individual who invests his labour to develop its utility has an exclusive right to its use and benefits. [^10]

Other natural resources, such as birds, animals, plants and marine life, are publicly owned. These sources of economic wealth may be­come private property through individual effort. [^11] As such, people, not the State, have the exclusive right to own resources via their labour. They may not lose this right indefinitely, or pay property taxes for their possession.

Based on this view, Sadr concludes that people themselves or, in more concrete terms, their representative government, are the sole and legitimate owner of the natural resources. Individuals may gain special privileges to make use of these resources only through their invested labour to develop these resources. Other types of individual labour, such as the use of force to possess, are not considered legitimate means to ownership.

Specifically, it is only invested human work that has legal significance for ownership of natural resources. Generally speak­ing, Islam gives individuals the right to own private property only through their continuous effort to develop these resources to benefit society as a whole. Once private development of these natural resources is suspended, the right of private ownership would cease too. [^12] From this Sadr derives the first principle of his theory:

All natural wealth is part of the public sector and individuals gain the special rights to use them only on one ground, that is, labour characterized by development [of these resources] by the direct work [of the individual himself]. [^13]

According to the above principle, an individual may not use other individuals to develop a natural resource in order to have the right of ownership of a large estate, for example; otherwise they will share the ownership and the benefits of that natural wealth on the basis of their labour. Islam totally rejects the capitalitic principle of individual ownership of vast natural resources on the ground that they are devel­oped by the labour of others.

For the same reason, industries for the development of such natural resources as oil and minerals can be owned and managed only by the State. Notwithstanding the emphasis on public ownership of natural resources, Sadr introduces the concept of the "priority right of use" of natural economic resources by the indi­vidual. He states that those who possess the labour and will to exploit the resources have the right to gain access to them if such exploitation serves public interest.


[^7]. "Al-Nazariyyah," 138. [^8]. Iqtisaduna, 433. [^9]. Ibid., 483. [^10]. Iqtisaduna, 519-520. [^11]. Ibid., 5 2. [^12]. "Al-Nazariyyah al-'Islamiyyah li tawzi'," 148. [^13]. Al-Sadr, Khutat tafsiliyyah `an iqtisad al-mujtama` al-'Islami (General Basis of Economics of Islamic Society), in al-Islam yaqud al-hayat, 88.